Category Archives: GOP

Perspective vs. Experience: A Presidential Conversation


So I published a post titled A Lack of Perspective on Monday about why I believe that Mitt Romney shouldn’t be president because he can’t understand what it’s like to be poor. That’s dumbing it down a bit, but that’s the general premise.

In response, one of my favorite Facebook critics, Mark Ashley*, asked me whether I really believed that someone had to be poor to understand what poverty is and stated that a person’s actual policies show a lot more about a politician than their life experiences.

I’ll restate his argument here:

Had this been written in 2004, it would have been a great argument against John Kerry. Of course, the alternative was Bush, who also came from wealth, but you have effectively disqualified the likes of JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents.

The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me. How poor is poor? Does one’s family have to have begged at one time to qualify? Been on government assistance? Or is simply struggling to make ends meet enough? I’m not being facetious in asking these questions, and I am well acquainted with living below the poverty line. My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty–nobody is interested in electing a person who has never been successful in life–and many up-from-the-bootstrap people are not particularly sympathetic to the poor either.

Ultimately, there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same. Likewise, many who have been poor and who have never been poor have genuinely good perspectives on poverty and even sometimes good policy proposals. What matters more is how a person has processed those life experiences and what a person chooses to do with them.

I’m not about to offer any defense of Romney, and I do think that life experiences matter, but I am skeptical of the notion that someone has to be/have been [poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, female, male, etc.] in order to empathize with, represent, and lead people who fall into those categories. Show me a person’s actual policies. That, to me, is much more revealing of how a politician thinks.

First, let me address the idea that this argument would have disqualified JFK, FDR, and a lot of other presidents. On its face, that’s a valid argument, but I believe that there is one important factor that makes this argument moot:

Thanks to Mother Jones for the graph

The income equality gap is higher now than it has been at any time since the Great Depression.

When FDR came to power, despite coming from old New York money, he set out New Deal Legislation, got us through World War II (I am not going to debate the wisdom of either New Deal legislation or his policy decisions in WWII right now) and worked with civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Point being: He wanted to help.

On to JFK. Was he wealthy? Yes. Was he from a wealthy family? Great. But he seemed to understand the problems and priorities of this country in a way that Romney does not. (Kennedy also wasn’t a draft dodger, but that’s another kettle of fish.) Kennedy genuinely wanted to better the lives of his countrymen. I can’t say I’ve seen any indication of that from Romney since his campaign began.

When Mark says “The idea generally that one ought to have been poor at one time to be a good political leader seems odd to me,” I have to say that it’s not to me. He goes on to say that “My expectation is that any person running for president would be long past poverty” and that “there are a lot of people who have been poor whom I’d not trust to run an office lottery pool, let alone the country, and there are a lot who have been rich about whom I’d say the same.”

Does my argument come down to attitude and life experience as much as it does money? Absolutely. But there’s such a huge gap now between rich and poor that I really feel that Romney and other people in his income bracket just simply don’t get it. He has not ever had to worry about a single thing I do on a daily basis.  And his comments about the 47% being “dependent on government” and that a middle class income is “$200,000 to $250,000,” just for a few examples, show how out of touch he truly is.

This baffles me, considering healthcare and gay marriage in Massachusetts, but I don’t trust that he’ll revert back to being a ‘progressive moderate’ once he takes office.

Obama came up from relatively nothing. His mom, while educated, was not rich. He lived in parts of the world where not many people are rich by anyone’s standards. He went to prep school on scholarship and then to Columbia and Harvard the same way most people in my income bracket would, by shelling out for student loans. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago and organized African-American voter drives.

I could go on and on, but my point is that he gets it. He gets what my problems are. He’s worried about money. He’s had to pay off student loans. He’s worried about health care for his family. He’s experienced the problems of being a minority in this country. And the policies that he’s tried to implement (again, the merits of those are a different argument) reflect that.

