Over the past couple of weeks, there’s a sentiment I’ve seen expressed on Facebook nearly a dozen times. It goes something like this:
“Dear all of my Facebook friends: thank you very much for continuing to barrage me with your political opinions. Can you please just stop now?”
I’m so with my friends who are feeling this way. And it’s not so much Facebook as it is television. The advertising and the news and opinion shows have succeeded in making me both angry and apathetic, and I know the worst is yet to come.
I seem to always reach this point in big election years. The vitriol spewed by both sides is so strident, so shrill, so nasty, that I hate both sides. I hate the Republicans mustard-gassing our airwaves, their insinuations that lead less-stable followers into outright accusations that President Obama is a Muslim who’s one act of domestic terrorism away from instituting sharia law, or a card-carrying communist trying to bring down capitalism from the inside. I hate the Democrats hysterically slagging Mitt Romney as an evil, stupid, patrician oligarch who wants Americans to live in poverty. The vicious rhetoric was entertaining and funny for a while, but now it’s just obnoxious.
And the thing is, it all seems so ludicrous. Whose mind is changed by all the crazy assertions of anti-American, anti-human, criminal behavior? Are there really new converts being made? Is anyone just now coming to the belief that Barack Obama is a secret terrorist, or that if we elect Romney the middle class will all have to get jobs shining the shoes of the one percent?
Of course not. Our twin echo chambers–Limbaugh, Hannity, and Ann Coulter filling up the right, Ed Schultz, Cenk Uygur, and Rachel Maddow gassing up the left–assure that we don’t have to listen to the other side’s bullshit if we don’t want to. The assault on the enemy party isn’t about trying to change anyone’s mind. It’s about whipping up the already-converted into such a frenzy that they’ll be sure to vote in November.
Similarly, the positions our leaders and would-be leaders espouse often have little to do
with either personal conviction or the best interests of their constituents. Our post-history, for-it-before-they-were-against-it candidates base their positions only on what their advisors think they have to say to get elected. Does Barack Obama really support gay marriage–which he did not support in years past–or does he simply see it as an opening he can exploit to his political advantage? And who the hell knows what Mitt Romney actually believes? He’s a Republican who was once liberal enough to win the statehouse in Massachusetts. These days, he’s running to the right of any candidate the Republicans have fielded for the last fifty years.
Every so often, some well-meaning soul will bemoan the state of American political rhetoric and implore the candidates to talk about the issues. But the issues don’t matter. The Affordable Care Act has its roots in Republican economic policy; yet, it’s been demonized and targeted for destruction by today’s Republican power-sucking machine. Why? There’s only one answer.
No one really wants to have a conversation about what’s best for the American People, or what kind of world we want to live in. That would compromise the power platforms on both sides of the aisle. It’s easier–and more effective–to make up slogans and shout down the other side. “Repeal Obamacare!” is pithy and emotional. Actually talking about what might or might not be the best approach to healthcare for most Americans, and how we should go about implementing it, requires subtlety and mindfulness and deliberation. That stuff doesn’t really play on TV.
And so it doesn’t really matter what either side said yesterday. All that matters is what they have to say to win today. That’s why I say that America today is actually a one-party system: yin and yang, perhaps, but ultimately just two sides of the same coin. I can’t quite bring myself to believe that it doesn’t matter whom we elect. But it keeps me from investing too much faith in the candidates I support–and from despairing too much if the other side wins.
And right now, I wish both sides would just shut up.