Admittedly, my snarkish language on politics paints me as an ultra liberal ideologue. But the truth is I hate the hyper-partisan environment created by Washington to win elections and cable news to sell airtime. And the message they convey – that we’re the greatest country in the history of mankind but really, totally, completely screwed – is one of inherent incongruity.
What’s worse, politics has become less of what people believe, and more and more what’s wrong with what other people believe. It’s no longer necessary to present your own real ideas and solutions; rather you can win much more easily by just saying how terrible the opponents’ is. This is all to apparent in the “we love the Constitution, and you’re not us, so logic follows you hate the Constitution” talking points of the Tea Party. But the far right is nary the sole offender; indeed there is some truth to the GOP rhetoric in Congress that Obama and the Democrats, if they hate their budgets so much, should publicly release a counter budget. Of course, that doesn’t make any political sense. If most Americans hate, for example, that Ryan’s budget is going to shred Medicaid and that is a boon to your poll numbers, why release a budget proposal which undoubtedly is also going to contain some unpopular proposals?
I hesitate to say politics is the worst it’s ever been, or the most toxic, or the least functioning. The predominance of extraordinary hyperbole and complete loss of context is part of what’s created this environment. But it does seem to be that politics has mostly devolved into, “My position is . . . wait, what’s your position? I’m against that.”
Perhaps the most disheartening truth is that releasing a budget would not be bad for the right and the center . . . but bad for the base. By showing what they want to do, they’re in effect conceding to all the things they had to give up. And in today’s hyper-partisan political makeup, compromise is no longer a satisfactory option. A perfect example is this past year’s budget. A compromise was reached, money was saved, a shutdown was averted. Everybody should have been happy. Instead nobody was, because even though everybody got something they wanted, nobody got everything they wanted.
This isn’t unique to the budget; it permeates American politics. The starting points have moved from what we agree with to what we disagree with, whether it be the budget, or tax subsidies, or environmental issues, or abortion. Ideas opponents agree on are actually more toxic than those mostly favored by the minority extremes of both wings.
Maybe this year will be different. Maybe this year political ideology will play an important role in pragmatic compromise, instead of dictating the end result of any debate. Because if we can’t do something as basic as making sure we’re able to pay the bills we’ve already voted to pay, how long can we honestly continue to blindly accept the nationalistic mythology of historical exceptionalism?