Politics is wide, shallow, and disgusting

Uploaded by ZJemptv on 11.05.2012

The 2008 primaries and general election were the first in which I could legally vote. They
were also the first that I had ever taken a substantial and meaningful interest in.
I followed the campaigns and speeches and commentary every day, and after witnessing
all of the stunning and ridiculous events leading up to that historic November, I started
my YouTube channel. I promised myself that when the next presidential election came around,
I would be there to cover every moment of the madness. Let it be known that I was four
years less experienced and four years less intelligent. At this point, I'd rather catch
norovirus than endure another six months of predictable trivialities, uninformative news
and distracting nonsense. I have no interest in covering the same banal and meaningless
stories, or making the same obvious points as everyone else, because that would be a
waste of time. But I've now realized that this actually rules out an enormous fraction
of events in the political sphere, simply due to the nature of modern politics. Because
the presidential election is such a major event, with ramifications for most of the
world, it's already being covered from almost every possible angle. Truly unique insights
are bound to be rare, and if I can't offer that, then what's the point of even saying
anything? But more than that, there's just not that much to talk about. There should
be, but there isn't. Instead of taking actual policy positions for us to examine the effectiveness
of, candidates keep themselves flexible, refusing to anchor themselves to a specific stance
in case they need to change their position in the future. Since they need to appeal to
as many voters as possible, they tend to speak in general terms and try to make their ideas
seem agreeable to everyone. In the absence of meaningful stances on important issues,
we all start to focus on irrelevant minutiae, such as who we'd like to have a beer with,
or who transported a dog on the roof of their car, or who attended a madrassa as a child,
or who's perceived as being too "stiff". Media coverage reinforces this, because delivering
the news to a general audience requires simplifying many aspects of it and presenting it in a
way that's entertaining and attention-getting. In this way, political campaigns and the accompanying
coverage become ensnared in a self-perpetuating cycle: the shallower their content is, the
more people it appeals to, and the more people who are following the events, the shallower
the associated ideas and narratives become. This does a disservice to the voters, the
candidates, the political process, the country, and the world as a whole. It seems like nearly
everyone is failing to delineate the pertinent issues we face and focus on finding viable
solutions. The modern political landscape is dedicated to almost anything but actually
getting things done in a sensible way. Let's take a look at what Vice President Biden said
last Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press: "The president sets the policy. I am absolutely
comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual
men and women marrying are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all
the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that."
What followed were days of speculation about what this means: Does he actually support
full marriage equality? Or does he only believe they should have the "same exact rights" in
the sense of civil unions offering everything but the title of marriage? He used the word
"marrying", but said nothing about whether he believed gay marriage ought to be legal
or what approach to gay marriage should be taken at the state or federal level. His remarks
could be interpreted in many different ways, and Biden did nothing to clarify this. If
he wished to eliminate the ensuing confusion, he could easily have done so in a followup
statement explaining that he either does or does not support legalizing same-sex marriage.
But he didn't. In light of this, it seems probable that what he said was intended to
be ambiguous - it's not hard to say the words "I support same-sex marriage" if that's what
you really want to tell people. Instead, he more likely wanted to appeal to gay people
and supporters of equality while trying not to drive away voters who oppose gay marriage.
