In the Eisenhower-Kennedy/Johnson-Nixon era, our national political debate took place in a respectful atmosphere, where differing ideas were contested on their merits. But now it seems the atmosphere has been poisoned by ideology, anger, alienation, and fear to the extent that the issues are no longer debated, but are mainly resolved by partisan voting power. And we feel that partisan voting is a relatively sterile process that denies our creative abilities to meet everyone's needs.
It well may be that the pivotal issues of today will not be decided until after the 2012 election, and we trust that this web site can be helpful in influencing that election in a positive way. But, we also wish that U.S. political debate could more closely reflect the fundamentals that unite us. To that end, we offer our observations on the existing dialogue and debate, not to point fingers or place blame, but to promote awareness and understanding of the current process, that we might choose to broaden our attitudes and temper our rhetoric.
There is an old saying: "Where there's smoke, there's fire." It infers that when someone makes a critical statement, there is likely some truth to it. The mere existence of criticism used to color our opinion of the person or event being criticized.
But, movement conservatism has changed the dynamic. The top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has declared that their number one priority is to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Anything goes. Anything and everything that Obama and the Democrats do is open to condemnation All opposition is demonized as traitorous to our country. Issues are presented in black and white terms that leave no room for discussion. And the condemnation and demonization is repeated over and over again.
The rhetoric has been amplified and routinized by talk radio, which uses polarization as an audience builder. Roger Ailes (chairman of Fox News) describing (ironically) Jon Stewart, told the marketing strategy: "If it wasn't polarized, he couldn't make a living... He loves polarization. He depends on it. If liberals and conservatives are all getting along, how good would that show be? It'd be a bomb.'"
Here's a list of the top radio personalities. Polarization pays. But persistent anti-government and anti-social messaging has chilled and muted the political debate.
Here is a link to a portion of the meeting between President Obama and Republican legislators, regarding the tone of the political debate. In it, he says,
"We've got to close the gap a little bit between the rhetoric and the reality. If the way these issues are being presented by the Republicans is that this is some wild-eyed plot to impose huge government in every aspect of our lives, what happens is you guys then don't have a lot of room to negotiate with me. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that many of you, if you voted with the administration on something, are politically vulnerable in your own base, in your own party. You've given yourselves very little room to work in a bipartisan fashion because what you've been telling your constituents is, this guy is doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America."
And here is an article by economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman titled "Let's Not Be Civil." It argues that our two political parties are so diametrically opposed that attempts to reach bipartisan agreements are futile. In essence, we will have to wait for the 2012 elections before we can move forward on either agenda. Too bad.
Campaign Financing, Lobbying, and the Revolving Door
We believe that political campaigns should be financed entirely by government money.
A formerly powerful figure in California politics, Jesse Unruh, is responsible for the famous quote: "Money is the mother's milk of politics." As such, it taints the political debate. Election campaigns depend on it, and it supports legislative lobbying. It buys influence. And it supports supposedly autonomous third-party "527" groups, such as the Swift Boat campaign which was funded by Bush supporters and which opposed John Kerry's 2004 candidacy for the presidency -- and the new, extremely well-funded Crossroads GPS organization, whose Senior Advisor is Karl Rove.
And then there's the influence that can be bought just through the opportunity for a politician or administrator to join a lobbying organization when he or she retires or is defeated for re-election.
In 2010, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the Citizens United v. FEC case. That decision opens the door to unlimited corporate financing of political campaign communications.
Distortion of Facts
It's a widely acknowledged and understood practice to "spin" facts about an issue or a situation to support one's position. But it appears to us that it has now become routine in conservative circles to present "facts" with no basis in truth.
Perhaps the most persistent example of false facts is the continuing promotion of "supply-side" or "trickle-down" economics to justify tax cuts or to argue against tax increases. It started during the Reagan administration. But there is no evidence to support the proposition that taxation promotes or detracts from economic growth.
Recently, conservatives have been labeling things they don't like as "job-killers," while things they like are branded "job-creators," without offering a bit of evidence to support either claim - unless it's a quote from the Heritage Foundation or the Hoover Institute.
And the two approaches can be combined: increasing taxes on the wealthy is declared to be increasing taxes on "small business owners" who will cut jobs if their taxes are raised. But almost all small business owners are hurt by cutting taxes and benefit from tax hikes.
Faced with growing public skepticism of the new Republican plan to privatize Medicare, Speaker John Boehner claimed on April 13, 2011, that the GOP's Medicare privatization plan doesn't privatize Medicare. "There's no privatizing of Medicare," Boehner said. "We're transforming Medicare, so that it'll be there for the future."
As an even more recent example, on April 27,2011, President Obama arranged the release of the "long form" copy of his birth certificate, in response to repeated assertions that he was not born in the U.S.A., despite the well-established existence of his official birth certificate. Here is a video of the President's comments about the release and about the need for all of us to focus on the significant issues we face, instead of side-show distractions and "making stuff up."
..or "You're guilty of what you're accusing me of." Taxing the wealthy is decried as "class warfare" and "income redistribution," now that the redistribution of wealth to the top elite is nearly complete. Here is an article by Professor Cynthia Boaz, describing this and additional techniques used by Fox News.
Alternative Communication Vehicles
Perhaps an informed and aware citizenry will blunt the effect of undemocratic political messaging. Otherwise, those with the money to create the loudest and most repetitious anti-social and anti-government messaging will have an undue and undemocratic influence on our political processes.
We hope and trust that the Internet and local community interchange of facts and ideas will continue and grow as a diverse and independent analysis and information source and vehicle for political debate and discussion.