Friday, October 12, 2012
Why I Hate Election Years
Okay, I know, I haven't been writing much lately, and much of my writing hasn't been about archaeology...and this post will continue that.
It's getting nearer the election, and I am sicker and sicker not of the campaigns, but of my fellow voters. It is a rare person that I see who is not either buying into the notion that their side (be it Republican or Democrat) has presented a messianic figure who wills ave us all...or, alternatively, that the "other side's" candidate is so reprehensibly evil that it will destroy the nation if they win the election.
If you believe either of these, then you have bought into delusion. The truly insidious problems in our government at the moment - financial corruption, lack of transparency, a willingness to pander for votes with nonsensical policy - are not only endemic to both major political parties, but are well on display in the campaigns and records of both candidates. That most people think that it is only the "other side" that is really, truly, unforgivably guilty is an indication of the fact that most people have insulated themselves from harsh reality - if you get much of your news from the Huffington Post, the Tea Party News, Mother Jones, Fox News, or any other such ideologically/partisan-driven outlet, then you no doubt consider yourself well-informed, but you are actually woefully and poisonously misinformed.
Both candidates are fairly standard politicians. Romney shows signs of being a better manager (he has demonstrated extensive administrative skills), Obama of being a better leader (he is capable of inspiring and getting people to join a cause) - both are skills that a president needs in equal measure (indeed, in many governments they are split between two separate offices), and the fact that each seems to hold more of one than the other only commends that person in the eyes of those who value one more, and that is an arbitrary judgement given the degree to which both shows skills and shortcomings. Each candidate has their deficits - Obama is willing to compromise on things where he should stand and fight, and stands and fights on things where he should compromise. Romney's own record contrasted with his current rhetoric indicates a candidate willing to say or do whatever is needed to win the election, leaving it difficult to know what he would do in office. Both are perfectly willing to exaggerate, lie, and obfuscate...but this is standard in current politics and shouldn't surprise us*, though it should disgust us.
There are real differences between the candidates, to be certain. For example: Obama is more likely to support civil rights legislation to help gay people, Romney is more likely to support the privatization of many government functions. Whether you consider these good or bad, they do show actual differences, but the differences are not as stark as most people want to think that they are.
But for most of us, in our day-to-day lives, which one is in office is unlikely to be the huge difference that we think. Contrary to what his supporters seem to think. Romney is unlikely to actually try to repeal the recent health care law (indeed, once he seized the nomination, he began back-pedaling on many of his previous statements). Obama is not going to take measures to shoot tax rates through the roof (indeed, even if he wanted to - and he doesn't - he'd have to get through congress). In fact, for most of us, our lives changed little when Obama took over from Bush, and that was a much larger change in personalities and records than Obama-to-Romney would be.
And yet, most people are convinced that the election (or re-election) of one or the other of these two men would be apocalyptic.
It won't be. The issues of corruption and government secrecy would continue no matter which of them is in office (they are both parts of parties that support the status quo, contrary to their rhetoric, and even the president would, again, have to go through congress to make any real changes...and I don't see that happening regardless of who wins).
One of the more irritating aspects to this, however, is that everyone that I know who demonizes the other side or glorifies their own also tends to talk about how sick they are of the "polarization of politics" and how "the extremists seem to have the power!"
The problem is that, to the degree that there is truth to this, it's in large part due to the fact that so many people are willing to delude themselves into seeing these huge, world-shaking differences that aren't really there...and then pass those claims on to others. Part of this comes from media fragmentation - yeah, if you are using the sites/channels/publications listed above as significant news sources, you are not only deluding yourself, you are also feeding the monster of partisanship and polarization - and part of it comes from the fact that we have been treating our politics like sports for some time - consider that you are angry with a referee when he makes a fair call against your team and think him wise when he makes a bad call in favor of your team...we do the same thing with politics, ignoring the fair criticisms of our favored candidates, and accepting as true even the most deranged criticism of "the other guy."
Every day, on Facebook, in conversations, in the comments on news stories, and so on, I see people uncritically accepting bizarre claims about one of these two, sometimes based on mis-quotes/selective quotes from speeches, and other time just plain made-up shit: No, Obama is not trying to prevent overseas soldiers from voting; no, Romney does not think that corporations should have all of the rights of an individual; no, Obama does not think that business owners are lazy people who didn't achieve anything; no, Romney is not going to seek criminalization of homosexuality; no, Obama didn't apologize to terrorists; no Romney is not seeking to destroy the Middle class; and so on and so forth.
When you accept these claims and forward them on, you are feeding the polarization. It's like an arsonist bitching about all of the fires in his neighborhood. If you do this, I don't want to hear you complain about it.
You know what would help? How about accepting that both candidates are human - both have their flaws, both have their strengths, neither is evil incarnate, neither is out to destroy the nation or world. If you still choose to support or oppose one or the other, that's fine, but do so for reasons based in reality, not rhetoric. If you find that both of them turn you off, vote for a third party - I know, I know, "it's a wasted vote" but it really isn't - when third party candidates get a significant number of votes - even if they don't win the office - it causes the major parties to pay attention and see what they might want to change in reaction. Moreover, the reason that third=party candidates don't win is, quite simply, because so many people are convinced that they "have to" vote for one of the two major parties - but you don't have to. If you vote for a third party and convince other people to follow suit, you can help to make some changes.
Regardless, at the very least, accept that the candidates are neither evil nor angelic, and stop with the bullshit.
*One of the more irritating things I keep seeing - people from each side sharing claims about the "lies of the other side", all the while ignoring that their side can be fairly accused of exactly the same sort of thing, and many of the things cited as lies in these claims are debatable.