Political Maturation and Partisanship in 2010

For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by two lines of thought as they relate to political affiliation and age:

1.  The older you get, the more conservative you’ll become.

2.  A conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged.

While those time-honored clichés still exist (and will likely continue to do so until the end of time), the aging process has, in my case, proven them to be both correct and incorrect.  The common theory is that age causes us to lose the doe-eyed liberalism of our youth, eventually succumbing to the harsh reality of the world around us and shifting a belief system to reflect that changing perspective.  We’re led to believe that as the world begins to show its true colors (whether it be through taxation, crime or general cynicism) the perception of our surroundings begins to change, thus altering our political allegiances.

Having recently turned thirty, my ever-vigilant analysis of what I believe and don’t believe has indeed changed.  Gone is the Green Party Socialist of 2000, replaced by a more moderate voice and a willingness to examine issues for what they are and not for what they “should be” in a perfect world.  Thirty years of living has convinced me that these changes in perspective should be directly attributed to my growing distrust of the government, my desire to keep more money in my wallet and my eventual plans to support a family in a safe, comfortable world.  However, genuine exploration of what has caused these internal changes doesn’t support this theory in the least.  In fact, as I’ve grown older I’ve found myself becoming more compassionate and even more optimistic about the world as a whole.

This led me to question the logic of these long-held assumptions about exactly what moves a young, rebellious liberal from the camp of Ralph Nader and into the camp of a more reasoned, moderate political voice.  It couldn’t be age, as I still feel roughly 25 (and often 15).  It couldn’t be victimization, as I’ve only once been the victim of crime (and a fairly tame one at that).  It couldn’t be the cold, creeping cynicism of an unlovable world, as I have a better (albeit still quite flawed) understanding of the world and cultures around me than ever before.  After much thought I came to understand that the shirking of partisanship on my part comes not from any outside influence, but rather from simple maturation… not just as a person, but as a follower of the global political process.

For many, many years I operated in much the same way as the talking heads on television, the radical eco-protestors and the rabid tea party activists that devour our political process like locusts each day.  The formula is remarkably simple:  pick an issue, choose the side most closely affiliated with your “party,” find “facts” to support your side and go to battle.  Any information that may contradict your opinion is to be labeled as “biased,” “false” or in some cases “a vast conspiracy by the (insert party) to destroy the (insert movement/cause/thing).”  Actual research is to be discarded and evaluating both sides of an argument is very nearly blasphemy.  Impartial, well-researched sources of information are discarded if they happen to disagree with what we see on DailyKos or FreeRepublic.  Internet rumors become truth, message boards become sources and the hope for rational debate dies more each day as we surround ourselves with like minded-strangers, fueling anger and spreading misinformation.

Hello, my name is Cory, and I’m a partisan douchebag-aholic.

Or at least I used to be.

The reverse-understanding of an issue (choosing a side then researching only talking points) is not only a dangerous practice, but it leads to a kind of stunning ignorance.  While it may seem relatively harmless for the lone nut in Vermont or Texas to hold an outrageous political belief, that harmless lone nut now has a voice… thanks to the gears of the internet, and often loud voice.  These viewpoints aren’t particularly dangerous (unless held by a potential terrorist threat of any stripe), but the exponential growth of these viewpoints, taken as fact and developed into a voting bloc, should be cause for alarm for any sane human being.  In the last decade we have seen these theories take root, creating alarmingly large groups of organized individuals who believe that George W. Bush was a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks and that Barack Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim sleeper-agent.  The incoherent ramblings of the crazy man on the corner have become “legitimate” blogs, linked to propoganda sites on both political extremes.  People working backwards, making up stories and quoting other fabricated stories as fact to further an unstoppable spin-machine of misinformation.

With political maturation comes the understanding that no “side” in our great debate gets it right 100% of the time (or honestly, even 75% of the time).  From Presidents Washington to Obama, there were scandals, disasters, mistakes and cases of bad judgment.  However, it is our willingness to deceive ourselves and those around us, hiding those mistakes in order to prop up a specific agenda, that threaten the future of our nation.  Ronald Reagan’s tax policies were disastrous to lower and middle-income families, but in the name of Saint Reagan, those facts must be obscured.  Bill Clinton rollicked along with a hefty deficit until the Gingrich Revolution curbed spending and left us with a budget surplus, but far be it from Democrats to acknowledge this.  In the world of political immaturity, every person holding political office (from city council to president) must be defined as “good” or “bad,” thus causing their policies to fall into the previously associated category.  While anyone with the ability to actually see the forest would note the absurdity of this line of thought, those of us in the trees seem to find it perfectly reasonable.

Too many voices in our community create emotional attachments to political issues which are by nature defined by facts.  Opinions matter, they shape debate and direct policy as it benefits and/or repairs damaged parts of our government.  Opinion, however, should never be driven by emotion or what we want to be true.  With very few exceptions, no issue facing the world today is cut and dry or black and white… no matter how much we may want them to be.  We have allowed ourselves to be defined by strangers on screens, building our viewpoints not on what actually has or is likely to happen, but on what Glenn Beck or Ed Schultz have decided will happen.  Instead of creating an atmosphere of differing viewpoints, we label some experts as liberal and some as conservative, dismissing any ideas the other side may have.  Perhaps most alarmingly, we have created demographics of ignorance within our society that must be placated by politicians seeking re-election.  When alarmists of any kind vote in numbers, they tend to elect like-minded alarmists.  As gerrymandering becomes a common practice in Washington, our nation is being carved up into ideological districts, feeding the paranoia machine and creating an unbreakable gridlock in our nation’s capital.

Why?  Because for the most part, we’re a nation of spoiled children.

We want the economy fixed now, despite the fact that you can’t fix an economy overnight.  We want the earth cleaned up now, despite the total impossibility.  We want services from our government to be run efficiently and without delay, but we won’t pay for it.  We want criminals off of the streets, but won’t fund the jails to house the offenders.  We want to close the borders, but we won’t pay another fifty cents for a head of lettuce.  In short, while many have reached (or in my case are striving for) maturity in our view of the government, many simply have not.  The endless cable news cycle has watered-down our definition of an “expert” to the level at which any person able to form a coherent statement (and some who can’t) is given the title.  By those standards, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re all experts… even when our best answer to a problem is “we need something done, just not that.”

I’m certain that I’ll still resort to partisan flame-throwing and temper tantrums again in the future.  Coming of age politically in the late 90’s and 2000’s seems to make that tragic fact an almost guarantee.  However, I write this short manifesto as the first New Year’s Resolution that I intend to keep.  I promise to make a genuine effort to better understand issues, to examine all sides and to avoid inflammatory rhetoric when making a decision on any given topic.  I pledge to accept the best solution and most reasonable response, even if said solution falls outside of my comfort zone.  I also plan to remove myself (as best I can) from arguments driven by emotion, choosing only to share ideas and work toward a common understanding with those around my life.

Or, if you’re into the whole brevity thing, I plan to grow the hell up.

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