So while, yes, a lot of it comes down to empathy and policy, I don’t believe Romney has enough of either to lead our country.

Maybe, until the income gap goes down to levels that make sense, we should only allow people who came up from nothing to run. It might help.

*Mark Ashley is a buddy of mine who is also working to be tenured at a university and so doesn’t want his name associated with silly political blogs at this time. Due to his needing to use a pseudonym and then coming up with one as silly as Mark Ashley, I am dubbing him Professor Who, Master of Mystery. (Feel free to insert a booming voice worthy of that title here.) Prof. Who for short. You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, as he’s been set into a contract to write me 8 blog posts by the end of the year.

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I am the… 47 percent?


Ah, Mittens, Mittens, Mittens. How am I supposed to get any actual work done when you keep saying such ridiculous things?

I have to admit, when my friend asked me I’d heard about Romney’s latest comments taken from an undercover video at a Republican fundraiser, I was skeptical. This is the age of the Internet after all, and, not to diss Huff Po, but they’ll publish anything as long as someone else does first.

But for once it wasn’t merely a hoax. I was honestly momentarily speechless. Even in the context of a campaign, saying that 47 percent of the country are victims and believe they’re “entitled” to things like housing and health care is pretty blatant discrimination and classism.

At first I was merely outraged. Excuse me? I’m “a victim?” I’m “dependent on the government?” I’m “entitled?” I HAVE a job. I PAY taxes. WTF? Coming on the heels of his comments that a middle class income is between $200,000 and $250,000, I was amazed. Is there really no connection at all between the actual middle class and “1 Percent” anymore?

But last night I realized that really is the problem. There’s just no connection at all.

I was explaining the situation to a friend last night and was trying to explain Romney’s view of the role of government and she was just baffled.

“If it isn’t the government’s role to protect and provide for its citizens, whose job is it?”

Me: “Well, they believe that it’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. The government is just there to regulate trade with foreign countries, provide infrastructure like roads and keep us safe from other countries. The rest is private.”

“But what if you can’t take care of yourself and you need some help? What if you’re a kid? Besides, I like things like the FDA. They keep me safe. I wouldn’t trust a corporation to do that.”

To that, all I could do was shake my head and say, “Yeah, I don’t know.”

Among Romney’s comments was another that I was incredibly upset about until I got some idea what he actually meant. Saying that it wasn’t his job to “worry about those people” is a horrible thing to say taken out of context. A president should worry about everyone. But his rebuttal on Fox  essentially said “Dude, I’m talking about running a campaign. I can’t worry about those people because they aren’t voting for me anyway.”

However, that’s where his misconceptions really show, because that’s simply not true.

First off, according to the Policy Tax Center, of the 47 percent of people that don’t pay income tax, 28.3 percent still pay payroll taxes. Which means they have jobs and likely don’t view themselves as dependent on government. Myself included.

Secondly, a lot of people who don’t pay income taxes are staunch Republicans. I come from a small middle-of-nowhere town where over half the population will vote for Romney because, despite having no health care of their own and probably going to the local food bank a couple times a month, they believe they have a responsibility to  take care of themselves. They are not “victims,” they don’t believe they are “entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Thirdly, a lot of people that believe that everyone is entitled to a good life, provided by the government if needed, are people who DO pay income taxes. Think Warren Buffet’s progressive tax plan. They’re the people that ring Salvation Army bells and donate to food pantries.

So statements like “those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government. And so I then focus on those individuals who I believe are most likely to be able to be pulled into my camp” show, in my opinion, a huge flaw in Romney’s thinking.

Democrats are not always poor. Republicans are not always rich. There’s far more correlation between religion and political affiliation than money and political affiliation. (See this really interesting article for a more in-depth analysis.) So stereotyping those likely to vote for Obama as poor? Pretty bad judgment call.

And the race goes on.

Things I Learned From the RNC


Best meme since Hillary’s.

