Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cheerleaders and Groupies: Political Debate in the USA

Note from the author: Attention! This article contains a considerable amount of generalization.

I've lived in the USA - specifically Georgia - for nine years before I moved back to Europe. I got my bachelor's degree in International Affairs (read - political science) from an American college and had many a chance to experience the political culture and especially culture of political debate in the US. One thing that vexes me and saddens me the most is what seems to be the lack of unbiased opinion focusing on overall well-being of the country in the public discourse.

My Team Vs. Your Team

I know that it is not only me who noticed that a lot of people, if not the majority, seem to consider politics as a sports game with everyone cheering for their favorite team no matter how badly their beloved team performs or what grave mistakes the team-members make. Once a self-proclaimed Republican, a person seems to always be arguing along the party-line, always trying to make their 'team' look better, always pushing the political agenda. Under such circumstances, almost every debate breaks down to: my team versus yours. Such individuals do not seem to be capable of stopping for a minute and thinking of 'does anyone profit from such attitude towards politics and political parties especially?' The same, of course, goes to Democrats. It doesn't matter how big of a faux pas does the Democratic Party make, the team cheerleaders will always make sure to put the right spin on it, to color it with 'republicans would make even bigger mess of it', or 'look what republicans did three years ago', trying to change the subject, etcetera and so on.

The Fallout

Some debates gain comical proportions because many times they get diverted from the topic at hand (ex. health care) to 'Republicans don't care about well-being of others', 'Republicans are all people with lower intelligence quotient,' or to 'Republicans supported slavery X years ago' ending at 'what does r(R)epublican mean anyway'. By the end of the discussion, the topic (ex. health care) has been forgotten and all that remains is the good ol' confusion about what does it even mean to be a r(R)epublican and what is it to be a d(D)emocrat and the two camps just keep on going at it throwing back and forth personal insults and such. It is usually obvious that each group - whether the headstrong republicans or steadfast democrats - does not have a clue, they just have an idea and they cling to it like a drowning man to a straw. The charade gains astronomical proportions when each team starts making fun of the other calling each other already pre-existing set of names and derogative terms such as 'Republicans are under-educated, gun-toting knuckle-heads' or 'Democrats are latte-drinking hippie snobs'. The name-calling usually converges on: 'Republicans/Democrats are all idiots'. It really reaches its zenith when a person enters a discussion that does not consider themselves either a Republican or a Democrat and all of a sudden gets labeled by one or two of the zealots as one or the other based on the person's opinions and/or expressions.

Why the need for such labels? The quick and easy answer is that there is no need for them and that in fact they can be rather dangerous and definitely counter-productive to any consensus-building and problem-solving.

I personally find it impossible to attach myself to one or the other party. Even if I mostly agree with one as opposed to the other, I still cannot stand up and proudly pronounce myself as either a 'Republican' or a 'Democrat'. I wonder how may people - in reality - can go down the agenda checklist of their adoptive party and say: I agree with everything that the Republican/Democratic party stands for; therefore, I am a Republican/Democrat and everything that the Republican/Democratic party stands for is hence against everything I believe and should be opposed everywhere I go and every chance I get.

Conclusion: Beware of Generalizations and Decide Who/What You're Fighting For

While I know that not every single American is like that - possibly not even the majority - the loudest and most opinionated segment of the American society definitely seems to be. I have to apologize for making this sound like a harsh generalization. I usually dislike generalizations, but they are useful for understanding certain concepts and solving certain problems, even commenting on some. However, as can be learned from the example of the disastrous state of American public political discourse, generalizations are to be used with care and intelligence as they can turn into rather dangerous weapons in hands of the unskilled and the zealous.

Everyone should stop for a minute, look at themselves in the mirror, go over what they've said in the past (regarding politics) and see how much of it was influenced by their political party's of choice agenda instead of their own opinion and their own feelings on a matter. I know, if one's been a 'groupie' for too long, it will be quite hard to make that distinction, but everyone needs to make it eventually. I believe, that if people everywhere, not only in the U.S.A., started caring more about general well-being of humanity instead of well-being of their political party, religious group, or sports team, this world would be a much nicer place to live.


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