Are Politics Really That Messed Up? Yes They Are...
Jul 4, 2009
I rather like discussing politics. Sometimes. Online discussing politics is like tying a boulder to your ankles and throwing it into the ocean. You're going to sink. Every time. Because online no one is forced to face one another. So generally I don't like discussing it online. I've gone over reviewing the political pundits in a rather risky manner. But seeing as how those reviews are mostly taken quite well... I thought I'd just take this moment to review the entire thing of politics right here, in a very different style than I am used to doing in my reviews. This one is also going to be a pretty lengthy one, so I hope you're comfortable wherever you happen to be.
As I've said in numerous pundit reviews, the biggest problem with politics in this day and age is that commentary is becoming more viable than the actual news. What Keith Olbermann does isn't news. What Bill O' Reilly does isn't news. What CNN Live used to do was news. What Fox News established has been what news has become. Every day when you turn on one of the three major networks you see the pundit, who usually has his own political affiliation. You don't have to worry, though because many of them disguise themselves as being news. The only reason Keith Olbermann is considered "news" by many is because he looks, talks and acts like a journalist. But by the time you tune into Keith Olbermann most of us already know the days top stories. The same goes for those tuning into Bill O' Reilly... or Rachel Maddow, or Sean Hannity. The news has already been given to you ad nauseum for the day. Their only job is to comment and spectulate--and that's fine. The difference between news and commentary is that commentary is very much opinion. And the problem with opinion is that just because you believe it does not make it true. Let us take this for example:
Most of us accept that 2+2=4. No one in their entire life will dispute this. It's there in stone. It's a cold hard fact. Politics, often in punditry, is not like that. For Bill O' Reilly 2+2 might be 5 and for Rachel Maddow 2+2 might be 8. They'll both present their "facts" of how they came to this conclusion, but the point is that they're both wrong. The problem, however, is that they are ALLOWED to be wrong, because it's not a "fact" they're presenting, it's just their opinion. So behold, Bill O' Reilly is allowed to believe 2+2 is 5 and Rachel Maddow is allowed to believe it is 8. That means the burden mostly falls on us to figure out the right answer. And this is where the same problem comes in. Most of us do not want to search for the right answer because we believe Bill O' Reilly or Rachel Maddow has it. And sometimes they do have the right answer. But when they DO have the right answer what usually happens is that you believe who you want to believe. The person who often tells you what you want to hear. Let us take a good example. People are constantly trying to blame 9-11 on either Bush or Clinton. Depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on plays more of a part of who your blame rather than the knowledge of the event. Instead of just simply blaming the 9-11 hijackers we turned America's Greatest National Tragedy into a political debate.
But let's take something else. Let's say that a Republican and Democrat walks into the room and there's a window. You're the third person who walks in, looking outside, and you ask what the weather is like outside. The Republican looks outside and says its sunny. The Democrat looks outside and says it's snowing. So you look outside and it's actually sunny. Well, the Republican is right in this instance, isn't he? The problem is this: Most will say he's right because he's a Republcan. But he isn't right because he's a Republican. He's right because THAT'S WHAT THE WEATHER LOOKS LIKE OUTSIDE! His political party affiliation has nothing to do with the truth. The problem is that in this day and age... we associate truth with our beliefs. And our beliefs get associated with our label. In a comment I left on someone's review I said this: "People put too much stock in one's political party." And they do. If you just got rid of the Party Labels then you might actually discover that some people are quite different when you're not simply thinking of them as a Republican or a Democrat... or a Libertarian or Socilaist Party or Communist Party etc. etc. Take away the labels and what you have is simply people.
But it gets worse than that... Listen in this clip as Rush Limbaugh tries to label the Virginia Tech shooter as a Liberal AT THE SAME TIME THE POSTER IS LABELING HIM AS A CONSERVATE! The poster goes a little further than Rush and decides to give a montage of killers, giving us their political ideology:
Virginia Tech was a horrible tragedy. Several people died that day... and some of the pundits and commentators devolved into discussing which side of the political spectrum he fell on. My question is why whether or not he was Liberal, Conservative, Democrat or Republican mattered. He was a guy that did a horrible thing... but Limbaugh and this poster got sucked into talking about politics in the wake of a tragedy that took the lives of several people.