The result was a barely coherent statement that hardly qualifies as taking a stand on
anything, because how can you possibly have this both ways? If Biden had been more honest
and simply said, "If you re-elect us, we'll legalize gay marriage *and* ban gay marriage!",
everyone would see how bizarre and ill-considered this approach is. But by being subtle and
evasive about it, he managed to generate a few days of news about what amounts to nothing
at all. It wasn't until this Wednesday when the president himself actually said "I think
same-sex couples should be able to get married" that we were able to get a clear answer out
of the administration. Was that really so difficult? It shouldn't have been. Now let's
examine a story from The Hill.com: "GOP plans East Coast missile defense shield to counter
Iranian nuclear threat". The only significant information I obtained from this article is
that we currently have two missile defense sites in the United States, and Republicans
and Democrats disagree about the need for a third site and the potential threat posed
by Iran or North Korea. Does the story say anything about where our existing missile
defense sites are located? No. Does it tell us which areas of the US they're capable of
covering? No. Does it tell us how vulnerable the East Coast actually is? No. Does it tell
us how effective our missile defense systems would be in the event of an attack? No. Does
it say which countries we're currently prepared to counter a missile attack from? No. Does
it tell us how close Iran or North Korea are to developing a missile that could strike
the United States? No. Does it tell us anything that would help us decide whether an East
Coast missile defense site is actually necessary or would successfully fulfill its alleged
purpose? No. Did the writer of this article expect that we would care about any of these
facts? Apparently not. Instead, the politicians involved have seemingly turned this into an
issue of making the other party look bad, and this reporter has gone along with that
narrative. The question of whether our country is at risk of a nuclear attack and how we
should best prepare to defend against this has been reduced to a conflict between Republicans
and Democrats. For the record, the current Ground-Based Midcourse Defense sites are located
in Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the system has
successfully intercepted targets 50% of the time during tests. The Pentagon has stated
that the current sites are sufficient to defend against an ICBM from Iran, and plans are already
underway to station sea-based and land-based interceptors in the Mediterranean and in Europe.
To find this out, I had to go to Wikipedia and Wired.com, where this information is actually
considered relevant to the issue. And then there's a slideshow on CNN listing some of
Mitt Romney's possible running mates. While this is certainly an important question, this
piece isn't going to tell us anything useful until they can narrow it down to fewer than
19 potential candidates - at least 9 of whom have already said they don't want the job.
The story tells us nothing but "Mitt Romney might pick one of these people, or he might
not." Wow, thanks! I'm so *informed* now. And the daily parade of bullshit marches on:
Ron Paul picked up some delegates in a race Mitt Romney is still going to win. A prisoner
got 40% of the vote in West Virginia's Democratic primary, as though we expected that West Virginia
would be enthusiastic about Obama. Mitt Romney restated his opposition to gay marriage, to
the surprise of no one whatsoever. Then he apologized for allegedly attacking a gay classmate
in prep school, which will be mostly forgotten in the next 48 hours unless something worse
comes to light. Evangelicals seem likely to support Romney - who else are they going to
vote for? MSNBC provides us with Obama's "Voter Confidence Index", a quantity whose current
value tells us nothing about what Obama's chances of victory will be six months from
now. As MSNBC describes it, "The VCI is not meant to be predictive of any specific outcome".
No, really? Eventually, it just becomes exhausting. Every day, you skim through headline after
headline of pop-news that ought to be inconsequential, but has become consequential by virtue of
everyone treating it as such. Let's not forget that this election is one of the most important
decision processes in the world. We're going to select the candidates who we think would
be best at running our nation and writing its laws, and they're going to be faced with
the problems of reducing unemployment, provisioning healthcare when millions of people have no
coverage, addressing massive income inequality, and handling conflicts around the world. Also,
these people are going to be in charge of thousands of nuclear weapons. It does matter
how our country is run, yet voters, reporters and politicians themselves treat this process
with all the solemnity of someone who goes to a NASCAR race in the hopes of seeing drivers
crash into each other and catch on fire. Can't we do better than this? Instead of keeping
their positions amorphous and poorly defined so that they can force us to focus on their
"likability" and never be accused of changing their mind, why don't politicians endorse
specific goals and strategies that can be supported by actual evidence? If they turn
out to be wrong, there should be no shame in changing their views, and the rest of us
shouldn't hold it against them if they've done it for a genuinely good reason. Considering
that politicians have made themselves so untrustworthy in the pursuit of re-election, the media have
chosen to focus on whatever sensationalized nonsense will draw the most attention, and
voters have abdicated their responsibility to take politics seriously, it seems unlikely
that we could even do something as basic as working together and putting some actual thought
into solving the problems we face. Yet those problems will remain until we address them
in a meaningful way. We can either flounder in a morass of self-imposed ignorance forever,
or figure out how to make things better. Isn't that what the political process should be