Because my professional and personal life requires the devotion of time, thought and effort to clients, family and others, my blogging and reading of other blogs is sporadic at best. Catching up on the SD blogosphere brought to a head something that has been simmering for a while — renewed belief in the validity of certain conclusions I reached about politics some two decades ago.
I am old enough to actually have had a draft number. I vividly recall the anti-war (Vietnam) movement; the candidacies of RFK, Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern; the Watergate hearings; and the political and cultural clashes of the 60s and 70s. Those all helped lead me to political science and journalism degrees and a number of years as a reporter covering government and politics. I was a political junkie. Yet I ultimately reached two conclusions regarding politics. One is that our system is damaged beyond repair (and I admit being neither wise nor smart enough to know how to fix it). The other is voting only encourages the bastards.
The recent Gannon-Guckert uproar is the latest example of why blogs have reinforced these thoughts. The left spends time asserting this horrible scandal demonstrates the conniving hypocrisy and skullduggery of the Bushies and Thuniacs. The right/Blog Alliance people point to the left’s fascination with the topic as further proof of left-wing paranoia, hypocrisy and hatred of freedom. Conspicuously absent from the tempest is anything really constructive or productive.
Sadly, this is typical of the political blogosphere. Bloggers read what their compatriots say and nod knowingly; they read the blogs on the other side and shake their head in derision. Often, they feel compelled to comment on their blogs, at times with thought, more frequently with the conviction their acidic commentary so decimates the other side that they have once again saved freedom, democracy and the American way. Yet despite all the hyperbole, blogs are not changing anyone’s mind or creating real debate. The majority of the public isn’t even reading blogs. Although it is estimated 63 percent of adult Americans use the internet (PDF file), 62 percent of internet users don’t know what a blog is (PDF file). Despite claims of being a new media or new journalism, when you get right down to it political blogs amount largely to the self-important preaching to the converted while keeping an eye on the nefarious opposition. We have even “progressed” to the point where we not only have a South Dakota blogwatcher, we have a watcher watching the blogwatcher. (Although I must admit I enjoy the watcher’s occasional sardonic approach.) The average Joe or Jane, though, is more concerned with the pleasures and crises of everyday life than watching the blogs or watching the blogs watch each other.
Granted, blogs are simply emblematic. Similar and greater criticisms can be leveled at the print and broadcast media. (Oops, excuse me. I transgressed blog protocol and failed to use “MSM,” the chic abbreviation for mainstream media.) The person listening to Limbaugh, et al. or reading The National Review isn’t regularly tuning in to Air American Radio or reading The Nation and vice versa. If they are, it is to be appalled by and point out the lies of the other side. And not only does the traditional media join or follow blogs in leaping from tempest to tempest (as with Gannon), the national media seek to fill our gullets with the latest trial of the century or celebrity gossip while avoiding objective analysis and coverage of real societal issues.
How does this relate to my two tenets? All this (and, sadly, more) reflects what passes for democratic discourse and debate in America today. For example, most would agree we have or will have serious problems in Social Security, health care and our fiscal health. Yet because we incessantly force multi-faceted problems into a left/right dichotomy, we accomplish nothing. Our politicians are afraid to make hard decisions because they might piss off part of the electorate to which they owe their political lives. All the sound and fury merely creates the illusion the system is working. The nation founders because both the left and the right sacrifice honest analysis and responsible policy-making on the altar of politics.
That voting (more accurately, participation in the process) only encourages the bastards is a corollary of this. By continuing to vote for politicians (a term used with the most derogatory connotation possible), we reinforce this state of affairs. I am hard-pressed to point to a politician who has the cohones to set aside political expediency and make hard decisions based on rational examination and analysis of the issues. Any such people do not win re-election and, more important, do not win the election at the outset. Voter turnout nationally reflects that most Americans have given up. Moreover, the interests of the individual are lost in the money and power of big business and special interest groups. The ability to craft solutions to our problems has disappeared in the muck of politics in America today.
My conclusions are certainly open to criticism and attack. Others can claim that at least they are trying to make things better. But be honest. Do you truly believe modern American politics can solve the problems with Social Security and the budget, to name just two issues? Do you truly believe the South Dakota Legislature has the political backbone to find a permanent fix for education funding? Do you truly believe bloggers ranting about Jeff Gannon and the evils of the right/left helps solve any problem we face?
All of this is the long way to a simple point. I truly despise Bush and, in fact, that loathing led to this blog. I reject much of what John Thune stands for. I find it sad the South Dakota Legislature (and media) apparently prefer hot button issues over serious matters like education. Yet watching political discourse, particularly as more recently demonstrated by political blogs, has simply reinforced my prior views and further convinced me little or nothing can or will be done to honestly address the problems facing our nation and state.
Politics is politics and those who play and live it are welcome to wade in it all they want. I may comment occasionally on a smattering of issues and will leave up links to political sites for those so inclined. But I am tired of the stench. Thus, I will move this blog away from politics and toward things that actually bring pleasure, meaning and nuance to life.
Excuse me now. An opportunity to read a book and listen to music commands my attention.