So what causes such a rift in American politics? Some have gone to suggest it is all punditry. That may have more validity than you think. But there are reasons why. This is where it gets different. I've divided this review into sections, hopefully I can give some analysis. This will also help you understand why politics in and of itself can sometimes be the most frustrating thing you'll ever discuss. Instead of focusing so strongly on how things are run in Washington, I'd rather focus primarily on us... the citizens. After all? We're supposed to be running this show right?
So here are
1. Source Amnesia Some of us suffer from what is often referred to as Source Amnesia. This is when you can recall a certain thing you heard, but can't entirely recall just where you heard it from. Sometimes it's just a false claim. However, in the realm of politics, this goes to disturbing degrees to make people believe a ton of bullshit. Let's just say you read in the headline of a newspaper article: "Did Rush Limbaugh Help Obama Win the Election?" Most of us believe the story is always in the headline. And because it is a question we usually assume the answer for ourselves. And many people will ONLY read the headline. It's not entirely our fault, most of us are trained to read Newspapers in that way. The story is supposed to be in the headline. The problem is, without reading the article, someone might say something along the lines of, "Did you hear that people think Limbaugh helped Obama win the election?" Your mind goes back to that headline... you may not remember where you saw it. For the sake of argument let's just say you saw on a liberal website, but you don't actually remember that. You just know that somehwere you came to the conclusion that yes, Limbaugh did. This is what you think you heard. Yet, let us say the actual news story came to the conclusion that Limbaugh did not. You've just been hit with source amnesia in a very bad way, and as a result you've believed false information you haven't actually read! Even worse, you present that false information as fact. Because somehow you can only recall the headline. But you might also think, "Why would you ask that question and the answer not be yes?" And from a liberal website no doubt. But again, the problem is that a lot of people fall for this. Part of the reason so many pundits present such information that way is they only get a snippet of it and then can't exactly remember the rest.
What's worse about it, however, is that we want to believe it if it comes form a more credible source. But even worse than that? We sometimes like to... add our own little details. Going back to the Limbaugh example (which I just made up but I'm betting you could find an article about it) you might add something like, "Yeah, I read all those insults made me people hate the Republicans more." But you didn't read it.
We're starting off small though. Source Amnesia is the least of our worries. It gets worse.
2. "It's True Because I Believe It and Because Fox News/MSNBC Says So!" Here is one of the biggest problems with politics. Remember how I said before that people will put their beliefs over fact? Nothing shows that more clearly than MSNBC and Fox News and the blogosphere. You can get media information from anywhere. You can go to a zillion different blogs (which are almost never lament opinion), turn on your favorite commentators, and gets news at basically any time of the day. Hell, you can just as easily go on your cell phone or your iPhone or something. Every library is equip with internet service. Even some of the local McDonald's have TVs in them blasting the news. There's one right down the street from where I live with three televisions. One is tuned into Fox News, one is turned to CNN and the last is on MSNBC.
Getting news and info from anywhere is good right? Information being at your finger tips is the greatest thing ever, right? Sometimes, but it works against you too. The problem with this now, is that people are actually limiting the amount of news they're getting. Even worse, people tune into MSNBC and Fox News for only two reasons. The first is because they agree with what they're saying... the second is to scream about how wrong they are. This is especially bad with the internet and blogs. On a blog you don't have to verify sources or even actively cite one. But that's not what makes it bad. What makes it bad is that you can find anything which agrees with what you're saying. And so many of us want so badly to be right and know what is best for the country. When it comes to politics, it's easy to spew your opinion but it's hard to accept something as truth if you don't believe it. Worse than that, the hardest words for any political commentator or politician is: "I don't know." We like to pretend there's an answer for everything.
Let us take the economy. It is mostly politicized because both parties want so badly to save America. But isn't about saving America, it's about who is right and who is wrong. Because whoever is right will be in power... and whoever is wrong will not. And that's what it's mostly about: Power.
