Democracy When?

Government Shutdown
We need to at least start from a set of agreed-upon facts. And we have to stop calling each other names. — photo by Ryan Lackey

When I got up this morning, the news on TV was about a possible deal in Washington between the President and the Republicans in Congress. Which is good news … maybe? At some point there will be a deal struck to keep the United States government from curling up and dying. I confident I won’t have to move into a van down by the river and eat government cheese.

I have a strong opinion about the debacle that has gone on for the past eleven days. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one. But I don’t want to waste anyone’s valuable web-surfing time explaining my opinion. What’s more interesting to me is how little my opinion really matters, and not in the usual ‘drop in the ocean’ sense.

My opinion doesn’t matter because no matter how eloquently and forcefully I express it, no matter how many congressional representatives’ offices I call, I’m not going to change a damn thing. Why? Because no one cares about eloquence, or the opinions of others, or even facts for that matter. Liberals know what they know, and conservatives know what they know, and never the twain shall meet.

I work with a person whose personal hero is Joe Arpaio, and who thinks ‘Obamacare’ is socialism. I get along with this person just fine. I even enjoy this person’s company, but we don’t talk politics. What would be the point? What could I possibly say that would change that person’s mind about anything?

I don’t want to descend into abject despair about this. But I really hope Americans (and especially their representatives in Congress) can eventually find a way to have political discussions that aren’t all about name calling, talking points, straw men and fantasies.

I’m a liberal. I worked on both the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. I could go off on a ripping tirade about the GOP, and if you buy me a couple of bourbons, I probably will. But it feels like an empty exercise. I can rant and bloviate on the Little Village website, but to what end? If you’re reading this, you’re likely also a liberal, and you need no convincing. The few conservatives who might stumble onto this post won’t be convinced by anything I say. Everyone has been pre-inoculated against trusting people with whom they don’t agree. Conversely, they don’t critique their own opinions with any rigor.

What we really need is a respectful common ground in which to discuss issues of politics and policy. We need to at least start from a set of agreed-upon facts. And we have to stop calling each other names. To the liberals, if you think about the conservative people you know, do you think they’re bad people, or do they just have some opinions that bug you? To conservatives, ditto. There are always things we can agree upon. If we can act on those items of consensus, perhaps we’ll begin to establish some trust and find other things to agree upon.

Like Tuttle in the movie Brazil says, we’re all in this together. It’s about time we begin acting like it.