1. Paul Ryan is adorable, but a liar.

2. Mitt Romney is still incredibly uninteresting. Also a liar.

3. Lying has now become an acceptable means of political communications. Not fudging, but outright lying.

Seriously?

Now I’ve had some problems with Romney and his crew from the get-go. When I worked as a journalist, we had cable news running non-stop in the office. I could often be heard screaming things at the TV like “Obamacare is the SAME THING AS ROMNEYCARE! Ugh!” “That’s not what you said yesterday, dude. Seriously?” “Just release your tax returns already!” and “What happened to the ‘moderate progressive’ Republican governor who allowed gay marriage? I might have voted for him!”

Needless to say, we stopped watching cable news all the time in the office after a while.

But Mitt got the vote by being less crazy and more handsome than Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain. Fine. Like we didn’t all see that one coming. When he chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, I felt like maybe I should start hoarding birth control, but it was an overall solid choice. Ok, fine.

But then his campaign started going from ‘maybe people won’t notice I changed my mind’ to straight up ‘people will believe anything I say because they hate Obama.’

Now, after watching the RNC, my problem with Romney and his crew can be summed up in a single sentence spoken by campaign staffer Neil Newhouse: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Uh, what? Now, there are some things people called lies, especially in Ryan’s speech, that you could fudge. The closing of the Janesville plant? Eh, maybe you could technically, sort of, possibly blame that on Obama if you tried really hard. The rest?

Let’s just say even Fox News called him out on it.

The man now running for President of these United States is no better. According to PolitiFact.com, 70% of the statements made by Romney surrounding issues ranging from Obama’s policies to job rates are somewhere between a half-truth and a complete flat-out “pants on fire” lie.

He mostly avoided lies in favor of out of context exaggerations during his acceptance speech, but still couldn’t manage to just stick to the truth.

As much as I’d like to be calm about this, here’s my reaction:

HOW IN THE HELL ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TRUST YOU TO RUN A COUNTRY WHEN YOU CAN’T STOP LYING ABOUT HOW OTHER PEOPLE RUN THE COUNTRY?

(Now, I’m not saying that Obama and Biden didn’t do some exaggerating of their own during their DNC speeches. Certainly they did. But quoting a disputed study is, in my eyes, different than completely fabricating your speech.)

But you say, what does the Republican ticket get out of lying so much? Why would you do that when you’re trying to win a country’s trust?

As I see it, there are a few options.

1. They know people will believe anything if you say it enough.

I could give numerous examples of this fact, but here’s a few. There were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Obamacare has made taxpayers pay for other people’s birth control. Things that are purple taste like grape. (The correct answers are: nope, isn’t happening and purple is a color, not a flavor. Duh.)

So maybe they’re hoping if they lie enough, people will vote for them based on false beliefs. An understandable but terrible way to run a campaign.

It’s a meme sort of day.

2. Republicans are determined to make Obama a one-term president, but since he organized the killing of Bin Laden, gave kids and broke college grads health care and helped fix the auto industry, they don’t have a good reason for people to vote Republican. Especially when their candidate won’t release his tax returns, insults foreign leaders across the globe and seems to be totally out of touch with the average American.

Really all I can say to this one is that when even your own party leaders can’t seem to get behind someone, maybe you should have floated some better candidates. Even all the RNC endorsements were fairly lukewarm. I mean, after sweeping the House and Senate in 2010, you’d think there would have been someone, anyone, better out there than those who showed up for the primary race.

However, since you are stuck with Romney you could, you know, maybe have Mittens introduce his own plans? Say how he’s going to do better in concrete terms? Explain what he would have done differently (other than not make Romneycare available to the entire country)?

Stop lying to win (see #1) and instead get your candidate under control. We only have 50-some days left until the election. Get your act together.

