I've been receiving a lot of e-mail lately from friends on both sides of the aisle urging me to vote for either Obama or McCain. Most of the e-mails include words like "terrifying" and suggest the end of the world if the other candidate is elected and they typically contain links to articles or videos that prove beyond a doubt that the candidates are elitists, radicals, stupid, religious nuts, warmongers, etc. How did we get to this depressing place, where both sides need to demonize the other and undermine any sense of trust in the other sides' candidate? Isn't Barack Obama the guy both sides of the aisle felt they could work with in the Illinois Senate? Isn't John McCain the guy John Kerry considered for his VP just 4 years ago? Have both really transformed into crazy lunatics who will destroy America and all that is good in the world?
Each election cycle is like the country threatening to get divorced. We claim to each have the best interest of the children at heart, but neither side is willing to admit that they are part of the problem and each works to convince themselves and anyone who will listen that the other is a crazy person who cannot be trusted with the kids. As with people getting separated or divorced, we have an insatiable desire to seek a sense of superiority over the other person. Generally, Republicans aim for moral superiority by questioning the values and patriotism of the Democrat, and the Democrats work to achieve intellectual superiority by questioning the depth and intelligence of the Republican candidate and those who support them. This feeling of moral and/or intellectual superiority also serves as a powerful source for redemption, as we absolve ourselves of any responsibility for the current state of affairs not by confessing or acknowledging our own complicity in a broken system, but by demonizing the other party or candidate and emphasizing how inferior not only their ideas are, but also their character. Thus, our superiority comes not from affecting change but simple by blaming others for the lack of it. Talk about defining leadership down.
Much of the media around us is designed to feed our egos and this need for moral and intellectual superiority. To me, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the like are no different than Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich and Keith Olbermann, -- smug people who have done little, if anything, to truly make a difference. There is nothing simpler than sitting on the sidelines, spending your entire day finding ways to make other people look stupid. [I'm sure you could do it to me and I could do it to you.] And yet, while this makes for entertaining articles and TV, the danger is that regardless of who wins, it is very hard for that person to govern because a sizeable minority (at least 40%) has come to so firmly distrust that person ... not to question their policies but to question their motivations as a person, to question their character and intelligence. The end result is that it does little to allow us to tackle the problems facing the country today... our country continues to suffer from massive debts -- (well over $10 trillion, w/ unfunded liabilities closer to $50 trillion) -- broken infrastructure, outdated educational systems, etc., and if we believe one party is more to blame than the other, we haven't been paying attention.
Most of us are culpable for the current state of our country. Each of us playing the insider games where we can to advance legislation or earmarks that benefits our interests but does little to address fundamental problems; tolerating or worse, supporting corrupt politicians in our party because they advance our interests; contorting ourselves to defend actions within our own party that we would consider indefensible in the other; and potentially worst of all, continuously crying 'fire' but doing or sacrificing very little to make.
I do not believe that fundamental, systemic change will come from one party alone but will require leadership from both parties to bring members from each together. In my eyes, the most powerful thing for either Obama or McCain could do if they win is to bring the other into their "kitchen cabinet" and trust them to be part of their team (including being part of their daily staff meetings) to advance policy solutions to our most pressing problems. Building trust between the parties is essential; otherwise, we'll find ourselves back here in 4 years... feeling morally and intellectually superior, ignoring our own complicity in failure, and seeking redemption by demonizing the other side ... and all the while making no progress on issues that really matter. I have a faith that we can find solutions that unite conservative Alaskans and liberal Illinoisans, but we'll never get their as long as we deny each other's humanity and continue to build the distrust between us.
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