There is so much stock and stubborness put into beliefs that knowledge has taken a back seat. Remember what I said about the weather outside above? It's exactly that but to an extremely disturbing degree. Almost every night Bill O' Reilly refers to the media as the "Left Wing Media." But he does this while boasting about having the highest rated show in cable news on the highest rated news network (as if ratings reflect the quality of said news).
But people will believe it. They'll believe the media is left wing and get this idea that the news they have is the only news they can believe. Even if it turns out that it's entirely false. People at MSNBC do the same thing. Keith Olbermann all by himself has led probably the biggest crusade against Fox news ("Faux News" "Fixed News" "Fox Noise" and oh... he combined two previous ones to make "Faux Noise" and "Fixed Noise"). But this is what it has basically come down to in political news. And people play into it all the time. But the worst part about it is that BOTH networks try to play this game that they are not playing sides. Fox News has said they are "Fair, Balanced and Truthful," a number of times. MSNBC does the same thing (though they're much more subtle).
However, this can get pretty bad. No matter how many times you may prove something to someone else, they're not going to believe it if they don't want to. In the grand scheme of things people often don't like to be wrong. There are two impossible things for Political Commentators and Politicians to do. The first is to admit they don't know something. The second is to say: "I was wrong."
As for us... we're the same way. It's like telling a man who believes in God that there is none. Is he just supposed to sit there and let you tell him everything he believes is wrong? Politics is just like that. It's part of the reason why it's such a mess to discuss. The difference with Politics is that we CAN provide concrete proof most of the time. It's not just faith. The problem is that with how information gets around, and how we can manipulate our flow to get all the information we receive be information we agree with, the majority of us are doomed to pride. We'll have our beliefs, but if knowledge suggests something otherwise... it can be a hard thing to let go of that belief.
Worse is repetition. The more you hear the same thing over and over, the more likely you are to accept it as fact.
3. People Focus Way Too Much on Negative Examples... and Focusing on Negative Examples is a Bad Way to Make a Point If there's one thing that's easy to do, it's look down on someone else. Within our mind we all have this sort of, "I may not be as awesome as THIS guy but I'm a whole lot better than THAT guy!" It's a mentality that we all keep a hold of because it is our way of justifying ourselves as being a moral person. Or, in some cases, so that we can say we're not horrible. We do things like this in other ways. "Dude, I stabbed Marco because he was an asshat but at least he didn't die!" See that? Stabbing him wasn't so bad... because he didn't die. Politics is like that in another way. We place focus elsewhere.
A common thing in political discussion and ideals is that people often get wrapped up in negative examples. Because they're easy to focus on. Take Michael Savage. He says such horrible things even conservatives distance themselves from him. He's what is often known as a "safe bet". If we simply listen to what Michael Savage says... well... almost anyone sounds more humane than he does. So it's easy to compare yourself to Michael Savage. You could slam your van into a car full of orphans and you might still be considered a better human being than Michael Savage. So why even bring up Michael Savage when discussing intense issues? It's easy to point to people like Elliot Spitzer or Mark Foley when looking for someone to put up on the stand as a bad representation of the opposite political party. They've done things that got them media attention in the negative sense. Once again, however, we can point to the fact that the media in general often focuses on the negative stuff. Political scandals are ratings gold! It gets more people watching the news. If our media had a choice between covering the Senator who saved a bus full of orphans with his bare hands (he pulled it out of a river all by himself!) or the senator who's caught up in scandal... the scandal wins. The guy who saves the bus full of orphans will get, at the most, five minutes. The Senator in a scandal will get five months.
And it's easy to be disapproving of Democrats or Republicans when one of them is being caught up in scandal. It's easy to say Democrats suck when you're only pulling out the bad apples and ignoring the good ones. The same is true of Republicans. Once again, our media doesn't help. They like conflict. But if all you're pulling out are the craziest of crazy liberals and conservatives then it's easy to think they're bad. Especially because you're only seeing part of a whole. If there are 300 million people in a nation and only 60,000 have lost their minds... that's a very small portion of the nation. But for whatever reason that's the portion that gets the attention. This is why you can manipulate people into thinking that say... the Tea Party Movement is so huge. It's not nearly as big as you think, there's just A LOT of focus on it.
