I’ve been following politics for a little over three years now. I’ll admit that I’m a Democrat. I don’t agree with every principle under the Democratic umbrella, but most of my beliefs are slanted towards their ideology . I love watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann on Current TV and I’m a fan of MSNBC, which is pretty much the liberal antidote to Fox News.
However, I think many Americans will readily admit that there has been an increasingly zealous rise in partisan politics over the last few years; specifically since Barack Obama became president.
I never really cared much for politics before 2008. That was the year everyone was painting this picture of Obama as if he would be the next best thing since sliced bread. Many Americans were tired of the blatant lies and hypocrisy that characterized the George Bush era of politics. People were ready for an honest change in the way our country ran. It was no mere coincidence that Obama ran on a platform of change. People wanted a president who could relate to the struggles they encountered on a daily basis. Most important, they demanded an administration which would be accountable for its actions. In other words, if a member of the Obama administration was caught doing something they shouldn’t have then they wanted them to be truthful and address the situation. The Bush policy was to get caught and then tell a million other lies to cover it up (Iraq War).
I was in my bedroom on a Friday night that summer flipping through the channels. I watched a few minutes of this middle-aged man who was so sarcastic that I found him to be entertaining. It didn’t take long to realize the people he bashed throughout the course of his show were prominent Republicans. After watching a few more episodes I was hooked. Three years later and on a different network, I’m still a fan of Olbermann.
Soon, I was introduced to a brand new world where I thought anyone associated the G.O.P. was a complete idiot. Of course, that theory was soon proven wrong since many close friends of mine are Republicans. Believing that all Republicans are evil and only care about corporate greed is akin to saying that all whites are racist. I was introduced to public enemies (or so I was taught to believe) such as Dick Cheyney, Michelle Bachmann, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the ultimate conspirator: Bill O’Reily. O’Reily, or Billo the Clown as he likes to call him, is without question the person Olbermann hates more than anyone in this world.
Eventually Obama won the presidency and it seemed as if America would finally get its act together. Or so I thought.
Before long, we had a congressman publicly disrespect the president during a public address to Congress, the formation of the ultra conservative Tea Party, and the heated debate over healthcare reform from last summer, for which its final days brought back memories of the civil rights riots of an earlier generation. There are literally hundreds of highlights from the first three years of Obama‘s presidency. These were just three that came to mind. The one thing they each have in common is that it’s a display of the sheer ugliness and complete disintegration of our two-party political system.
There used to be a time when people with opposing political views could at least sit down and have a respectful discussion about their differences. Today, if you disagree with what another party says then you could be branded as “un-American.” Or a socialist. A big reason as to why the Obama presidency has largely failed (or hasn’t been as successful as he envisioned) is because he can hardly pass anything due to a lack of cooperation from Republican members of Congress. Many of the bills he’s proposed have cleared through the House of Representatives, only to be shutdown by the Senate. I truly believe that Obama could propose a bill that would make it mandatory for every elementary school student to be rewarded with a piece of candy on Fridays, only for it to never see the light of day just because it was something that the Republicans didn‘t approve of.
I’m not saying that Republicans are the only ones to blame. They get a large brunt of the criticism because many of their stances border on the very worst of the fringe-right ideology. However, I can imagine that just as tough as it is for a Democrat to sit through an episode of the O’Reily Factor, I can assure you that the feeling is mutual for a Republican who watches Olbermann (I’m primarily using him since he’s the most mainstream liberal commentator). There is a special segment of Olbermann’s show called “Worst Persons in the World.” Though the segment isn’t meant to be taken literally, it’s a countdown of the top three people who’ve produced the silliest or most outrageous political moment of that particular day. Most of the people featured in the segment are from Republicans.
This next illustration really shows how insane this situation has become, I was browsing through the Facebook page of Fox News correspondent Ainsley Earhardt. A photo on her page shows her at a social function with NBC’s Today Show co-anchor/correspondent Amy Robach. They looked like they were at a party having a good time. That is what girlfriends do after all. A Facebook user had made a comment on the photo along the lines of: “What are you doing taking a picture with her?” The political divide is so deep that it’s even considered a cardinal sin to be seen in public with a friend who works for a rival network! Plus if that reader had even taken out the time to really think, they would’ve realized that Robach mainly works for NBC, which is very much balanced in their political coverage; unlike their counterpart MSNBC. Plus the vast majority of Robach’s coverage doesn’t have anything to do with politics.
A big part of the problem is the continuing influence that the news media seem to have over our elected officials. I believe that more politicians get their ideas and talking points from what they hear from their favorite commentator rather than from their own constituents. I’ll admit that Olbermann can go across the line at times and say things he probably shouldn’t. However, there is clear evidence that those on the far right are far more likely to act out the messages they see and hear.
In April 2009, an internal report from the Department of Homeland Security warned that right-wing extremism was on the rise, with a growing potential for violence.
The most notable example of this transpired this past January in Tucson, Arizona, when Jared Loughner attempted to assassinate congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He killed five people (including a federal judge and nine year old girl) and wounded 13 others. Following the attacks, Obama made a plea for politicians and members of the media to tone down the harsh rhetoric and renounce the hostile imagery they displayed.
Palin was heavily (and deservedly so) scrutinized by the public once it became known that her political action committee had placed a target over Giffords’s district just months before she was gunned down by Loughner. There was also a Twitter message from 2008 in which Palin, then the Republican vice-presidential nominee, urged her followers, “ Don’t Retreat, Instead- RELOAD!”
In an excellent op-ed piece, “Climate of Hate,” which appeared in the New York Times earlier this year, Paul Krugman wrote the following:
“The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridiucule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.”
As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.”
This isn’t to say that Palin or other political figures were responsible for the actions of that day, but you can’t deny the impact that type of imagery could’ve had on a person who was already mentally unstable. And to keep it balanced, there have been many Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican opponents. Who’s to say that they next attack against a political figure won’t come from a crazed Democrat.
The big picture is this: Government is about both parties coming together for the good of the people. There will always be differences in ideologies and the way things are done, yet we’re living in an unprecedented era where some members of both sides are so steadfast in their beliefs that they are unwilling to even cross the aisles to work with each other. I do believe that media from both ends of the spectrum are to blame for how much our government has broken down over the years, yet they are not the only reason. The more our two parties fight and bicker amongst each other, the longer it will take for this country to recover from the mess it’s in.