29 January 2010

The Look of Recognition

I am often struck by the look of dawning recognition on someone’s face as they truly question their political ideology for the first time. Sadly, it has become common, within American political discourse, to simply identify with one political party or the other. This is no accident. The emergence of "Red State/Blue State" identifiers was a carefully calculated strategy to offer up the false notion that there are only two choices one can make. Furthermore, it is implied that your choice signals your acceptance of the paty line on all issues henceforth. It is disturbing how quickly people surrendered proxy rights to people they do not even understand.

Once color descriptors entered common use in media outlets, people actually began to fashion their ideological statements to include them. How often have we heard someone apologize for being from a "Red" state while quickly assuring their listeners their own ideology is "Blue?" Or have we listened to the lament of someone who is outwardly "Red," but through geographical misfortune found they were living in a "Blue" state? (Consider timing when making this claim. Imagine the reaction one would have received, had they declared themselves "Red" in 1921 or1952). People are conditioned to identify without asking a lot of pesky questions. Somewhere deep in many people’s minds, they are vaguely aware of being told that Red equals Republican and Blue equals Democrat, but most are at a loss to explain what those names actually mean. At least not without slipping into carefully crafted clichés that have become the designated battle cries for these respective factions.

Truthfully, regardless of the political party in power, very little seems to change. It is this realization that generally leads to that look of recognition I am writing about. I suspect we would see this same look on a person's face who spends his weekly paycheck at the carnival, only to discover that the ball they have been lobbing is bigger than than the hoop it is supposed to fit through. One does not even have to dig deep, become a political wag, or otherwise engage in much effort to know why things never change. It is fairly well accepted that all Presidents beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt and ending with Richard Nixon were subscribers to the Liberal Consensus point-of-view. Simply put, they felt that the government was a force for good in people’s lives and had an obligation to provide a slate of social programs. Generally speaking, this ideology was dominant in all federal policies during this time period. Since Richard Nixon (including many of his policies), right up to and including Barrack Obama, the overriding political environment has been one of the New Conservatism. In broad terms, this ideology favors business over government and  touts personal responsibility over social programs. Ronald Reagan is considered the epitome of a New Conservative. Any policy proposals which fall very far outside of these overarching ideologies generally fail to garner any support.

If it seems like nothing ever changes, even when the need for change is obvious, it is because we the electorate have become complacent. We allow the idea that there are only two parties to remain an accepted school of thought, despite the many choices that actually exist. We barely bother to exercise our electoral responsibilities and almost never hold an elected official accountable. We have bought into the fantasy that whispers to us that we are represented, without ever stopping to ask what that really means. We are no longer represented because we chose to let someone else decide the definition of representation. Voter turnout has not exceeded 60% of total registered voters in a presidential election since 1968 (Nixon). Even the president who is elected only has the support of about 30% of registered voters, even less of the overall population when you include those not registered for various reasons. If you consider the number of voters who vote “the slate” (blindly vote for their own party ticket without questioning why), informed choice deteriorates further. The growing segment of "one issue" voters erodes almost all remaining thought from the process. We are lulled to sleep by bubble economies and a desire to get our slice of the American dream. Like someone addicted to opiates, we chase that illusive first-time high, with no hope of ever catching it. Sooner or later, we all have to sober up and focus on reality. When that moment comes for you, try to be looking in the mirror. You will see the look I am describing.

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