With negative examples they also get a lot of focus. You are likely to believe that one side of the political spectrum is horrible if you're only looking at all the bad things associated with them and completely ignoring everything else. And often times people have (don't be shocked) done more good than bad. Our loveable media, however, doesn't care for Good News. Like I said, if a Senator saves a bus full of orphans... you probably won't hear about it. If that Senator crashed a semi into that bus while being drunk... that would be something you'd hear about. Our media rarely likes to provide us with good news and so you hear about all these bad things happening and suddenly get sucked into the idea that these bad things are ALWAYS happening an they're not. Worse yet, it allows us to judge an entire group of people based off just ONE. It makes absolutely no logical sense to judge all Liberals based off just ONE Liberal and it makes no sense to judge all Conservatives based off ONE Conservative.
You can't provide an accurate argument or portrayal of ANYTHING with simply using nothing but negative examples. That's often what gets people to pushing an agenda. It also brings about another big fallacy people exploit. When you tell people someone can't be trusted based on just one little misdeed. Totally illogical to conclude that because he made ONE mistake he can't be trusted with ANYTHING anymore. And yet this is how people will often vote. And that's bad because...
4. Too Much Stock is Put in Voting for the Wrong Reasons As an American we talk about how important it is that we vote. And it is important to vote. The problem is why we vote. This is perhaps one of the laughable things about politics. In the previous election many of you, I'm sure, can point to someone who voted for whom they voted for based off of one issue. In some ways I understand. Why do I need to care about EVERY single issue that comes up? However, the problem is, this is a really big decision. Choosing who should lead our nation. It shouldn't just be every American's duty to vote, but to also thoroughly research who it is they're voting for and why. Too often people vote for "the other guy" because they don't like the first one. That or we say something like, "Well, I'm pro-gay marriage and he's pro-gay marriage so I'm going to vote for him! Yay! He is so made to be my candidate!" But it'll be the ONLY issue which matters to a certain individual.
Once again, the media doesn't help. At all. In fact it's disturbing how horrific the media has become. The last election might as well have been called "American Idol... No Really." It was treated like a reality show with the pundits putting themselves in the tank for a specific candidate. Most of America watched, but didn't exactly pay attention to the issues at hand. Or they did but didn't care. It was mostly about, "I'm Pro-Life and that asshole is pro-death so I'm not voting for him!" So they voted that way. Most will be quick to point out there's nothing wrong with this. Perhaps not. But there's a bigger world out there than just your baby of a political issue. Almost everyone has that ONE issue they're big on. Be it gay rights, abortion, the war in Iraq. Most people have an issue they like to think of as theirs, and it more often than not dictates how they vote.
And let's be honest... some people don't take voting seriously at all. Maybe you know a guy that flipped a coin. "Okay, heads I vote Democrat; tails I'll vote Republican." These people are voting too. You also have people voting simply because someone told them to vote a certain way but didn't exactly know why they should... but they did. So yes, we should be influencing people to vote, but we should also be pushing people to vote responsibly. We don't.
5. The Nirvana Fallacy "I'm not voting for either party! Both the Democrats and the Republicans are corrupt and they're basically the same party anyway! Besides, no matter what there will always be issues and..."
There's this thing called The Nirvana Fallacy. It's where you basically expect perfection and because something can't achieve perfection (or more often your expectations) you dismiss it. That is to say, because the candidates aren't perfect and don't agree with you on everything you believe, you find it's okay to say everyone is crazy but you. It's unrealistic, but it makes a good excuse. But what makes it bad is that some people will look at certain issues and decide that because there are flaws to both solution, neither solution is good. This is why so many issues undergo so much debate and then go no where (Healthcare, anyone?). Politicians (and you) will exploit the Nirvana Fallacy all the time! "It's got flaws... we can't do that!" It is what allows people to disagree with and fight anything. People sometimes go crazy with this. Some people will see it as an excuse not to support anyone... and see it as the perfect excuse to be apathetic. But you ARE allowed to believe what you believe. You can be for Health Care Reform even knowing some of the problems with it. This goes along with focusing on the negative. If we only focused on the bad things we'd be against everything.
