I just changed the Politics field on the Info page of my Facebook site. Again.
My politics haven’t changed in the year and a half I’ve been on FB. But the public mood certainly has, and I felt compelled to update according to how my politics relate to the environment. When I first signed on — I think this was late summer of 2008 — there was a groundswell of support for Barack Obama’s candidacy; he was on his way to sealing the deal. I want to be clear about something: I’ve been an Obama supporter all this time because he eloquently voices opinions and values that I have held deeply for almost all my life. Broadly, the Obama wave was fueled by his charisma. It wasn’t lost on me that poise is part of the job of any head of state but, beyond that, the senator’s personal charm didn’t influence my vote. Still, it was nice to see that so many people were coming around to my way of thinking after their blind adherence and unthinking fealty to the Bush regime, and I was grateful to Obama for that. So at first my Facebook Politics field read, “Grateful I’m not considered a dissident anymore”.
A few months ago, as the Obama popularity started peeling off, it was time to change that statement. Obama made the same miscalculation I had made. He assumed people were voting for the policies he enumerated. I mean, that’s why I voted for him, so I figured that’s why everyone else voted for him too. Difference is, I’m an amateur and he’s leader of the free world. He should’ve known better. He let the charm offensive drop as he focused on being the policy wonk he is at heart. He figured that, by doing the things he told people he’d do rather than just continuing to talk about it, he’d earn their support. Fail. The other side started talking. Some independents who supported Obama became skeptical and eventually cynical as the president was unable to point to specific accomplishments. He has a whole bunch, but that’s another post. But many more people started listening to the ravings of people who have a vested interest in seeing the Obama presidency fail. The quality of the discourse got dialed down and the volume got dialed up. As Obama tried vainly to reach out to the right in the vain hope that some of them — any of them, any one of them — were going to rise above political expediency and embrace the national interest he lost his left flank and found himself almost alone in the middle. But I understood what he was trying to do. As much as I might personally want a public option — hell, I’d have been in favor of a single-payer system — I recognize that there’s only so much that’s-not-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it-here that people in any country — or any group of more than three individuals — is going to tolerate. That’s when I changed my Politics field to “Progressive but realistic”.
Today I changed it again. Now my politics are “Elitist”.
I’ve had enough of populism. When Republicans whom I long considered the grown-ups — John McCain, Chuck Grassley or Mitch McConnell — purvey fear and hatred to ensure their own political survival, something’s wrong. When such genuinely dedicated public servants and unabashed thought leaders of the GOP as Lindsey Graham, Newt Gingrich or Haley Barbour are no longer “conservative enough,” then the right has gone off the deep end. But what’s wrong is not the shift in political philosophy. It’s what’s causing that shift. The search for the lowest common denominator. The wallowing in the mud. The race to the bottom.
You never lose votes preying on fear, uncertainty and doubt. And when you don’t have any good ideas or a stellar recent track record of your own, then this is what remains. And the Republicans have been playing it like a freshly tuned banjo.
People aren’t stupid. If you look them in the eye and tell them, rationally, what’s gone wrong and what you intend to do to fix it, people will listen. But the Obama team hasn’t done that and the opposition can’t. So they rail and scream and that’s what fills the void. People aren’t stupid, but they do tend to believe things the hundredth time it’s shouted in their ears. But by the same token, if you as a purported leader resist the populist urge give your constituents the clear information they deserve, maybe they’ll surprise you by feeding you back ideas instead of bile.
I got my liberal arts degree from a conservative school, then my MBA from a liberal school. I’m accustomed to having informed debates with people whose opinions I respect and who in turn respect my opinion. Then we’d all go out clubbing together. That’s the way it should be.
I’m going to sign off now to listen to the State of the Union address and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that soon. In the meantime, here’s hoping we can someday return to a mode of public discourse that has as much to do with thought as with fear.