Friday, July 25, 2008

The Best Political Essay I've Read All Year

It's been said that we've been "dumbing down" as a nation. Sometimes, I believe just that. We've become a people who tend to focus on who is right rather than what is right. Too many people are unwilling or unable to dig for the truth. Rather, they'll let their favorite conservative or liberal pundit dictate which conservatives or liberals should be the target of scorn this week. Instead of adult political discourse, what we now witness to is something more akin to political tribal warfare. Or, maybe it's more like the Hatfields and the McCoys: we're not sure why we're battling, but we do it because our Pa of choice said so.

Michael, in his blog Megaloi, just posted an entry that hit me as one of those "I wish I'd written that" moments. My first inclination, out of creative jealousy, was to stomp around and call him a bastard. (Bob Barbanes and I call each other that now and then; why should Michael be exempt?) Instead, I asked him if I could paste his essay here.


Politics. It's that time again in our country, and it seems every time I turn around I'm hearing someone ranting, pontificating or arguing about the upcoming Presidential election. I figured I should join in as well.

Don't worry. Gimme a shot here and see if this is different than the political opinions you usually come across.

If you're like me, then 95% of all political discussions you hear are simply attacks on the "other" side. Nobody ever seems to tell me why they like a candidate -- only how evil the other guy (or gal, while Hillary was in the game) obviously is.

I don't do that. It angers me, and is playing right into the hands of our modern media. They know that happy times and supporting storylines don't get the high ratings. If a TV station or website wants the big bucks, they need to break scandals and tap into the more bitter, impassioned instincts within us.

So I won't do any attacking here. No criticisms at all. I won't even tell you which candidate I like. I'm simply going to list all the ways I agree with what each side (Democrat/Republican) uses as common talking points. Here we go:

Republicans often say that our country is in pretty good shape, that we're the best country in the world and are not in need of massive overhaul. I agree. Our economy, civil rights and safety are higher than almost any other time in our nation's history. See this article by Gregg Easterbrook for more detail.

Democrats often say that it's time for change, and that our country needs to shift gears in some major areas. I agree. Our economy is showing some signs of real weakness and is far too dependent on foreign oil. Our lower/middle classes are far too represented in prisons and slums. Our resources are being stretched and extended across the world in a way we can't support long-term.

Republicans often say that Senator McCain has proven himself to be a seasoned and effective political leader, a man who can work across party lines to solve problems. I agree. His credentials are impressive and he seems to be a man of integrity and strength. He would probably serve us well as President.

Democrats often say that although Senator Obama's tenure in the Senate has been much shorter than McCain's, he also has an impressive resume. I agree. He has sponsored many very important bills and shown empathy and foresight in making some tough calls and votes.

Republicans often say that McCain can truly relate to mainstream America, and that he really gets it and cares when it comes to the worries of the individual. I agree. He genuinely seems to care about people, and I think that is a core part of what makes him an attractive candidate.

Democrats often say that Obama's eloquence and intelligence allow him to inspire great crowds of people, and that this kind of charisma would bring many benefits to our country. I agree. He is a powerfully effective speaker, and envisioning that type of person representing our country is an attractive thought.

This is the way I like to talk about politics. Focusing on whom I like, what I want to see, and where I'd wish our country to go.

I hear Democrats using the name "McSame" and berating the man for the occasional verbal slip, basically saying he's as smart as a bag of walnuts. C'mon now.

I hear Republicans using the name "Osama' and berating the man for his race and his popularity, basically saying he's the antichrist just waiting to emerge. C'mon now.

We can do better.

We can do better. I suspect, though, that to prevent political commentary in our country from sliding into one prolonged version of the Jerry Springer show, we can't depend on the "wisdom" of our media. To change things around, it will taking nothing less than a popular movement. Certain media pundits are all-too-willing to target "undesirable" candidates with half-truths and innuendo. If we don't start calling them on it, what will really continue to get buried is the truth.

Let's start calling the bastards on it.


Bob Barbanes said...

You''ve...called me...a...bastard?

Look, politics has always been dirty and polarized. It's just that with each new dirty trick, the standards get lowered even further, and what was unacceptable yesterday has become just fine today. I think the real nadir was the "swiftboating" of John Kerry. In this case, a guy with *no* military service successfully torpedoed (if you'll pardon the horrible pun) the candidacy of a guy who really did have legitimate military service. I still shake my head over that one - it'll go down in history!

Or will it? Maybe the next round of dirty politics will be even worse - if that's possible. And you know it's coming; the fight to keep Obama out hasn't yet begun. I, for one, am not looking forward to it.

Great post, you bastard!

Pam said...

I agree, great post! (you'll notice I'm not calling you a bastard..).

Gutter politics, playing to the lowest common ( or uncommon ) denominator is getting old...and, this year of the interminable, endless's been a turn off to much of the electorate.

I would be happy to not hear another soundbite from either candidate until, oh, say...a month before the election.

I've heard and read all the good, bad and the ugly. I just want them both to go away for awhile.

I'm not hearing anything new from either side at this point.

debby said...

Look at it this way, Bob: the adjective still leaves the alliterative nature of your name intact.

I think that the press works for itself. The press looks for controversy. The press has become exploitive.

I liked Redlefty's post, Hal, but your final paragraph put a final exclamation mark on the whole thing. Yes. Let's start calling them on it. How, though?

Hal Johnson said...

Bob, I think you're right about the fight to keep Obama out. It'll probably make the swiftboating thing look like child's play. And, I won't call you a bastard anymore if you're getting all sensitive on us.

Pam, I think you're right about not hearing anything new. That shows how limiting our political landscape is: Obama has shown that he can be a dynamic leader, and McCain has in the past shown a refreshing willingness to depart from the neocon mindset. I'm afraid that that those days are gone. They'll both be circling the wagons now. Also, Pam, thanks for not calling me a bastard. Rhonda might think we're having an affair.

Debby: I'm not sure I'm smart or insightful enough to figure out how we should go about calling the pundits on their polarizing BS. Maybe it's a one step at a time thing. Letters, emails, phone calls, and just plain bitching would be a start.

Kelly said...

I agree, great post!!!

To be honest, I pay very little attention to what is said at this point. The majority of it is negative rather than positive and not really useful in forming an opinion. I prefer to wait until the candidates start seriously offering plans, suggestions and solutions for their hopeful term as POTUS.

But then again.... I have to depend on the media for how that is reported to me and to quote you: "we can't depend on the "wisdom" of our media"!! As for that statement, I definitely agree!!!

Pam said...

LOL!!! Yeah, I'd have to know you a lot better to call you a bastard.

For starters I'd have to meet you face to face!

I'm still waiting for you to fly through Love Field. I NEVER go to DFW!

Bob said...

Good thoughts. How refreshing to see politics discussed in a positive vein.

Since you posted this, the McCain camp came out with the tasteless add comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, while Obama said McCain's folks will try to scare us away from him by saying he doesn't look like the other presidents on the dollar bills -- but oh, he did not mean to infer that McCain's camp is being racist. I saw both of their spokespeople on The Today Show this morning trying to defend the ad and the asinine statement, respectively. Please.

Algernon said...

Just today I came across this old (1926!) piece by the late great H.L. Mencken and wondered how much we would enjoy the 2008 race.

It's at