A number of my friends have been posting of late to decry the poor quality of political discourse in the 2012 election season.
It's understandable. The slanders are going back and forth pretty heavily, and though it seems to me that the problem is far more on one side than the other, others will have different perceptions.
But what they may not be aware of is that little, very little, of political speech is actually intended as "discourse": the two sides are doing such a poor job of talking to each other because they aren't trying to talk to each other. Mostly, they're talking to their own supporters, trying to keep them in camp, trying keep their spirits up, their enthusiasm at pitch, and keep them excited. But also, they're talking to the dwindling number of undecided voters. A little of this is of the "see how good I am?" sort of message, but much more of it is of the color of "how can you vote for that devil!?" Finally, a bit of political speech is actually aimed at the opponent's supporters. Now, you might think that there would be an effort to persuade here, but there isn't. Instead, almost all of this speech is intended to suppress the turnout of the opponent's supporters; thus the message is entirely negative, intended specifically to turn people away from the political process altogether, to create a "they're all bums anyway" sort of despair.
In America today, we are divided. We are divided about basic questions like what is a person or what is a family? We don't agree on what constitutes a marriage, whether there's a God, what God expects of us, what constitutes Good and Evil or how to achieve them. We disagree on whether a man is entitled to the fruits of his labors, or whether he owes them to the state. We disagree on what is our duty to each other, and on who should define that duty. We disagree about the proper size and role of government, and on how best to educate our children. We disagree about whether there should be one set of laws for all, or freedom to do things differently. We disagree about what are rights, and about what rights are.
Increasingly, we don't even speak the same language, using the same words to mean very different things. And, increasingly, we abandon media that facilitate consequential communication, and turn to media that trivialize communication (yes, like Facebook). We've abandoned our brief, failed experiment in "objective journalism" (which at least had as its ideal the notion of serving the entire public) in favor of agenda-driven reporting and commentary serving a diverse market of information consumers. Information consumers, who, by the by, are consuming (mostly) for free a very expensive to produce product -- but it's paid for by someone who wants you to consume it. Who? and why?
We disagree about history, about divinity, about humanity, about sexuality, about liberty. We lack respect for those who hold differing values and opinions. Only this last is understandable to me; few of us ever experience being respected by those who hold differing values and opinions.
I don't know the solution. I'm highly skeptical there is one. I'm completely certain that there is no short-term solution. My best hope is that we won't tear ourselves to pieces before a solution can be found.
But it's hardly surprising that the people who are vying for our votes present such a poor image. It's our own reflection.
|Dina Meyers as Batgirl in "Birds of Prey"|
There will be no heroes to save us. Which will it be? Victory or defeat?