As the week trudges along towards its inevitable end, I find myself humored (less “ha-ha,” more “eyes rolled”) by the goings on in Washington. The government shut down (laced with more debt ceiling talk), Congressional leadership going back and forth over this and that, all the while our ever so controversial President laying claim to this and denying that. What is it about our style of government (and the much louder voice of the increasingly educated governed) that accommodates the seemingly never ending vitriol and misinformation?
As I’ve understood for many years, our government is a Democratic Republic. For those confused (often I hear people claim incorrectly that we’re a Democracy), a Democratic Republic derives its authority from the people in lieu of the group. A simple democracy would simply be likened to a dictatorship of the simple majority¹ (51%). Yeah, yeah, I know. Some of you will claim the notorious “1%” already… blah, blah, blah. The idea of government being ultimately accountable to the people directly was very radical in its time. Monarchies were still very much in existence and de rigueur during the founding of our Republic. I am in concert with many folks that, not only should we help educate the populous of our form of government, but, we get back to the system the Founding Fathers intended. Ronald Reagan had given a speech, or “The Speech,” in October of 1964² that more eloquently proposes this idea. You’d be well off to give it a look/listen.
It’s interesting that there are two major parties named from a part of this nomenclature. The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee are supposed to represent differing views. The Dems (or, Left) would like you to believe they are for the underprivileged, the working class, the minorities, and any other social conversation being had at the moment, i.e. conservation, women’s rights, et al. The Republicans (or, the Right, the GOP) supposedly stand for a more strict interpretation of the Constitution, fiscal responsibility, and limited involvement by the governing upon the governed. Obviously these aren’t the only points of each platform, but a quick run through, per se. For another opinion on the differences between the two (main) parties, check out Democrat vs Republican.
I grew up in a very conservative household. Ronald Reagan was a hero, and is still considered as such. The GOP was finally set up on it’s keel when, as some call him, “Ronaldus Magnus” (etymology unknown) took office. Even the Congress, led by the strong willed and very effective Democrat leadership of Tip O’Neill, was accepting of most of Reagan’s policies. The normal stonewalling (as seen today) was not as prevalent nor as (historically) nasty as things appear today.
Now we find ourselves in a stalemate of sorts. Despite the nonsense surrounding their stance, neither side seems willing to give up any ground. There also seems to be an expectation on one side to submit regardless of the views of the majority of the constituency. Polls are cited as proof that this side is right while the other side is out of touch. Each side, though, has their own data to support their agenda. Why is there more weight being applied to, let’s say, the Left’s position than the Right’s? I mean, when you listen to the Mainstream Media, there’s definitely a left slant provided. This cannot be argued. Here’s a quick test: if you identify as a liberal or a progressive and agree with what CNN talks about and ridicule the opinions of the talking heads on Fox News’ primetime lineup, then you’ve proved my point for me. I know, I know, this is the real news, the only news that reports facts, the only news that doesn’t spin information. I guarantee the viewers of Fox News can easily claim the same. Bias is bias. That’s what makes it so. It’s the intellectually dishonest which claim the opposite.
Some time ago, a phrase was coined to identify the big players in the media: “the mainstream media.” These would include; ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, and a variety of print media; The New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Rolling Stone (irrelevant concerning politics, I once thought), et al. Fox News seems to be the only viable (among viewership/ratings) conservative-leaning outlet. Sure, there are numerous websites and blogs supporting the Right’s position, but nothing close to having the same advertisement revenue or apparent persuasive strength as the “Big Networks.” I’m not providing an argument for or against this summation. It’s an opinion given by not only myself, but most anyone I’ve talked with.
You could argue that the aforementioned players are the true voice of the press, the people, and common sense. These are the networks (specifically, ABC, CBS, NBC) that people traditionally turned to for their news. Names like Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings were trusted to bring us all of the important news of the time. When these gentlemen spoke their first few words, people stopped what they were doing to soak up what was being broadcast. Election results, social discussion, and all other (deemed) important current events were provided by these fellows, these networks. That was it. Often you’d overhear or take part in a conversation that claimed, “last night, I heard Cronkite talk about whether or not Eisenhower would…” People listened and trusted them. I don’t believe that happens anymore. Well, at least not with the same authority they once possessed. There really wasn’t anyone or anything more persuasive than the evening news. Of course, one cannot exclude the major print media. In their time, they could not only be called upon to learn of what happened (yesterday, at the earliest), but to even persuade elections and public opinion. A well written editorial could elect presidents all the way down to a PTA treasurer.
But print media is in a serious decline. You can look elsewhere for the numbers and evidence for that, I’m mainly concerned with the modern media which consists of TV, websites, blogs, et al. With today’s 24 hour news cycle, I believe some of the impact have worn on our collective consciousness. We are inundated with every bit and bauble from every crack and crevice of the world. We find out instantly when someone is kidnapped, assaulted, or murdered, or has fallen victim to some sort of politically incorrect (but most likely, innocent) remark, or a Twitter handle hacked. Scratch that. It’s more than likely that we miss most of this and only focus on the sensationalistic blathering from one talking head or another.
This is the beauty of our system. We are allowed — endowed — with the unalienable right to say what we want, when we want, about whomever we choose, without fear of recourse. Or, so it’s supposed. I dare you to utter any of the numerous politically incorrect words or phrases (they will not be tapped out here, surely you, the reader, have full cognizance of what I’m referring to) among those which find it almost recreational to feign offense. They react as if you’ve somehow committed the most heinous of malefactions.
But, I digress. I believe the nastiness we find ourselves surrounded by is just a normal part of our much needed national conversation. Is it getting muddier and muddier? Mud-slinging; our new national identity? Me thinks not. We just hear more of it and find ourselves intertwined within these conversations which likely leads us to believe it’s worse than it was in past generations. I assure you that if you do a quick Google search on “mudslinging,” you’ll find plenty of current and historical examples. Look at our own Revolutionary War; those folks were brutal (although decidedly more eloquent).
1 (2007). Republic vs. Democracy – 1215.org. Retrieved October 10, 2013, from http://www.1215.org/lawnotes/lawnotes/repvsdem.htm.
2 (2005). A TIME FOR CHOOSING (The Speech – October 27, 1964). Retrieved October 10, 2013, from http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/reference/timechoosing.html.