3. They’re trying to disenchant voters so much that independent and Democratic voters get fed up and stay home.

This one sounds silly, but I’m becoming more and more convinced as the weeks pass that this could have some truth to it. Look at it this way: In the age of the Internet, no politician can say a word that won’t be dissected by everyone with a computer. And as a young voter with a brain, I’m getting pretty sick of the way the political process works in this country. I may be a Policy Dork, but I’m not stupid. (Older voters seem to agree with me based on a series of loud lunchroom rants I’ve participated in over the last two months.)

There’s simply no trust left in the political process.

Will I vote on Nov. 6? Absolutely. Do I feel the voting booth urgently screaming my name as it did in 2008 and 2010? No, not really.

Credit to http://balooscartoonblog.blogspot.com for the comic 🙂

And if even a small percentage of the Independent and Democratic voters that are hard enough to get out the door feel that way too, well then, they might just stay home and let someone else take care of the problem.

Of course, they’re already taking care of this voting ‘problem’ with disenfranchising voter ID laws in various states, but I guess it can’t hurt to up their odds. Finally…

4. They actually believe what they’re telling people.

I don’t believe this one. Partially because it’s terrifying and partially because I believe a man smart enough to have off shore banking accounts is smart enough to know the difference between truth and fiction.

Ultimately, if I may issue a challenge to the Romney-Ryan ticket, one that I guarantee will go unanswered, here it is:

Please, prove me wrong on any of the reasons above.

Just once, I would like to see a completely honest speech. No skewed facts, no exaggerations and certainly no outright lies. Just once, let’s see a headline that says: “Everything in Romney/Ryan’s Speech Found to be Completely True.” Just once, show me you can actually be trusted to govern a country.

Because we’re too far along into the age of the Internet for you to do anything else.

On Journalistic Self-Censorship and Transparency


Originally I named this post “Journalist Self-Censorship, or Could You Please Pretend You Don’t Have An Opinion?” But I figured that was both too inflammatory and too long to tweet.

But that is essentially the problem I want to address in this post.

What journalists are not

Before we get any further down the controversial road of objectivity vs. transparency in the media, let me explain something that I’ve always taken for granted. Journalists are critical thinkers. We are trained to evaluate information and fit it into the context of the world at large. And since journalists aren’t zombies, we are probably going to have an opinion. It’s inevitable.

However, the whole idea of objectivity now seems to be that journalists have to pretend to not have opinions. I’ve heard of some journalists who literally do not vote, EVER, because they don’t want to seem biased in any way. Opinions are only for the op-ed pages.

However, call me wrong, but that doesn’t seem possible. Journalists are not zombie robots. They are people trained to analyze information, make quick decisions, ask the tough questions and inform their public. OF COURSE they’re going to have opinions. How could they not? Not only that, but your opinions inform, even subconsciously, how you view a story, what angle you pursue, who you interview, how many column inches you beg your editor to let you use.

So wouldn’t it maybe be better to let people know what side of the spectrum you’re on and go from there?

This issue became closer to my heart and experience over the last two years when Walker took office and the protests began around the Capitol. Now that I am no longer a journalist, I can freely admit this: I participated in the UW walkouts, leaving my Media Ethics class to march for my professors, TAs and friends in the teaching profession with the full support of my professor. I took my poor little 5 megapixel camera all over State Street and the Square. I filmed rallies, I tweeted from inside the Capitol building, I took innumerable photos that ended up on Flickr. Needless to say, I did not support Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal.

Those photos, videos and opinions ended up on this blog. I didn’t write a lot about it, I was too upset and as I said in one post, “I can’t write about this with any objectivity, so I won’t.” Luckily, I got a journalism internship and a job working for a small print newspaper after graduation, even with those opinions out there for anyone to read.

I say luckily because others weren’t as the years wore on. One journalism student had their internship offer rescinded after admitting to signing the recall petition.

While I didn’t have my offers of employment rescinded, an intrepid reader who stumbled upon my blog after Googling the new reporter brought it to the attention of my editor about a month after I landed my first real journalism job . While my editor, in the spirit of fairness, told me he couldn’t require me to take down posts written before I reported in any official capacity, he did ask if I could delete them. The recall election was heating up and I’d inevitably be covering it in some way within a month or two.

