It’s election year. That wonderful time when Americans remember their civic duty and turn out in record numbers to vote. And a time when we all engage in serious, thoughtful debate about the direction our nation should take over the next four years.
Oh, sorry. I confused election year with the So You Think You Can Dance finale.
Most people are capable of seeing that the country is drifting farther and farther apart, politically, with the moderate voices in the center being completely drowned out by the screaming coming from either side. This isn’t news. It’s been happening for over a decade. The issue seems to be that no one realizes that it’s a serious problem. And I don’t mean that no one is paying lip service to the fact that it’s a serious problem. Because everyone is. But no one is actually doing anything to change the conversation. Instead, they’re just yelling harder in the hopes that the other side is going to magically crumble into dust.
Unfortunately, I have to be somewhat partisan and lay the blame for this at the feet of the Republicans. They were the ones who started this by creating the “Moral Majority”, which has since spiraled out of control. By tying themselves so intimately to the conservative Christian block of voters (who have a scary amount of money at their disposal), they guaranteed that they would never be able to put forward a candidate with any moderate views on social issues. The result is that John McCain (circa 2000) can’t win a primary but John McCain (circa 2008) can. All he had to do was completely throw out his previous platform, built on compromise, campaign-finance reform, and generally sensible (if still conservative) views. Oh, and he had to make Sarah Palin his running mate. Meanwhile, any congressman who may be willing to reach across the aisle has to be willing to say goodbye to his seat, because they will lose any hopes of funding for their next campaign. Anyone who can’t see how the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists is living in a dream world.
And Democrats don’t come out of this looking too great either. While the party has managed to maintain a fairly healthy shape (yes, a party that doesn’t act as one solid voting block is functioning well), many Democrats have sunk to the same rhetorical level of their Republican counterparts. I’m seeing more and more posts on Facebook and other online forums that characterize Republicans as “evil”. Instead of trying to reach out to the few remaining moderates in the party in an effort to bring things back in line, Democrats are helping to create a wider gap. And dialogue has become all but impossible. Any debate devolves into both sides screaming, “You’re lying!”
This isn’t how a two-party system is meant to work. The system was created with the idea that compromise between the parties would not only be possible, but that it would be necessary for the government to function properly. And historically, the last time issues got this divisive, we ended up having a civil war. I’m sure there are some people out there who would be able to make the historical argument that this divisiveness is just a continuation of a conflict that never really ended. But they’re way smarter than I am, and I’ll wait for them to write the books.
In the meantime, I’d like to believe that it’s possible for dialogue to start again. For Republicans to stop engaging in scare tactics. For Democrats to stick to their guns without stooping to petty arguments. We’re meant to be able to have debates about politics without hitting someone. Maybe we can try to get back to that.