(Note: This post has been through multiple drafts before and after it’s first posting in the wee hours of 10/12/09. I feel like I’m really out on a limb finally putting this out here. It’s scary.)
I have tried not to write about politics on my blog. And I’m still not even sure I want to now. I am 34 years old, and I’m not even sure where I land on the political spectrum. I find myself in this awkward in-between stage on almost every single issue. I’m even stuck in a weird place in terms of how important politics are to me. On the one hand, I care very much about the issues. On the other hand, I resist getting too wrapped up in it because it can seriously erode my peace of mind. I have to disconnect it out of self-preservation sometimes.
I have no clear political philosophy. No camp in which I hang my hat. No group with which I most identify. No real way to even articulate what my politics are other than to say that my guiding principle, when trying to come to any kind of conclusion about the world around me, is to have compassion for others and to watch out for the “little guy.” I don’t know if that makes me blue or red, a donkey or an elephant, one of us or one of them. The truth is: I don’t know. And I wouldn’t care, except that it feels like it’s not okay with a lot of people.
I think it is relevant to say, in the interest of being as honest as possible, that most of my current political persuasions is more of a shying away from certain aspects of one side rather than a full embrace of the other, if that makes any sense. To me, that distinction makes a huge difference, but unfortunately it seems that in order to be in either camp, you have to agree with, and be willing to defend, everything the party does. I’m sorry, but no can do on that one. I will admit my bias: I was no fan of the George W. Bush administration. I am more than thankful that he went after Bin Laden. But this “you’re either for us or against us,” bull in a china shop method of (non) diplomacy stopped being appropriate, in my humble opinion, about 1 year after 9/11. Yet, it drug out for seven more years. I was not a fan. Yes, there is a time to make it clear that you’re not going to allow someone to kick you around, but I do not think that it is an appropriate way to govern.
The whole point was to make us safer. Are we safer? Perhaps. I don’t know. I’ll tell you this though: the idea that somebody would put a facebook poll asking whether or not the President should be assassinated scares me a heck of a lot more than terrorists do. The vitriolic tone of the political discourse in this country erodes my peace of mind much more than any foreign threat does. The hatred that chills me to the core is right here among us. There are some who would have us believe that our neighbors, our friends, or perhaps even our own parents, siblings or children are evil, are baby-killers, are broken, are war mongers, are racist, are crazy because they are republican or because they are democrat, because they are pro-life or because they are pro-abortion, because they are homosexual, because they are pro-second amendment, because they pro-death penalty, because they believe in civil unions… and the list goes on and on.
How can anybody feel safe, really truly safe, in a climate such as this? I don’t feel safe posting this up on my own blog, because I fear judgment by the people who know me and love me. Because the climate of discourse here says I have to think one side is horrible, evil, and wrong, lest I be a horrible and evil person myself. Why do we listen to the people who perpetuate this kind of thinking?
I’ve been saying for years that perhaps the number one problem with the political climate today is the way politics is presented and reported. And I’m not talking about the “liberal media” either. There is plenty of biased reporting going on for both sides. The cable news networks are little more than popsicle stands with tailor-made programming to appeal to their viewers’ preferences. Here’s your blue raspberry sno-cone (she shoots animals from helicopters!). Here’s your red cherry pop (he’s not even an American!). Increasingly, the programming is not even about their viewers’ preferences, but rather their neuroses. And you know what? We eat that crap up every. single. time. It drips and spills all over our lawns and sidewalks; we drip it all over the common spaces we share with others, and it makes everything sticky, and gross, and ugly, and all the dirt we kick up over the stuff that should matter the least just sticks all over everything and makes us all look filthy.
