It’s election season, and the mudslingers are out in force. I’ve seen commercials claiming Mitt Romney buys whole towns and fires everyone just for fun, and others suggesting Barack Obama wants to deliberately bankrupt our entire healthcare system to advance some socialist agenda. Any thinking person should be able to immediately reject these types of claims as baseless and exaggerated. Clearly neither candidate is some suit-clad agent of the apocalypse, hell bent on destroying America. So why are we bombarded with attack ads constantly during commercial breaks? Why do we find ourselves parroting their sound bites back to our friends at cocktail parties? Why do cars drive down the street with bumper stickers brashly proclaiming “W – not my president” or “Friends don’t let friends vote Democrat”?
American political discourse is broken. We’ve reached the logical conclusion of 24/7 news coverage, a population hungry for controversy, and a relentless media hype cycle. No longer do we discuss concrete solutions to the big problems we face as a country; we spend our time pissing at each over who is a “real American” and slinging accusations over where someone was actually born or why they won’t release their tax returns.
Let’s objectively consider the largest and most immediate crises we face as a nation that the president has direct legislative influence over: inaccessible and expensive healthcare, a bankrupt social security system, and an ever increasing national debt. Now think back over the last several months of political ads, debates, and news coverage. What does each candidate promise to do about these issues if he is elected? How much time has either of them even spent talking about these issues publicly? Take a minute to think about it.
Here are the candidate’s positions as I’ve interpreted them, as summarized from their public media appearances and talking points:
- Mitt Romney will “repeal Obamacare” (and replace it with what?), “fix social security” (how?), and “reign in government spending” (umm, ok).
- Barack Obama will “ensure access to healthcare for all Americans” (how specifically?) and fix the deficit by making sure everyone “pays their fair share” of taxes. I can’t recall a word on social security.
So if you haven’t taken the time to read Mitt Romney’s 161 page economic plan, the 955 page Obamacare bill, and several Central Budget Office reports on taxation, that’s pretty much all you know about either candidate’s stance on the most pressing national issues or their ability to address them.
And so I arrive at the point of this article – our political party affiliations have diverged from our politics. No longer do Americans rationally consider what is best for their country on an issue by issue basis. People’s thinking is no longer malleable – their political party has become a part of their identity, and to waiver in support is to question your personal devotion to the cause. No one really cares what each party stands for, or what policies they intend to enact if elected. All we care about is that I’m a Republican, or I’m a Democrat. American politics has become about winning. We need to win so the other guys will lose. But what does winning mean? Nobody seems to care much about that during the ticker tape parade.
Further, are we really so polarized as a nation that the bright white line between Republican and Democrat suits us? What of the 26 year old who believes in fiscal conservatism but couldn’t care less if two men marry? Or the 65 year old veteran who doesn’t mind higher taxes but also believes in an aggressive foreign policy? Where is the party for them?
The three most recent presidential elections have been decided by several percentage points at most. Does it make logical sense that a nation of 600 million people would be so starkly divided into two philosophical belief systems, almost perfectly down the middle? It would seem that when forced to choose between two parties, we all make compromises.
So if we acknowledge that everyone is somewhere on the red-blue continuum, why all the zealotry and mudslinging? It’s likely you share more beliefs than you expect with those across the isle from you, if you’d only both let go of trying to win the argument. Instead of blindly taking a side, we as a country need to lay off the rhetoric and name calling and debate actual issues. We need to demand that our candidates talk to us about their concrete plans for the future, and we need to actually listen when they do. Save the applause and standing ovations for politicians that make specific promises and follow through on them. Let’s have a political conversation this November, not a dogmatic one.