Monday, September 1, 2008

On Bias and Polarization

The two-party system that we've concocted in America requires us to view every occurrence, both foreign and domestic, through a myopic vision of our own political structure. Under this system, we act as if the women and children being slaughtered in Iraq are somehow concerned with the outcome of November elections. We presume that they are watching elections thousands of miles away, though they are without power and clean water for most of their daily lives. It is this supreme arrogance, this belief that the world hinges on the day-to-day banter in American politics, that precludes Americans from perceiving the distaste we leave in the mouths of others.

On the domestic front, the electorate seems only capable of adopting a stance of unfettered allegiance to one party or the other, unable to examine policy from the viewpoint of logic and reason, but only from the standard of whether it benefits the preferred party. The human mind seems unable to function in the presence of ambiguity. Everything must be pushed to one side or the other, to one wholly-inclusive worldview or another. Of these two acceptable positions, it is imagined that one is wholly true while another always false. As the world's religions operate on the pretext that of the thousands in existence one of them has everything exactly right, a statistical impossibility, so does American politics. That the holders of each faith believe that theirs is that single holder of absolute truth is responsible for the fanaticism tearing the world apart, leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

The stakes may not be quite as high in domestic politics, but it is only within that framework that every opinion is met with charges of bias from one side or the other. Arguments are examined, not on their merits, but entirely on which of the two acceptable sides they support. Nevermind the rules of logic inherent in the argument, if it supports one side it is met with shouts of "bias" from the other.

Facts are not examined for truth, the truth is instead seen as arbitrary. The insurgency in Iraq must be filtered through the American political framework, replete with its designated enemies and allies, villains and friends. Statistics are discarded as bias, replaced instead with pre-ordained conclusions that remain firm in spite of all available evidence. Anti-smoking groups spread propaganda about the harmful effects of smoking, complete with scientific proof, yet they cannot be taken seriously in light of the beneficent tobacco companies whose own studies surely bear no bias. Greenpeace may be nuts, but that is no reason to suspect that the oil companies seeking to drill pure profit in certain regions are being entirely forthcoming in the area of the effects of such drilling. To believe such absurdities provides ample fuel for the counter-productive fires that burn in American politics and ensure that the truth takes a back seat to unadulterated conviction.

I don't read Democratic talking points any more than I read Republican ones. I don't want to be part of a team, I don't want to be part of a group that requires allegiance to its members above my own reason. Yet no matter what stance I adopt, it will be viewed by the other side as subservience to the other party structure.

Because I abhor groupthink, I have no difficulty mocking the people fainting and fawning over Obama. Yet, just the same, I refuse to concoct some wild tales of him and Michelle acting as some Manchurian candidates trying to destroy our system of governance. I'm not concerned about tracking down a forged birth certificate any more than I lose an ounce of sleep over the fact that McCain was born in Panama.

McCain's old. Obama's exotic. Unfortunately, nobody seems to be able to get past those points, and nobody wants to legitimately discuss any issues. Differences of opinion are laudable so long as they're based on reason and thoughtful examination, but those are severely lacking in our political system, on both sides. That I sometimes hold opinions that coincide with one side or the other is not a signal that I've bought allegiance to that 'team,' but merely intersected them for the moment.

I want to move away from this bipolar charade, this system which requires every occurrence, both domestic and international, be examined within the faulty framework of our two parties. I want to move to a point where arguments are examined on their merits rather than proscribing the speaker into one camp or the other where he's responsible for everything that that side has said and done. I want to move to a point where political decisions are made to provide the greatest benefit to the governed rather than the strategic aggrandizement of power for the politician.

The one thing I'm trying to get across with my writing is that I'm consistent with my reasoning. If you stick to the rules of logic (and there are rules), you can be forgiven for a difference of opinion. The problem with the two-party system is that you always end up on one side or the other -- you have to mathematically -- so the other side always assumes you're on some sort of hobby horse, that you've sold your soul to the perceived enemy.

The bipolar system never requires anyone to hold consistent views, never requires them to oppose the side that they support, never requires that they actually answer to the will of the governed. Politics are not discussed bound to rules of logic and reason, they are discussed only in a framework of two parties that require absolute allegiance in an arena with absolutely no historical literacy whatsoever.

In the Clinton years, I was with those that railed against Clinton's nefarious ways and dismissal of certain parts of the Constitution. My own constitution, however, will not allow me to simply switch my allegiance when the White House changes hands. This puts me at odds with former allies, but I still believe the same things; only my targets have changed. My reasons and principles remain unaltered: The President exists to serve the people, not his own crony or corporate interests.

