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June 23, 2003
Soapbox IV - Parties and Voters

I'm reconsidering my position on a number of issues.

No, I'm not about to come out as a right-wing conservative and support Bush, et. al., or anything crazy like that, but I've been doing a lot of research over the last weeks and comparing it with what I've read and learned over the past eight or nine months and I'm coming to the conclusion that we're being more seriously misled than we know.

The problems are not (You have no idea how it pains me to say this) the sole responsibility of the Republican Party. (Not that there aren't problems in the RP, because there are. But I'm beginning to believe that they're not the Ultimate Big Bad and anyhow, they aren't the primary topic of conversation today.)

Still. Let's consider the political parties for a moment.;

I dislike what the Republican Party leadership has become in its reliance on extremist and right-wing agitators. I dislike the reactionaries who want to turn back the clock to a mythical Golden Age when women stayed home and raised the children and white men ruled the world.

(Rant on why the men most offended by social equality are frequently those hurt least by it removed. I'm going to avoid being side-tracked this time.)

I dislike the Democratic Party's loss of identify as they try to be all things to all people while binding themselves to nothing. I can't stand their spineless fear of commitment or their increasing panic and reliance on corporate sponsorship. They lack, not the courage of their convictions, but any convictions at all. I despise that.

And how about the institution of government itself?

I, along with (if my reading is correct) the vast majority of USofA citizens dislike and distrust extremism and we like it least when it comes to the government.

We like an unadventurous government . One that's responsive to our wants and needs, but not one that blows in the wind of whatever fanatic might have the ear of an influential official.

We want a government, forgive me for the elitist intellectualism, with a sense of public duty and responsibility. (Or, don't forgive me. I don't care. Go read Dick and Jane if words of more than two syllables offend you. I'm also overheated about the anti-intellectual bias in this country but that, too, is a different rant.)

Okay, how about the voters? Where did they go, anyhow?

Well, there was Vietnam and a lot of people "dropped out" in the 60s, but in actual numbers, they were a small percentage of their generation. And, of course, there was Tricky Dick and quite a few more people got disillusioned with government during that era.

Why did the drop-outs so rarely drop back in and what happened to the generation after them? Why did they never learn the power of the vote?

Let's consider that for a moment.

The shrill shenanigans coming out of Washington for, let us say, the last twenty years, fall far short of what most citizens consider appropriate behavior for a government . The more scandal the public hears about and disapproves of, the more secretive politicians become in an attempt to keep their "public faces" clean and shiny so as not to offend The Voters.

So why are politicians acting up so badly behind the scenes? Why don't they just behave themselves?

(Brace yourselves. You probably haven't heard this one before.)

Actually, the majority of them they aren't, and they do.

It's the so-called liberal media who makes us believe otherwise by focusing our attention on failures, controversies, and scandals and neglecting positive accomplishments.

(I read Alterman's book and he made a convincing case that if the national media has political bias, it's conservative in the "commentary" and "talk" arenas. But as satisfying as his book was, it didn't answer all my questions, so I read more and I'm starting to see a pattern.)

Every Administration gets up to a certain number of shenanigans, as do the politicians in Congress and those in our state and local governments.. This is fact. The governments are staffed by fallible humans, so some of those shenanigans are inadvertent. The governments are staffed by politicians, so some of those shenanigans are power- or re-election-related.

And some politicians (let's be polite, to avoid derailing my train of thought) do behave very badly, indeed.

But none of them, I'm starting to believe, are the incarnations of evil that some of us have been led to believe. Not even (gulp) GWBush and his cronies.

(digression) - That GWB is of average intelligence and less-than-average intellectual curiosity is, I think, fairly well accepted. He's simple-minded (i.e., he likes 'true-or-false' answers) and largely bored by the minutiae of actually governing. His supporters laud this as 'CEO style' but this country is not a corporation and the man with his finger on the nuclear button should not be a disengaged 'overseer' of other people's activities. In this country we elect a President. We do not hire a CEO. - (/digression)

On no day is the news all 'good' or all 'bad' so why is it that there are days when finding 'good' news in a newspaper is almost impossible? And certainly it's harder to find "above the fold" of the front page.

