Thursday, September 11, 2008

Politics of Hate or Just Hating Politics?

Bill made his political post earlier today, so I guess I should go ahead and make mine. It's been simmering for a couple of weeks now.

In the wake of the conventions I've been trying to come up with something to write here that summed up what I thought of them and the larger campaign issues at work.

I haven't been able to do it.

Originally, I had planned to look at all key speeches (Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin), really dig into them, and then break them up for analysis here. But when the time came to put the time into doing that, I just didn't have any desire to follow through. What I've found from watching the spectacles in Denver and St. Paul is that I'm just tired of all of it. But more than being tired of the sniping between candidates and their largely inept surrogates, I'm even more tired of us. The citizens who line up on either side of every issue and claim anyone not with them is either stupid, unpatriotic or outright evil.

Okay, yeah, I'm an Obama supporter. I've been intrigued by this guy since his 2004 convention speech. Regardless of how he's painted, I think he's a bright thinker and someone of deep conviction who knows that his most important job as president is to surround himself with smart people, listen to everybody and then call the play. But just because my philosophies of governance lean towards the liberal doesn't mean I don't have conservative views or understand the logic behind conservative philosophy, even when I don't agree with it.

I mean I understand the logic in having totally free markets (as much as someone as economically stupid as me can), but I also agree with those who think you need regulation of those markets to keep some sense of order and sanity. I understand why you'd want to offer vouchers to students at failing schools as a way to get them someplace better, but I don't believe vouchers are a real solution. Sending a few students elsewhere still leaves the majority of kids at a crappy school. If the problem is the school, then fix the problem. (I realize that's easier said than done.) I understand the notion of personal responsibility and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, but no matter how hard you work to stand on your own two feet, there's no shortage of times of struggle in which you get knocked on your ass so hard that you won't be able to get up without someone extending you their arm. And I don't think that depending on the random kindness of strangers will get the job done. Whereas I think government is at least capable of doing something that produces better results than doing nothing. (Don't even get me started on health care and Social Security.)

Ultimately, I suppose that's the biggest thing that separates me, and a lot of liberals, from most conservatives. Naive or not, I believe in the power of government to be a force for good in people's lives.

An important thing to understand here is that I'm not hating on the notion of partisan politics. Partisan politics is a good thing. We don't all agree on how to run the country and we shouldn't pretend that there's no difference between Republican and Democrat, Liberal and Conservative. There are differences and they are worthy of learned debate.

What I hate is that the partisan politics of the modern era has absolutely nothing to do with ideas, governing philosophies, or most importantly, solutions. It's about tarring and feathering the other side to the point where everybody on each wing is convinced everyone on the other side is either morally bankrupt, unforgivably stupid, or out to destroy the country.

I'm tired of it.

Perhaps it's my lefty bias, but it does seem to me that this attitude is more prevalent on the conservative side. Anymore, it just seems like conservatives absolutely hate liberals. I mean wipe them off the face of the planet hate. I don't get that. Liberalism literally means, "Favoring reform or progress, as in religion, education, etc.; specifically favoring political reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual; progressive." I'm sorry, but even if liberal politicians have given liberalism a bad name (and a lot of them have), you tell me what in that philosophy deserves the kind of scorn where people spit the word "liberal" like a four-letter word.

Look, there's always gonna be extremists on both wings of the political spectrum. The left has its share of militant zealots and mouth breathers too. But what really bothers me is that it seems like the Republican Party actively encourages the hate of those with dissenting opinions. The Republican Convention was an exercise in fanning the flames of discord. Did you see one speech given at the Republican Convention that didn't demonize every liberal that walks the Earth? The only one close was McCain's, but even he never talked about solutions. Unless you believe that a marginal tax break is going to help the single, working, uninsured mom who just found a lump in her breast. Plus, it's hard to take his bipartisan talking points all that seriously when it runs counter to everything he says on the campaign trail and it comes on the heels of every designated speaker ahead of him talking like I'm somehow less than they are because I don't believe what they believe. Those speakers didn't just attack Obama or Biden or Clinton. They attacked anyone who would support them. They attacked me. (As the assembled crowd roared their approval no less.) Oh, you're a liberal? You must hate this country and want it to fall into the hands of terrorists.

You know what? Fuck. You. I'm tired of anyone who thinks government can be a solution instead of the problem being painted as somehow less American. Just as I'm sure a lot of conservatives must surely be tired of liberals casting all of them as war mongering, heartless bastards who've completely forgotten what the concept of fiscal responsibility means. Living in Indiana, a lot of my friends are conservatives, and almost none of them think this country is better off having had George W. Bush as president for the last eight years.

I can't pretend the Dem convention didn't have it's share of that noise. But what strikes me as different is that I don't remember it as being nearly as much about demonizing conservatives en mass as much as it was about promoting Obama, calling out the Bush legacy (justifiably, IMO) and tying McCain to that legacy (also justifiable, IMO). The issues this country faces were talked about. Whether you agree with them or not, solutions were proposed. Maybe I just didn't look in the right places, but I didn't see a lot of that in St. Paul. 

As for Obama... Ultimately, I don't know if his economic theories are sound. I don't know if his ideas are going to solve this country's woes. And, unless you are one of a handful of people who are truly experts in areas such as economics or foreign policy, neither do you. (And if you are an expert. Be honest. Most of the time you're guessing too.) But Obama will tell you what he believes without saying that anyone who thinks differently from him is evil or stupid. His speech talked about ideas. It talked about solutions. And, for me, one of the best parts was this:

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

Conservatives and liberals? We have obvious and important differences. But we face the same problems. We face the same challenges. And none of those problems or challenges are overcome by spending all our time breathing fire at the other side and saying they're to blame for it. You show me a candidate on any side capable of proposing solutions to my country's, state's, county's or city's woes and I'll show you a candidate who's getting my vote.

And with that, I'm done talking politics for awhile... at least until the debates. Or when the sun comes up tomorrow.

You know what? Let's just play it by ear.