My strongest distaste is for those who command so much attention, and make a heck of a lot of money, by making people feel afraid. I don’t want to listen to anybody who clearly hates the other side or who is an alarmist. I don’t want to listen to anybody who encourages me to assume the worst about people who do not see things the same way as I see them. And I just can’t understand for the life of me why so many people, truly good people, would listen to such hateful people say detestable things. It makes me very sad that I cannot simply say the following without real fear of harsh judgment:
I believe that health care reform is a good idea because I believe that EVERYONE should have access to good health care. I do not think that the government needs to be INVOLVED in my health care decisions, just as I do not think that some cost-benefit analyst at some HMO should INVOLVED in my health care decisions as they are under the current system. The idea that the patient has some kind of ultimate control over their own treatment is an illusion. So rather than scaring me into thinking I’m about to lose something that I actually don’t have, why don’t both sides right that wrong? Clearly both sides know that patients and doctors should be the ones to decide because that is the carrot they are dangling above our heads… so let us fix the system so that it really does work that way, shall we? I would be grateful if the government could ensure that if I lost my job, or my husband lost his, that my kids, my spouse, and I could still get good health care. If the government plans to systematically shut down all health insurance companies by penalizing them into closing, as I have heard some conservatives say it will do, then that is wrong. I have no idea WHAT is going to happen, but I am willing to bet that the high-paying insurance executives will walk away with a sickening amount of money before they allow themselves to go bankrupt. The current system is hardly honorable. Just as there are horror stories about what WILL happen if health care is reformed, there are horror stories about what DOES happen with the current system.
The bottom line is: there are sick kids, poor people, and hard working folks who are out of work and who don’t have health care and desperately need it. That should be fixed. I don’t care if the person who does it is blue or red, republican or democrat, or whatever. It just needs to be done. Anybody who doesn’t agree with that basic principle may cause me to wonder about their compassion for others; it depends upon their reasons for opposing it. But I will resist jumping to a conclusion, and I certainly won’t call them evil. I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they are concerned with how the financial implications of reform may affect the coverage of millions of people…. just as I am concerned about the non-coverage of millions of others. Yet, there are those on both sides that will say that the other is evil. There are some who try to alarm people that such a positive change is the downfall of democracy.
There are some who would say that I am naive at best or anti-American because I said this would be a positive change. Honestly, that fills me with a cloud of sadness and anxiety that has been with me for years. Particularly because some of my nearest and dearest friends and family listen to those who would label me as such. I cannot but help to take it a little personally, because their opinions of me matter deeply to me. It feels similar to when you knew somebody was talking trash about you in school, and even though it wasn’t true, your friends did not speak up and defend you. I just don’t understand how something that, to me, is so clearly hate-filled and divisive can be seen as right and appropriate by people whom I believe to be good. And the rhetorical heat only seems to get cranked higher and higher. I find it in places where I don’t want to see it. It makes me feel defensive and sad… and yes, vaguely fearful.
When, exactly, did we begin to allow people to verbally bully those whose politics don’t jive with our own? And while I’m being brave, I’ll just come right out and say it: Who will be the first truly influential Christian to censure some of these voices, strongly oppositional voices (on both sides), whose profit is in the controversy and the fight? Honestly, how any Christian can listen to Rush Limbaugh and not cringe at his ego, his blatantly racist and unloving, unkind remarks is beyond me. I am a Christian, and for that very reason, I cannot align myself with certain current aspects of conservatism is this country. And obviously, I cannot align myself with many aspects of liberalism. But BOTH will say I don’t belong in their camp.
I do not believe that God will smite me for my political viewpoints. I do not believe that our country is going to hell in a hand basket because of who is in office. I believe that democracy is most in danger in the hearts of we the people, who are suspicious, who are jaded, who would rather believe the lies that make us feel good or the good punchline at someone else’s expense, rather than do the hard work . I believe God is most saddened when we leave compassion, love, and charity of spirit aside, or allow those who so obviously lack it to influence our thoughts.
I once heard somewhere, and I have no idea where, that hell was like a group of people sitting around a huge pot of warm, nourishing soup. Everybody’s hands are stuck to the ends of the very long ladles. They try desperately to get the ladels to the mouths, but the handles are too long, and their hands cannot be moved from the ends. Their bodies are emaciated and starving, the smell of the food fills their nostrils, their anguish is unbearable, and they dispair. And yet, the real hell is that they are so singularly focued on satisfying their own hunger, that it never occurs to them that they could be nourished if they would only lift their ladle to someone else’s mouth, and allow someone else’s ladel to reach their own. It seems to me that this is the condition of politics in our country. And it makes goodness, kindness, compassion, sympathy, charity, understanding, forgiveness, and love so much more difficult.
Where is the voice for peace, compassion, and understanding for everybody, not just those with whom we agree, as it pertains to politics? Where is the voice for collaboration, prudence, and moderation that does not count the political cost?
Would we even listen to such voices? Or would they be shouted down? Would they even make it on the news or the radio?
Again, I don’t know.