Caution: It’s getting political up in here…
Some of you know this, and it may surprise some others: I love politics. I love political conversation, debate, inquiry. I always have. From the time I was little, I watched the conventions and I SO wanted to grow up and be a delegate. I wanted to carry a sign with my state’s name on it, and wear a red, white and blue hat, and (be still my heart) have thousands of balloons drop on my head.
::tangent::I have, in recent years, put forth the theory that the party who delivers the best convention balloon drop will be the winning party come November. In the last election that was true. The Dem balloon drop suffered serious technical difficulties. This year . . . we’ll see::end tangent::
And even with all my political preoccupation, most of the people who really know me and talk to me every day don’t know which candidate I support. (This might not be all that surprising this year, because I don’t either; still working on that one.) Sometimes in political discourse, I argue the position opposite from my own, just to make sure that I can. My mother is a loyal Democrat; my father was a proud Republican. I suppose that’s why I find it perfectly natural to be “mixed,” when most people around me are acting like donkeys or elephants. I grew up in a house where two people held opposing political views yet managed not to hate and despise one another (most days, and even when they did hate each other, it wasn’t over politics); and both of those people had vices and virtues that became important to me, either for purposes of avoiding or imitating. (My balancing act on the political fence is a large part of what will likely always thwart my childhood dream of becoming a delegate. They tend to be gung-ho types from either party.)
In my work, we talk about “all-or-nothing thinking,” or “black-and-white thinking.” These terms refer to the the way of thinking that says, “I am all right and you are all wrong.” It also takes the form of “if I disagree strongly with you on one or more ideas, I am right and you are [dangerous, delusional, stupid, evil, fanatical, rigid, close-minded...fill in the blank]. Psychotherapists call this kind of thinking a “cognitive distortion.” In the vernacular of 12-steppers, “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Again, in my line of work, this type of thinking is regarded as wholly irrational, and antithetical to progress and healthy human development. As you might guess, I’m concerned for the mental health of our nation right about now. Because, while I do love politics, I am sickened by the written and verbal expressions of this cognitive distortion that is so much a part of our daily lives now.
The more I encounter groups of people who venomously defend their own candidates while denigrating others, the more I have to seriously question whether I want to affiliate with such people. Regardless of which candidate you support, or whether you haven’t yet decided, I would like to ask you to ask yourself this question: What is wrong with my candidate?
If you are supporting someone whom you believe is the one person who can save us, I believe your support is misguided. You will end up becoming disillusioned, and your candidate, if elected, will ultimately fall short and be unfairly judged. He’s not going to save us. Whomever he may be. And what’s more, there’s a hell of a lot wrong with him. Because he’s a human being. I believe we’ll all choose much more wisely and realistically if our support is tempered with a rational understanding of what is wrong with the guy: where are his weak points? What mistakes has he made? What are his character flaws? Where does he need expert advisers to fill in the gaps? Can I list the really stupid things he’s said publicly during this campaign? And so on.
I can make a fairly long list of what’s wrong with both candidates. And in my opinion, if you are whole-heartedly supporting someone for whom you can’t make such a list, then I don’t think you’re being a very good donkey or elephant; I think you’re being a sheep — following the voice of some master without thoroughly investigating where you’re going. Do a little (balanced) research. Read some different opinions. Make a fully informed, not entirely emotional choice; that’s all I’m saying. A flesh-and-blood human being will win the election. And it’s very likely that in some areas, at some point, he’ll profoundly disappoint some of his staunchest supporters. And he still may be a good President. But he won’t save us from ourselves.
::tangent::This is one of my soapboxes in recent years. I think we Americans behave childishly in some respects, expecting others to do the homework, make the decisions, etc., that we should take responsibility for making. Take, for example, the recent financial headlines. Both sides have placed blame on the other, for some part of this. But it wasn’t them. Either of them. It was us. It was we who bought houses, cars, vacations, shoes, way beyond what we needed or could afford, and ended up not paying our bills. We can argue about whether the problem trickled down from deregulation or trickled up from obscene materialism, but Americans at almost every socioeconomic level had a hand in this mess. I am embarrassed to admit that two times in my life, I have gotten into credit card trouble. As I recall, one was during a Democratic administration and one was during a Republican one. Not for one minute was it ever the President’s fault, nor the fault of any member of Congress. It was all mine. Our values, our expectations, our work ethics, are out of whack. It is a problem, but it’s not one that a President can solve. We’re on our own. The good news about accepting responsibility for your role in a problem is that it also means you have some power to make it better. If the problem is all someone else’s fault, you’re screwed. You’re at the mercy of what “they” decide to do. Some people prefer that point of view, because it absolves them of personal responsibility, and always gives them someone else to blame. If you’re one of those people, good luck with that. Me, I’d rather understand how I contributed to the problem and try to do my part to contribute to a solution. I like to have something I can do. ::end tangent::
I’m going to risk beheading here by saying that the most hateful, the most all-or-nothing, the most offensive rhetoric that I have heard or read is from Democrats. It may be that I just haven’t read enough of what Republicans have to say. But I did ask some very conservative people to direct me to what they think would be the most conservative websites. And I took their recommendations. And while I found lots of policy disagreements, I didn’t find personal attacks. I didn’t find people threatening to leave the country if Obama is elected, because our future would look so bleak.
Jif and I talk about this phenomenon quite a bit, because it’s really disturbing to me. After reading a particularly extremist anti-McCain blog post recently (McCain was pictured whispering in little Piper Palin’s ear, and the commentary accused him of pedophilia), I said to Jif, “Why are they behaving this way? What do they get from sinking so low?”
He said, “They believe they’re saving the planet.”
“Saving the planet?”
“Yea,” he answered sadly.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that it isn’t hatred that’s going to save the planet.
Part of why I don’t get so bent out of shape at the idea of either candidate winning the election is because of my faith. Faith in God, yes, but faith in this country. I so treasure the Constitution. It is an amazing document that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so. Of course we disagree among ourselves about its interpretation; that is part of its design. It works! I have faith that no one party, and certainly no one person, is going to “ruin” our country in four or eight years. I don’t believe it can happen. I have more faith in the American people than that. All of them. All of us.
I recently said to Jif how I feel like such an alien (talking outerspace, now, not immigration reform) because I love the fact that we are roughly divided in half on our candidate selection, according to the pollsters. Most elections in recent memory have been this way. I think that’s part of what makes us great. Taking into consideration all the various leaders for whom we vote, we have the potential to balance one another perfectly — to not go too far off the path in either extreme direction. Imagine the alternative to the current statistical dead heat: imagine living in a country where the polls were 90% to 10% in favor of one Presidential nominee. Now imagine being one among that 10%.
I’m staying here, happily, thankfully, no matter who is elected. I have found potential good in both candidates, and I’ll celebrate and support that. And I’ve found potential chaos in both, and I’ll pray for the new President regarding those areas, and I’ll take responsibility for not adding to the chaos by my personal speech or behavior.
And I’ll stay here. And God willing, live to vote another day if we don’t choose well this time.