Political Discourse and the Role of Government

We have a problem in this country with the way we talk about government. In fact, we don’t even talk about government anymore, we talk about politics. I don’t know when it happened, but at some point we just began accepting that the government was going to try and control us and do things for us that we should be doing for our selves and we began talking about politics and pettiness. Until recently, people would try and make you out as an antiquated thinker if you believe that the proper role of government is something worth talking about instead of quibbling about the specifics of legislation. It was probably in the thirties that the nature of government or rather the expectations of government changed. Now, instead of having rational and honest debates about whether we want a truly representative government run by the people or a quasi “soft” socialist government that is found in Europe, we debate about specific bills and call each other Fascists and Communists or just plain crazy. Rarely do we step back and have real discussions about what direction we want the country to go. The battles we have over policy are won and lost in inches and once we begin to step back and see that we have traveled miles, I would guess that most of us don’t like where we have ended up.

Not only have we gotten away from discussing the proper role of government but the debates we do have, have devolved into tactless noise. Both sides of every issue have adopted demonization of the opposition as a tactic of debate. I’m sorry to have to be the one to break it to them, but deligitamizing someone else’s argument doesn’t make their argument any stronger. Political debate is not a zero sum game. A bad argument is a bad argument. Unfortunately, I do understand why they use this tactic, to a degree. It is easier to argue against nothing than something. But I think that is my problem with watching political debates, whether they are between politicians or pundits. Everyone is arguing against the other side instead of for their side. We have become accustomed to bomb throwing instead of deductive reasoning. Everyone thinks that the other side is crazy or stupid or racist or anti-American, and no one is actually listening to each other. The tone of the debate is not the problem. The problem is that there is often no debate at all. We have seen most debates in this 24/7 media culture devolve into two people shouting over each other trying to convince the viewers at home that they are not as bad as the other guy.

In the last two years I have seen Republicans and Democrats try to convince us that whatever terrible bill that they are putting forth is miles better than the horrible one the other guy thought of. What I don’t often, or really ever, hear is a debate about whether or not a new law is necessary. They rarely seem to care if it is appropriate use or function of a limited government. Both sides are continually grasping for control. The Republicans are trying to limit our choices for moral reasons. They say they are for limited government but are against marijuana legalization, gay marriage and other social issues but is it really the government’s place to tell you what you can put in your body or how you express your love for another person? The Democrats also like to control our choices. They don’t want us to be able to eat fatty and salty foods or smoke in public but is that really the job of the government? Politicians of all persuasions think that they know better than the rest of us and are dying to create a nanny state where no one has to think for themselves. Both sides think that they sit on the moral high ground while the other is reprehensible. They are two sides of the same coin. Each thinking that if they could just loosen one kind of control and tighten another that all will be well.

And we take it. Most of us are just trying to get to the end of the day where we can relax for an hour or so and then go to bed, just to do it all over again. I do have to say that I was holding out hope for the Tea Party. Now for the Tea Party haters; don’t turn away just yet. I know that probably around half of the country thinks that they are dumb racists who think that Sarah Palin is the savior of America, but they’re not. This was a genuine grass roots effort in reaction to decades of Government encroachment but I have lost interest because they have shifted their message. Joe and Jane Mainstreet have had to refocus on their day to day lives and the zealot-ish moral crusaders have infiltrated the ranks. I feel genuine disappointment because I thought that this could be a real positive force against government encroachment but they are turning out to be like every other political group. They tend to start with good ideas and get corrupted or co-opted and reach for more political influence so they can control things the way they want.