After a night or two of soul-searching, I agreed. I didn’t want to compromise my integrity in a new town where no one trusted the reporter who was only 3 months out of school and I wanted people to think I could listen to them and report fairly on both sides of the aisle.

But I have to admit that I almost didn’t. This blog was inactive at that point. The way I saw it, I shouldn’t have to sacrifice having beliefs to be able to do my job. But worry about the appearance of integrity won out.

I also didn’t sign the petition to recall Walker. In this case the law came down from the main office in Madison. Signing a petition would be sacrificing integrity. We agree to keep our personal opinions to ourselves when we take on the role of being journalists.

It killed me to not be able to participate. It took all my strength to not pull over and sign when I saw someone standing at the corner with a drive by petition signing booth. I seriously considered saying screw journalistic principles and doing it anyway. But I didn’t. I’m thankful as well, considering the investigation that went down later on within Lee.

But that was a major factor when deciding whether or not to leave my journalism position two months ago. I couldn’t bear to spend my entire life pretending I didn’t have opinions.

In my media ethics classes, we spent a lot of time debating objectivity vs. transparency. Objectivity is the idea that journalists are neutral. As I’ve established, I believe that’s totally impossible. Here’s where transparency comes into play: Instead of pretending to be objective, let readers know where you’re coming from, especially on political issues.

My coverage of the recall election and petition signing was possibly some of the least “biased” coverage I gave to any story while I worked as a reporter. Why? Because I knew my own limitations and biases and did my best to keep them out of the story. I believe every journalist does the same.

As Reuters columnist Jack Shafer said after Gannett reprimanded employees for signing the petition:

“So the ethical crime in Wisconsin wasn’t having political views, which the Gannett code allows. It wasn’t expressing those views in secret. It was expressing a weakened form of them in a way that could go public. As long as you conceal your views from the ethics cops, you’re safe….At the core of the current journalistic codes is the notion that judging journalism requires us to judge the conduct of the journalists producing it. Instead of suppressing the political lives of journalists, why not allow that which is now covert to become overt and give readers more information to assess coverage?”

If the Republicans tried to pass a bill saying the Earth is flat…


So I promised there would be a post here about, uh, five days ago?

I’m not even going to apologize this time. Y’all know it’s par for the course with this blog.

So I mentioned I would be going a little more in-depth about the idea of objectivity in journalism, or the idea that the media has to report ‘both’ sides of a story.

This idea has always bothered me. First off, there are almost never just two sides to any story. Sometimes there are 7 sides or 10 sides or maybe even just one. (Though if there’s just one, maybe you need a different angle. I’ve never had just one side to a story.)

In Episode Two of The Newsroom, they talk about making News 2.0. News that relies on facts, doesn’t try to sway you with an emotional plea and most importantly, presents the best form of every argument. All the sides of the story so to speak.

Will McAvoy uses the following example: “If the Republicans tried to pass a bill tomorrow saying the Earth is flat, the headline from the Times would be, ‘Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the whether the Earth is flat.”

That’s completely true, but not the best form of the argument. In that context, the best form of the argument might be “Republicans reject current scientific knowledge” or “Bogus bill put forward to delay passage of the ACA.”

But let me give you my favorite real life example.

So there’s this thing called global warming. We’ve all heard of it by now. We jokingly blamed the weather on it until it became pretty clear it actually was messing with our rainfall. Then we shook our fists at it. But most scientists, including some who were disbelievers before, are now certain that it exists and that humans are impacting the Earth at an alarming rate. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, part of the National Science and Technology Council, has stated that “The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific agreement across nations, said in it’s 2007 report that humans are most likely to have caused the global warming that has occurred over the last 50 years. In science speak, “most likely” means an over 90 percent chance. It’s the closest you’re going to get to a definite yes from almost any scientist worth his salt, let alone an entire panel.