Oh, yes, good news shows up. It's just that if you read and compare headlines and stories, you'll see that most front-page news is negative. And even not-so-negative news is frequently introduced by a sensationalistic seemingly disaster-predicting headline.

What's up with that and what agenda is behind it?

Well, as I'll no doubt be arguing for quite some time to come, there's no hidden agenda. There's no "secret government" and there's no conspiracy.

(Honestly. They're neither that smart nor that well-organized, okay? I don't doubt there are groups who would like to find themselves at the center of a web of all-powerful men, but fortunately for us this is a country of cranks and kooks and there are enough conflicting groups struggling for the same ends that the likelihood of any one group succeeding is slim as long as there are responsible voters keeping an eye on them.)

Anyhow. There's no conspiracy. There's just the media, trying desperately to make ever-larger profits and, in the process, finding itself moving farther and farther away from its original objective.

Every event can be "spun" in a number of different ways. More often than not, the media spins to the dark side. They fight for a negative, controversial slant to every story because 'bad news sells newspapers'.

(Is it some fatalistic streak in our collective, national psyche that gives us a more consistent connection to disaster than to triumph?)

Far from advocating that the media deliberately "spin" bad news into good, I'm asking that they Just. Stop. Spinning. It. at all.

My point is that things are neither as good, nor as bad, as those of us on each side of the political spectrum believe.

I don't doubt that there are (re-)election-at-any-cost politicians at work in Washington today, but I deny that that's all that anyone in Washington cares about and even if it is, keeping their campaign promises to their electorates is the best way to get re-elected, so arriving in Washington, throwing off the mask, and diving into the cesspits of the worst kind of politics just doesn't make sense.

We've been misled by a negative, scandal-mongering press (whether we read publications on the Right or those on the Left) that indulges in ever-greater reliance on unsubstantiated rumor and supposition in an attempt to boost circulation/ratings.

Overwhelmingly negative media coverage distorts our view of our political world. And, as has been argued more eloquently by others, this negativity has contributed largely to the decline of voter participation in the process of selecting government, not only at the voting booth but in the critical months or weeks before an election when people used to consider, debate, and discuss the different candidates as they chose where to cast their vote.

If they're all crooks, what does it matter which one you vote for? If they're all opportunistic liars, what does it matter which one is in office?

(I heard that from a surprising number of people back before Campaign 2000. Most of the ones who said that at that time are stubbornly sticking by their position today but some of them are noticeably wild-eyed and sweating. Seen a picture of Ralph Nader recently?)

I think that what the Left has learned in the last two years is that, negative view of politics or not, it still matters which politician you vote for. I don't blame the people who voted for Nader (except that I sort of do because a quick glance at Bush's record in Texas and Gore's record in Washington should have proven that they were not in fact, and as Nader kept saying, interchangeable parts).

I also hope the press is realizing they have a responsibility to their readers/viewers, but I doubt it.

In case anyone is wondering, what we need to know isn't whether or not one candidate wore a brown socks today or another gave someone from NBC News a cutesy nickname.

We need the press to let us hear or read what the candidates are saying (all the words, not quoted out of context or "cleaned up" for those candidate who can't form a coherent sentence), give us their voting records so we can compare their words to what they've actually done in the past, and then get out of our way so we can make our own decisions.

I, for one, am sick of "coverage" of major political speeches where the yakking anchors and "specialists" talk for longer than the politicians did. The echoes of the speech are still hanging in the air as the various pundits start spinning the "message."

I'm also sick of having information about presidential candidates sandwiched into the evening news, given the same ten seconds they'd give a feel-good story about a lost raccoon, and then dropped. I'm sick of say-nothing campaign ads, too.

Okay, I'm a little cranky this morning. Maybe I'd better find some coffee.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:03 AM