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Mind the Gap: Bridging the Chasm Between Rhetoric and Reality

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There is a widening gap between rhetoric and reality in American life and politics. Now would be an especially good time to look around and identify genuine bridge builders because the more extreme the divide the harder it will be to construct viable bridges so needed in times of crisis.

The majority of contemporary politicians have no problem with this widening gulf between rhetoric and reality: being simplistic is so much easier than articulating nuance and complexity. Politicians have always found that rhetorical flourishes can conveniently obscure reality. They live in a world where, in the words of Winston Churchill, a lie can become a "terminological inexactitude." Or in the words of Ron Zeigler, Richard Nixon's press secretary, evidently false statements promulgated in the past simply become "inoperative." Lying becomes little more than a peccadillo or something that comes with the job -- you can lie about almost anything, including secret torture centers, unless it has anything to do with sex and then your lies may be akin to high crimes and misdemeanors.

But modern politicians seem not just to be lying but to have added a Kool-Aid hallucinogen to their rhetoric so that reality itself is no longer an issue. Paul Ryan, acting as guardian-in-chief of fiscal responsibility and strict budgetary control, in reality voted for off-budget wars and continued fattening of the already bloated defense budget. Romney's recent "I stand by what I said, whatever it was" -- leaves us with no clues to reality as he speedily outgrows whatever was yesterday's rhetoric of convenience. Obama steadfastly props up the very financial system that has despoiled communities, abandoned homeowners and left the vulnerable more vulnerable -- the very people on whose side his brilliant rhetoric claims to be.

But even this is more or less business as usual compared to positions espoused by so-called rational leaders which link contraception to aborting life, which encourage us to buy more semiautomatic weapons to protect ourselves and our families from crazy people who are getting guns off the Internet or which celebrate the current paralysis in taking any real steps to tackle global warming -- even as evidence of warming brings floods, fires, drought and West Nile virus to Texas. Reality it seems just can't compete with the allure of the bizarre.

What blunts our ability to shake off these hallucinations is that by and large the media seems to define its new calling as reporting on the most outlandish and hallucinogenic aspects of our current situation. What used to be News of the World is now mainstream and the line between entertainment and informative reportage has definitely been crossed. There are notable exceptions, but media like Al Jazeera, which focuses on human rights and the challenges facing humanity, are not made welcome.

Meanwhile as average people face rising poverty and other health and development challenges their spiritual and religious leaders are either preaching prosperity consciousness or the relationship between success and family values. It seems that if you are with God you are doing well and if you aren't you are succumbing to illness or poverty because of lack of faith or a less evolved consciousness. The rhetoric of the false positive is triumphalism and those who don't adhere are increasingly made out to be losers.

Given the fierce gulf between all this overblown rhetoric and the reality that requires us to come together to heal divisions and tackle real ecological and economic problems how are we to bridge the divide? For a start let's support initiatives like Sister Giant being launched by Marianne Williamson and others who want to see more women in politics and new faces dealing with real problems like America's disastrous child poverty rate or its out of control incarceration rates or its money manipulating democracy issues or its obsession with guns.
Wherever it is that we start to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality we will have to convene a national dialogue with the media itself, with religious leaders, with vibrant civil society and if we can drag them to their senses with our political leaders. Dialogue is about confessing one thing that the merchants of political electioneering hate -- that we are one and that we can always find enough common ground to give room for our better natures to flourish when we model genuine respect.

We are not only one nation, we are one planet. Let's start to elect those who are inspired about bringing us together to face our epic collective challenges or we will not only have to mind the gap we will need to learn how to crawl out of the hell we create when we fall into the abyss of endlessly clever but deeply divisive rhetoric.