And yet, because some people don’t want to believe that we could possibly be having this impact on our planet – and that our industry might have to change – they try to debunk climate science in any way possible. And because the journalistic norm is for everyone to have a voice, these people get so much attention from the media that the general public thinks the debunkers are a credible source. Even back in 2004 researchers recognized media bias as a serious problem in the fight against global warming.

In the conclusion of a report from the University of California – Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department, two researchers named Boykoff and Boykoff stated the following:

“In the end, adherence to the norm of balanced reporting leads to informationally biased coverage of global warming. This bias, hidden behind the veil of journalistic balance, creates both discursive and real political space for the US government to shirk responsibility and delay action regarding global warming.”

It also found that major news outlets, such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times and others, have contributed to a lack of knowledge by the general public of what scientists think about global warming and what should be done about it by “adherence to journalistic norms, and more specifically to the journalistic norm of balance.”

Basically, there aren’t two sides to this story. There is global warming and there are people who want to pretend it doesn’t exist because global warming might mess with their profits.

Now, thankfully, I went to a college that factored ethics very highly into my education and we were taught that giving balance to a story shouldn’t be as important as telling the truth. But the truth doesn’t sell papers and the truth doesn’t get funding. “Balance” does.

So, in the case of global warming, the correct headline might be “Companies create propaganda campaign to cast doubt on global warming.”

But no one is reporting that.

And that is reason #1 why I had a problem with working as a journalist.

Next time, I’ll discuss another aspect to the bias-balance debate, one that also became very close to my heart over the last year: personal politics and objectivity.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful clip of Will McAvoy discussing what is best and worst about America to warm your heart. I know it had me cheering by the end.

Fixin What Ain’t Broke – Voter ID Bill


So yeah, its been a month or so since I’ve posted. Oops.

I don’t really have much of an excuse, except that working full time over break and then starting school has taken a lot out of me. Also, normally I take my politics break over winter break, (there’s only so much I can take before I need some time off and this election cycle was rather insane), and didn’t do so this time. So I’ve been a bit out of the loop. Confession: Still have not watched/listened to/read the State of the Union address. That’s how bad it is. At least I’m still Tweeting.

I’d like to focus on something a little closer to home than national politics today. Shocking, I know! Instead, I want to focus on Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen’s proposed Voter ID bill.

To give you some background: This bill is intended to cut down on Wisconsin voter fraud. An admirable goal, for sure. For example, in the 2008 election, there was a huge stink over ACORN in the US and other smaller pieces of fraud in Wisconsin. But in reality, according to a study from Van Hollen’s office, there were only 18 fraudulent votes out of all 3 million votes cast in the state. Big deal? Maybe, but not huge.

So before we beg  the question of whether this bill is necessary at all, here’s how he wants to do it: by requiring all users to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. And not just any photo ID, but only drivers licenses, state IDs and military IDs.  For example, UW students could no longer use their UW identification cards along with proof of a current address to vote.

Now, we all already know that getting voters to the polls is a problem. If you’re poor, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re a minority, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re young, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re too old, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re disabled, you’re less likely to vote. Less than half of the people in Wisconsin voted in the 2008 election, and even less in the 2010 midterms. So now, all of a sudden, if you decide, “Hey, I might go vote today!” but you’ve been too poor to get a state ID, you can’t.  If you’re a student from out of state and your license hasn’t been switched over, you can’t vote. If you’re elderly and don’t have a license anymore because you don’t drive, you can’t vote. And if you don’t live close to a DMV or work during business hours? You’re SOL.

One Wisconsin Now keeps pointing out the problem, as does the Government Accountability Board.

See the problem?

But it gets even more confusing. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, to make sure this doesn’t amount to a poll tax, state IDs will no longer cost money. But wait, you say, isn’t there a budget deficit? Doesn’t even that small amount of money help the state? Well, yes, yes it does. Thanks for noting that. You forgot to mention cost of training for state employees to learn the new rules, training for everyone else to make sure it’s enforced, and special exceptions for students, elderly, etc.