The Nirvana Fallacy is powerful because it allows people to be Apathetic and, to a large extent, distrusting of everything. Here is why the Nirvana Fallacy is a shitty excuse not to vote:
You all have someone in your life whom you love dearly. A mother or father... a wife or a husband. Perhaps your child. Maybe even all of the above. Do you suddenly stop loving them because you find out they can't do everything you want? No, you don't. In fact, you sometimes have a tendency to support them in spite of (sometimes even because of) those flaws.
To put it better, as a child you probably believed everything Mommy told you. You expected her to know everything--thrived on her ability to know everything. And if anyone said anything about your mother (for boys) you would've decked anyone who said your mother was anything BUT perfect--even when some of the things your mother did were right in your face. But as you got older and matured you realized that Mom wasn't the perfect woman you thought she was. But her imperfections did not stop you from loving her.
The same is true of politics. No, it really is. You can admit that some Conservatives are corrupt AND maintain your own Conservative values. Because in the long run whether someone screws up on your side of the aisle or not, I think you'll find that people will rarely abandon their beliefs. On the other hand, though, both sides being corrupt and imperfect is hardly an excuse for you to abandon your own personal beliefs. The people who are the worst at this are the people who constantly try to find a middle ground with certain issues that don't have one. They do this in their attempt NOT to be politically affiliated with either side of the spectrum. We've all done it once or twice, but there are times when people do it illogically. I once read on a forum where people were talking about gay marriage and a guy wrote, "Republicans need to learn to stay out of everyone's business and Democrats need to learn to respect the law as it is!" If you can't figure out what's wrong with that statement you haven't been listening. So I'll explain... the problem is that it tries so hard not to be affiliated with anything that it says absolutely nothing. It gives no opinion on the issue in and of itself and tries to condemn both parties. In the long run, however, your beliefs don't actually have to be your beliefs because of any political party. EVERYONE has something that they're pretty liberal about and EVERYONE has something that they're pretty conservative about. You don't have to be a Republican to support the Death Penalty, for example, and you don't have to be a Democrat to support a woman's right to choose. We've put so much stock in political parties that we seem to (somehow) think that our beliefs have to coincide with our label. If we didn't think this then we wouldn't be so surprised when a Democrat disagrees with a Democrat or when a Republican disagrees with a Republican. Yet we somehow are.
So we can only say this in this manner: You can support anyone you choose in spite of their flaws, and you don't have to carry a political label to believe what you believe. This doesn't mean you can't be Liberal or Conservative, but it DOES mean you shouldn't refuse a particular belief because you're worried about being slapped with a label... and don't refuse to believe anything because of those labels either. You can be Pro-Choice AND be an independent. Being Pro-Choice isn't suddenly going to make you a Democrat.
Just the same, the imperfections of each party is no excuse not to vote at all, or no excuse not to believe what you believe. The Nirvana Fallacy is interesting because people will use it to not only abandon their beliefs, but to tell others their beliefs are flawed. In short, you're expecting the unrealistic.
With that kind of thinking it's easy to move onto...
6. "You Either Choose THIS or Choose THAT!" This is perhaps the most annoying thing in politics... ever. Commonly known as the "False Dilemna Fallacy," this simply means that you give people two options and tell them they are the only options. Remember how Bush said we either have to fight the terrorist over there or fight them here? It's kind of like that. In politics this is mostly played out by, "You're either a Republican or a Democrat. Ain't no middle ground!" So you can't be an independent? Or a Libertarian? You mean I can only be For the War in Iraq or Anti-American? This is how many politicians and political commentators are able to get people on board for many things. Because they are made to believe there are only two options when there are many more. And they will always make one option sound better than another. But it's also how they phrase the choices. People may say things such as, "You either support the war on terror or you're a terrorist." Well gee... when you put it THAT way.
The worst of the False Dilemna Fallacy is...
