Saturday, October 5, 2013

Blatant Politics 2

Very soon I'll have a real fiction writing project to keep me busy. Until then, I've been thinking about the rise of the fractious nature of American politics. Specifically: Why have both sides ratcheted up the nonsensical, aggressive talk? It's simple.

Demagoguery works; talk radio, the political left, the Twitterverse, etc. Why does it work? It is a bit different for both sides, but it comes down to this: Emotions motivate people, and anger is easy to instill.

On the left, there are a lot of angry people who rose to prominence at places like the Daily Kos and the Net roots. That same anger has been festering on the right, though at the executive nominee level to keep it from bursting out. We had Romney/McCain/Bush as our party leader/nominee recently, not exactly firebrands who would refuse to negotiate. Things weren't as bad when Kerry/Gore were the nominees/face of the Democrats, because they may be left politicians, but anger was not their way to organize their party.

The Graysons and Reids of the left, however, won the internal political squabbling, much like the more noisy elements on the right have been trying to push through [I don't just mean the Tea Party, I mean the "burn it down" people who just want to fight for politics sake. The Tea Party brings good elements to the conservative wing of the Republican party, much like the left liberal groups bring a healthy set of ideas to the left. The problem is that when you have people on political extremes, you sometimes also get extremists.] Those extremists, then, argue for not just taking extreme positions, but taking extreme measures to reach those positions ["There are no enemies to the left/right."]

And, frankly, the angry people on the right are going to win the argument sooner than later and begin to engage in a full-court press of angry tactics. You know why? Demagoguery works. The angry right simply points to the fact that the angry left WINS, while the moderate, compromising right LOSES. Remember the full-court hate against Bush and Palin? It worked. McCain bought an ad with his limited funds to congratulate Obama; he was called racist for it. There is no upside for a politician to be moderate, thoughtful and considerate to the other side in today's poisoned political game.

While I won't engage in the same sort of nonsense, there are voices on the right that are making a powerful argument that to win elections, being nice, moderate, tolerant and respectful is a losing strategy. Instead, they look to the campaigns that were launched against McCain and Romney. A return to harsh, character-driven smears, lies and over-exaggerations designed to stoke the flames of partisan divide. You win by depressing your opponents' turn out and inspiring your own, not by winning converts. That's the lesson that has been learned since at least the Bush victories, though the Bush campaigns were relatively tame compared to what we've seen in the last cycles.

Ultimately, this is sad for anyone who likes peaceful dialogue instead of pointless arguing. But, you get more of the behavior you incentivize. If we keep electing angry politicians, we're going to keep having angry politicians run for election.

Now, the important thing to note is that I am not saying that the left is inherently more volatile/rude/what-have-you, just because we see it coming to the forefront of the party machine there [which is an important difference between what the average citizen is. Most citizen say they don't like the tenor of current politics, and they don't. But, for some reason, we keep voting for assholes.] This isn't "the left are a bunch of angry jerks." The political reality is that the situation could have happened on either side. Chronology just meant that it rose on the left before the right for the simple reason that they lost the White House after Clinton, right when the Internet started to enable the sort of cocooning/in-grouping that is required for this to work.

If you have to talk with people who you're not sure about their politics, you are a lot more likely to moderate what you say out of general politeness. When you know everyone in your listserv thinks one way, it is very easy for your Journolist to calmly discuss murder fantasies of people on the other side or to think that phrases like "I want to hate fuck Palin" or "Jug Eared Fuck" are insightful discourse and not just condensed in-group signalling that, yes, you hate the same people everyone else here hates, so, let's have a beer together. It very easily could have been the right that jumped down this slippery slope first. Chronology just meant that there wasn't a political need to gin up the anger. They were winning.

Now though, we're seeing is a political revolution that very closely follows the classic model of revolutions. In fact, what I described above is pretty close to the basic Davies J-curve. Revolts don't happen when people are at their lowest, because they CAN'T. They happen once a group either loses or gains something to realize what they're missing. Just like you can't know what you're missing till it is gone, you can't revolt till you realize how oppressed/unhappy you are, and what you need to change it.

In this case, these political revolutions on the left/right are happening due to the goings on in D.C.; the left lost power after Clinton, the right lost power after Bush. A perfect catalyst for a revolutionary new approach to politics. Combine that with the growth of the Internet and insular political philosophies and the ease at which we can in-group ourselves, you have a fertile ground for the sudden outbreak of political hostilities [though, no one has been caned in Congress yet, much as we might wish some were.]

We're now in what Crane Briton might call the reign of terror, as the radicals in both parties are fairly firmly established, politically speaking. Luckily, we're civilized and only chopping off heads in the political sense. Think I'm exaggerating? Look at how many incumbents are retiring/being voted out. Someone who works in political theory should really take a close look; I may have just giving you a paper you can publish and get your 15 minutes of fame.

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