I have not changed from one side to the other, but have stayed the same as the parties have rotated. I believe wholeheartedly in the ideals of this country. I believe in democracy and liberty above all else. The problem is, neither party is all that keen on promoting those ideals. Both parties are more concerned with increasing their own political viability while they pit the populace against each other under false pretenses so that they pay no attention to the dealings behind the curtain.

It is the system, not my actual arguments, that make it seem as though I have been the one who has changed, when in fact it is merely the fact that a Republican now holds power. Check clips from the late Nineties of Sean Hannity, and you will find him engaged in diatribe against Clinton's use of executive power. Yet, now that Bush holds office, he supports unbridled executive power, even in its still-more-perverted form of the "unitary executive" theory.

That can signify only one thing: he bases his stance not on whether or not executive power should be checked, but rather who wields it. That is a shifting and logically dishonest argument, based not on a consistent logical structure, but on what best amplifies the power of Republicans while curtailing that of the Democrats. This is a detriment to the political discourse.

So you may say that I'm biased if you want, but understand that it is bias toward my beliefs of Constitutional governance, not a particular party.

Conservatives say they vote for views and beliefs, yet in November we will see them vote for a man that they have railed against for over a decade, a man that they claimed didn't share those views and beliefs. So how far does that impenetrable nobility go? Democrats would certainly tell you that they do the same, but in November they will support a choice for VP that stands for everything their presidential candidate has founded his campaign against. In November, voters will ultimately vote for the D and the R, nothing else.

Republicans would have voted for Guiliani had he been won the nomination, despite the fact that he's had several mistresses, been divorced three times, dresses in drag and engages in any number of other things that those so-called conservative value-holders abhor (in public statements). Republicans would have supported as VP (or candidtate) the former governor of a state that legalized gay marriage and has a mild form of socialized health care. In the two party system, values are out the window in November.

Anyone writing an opinion piece has a bias, otherwise their writing wouldn't be an opinion, it would be nothing. Bias is typically defined as "an opinion different than mine," but the speaker refuses to see that they, too, hold opinions. If they were without opinions, I would check their pulse.

Some take everything Republicans say at face value, while accusing every Democrat of speaking with alterior motives, then accuse me of bias. I believe they're all full of crap, so who's biased here? Some look at a good speaker, then try and tear him down because he does so in the presence of teleprompters, while at the same time supporting fully a president who has barely a passing acquaintance with the English language, then tell me I'm biased.

Everyone's biased. No one is devoid of opinions. What matters is that these biases are consistent with reality and the rules of logic. When my bias tells me all politicians lie, I'm being consistent and intellectually honest. When their bias tells them that only Democrats lie, they're lying to themselves.

When my bias requires tangible proof through their actions that someone is a supporter of some Christian morality, I'm being consistent and intellectually honest. When their bias tells them that Republicans caught in men's rooms and with prostitutes can continue to spout off about "family values," they're lying to themselves.

Republicans love to paint critics of their policies as "America-haters," but nothing could be further from the truth. It's simply that we love the ideal of America as it was conceived. Loving the freedoms and opportunities provided by this country does not preclude anyone from criticizing the policies of its current leaders.

Parents love their children, and would never construe criticism of their decisions as "hating" them. Nor would punishing them for misdeeds be a signal of some nefarious allegiance to the neighbors' children.

Loving America isn't waving the biggest flag or sporting the biggest yellow ribbon on your car. It's supporting the ideals upon which this country was founded, and those ideals have been absolutely trounced in recent years, with the perpetrators all the while claiming that it is actually they, pillagers of the Constitution, that love this country.

So you can say I have bias if you wish. So long as you realize that my only bias is to the Enlightenment ideals of this nation and the documents that serve as the product of that intellectual milestone. America should indeed serve as a model for the rest of the world, but it must be the right model, we must take the right lesson from the 18th Century. We should indeed spread the lessons provided us by the Minutemen and the Constitutional Congress, and we should absolutely criticize our government when it instead spreads through the world the policies of the Red Coats and King George.

I am biased. I'm biased to the ideals this country was founded on. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, and I will support whoever best supports those ideals at the moment. I hold no illusions that one party or the other holds a monopoly on those ideals. To believe that is delusional. All politicians lie. Members of both parties plot and scheme to accrue their own power. To believe otherwise is the worst kind of bias, for to believe that one side is wholly noble while the other fully nefarious is to serve a delusion that exacerbates not the will of the people, but the continuation of the aggrandizement of power in the hands of a detached ruling class.

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