Monday, April 11, 2011

Stuck In The Middle With You

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right.
Here I am,
stuck in the middle with you. 

My conservative friends think that I am too liberal and my liberal friends think that I am too conservative.  That's fantastic, because it lets me know that I am in the right place— the middle—the only place where anything gets done. 

I am dumbfounded by how passionately people defend their political beliefs in the face of unassailable logic, especially when politics calls stridently for pragmatism over idealism.  If proponents of a particular ideology will not allow themselves to be swayed by a persuasive argument from the other side, why then do they expect the other side to be moved by their own persuasive case?  It smacks of ideological haughtiness.  "It's my belief and my beliefs are superior to your beliefs, so therefore I am right and you are wrong and if you don't agree then you are an idiot."  Sounds like something a seven-year-old would say, doesn't it?  Well... 

I think our current President is an example of pragmatism at work.  His election rhetoric promised sweeping change, "change that you can believe in." Mr. Obama said what he needed to say to a disaffected populace in order to get himself elected.  However, when confronted by the realities of life in the Oval Office as both Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, he has discovered that sweeping change is not as easily delivered as it is promised. Yes, his Healthcare Reform Bill is an audacious attempt to restructure the way Americans manage their healthcare needs, but now into his third year in office, Obama has not delivered on his campaign promise to withdraw our troops from Middle Eastern hotspots, to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, or to overhaul our income tax rates.  Elected as a liberal, he has governed largely as a moderate.  In fact, rather than bring our troops home and lower this nation's global military profile, he has–to the horror of his liberal supporters–taken a rather hawkish/Republican stance by  involving us in the civil war in Libya. This action reeks more of his concern for our country's unfettered access to Libyan oil than for the plight of the Libyan people.  His liberal heart still beats, but it needs moderate blood to function. 

The American people are only too willing to have their own political beliefs shaped by an inflammatory email that contains facts of dubious veracity, or by a talking head espousing a view that they identify with.  Devoid of any intellectual curiosity, we the people allow our beliefs to be shaped by those with an agenda.  Cynicism is the rule, except in the case of political emails sent to us by friends, which of course have to be true or else our friends would not have wasted our time by forwarding them to us (TIC).

In the media, the torchbearer for the liberal view was/is Keith Olberman, a one-time sportscaster and MSNBC talkmeister who put his head on the chopping block for donating to the political campaigns of three Democratic candidates. That move did not immediately cost him his job, but it did cost him his credibility and ultimately his ability to effectively communicate the liberal viewpoint.

The conservative agenda has many spokespeople but Glenn Beck is perhaps its most outspoken voice. Like Olberman, his initial popularity was a ratings boon for his network, but,
"When Beck’s show made its debut on Fox News Channel in January 2009, the nation was in the throes of an economic collapse the likes of which had not been seen since the 1930s. Beck’s angry broadcasts about the nation’s imminent doom perfectly rode the wave of fear that had washed across the nation, and the relatively unknown entertainer suddenly had 3 million viewers a night — and tens of thousands answering his call to rally at the Lincoln Memorial. But as the recession began to ease, Beck’s apocalyptic forecasts and ominous conspiracies became less persuasive, and his audience began to drift away."
 (Milbank, Dana "Why Glenn Beck Lost It." Editorial. The Washington Post  6 April 2011)

Now Beck has fallen on his sword, marginalized by that apocalyptic viewpoint, fondness for conspiracies and other unsupportable behavior. The network says that it will continue to work with him on other projects.  We'll see.

Both of these gentlemen are perfect examples of the divisive nature of American life these days.  Increasingly, Americans have not just an "us-against-the-world" mentality, but also—and much more troubling—a "me-against-my-fellow-Americans" outlook.

All of us want our views to be respected but Americans have the fundamental right of dissent.  Instead of that dissent bringing about reasoned discourse and the search for the middle ground, it instead now results in the other side ratcheting up the rhetoric, the volume, the invective.  Like the lampoonish American who believes that the foreigner will understand English if it is spoken loudly enough, people today seem to believe that the tenor of the message is more important than the message itself. Politics, like every other facet of life, is compromise.  Our great nation is much the poorer for having forgotten this.