The Real Problem With American Political Discourse

Thanks to the conclusion of college football’s oh-so-exciting 27 week long postseason, I’ve finally been able to keep up with the news this week. In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tuscon, the national press has alerted me of two realities. First, that stricter gun laws would have prevented a deranged man from carrying out an extensively planned, premeditated assault with one of the most widely circulated handguns in the world. (After all, psychotics are well known to be sticklers for proper paperwork and adherence to the rule of law.) Second, that the primary ailment of modern politics is not substantive but tonal.

Every newspaper, network, and credible blog (right or left) has told me that what is needed in American politics is a taming of the national discourse. Whether or not the use of militant rhetoric from politicians was to blame for the shootings, we know it’s out there. Sarah Palin, we are told, used target symbols to denote Democratic districts vulnerable to Republican takeover prior to the 2010 midterms. Republicans retort that Democrats, including our own president, have used similarly militant language and symbolism in years past. Conservative radio and liberal television programs have repeatedly gone so far as to question the motives and credibility of political opponents. Feelings have often been hurt. The audacity!

If only we could soften the tone of our dialogue, this nation would be a far greater place. If, instead of disagreeing with our politicians and voicing our dissent, we could treat them like the elder statesmen of Plato’s Republic, we could get so much more done! You see, thanks to the mainstream media, Congress, and the president, I’ve learned that if we all could just learn to get along, we would solve our problems.

I had previously thought that the issue with our political dialogue was that it was too ephemeral and avoided the hard questions. I thought that the tone of political debates was naturally hostile because it concerned issues central to every person’s very livelihood. Many years ago I learned from my Intro to American Government professor that politics was the struggle for finite resources among infinite demand for them. I then made the (in retrospect obviously flawed) assertion that citizens should be pissed off when it came to people deciding how the fruits of their labor were allocated. What an ignoramus!

You see, there are no tough choices faced by our country. The media never tells me, for example, that we are in serious danger of passing a lower standard of living onto our children (via the soaring national debt) unless we cut programs that we all enjoy. It never discusses the merits of Keynesian vs. Austrian school economic policies and the costs and benefits that they present. The commentariat is loathe to provide information about the size, sustainability, or desirability of the current welfare infrastructure, and what this means for the Average Joe. It doesn’t delve into presidential foreign policies that could mean the difference between me spending my late twenties in a cubicle in Manhattan or a bunker in Qatar.

And if the media doesn’t discuss these problems, they must not be problems after all!

It is thus the responsibility of the mainstream media to foster a nicer, more civil national dialogue devoid of name calling. Politicians should similarly recognize the merits of their opposition and stop trying so darn hard to obstruct things. And citizens: with so little at stake, we should demand a passive, subdued discourse, and trust that leaders are doing their best.

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