Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Political pet peeve #2

Political pet peeve #2:  Polarization.

This is what couples do when they agree on 90 percent of what they want--at least in principle--but they major on their differences.  It goes like this:  Both mom and dad want their kids to be well-behaved and to feel loved.  But one day, mom makes a comment about needing dad to help discipline the kids more and dad, feeling defensive, attacks her for not being more understanding of them.  She shoots back that the kids are spoiled and it's his fault.  He counters that she is mean and doesn't even really care about the kids.  What is actually true is that both partners want what is best for their children but to listen to them talk, she only cares about punishment and he only cares about permissiveness.  (This is why politics remind me so much of work.)

You don't have to go back very far to remember when a Republican president decided to use his last vestiges of influence to pass immigration reform.  Democrats, who had previously supported most of the ideas contained in the new plan, refused to support it, afraid that credit would go to the wrong team.  It happened again around health care just a couple of years ago, when the current president built most of his original proposals about insurance reform on Republican ideas and Republicans suddenly acted like they had never heard of them before.

 If you only listened to the political pundits and the strategists and the people who call in to talk radio, you would think that Democrats and Republicans have nothing in common, that each side hates everything the other side stands for and that each loves/hates America, depending on which side you're on.  That's what the rhetoric of polarization sounds like and it's killing us as surely as it kills the marriages of the couples who sit in my office.  We have to learn to listen to each other--really listen--and find the places we can agree and then work our butts off to bring change or we will all sink together.

There's another way that polarization shows up, I think, and that is in single-issue voting.  Here's what I think:  if an issue matters enough to you that you sacrificially give money to support it, if you regularly write thoughtful letters to your representatives to influence their thinking on that issue and if you put yourself out there to protest on behalf of that issue and if you just can't help trying to get other people to see the issue your way even in the face of opposition, then maybe you get a free pass to cast your vote solely on how a candidate stands on that issue.

But everybody else?  No.  If you don't care enough about that issue to truly work on its behalf the other three years and 364 days, then you don't get to cast your vote solely on that one issue.  I'm writing this as one who used to do that.  I learned, though, that political thinking requires complexity and hard work.  Do us all a favor and do the work.  There is too much on the line to vote simplistically.

1 comment:

Electric Monk said...

Love it. I've often felt that single-issue voting and political polarization are really just a lazy way of thinking about the issues. Rather than go to the effort of thinking about multiple things at once, and having a spectrum of opinions, it's easier to just call myself a Republican/Democrat so that I know exactly who to vote for, or to vote solely based on abortion/gun control/immigration/whatever.