THE WORD FOR THE DAY, BOYS AND GIRLS
I feel like I’m on Sesame Street, because today, there only seems to be one word worth talking about. So let’s just say that this blog post is brought to you by the word “polarization.”
American society has been polarized to a large degree for some time. But there’s polarization, and then there’s POLARIZATION. Lately, we seem to have taken our respective forms of extremism to the next level.
I realize this is hardly a scoop, but it wasn’t until these past few weeks that I’ve seen just how bleak the situation has become. First, I left my community of primarily (though not exclusively) liberal Democrats in the Washington DC area to head out to the Midwest and took the opportunity on the drive home to listen to right-wing talk radio for hour after hour after hour. You’d think that the callers into these radio stations, not to mention the hosts, were from a different planet than the coastal liberals with whom I tend to associate. And if that wasn’t enough, I spoke to a group of pro-Israel women one day and then the next day participated in a meeting of a Middle East peace group. Again, if there is common ground between those two groups of people, I’m sure not finding any.
This type of polarization entails many things, none of them healthy: (1) we are tending to open our minds only to a single narrative and ignore the others, (2) dialogue across the ideological divide has become a rarity, because it is perceived as a waste of time, (3) rather than being intrigued by or interested in “the other,” we are antagonized and alienated from them, and (4) if someone does come along with a moderate viewpoint that tries to synthesize the best ideas on both sides of the spectrum, they are commonly viewed with disdain as a “phony” or an “enabler” by those who reside at the poles.
How’s this for a concrete manifestation of our polarized state -- we’re now more than a year before our next election, and the consensus is that we’re so deeply into election mode that we can’t hope to enact any meaningful legislation. (After all, such legislation would be something the Administration can tout, and the opposition party wouldn’t want that to happen.) I suppose that would be no big deal if the country was clearly heading in the right direction. But this is not exactly a time when we need Coolidge-like leadership from Washington. We have profound problems, and these problems can’t be solved by the private sector alone … yet they’ll have to be, because for all intents and purposes, our government is about to be engaged in a 14-month stalemate.
To the Republican/Democrat stalemate, I add the mess that is the Middle East peace process. Could that be any more moribund? The Palestinians’ UN ploy is an act of desperation. They know that recognition by the General Assembly of a state that they don’t fully control is merely symbolic and will serve largely to piss off Israel. But they weren’t getting anything by working with Israel – other than more and more of those God-forsaken settlements, which Israelis imperiously refer to as “facts on the ground.” So what’s their choice, right?
That, at least, is the perspective of my non-Zionistic friends in the peace movement. What they don’t realize is that from the perspective of my fellow Zionists, it completely misses the point: all the Palestinians have to do is recognize Israel as a Jewish State and stop teaching their children to hate that state, and they might indeed find a partner for peace. So why not agree to that? Israeli partisans keep asking that question and never seem to get an answer they can understand.
So yes, it might feel that things are so bad that they can’t get any worse. But keep in mind that the election season hasn’t truly heated up, and that’s when things are really going to get sad. Imagine the way Republicans are about to be portrayed by the Democrats: virulently anti-science, virulently anti-poor, unconcerned about the middle class … and let’s just add, for good measure, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, Enlightenment-phobic …. and pro-death. (You heard those Tea Partiers cheer for the death of people who are ill and lack health insurance.)
As for the Democrats, they’re about to be portrayed on those cute little talk radio stations I’ve been listening to as: virulently anti-economic theory, virulently anti-freedom, unconcerned about the abuses of bureaucracy … and let’s just add, for good measure, socialist, Godless, dishonest, un-American … and pro-death (or at least anti-fetus, which seems to some to be the most important form of human life).
The whole thing has become ridiculous, which is probably why the best choice for President is not Rick Perry or Barack Obama but rather Jon Stewart. He looks to be the most talented of the only group of people who can be invigorated by the status quo – the political comedians. He is positioned to give White House speeches that don’t sound either like warmed-over Jimmy Carter or red meat for John Birchers. Rather than beginning his term with soaring rhetoric, only to see that rhetoric devolve into dismissing as sanctimonious the very people who helped him get elected, Stewart can spend his entire Presidency telling, as he likes to put it, “fart jokes.” (Of course, as any fan of South Park can tell you, true fart jokes aren’t “told,” they are demonstrated.)
I would love it if after a long drive listening to Rush, Sean and Laura, and then after a few hours watching Ed, Keith or Rachel on TV, I could ready myself for a Presidential press conference late in the evening when the kids are asleep. Then, our Commander-in-Chief can regale us with bits about gender, sex, race, and yes, everyone’s favorite room in the house (the WC). Seriously, folks, does the political discourse today warrant anything else? If we’re not going to listen to or respect one other, if we’re not going to work together, shouldn’t we at least get as many laughs as possible at each other’s expense?
I still remember when Arnold the Terminator was first on the ballot for Governor of California and one of his opp0nents was Gary Coleman. A friend of mine – a highly intelligent, politically-savvy, but also fed-up professional woman – voted for Coleman, and it made me feel jealous, at least for a second. I so wanted to be able to vote for someone that funny for such an important position.
Well folks, if things keep deteriorating, we may all be dusting off our pens and writing in comedians in 2012. Tired of the two-party system? Too polarizing? Maybe we do need a third party. Let’s call it the Buffoon Party. It might not win too many elections, but at least its partisans can have a good time when they enter the ballot box instead of having to hold their noses like the rest of us.