In fact, according to the Sentinel, in 2009 this was estimated to have an annual 2.9 million dollar price tag. That’s not counting the training costs (estimated at 2 million by the Government Accountability Board), the loss of DMV revenue, or anything else. That’s just the cost of the program itself.

So while I know the Republicans are trying to put some trust back into the political system, I don’t see how this is going to help. You know that saying, if it’s broke, don’t fix it? Here’s another, if it’s broken, don’t spend money to make it worse.

Lessons in losing


Today is another break from Teh Commerz Clawz day. (Though according to my ever-growing page hits, I’m pretty popular when you search for anything regarding Gibbons v. Ogden or FDR’s court packing plan. LOLZ.)

This post has been floating around in my head since before the brutal attempt on Congresswoman Giffords’ life and the resulting discussion surrounding the dangers of overblown political vitriol. So let me preface this by stating that I don’t believe someone as out of touch with reality as Laughner really paid that much attention to politics. Selectively maybe, but the immediate conclusion that political name-calling led to her death is ridiculous. Thankfully some columnists kept their heads while the rest of the media was losing theirs, and it seems discussions about gun control and mental illness are finally springing forward. Ugh.

But back to my point. I’ve been thinking about this idea of bitter, mean-spirited politics since January 1st, actually. Several of my more liberal minded friends started ranting about how life was going to be over in Wisconsin as soon as Scott Walker took office, and were instrumental in calling for his repeal.

First, there’s the bit where Walker can’t just be repealed like he’s an offensive bill, since he’s an actual elected official that won fair and square. Obviously. But that’s not the issue. The issue is the current insistence on combativeness in the political process. (If you need another example, the Republican insistence on a symbolic health care vote should be enough.)

Now I understand that politics create controversy. My opinion is not going to be the opinion of someone on the far right. Or the far left either. And I don’t expect those two people to agree either with me or with each other. That’s what makes democracy work, and theoretically with debate and compromise all those different ideas lead to the best deal for everyone in America. But that’s not what happens anymore.

Instead we end up with the ridiculous amount of name-calling familiar to anyone who even vaguely follows politics. This person is the incarnation of the devil! This person’s policies will make your crops wither and die! That person is a witch! This liberal wants to send all our old people to death camps! That conservative is a Nazi and wants you to march in lock-step for the rest of your life as punishment for having brown hair!

I only made up the second and part of the fifth one.

As soon as the opposing party takes power, suddenly the world is going to end. “Life will never be the same!” the losing party exclaims. “This is the worst thing to happen to our (city, district, state, country) since (last terrible buzz-person) ran everything into the ground! Run for the hills!” They inflame their staunchest members with floods of fund-raising emails. They tell half-truths when they can. They get everyone they can all riled up. And suddenly people actually believe that the President wants death panels. They believe that this person is the incarnation of the Devil or is a witch or a Nazi or a terrorist or whatever the buzz-word of the day is. Not everyone pays enough attention to know better.

This just isn’t on the left or on the right. This isn’t just from the Republicans or Fox News. This comes from Democrats and MSNBC commentators as well.

We’ve forgotten, as a country, how to lose gracefully. We’ve lost our sportsmanship. We’ve lost our ability to shake hands with someone that ran a better campaign than we did and tell them “Good game. There’s always next time.” We’ve somehow misplaced the lessons taught to us when we were young, lessons about not throwing down our ball and stomping away to pout when the game doesn’t go our way.

And we, as people involved and commenting on the political process of the United States of America need to relearn that skill. Maybe, if there’s anything to learn from this truly pointless murder spree, it’s how to lose gracefully again.

Instead of continuing to rant myself (I have to admit this was far less intimidating to talk about before a prominent Congresswoman almost died) I’m going to let one of the only people I still fully trust in politics finish off with a talk of his own.

I give you: Jon Stewart. He says it better than I do anyway.

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