Archive for November, 2010

Optimism Without All That “Hope” Nonsense

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

I’ve been somewhat disinterested in politics of late, hence the lack of updates here. I used to write about politics quite frequently, but those posts have been dwindling. The first and simplest explanation is that I’ve been occupied with other pursuits: writing code, writing music, and writing a webcomic that Carrie and I have been working on. This has reduced or completely eliminated my desire to write much else. There are only so many word ‘seeds’ bouncing around in my brain at one time; and I’ve been using up almost every day’s allotment (in tokens, comments, lyrics, or dialogue balloons). This has left me with very little to say.

The second reason is that I’ve been fairly disillusioned with politics. In 2008 I swallowed the whole ‘Hope’ thing hook, line, and sinker. To say that I’m a little let down by the President and the Democrats is an understatement. I was especially excited about Obama’s promises of increased transparency, of working together for compromise, and of reducing the animosity of the public discorse. Two years after the election is long enough to see that the walk from Barack doesn’t match the talk. It’s also painfully clear that the Democrats squandered their leads in Congress, and the backlash begins… tomorrow.

Tomorrow is half of the reason I’m writing about politics again. The other half has to do with the Stephen Colbert / Jon Stewart rally that happened a few days ago in that other Washington. With both of these events horning in on my blissfully politics-free mental state, it was only a matter of time before a few words squished their way out, like pus from a zit exploding onto a mirror.

First, the Rally. I couldn’t stand behind the message more. The vitriol of mainstream political rhetoric in America often upsets me far more than any issue said rhetoric pretends to address. It ranges all the way from angry talking heads almost shouting on TV down to uncharacteristic anger and all-caps rants between acquaintances on Facebook. People get lost in the ’cause’ and we somehow forget that we’re arguing with our friends and neighbors, that suddenly we’re refusing to talk to someone we’ve known for years, just because of the name they checked on their ballot. The Us Versus Them mentality makes it easy to forget that we’re not arguing against people, we’re arguing against their ideas. The pundits and politicos would love nothing more than for you to start treating those people with whom you disagree as The Enemy, in All Capitals, with an Extended Middle Finger. “You voted for McCain? Well, piss off then, because that invalidates anything you might ever say to me!”

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to avoid this at all costs. I don’t know how I could have kept so many friends if I’d allowed each one’s political position to influence our friendship. As someone who leans strongly to the left growing up in Montana, a state that leans heavily in the opposite direction, I would have had very few friends if I’d let the divisive issues of politics or religions or sports teams get the best of me. Yes, we disagree on one or two issues, but we have so much more in common that fighting about it is, well, stupid. It was reassuring to watch the Rally on Saturday and not feel so alone. Compared to the empty promises of the last election, the Rally stirred within me a much more real sense of hope than any campaign promises ever could.

Speaking of campaigns, right now they’re are heating up into an orgiastic frenzy. The dollars are pouring in and the anger is dialing up and the people on the ads (so very different in behavior from the people who wind up in office) are shouting at each other through their smiling mouths and people are predicting one sort of capital-W “Wave” or another and the money is flowing in and the kids on Reddit are pushing to get out the vote and the pundits are waiting with bated breath and the money is pouring in and both sides are practicing their caging and some people just can’t wait until the Christmas ads starts and did I mention that the money is just gushing in?

The disillusioned part of me is wondering why. Surely, the Republicans don’t need to do much more than they’ve already been doing, despite the Democratic super-majority in the Senate and the majority in the House. Why waste so much money on what’s almost assuredly going to be a win? The conventional political wisdom says that in a mid-term election, the country sways away from the party in control. Why is this election so damn interesting?

It’s all about anger. The Left’s base is upset because the Democrats aren’t doing enough; the Right’s base is upset because the way they see it, they’ve done too much already. Offset things four or six or eight years and it’ll swing the other way. If America were a parked car, it would be trapped on both sides by the Right and the Left. Every election we try to get out of the spot we’re stuck in, and the only way we know how to respond is by colliding with one side’s bumper, and then the other’s. It never occurs to anybody that maybe we should tell the other cars’ owners to move the damn things, or at least try ourselves to turn the wheel.

Normally I would be pretty upset by the probable outcome of tomorrow’s election. I know a few people who will be upset, regardless of which ‘team’ wins, and regardless of whether the car is bumping into the barrier on the Left or the one on the Right. But not writing about politics so much has allowed me to think about this election a little more clearly. And the truth is, I’m tired of being upset. Jon Stewart’s analogy about cars merging into the Lincoln Tunnel is quite apropos. The idealist in me rages about the chance we’ve lost. The pragmatist sees the future opportunity. Change doesn’t come in slogans or “Hope” with a disclaiming (TM). It certainly won’t roll over us tomorrow in some vast Wave, regardless of the outcome of the election. The truth is, no single election has that kind of power.

For better or worse, those in charge have slowed the pace of progress. It’s in their best interest to keep things the way they are. How could this possibly be good for us? Well, if we were constantly changing things as fast as we could then we’d be racing toward certain doom at the same speed as possible salvation. Going this slow ensures that we’re not in danger of catastrophe and that we don’t need to pray for salvation. To partially quote Jon Stewart, these aren’t end times. If you’ve got the right mindset, these can even be ‘begin times.’ The Rally has helped me see it this way. I want my pragmatism to push me forward. I want my idealism to guide me, but never to hold us back. Saturday’s Rally showed me that there are a lot of people who agree, and this more than outweighs the disappointment that another knee-jerk, pendulum-swing election would have brought. Good timing, guys.

A special thanks to my friend Kaiser. His recent post about the Rally motivated me to get off my duff and write something, too.