Friday, March 10, 2006

Spin vs. Substance

I love watching C-Span. It's especially illuminating during an event like a Presidential press conference, or the State of the Union Address, when I can compare the no-frills sound and picture coverage of C-Span with the emotionally-weighted productions of the commercial networks. The drumbeats, the music, the dramatic voices of the commentators, even the commercial interruptions put filters over the actual information and interfere with the viewer's ability to analyze it clearly. Then the propagandists of both parties jump right in to tell people what the leadership of each party wants the information to mean.

During any evening I can see a lot of political theater. Nothing is unscripted anymore, but at least it isn't over-produced in the course of a day's worth of mixed political discourse.

I don't know when any of these people discuss the real substance of any issue. No politician can waste an opportunity to jab at the other party. All the while bitching about divisiveness and partisanship, each party blames the other for fostering it.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if they admitted they gave up on the American people as a whole a long time ago?

A purely partisan vision for the country, if it allows for the existence of another party at all, wants it to remain permanently inferior and submissive.

Back when the founders of the nation were trying to decide such fundamental questions as whether the country should have a strong central government or be a loose confederation of powerful smaller states, party divisions were inevitable. Later, when the nation grappled with whether they would allow chattel ownership of human beings to continue in the so-called land of the free, party divisions were inevitable. But as the country grew and developed, and as the world developed around it, the black and white areas have overlapped more and more so that reducing it all to a single yes-no decision every certain number of years does not really address the mechanical needs of running a big, modern country.

That's not to say that big, black and white decisions have not come up and do not come up. Most of the time,when they do, the choice is obvious. Oppose Hitler. Resist totalitarianism in its various guises. Oppose terrorism. Sure. And smaller black and white choices call for our attention in our personal and political lives. But in crafting a party ideology suitable for a divided nation to choose between two alternatives in a short election, the important issues end up held hostage, bound firmly to issues of personal conscience important to their adherents, but not relevant to the greater need for a smoothly operating nation.

No political party should own a solution to a national problem. We should all own it. We should all have input. No party should win or lose on it, because then team spirit will overtake national and human interest, and the party deemed the loser will have a natural competitive urge to undermine the solution so it can implement one of its own. It may be the same solution relabeled, but the delay and the obfuscation will simply reinforce the perception that one sub-group knows better than another about situations that affect us all.

I'm really afraid that our love of taking sides will lead to more and more fragmentary solutions. Fragmentation can be good, if it finally breaks us down to the level of isolated, self-interested individuals making carefully-reasoned decisions. But that sort of idealized libertarianism is highly unlikely. The principle of safety in numbers will keep small groups hanging together, pushing their parochial interests and looking for allies to push a little of their agenda here, a little there. That's largely what we have now. We can't even agree on basic human rights and how to divvy up the national paycheck to pay the national bills.

We should be discussing issues as issues not as platform planks. I don't care who comes up with a solution if it works.

Maybe we'll get around to progressing after another century or two defining the problem.

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