7. Us Versus Them Here is where Politics is the ugliest. Remember way back at the beginning (I know that was years ago) when I said too much stock is put into the political parties? How people put way too much emphasis on being Republican or Democrat? This is where it's at it's ugliest. Here's a typical setup:
You meet a guy who seems really cool because you like something similar. Say... a book or a movie, or something. You come to discover you like many of the same movies and books and TV shows. Everything is going fine until you both sit down to watch the "news" (I use the term loosely). Suddenly a big issue comes on the TV and they have a big news segment on... let's say the debate surrounding gay marriage. You look at your friend, and he looks at you. Someone has to asks that question. "What do you think?" Surely, you think you'll agree because you've agreed on the same books, movies, TV shows and music. But to your shock and surprise, he doesn't agree. Suddenly your thought is, He's one of them! Suddenly those good times don't matter as much.
Sometimes the opposite happens. Sometimes you think, This is pretty cool! Because you have differences... and opposites attract. But the more you keep discussing politics the more it suddenly isn't cool. Soon the arguments get annoying. Can't we just go watch a movie or something? Why does he keep going on and on about this? After a while your differences become more annoying than fun. It was fun at first, but sometimes it's nice not to argue. So you suddenly start thinking your friend is one of them.
It would be cool to say this doesn't happen, but it does. Let's take a look at the whole, "The media is bias," claims. People will make this claim whenever the media reports something that isn't in their favor. It's like the kid who gets in trouble on playground for setting the slide on fire and then says, "Of course he tattled on me! He hates me!" People have had a field day of this. It plays into the "Us versus them" perfectly. There is always one side (the "Us") that believes what they are doing is righteous and justified no matter what. And that the other side ("them") is the evil tyrannical side. Notice how pundits like Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Ed Schulz and Rush Limbaugh are quick to blame their opposition for everything. Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh are perfect examples. Rush Limbaugh said the assassin of George Tiller was a Left Wing Nut. So what did Keith Olbermann do? Told Rush he was a right wing nut. It's akin to being on the playground and saying, "You did it! No YOU did it!" It's bickering that doesn't get anyone anywhere.
On the national stage it's always obvious. There's a term called "Special Pleading". This is when you make exceptions to your own rules. Most of the time, however, you make exceptions for... well... no reason. In politics the exception is always easy. "He's one of us." Jon Stewart has made his career off showing us the hypocrisy of both political parties. And everyone is hypocritical in their own way. We all allow exceptions to our rules all the time. "I know I hate it when people don't drive the speed limit, but this is different, I don't want to spill my coffee." (an excuse for driving ten miles under...) Something like that. This always shows up in politics. When someone from the opposite political party suggests an idea... it's a crappy idea. A horrible godawful one. Yet when someone from your favored party suggest an idea--and it could be the SAME idea--it will get praise. A sort of "Let's do this thing!"
Part of it is because everything gets so wholly blown out of proportion that we make a much bigger deal of it than it actually is. And when the issue itself is made into a big deal, usually the debate is made into a really big deal as well.
I have friends on both sides of the political spectrum. For the most part, they agree on many of the same things. Far more than I would've believed when turning on the TV or going to places like Politco. They typically don't find agreement, but they find middle ground somewhere. Or they settle on letting bygones be bygones. But they rarely, if ever blow it up the way it gets blown up on television.
The "Us versus them" theme in politics is what makes politics so nasty. It is enough to make you wonder that if we took away political labels would it be quite as bad as it looks? Then again... IS it as bad as it looks? Or are many of us just a little too connected? In short, are we suffering from information overload?
But let's also be honest, the internet has furthered the "us versus them" theme. Online, you can usually hide behind a fake name and never own up to what you say. It's why some people can say, "I hope you get raped! Twice!" In fact, the internet is wholly different from real life in general.
Watch the part on politics very closely.
"Us versus them" is quite divisive in and of itself, but online it sucks the big one.
In the end... Two party politics just sucks. I hate saying it like that, but it does. It's sloppy, divisive and blown out of proportion a lot. It can be entertaining, but it can suck to realize that while it's fun to watch pundits sometimes, we're not learning anything anymore. Politics used to be a serious, lively thing. Now it's like walking into a bar full of drunks ready to fight... and every one of them is armed with a broken beer bottle.
I like to think it's because we're getting too much information, and because the internet has given us all a voice. It makes you realize that perhaps some things ARE best left unsaid, even if we do have the freedom to say it.
Politics is a mess, but it doesn't look like it'll change any time soon.