I Think You and I Are Destined to Do This Forever

I love presidential elections.  I think it’s fascinating to see four people go under the national microscope; it’s interesting to see what they’re willing to say in the pursuit of the nation’s highest elected office.  The past two weeks have given us both party conventions.  With both the Democratic and Republican conventions now on the books, the polls are tightening up, the messages from each camp are being refined, and the rhetoric ratchets ever skyward.  As we hurtle towards yet another form of “Judgment Day,” the message coming out of all forms of media, regardless of your political leaning and how you get your news, is that we are a nation divided.  The claim is that we are a nation divided by our political ideologies, and in this fight, there is no middle ground.

I read a few political websites on a daily basis, one of which aggregates news from around the online print media and blogosphere.  The site has no agenda on its own (that I can tell, anyway), but brings news from both perspectives, often placing stories of sharp contrast right next to each other.  For example, a recent day’s aggregation of headlines placed the story “Republicans Run from Reality” immediately above “McCain Offers Reality vs. Obama’s Empty Promises.”  This is not an uncommon sight.  If you watch any 24-hour cable news network that brings on people of differing viewpoints, the “debate” eventually devolves into a contest to see which one can smile larger while shaking their head and belittling the other side’s viewpoint.  Read two articles and you will find completely polar opposites regarding the same event or situation being covered.  Either Obama hit a home run, or his speech was disappointing.  Either you loved Palin’s speech, or you hated it.

While I generally think that these distinctions are probably true, the gaping chasm between us might not be as large or as wide as it’s made out to be.  Yesterday I had lunch with some classmates of mine during a study break.  While we ate, I got into a discussion/debate over politics with one of my classmates.  He and I have probably polar opposite viewpoints on nearly every issue.  Yet, as we ate, we had a logical, reasoned, and dare I say it, cordial debate about our differences.  We talked about everything from specific stances on issues to how our faith influences those stances, and how we try to live those stances out daily.  Neither of us left having changed the other person’s mind; but I think in both situations, we were challenged by the other to think about things in a slightly different way.

On the other hand, an experience like that is not generally the norm.  Most of the time political conversations seem to be laced with jokes poking fun at the other person’s beliefs, or outright jokes that seem to ward off any meaningful discussion on the topic.  Other evidence seems to point further to the fact that we are that divided.  Just look at the electoral map.  There are the consistent, reliable states that don’t even warrant a visit from either candidate, because we know how they’re going to vote.  Blue States on the outer edges, Red States through the middle.  A few “gray” states that are undecided.

I don’t know which it is for sure.  Part of me says that we can still have logical, reasoned discourse on the issues facing our nation and our own personal beliefs without vitriol or venom-spewing.  The other part of me says that things will only become more divided, with the gap between the “two Americas” growing ever larger.  I honestly don’t know what the truth is.  Either way, I’m pretty sure the Joker was right.


3 Responses to “I Think You and I Are Destined to Do This Forever”

  1. 1 JD September 7, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    I agree, the discourse is so much more enjoyable (and productive) when it’s civil. Truth be told, we all really agree on much more than we let on. Unfortunately, the foaming mouths on both sides require appeasement, and the candidates and parties get dragged into narrow sound bites and divisive wedge issues. Why can’t everybody in the electorate be smart and deliberative like us?

  2. 2 Chris F September 8, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Keeping in the spirit of understanding differences =) I am Canadian, and our system while far from perfect is different enough to contain the different opinions in our populace.

    Our last two governments have formed a “minority” government. What that means, is that by themselves they do not have the power to pass bills and make decisions without aggreance and votes from other parties. While this situation can make passing anything at all more challenging, it definitely meters any agendas on either side. The government has to work as best as it can with the opposite parties or they know things won’t make it through. (For those unaware, in Canada we don’t just have 2 options, we have 4. Any distribution of seats not more than 50% towards one party constitutes a minority government). It definitely keeps things interesting and is more representative of the population – far less polarity.

    With my background now out in the clear before I am labelled a democrat (or worse!) back in the late 90’s I was a regional youth vice president for our ruling party in charge of a crucial, large area of the biggest province in Canada. During the election we swept all my ridings. That part isn’t the intersting part. The interesting part is that the Youth leaders from the other 3 parties, and I, were really good friends. We could sit over a beer and discuss how we were going to change the broken political system in our country, laugh, cry, point out the failings of our own representatives as quickly as we would each other’s, etc. It was all very, very civil.

    Of course, get us in the field or on a podium and we attacked each other – we had to – because that is how you would win. Afterwards, in the quiet confines of our local pub, we would laugh at it all (and each other) for what nonsense we happened to spew out of our mouths at the time.

    Where is this going? Again, more back story just to give you a better understanding where I am coming from! We Canadians do pay attention to your elections. You are our best friends and largest trading partner, after all (both ways mind you. You do need us as much as we need you!) What flabberghasts me, a guy from within a similar political system, is the level of nastiness. We don’t see it at the same level here. Perhaps it is the common Canadian’s natural inclination to dislike bullies, and bullshit (most of your nastier campaign ads revolve around one, the other, or both – I am sure you can admit that) and we tend to have a concilatory nature towards differences. We know it is okay to be different, and that while I probably can’t change your view, mine is secure as well.

    Back on point. I can pretty much guarantee you those analysts hang out after in the press lounge laughing with each other about their latest performances. They aren’t on those shows talking about what they believe in (exclusively) they are there for one purpose and one purpose only – heling their ‘side’ win the election.

    Politicians long ago lost the ideal that elections are about governance. They are only about winning. Governance is a distant second place to the real goal.

  3. 3 pbpope September 8, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Canadians are such cuddly people. =)

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