The past three days I’ve gotten in two political arguments with folks who I perceive as creating rifts in the political process and slowing things down. The first was with Karl Rove and a Karl Rove supporter. The second was with an old classmate from film school who was protesting our treatment of George Bush and Barack Obama.

His exact words are as follows:

When terrorists killed thousands and we fought back, you said “murderer.” When the idiot took over the banks and auto companies, wants to eliminate term limits, takes Palistine’s side, kissed our enemies’ feet, and wants to “just talk” to our long time nemesis, you still call him hero. WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH OUR FREAKING COUNTRY?!?!?!

I am really fed up with our inability to broach issues. What follows is my first attempt at a piece of writing on this issue. It was written quickly and is a quick edit of something I wrote re-actively as a response in an email, and because of this it seems rough and incomplete. I’d love your feedback and thoughts on this issue to help clarify this important issue.

Before I get too deeply into this, I want to be clear: no party gets what I’m about to say right. I’m engaging you because I hope to sway your opinion one-on-one, not because I’m claiming liberals or conservatives are any better at the course of action I’m suggesting. Our political system is very broken, and people on both sides of the aisle are responsible. I’m hoping that some of us can adopt civility and use our example to influence others, and eventually, to influence the system.

The claims that I’ve seen made from political pundits and journalists grate on me daily. Few if any of their points is intended to be a critique of a policy decision that describes why the decision was wrong, they are all one liners that offer no real analysis of any action, but serve to sound very bad and make people fearful. Here’s how a message could be packaged in a way that creates opportunity for discussion:

“Obama is pushing the agenda of meeting with Iran without preconditions. Opening lines of communication like this legitimizes a brutal regime that hates us, as the only superpower in the world our vote of legitimacy is an important one and we should be more careful about how we use it — offering to meet Iran without trying to use the value of that meeting to force them to make changes is a mistake.”

I would probably rebut that, as I believe openness offers far more power in the decentralized world that has evolved over the past two decades, but at least I can respect the viewpoint put forth — and discuss it rationally. If a pundit were to defend their viewpoint, whatever it is, with that level of detail I can rationally evaluate it and decide if it offers anything.

This is hard to do, because it makes us vulnerable. Complex, well thought out ideas that resound with many people on different levels can be retorted with pithy one-liners that inspire a frothy response from a core group. In those situations it often feels like the complex thought loses — but in reality that thought has contributed to a better conversation, better information for decision making and a move towards slowly bridging gaps and potentially widening it’s proponent’s appeal.

Complex, well-defined plans should not be the types of propositions our system punishes, and if more of us on both sides start to value discussion over rallying behind sound bites, we can marginalize those who cling to the us vs. them mentality. This can’t come from one party, it’s got to be a widespread effort.

What most pundits discuss serves one purpose: To anger people who align opposite them and rally people who align with them. Most of the folks that defend these actions and follow their lead, don’t do this purposefully, but are reacting to feeling marginalized politically. It’s an understandable emotion to be annoyed, fearful, and angry when people in power share very different goals or beliefs than you. Lashing out in that situation is common and comforting. It isn’t effective though, as it only increases the rift between the groups. Emotions have no place in politics, it is a complex world that is built upon compromises, and compromises require rational thinking.

I have faith that many of us are equipped mentally, spiritually, and physically to recognize that our initial reaction isn’t always constructive and because I believe us to be capable of that, I hope that we’ll engage in more meaningful ways.
If dividing citizens and encouraging them to fight with and ignore each other is your goal — we must marginalize you.

What do you think?