A Divide That Can’t Remain

“[The Party System] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” -A former president of the United States, to be named later A harsh dichotomy between liberal and conservative factions divides our country and creates ill will among us. Yet, this division extends far beyond mere acrimony; it numbs people’s senses into categorical agreement with their political parties, even, in some cases, without any background knowledge whatsoever of specific issues. This schism has not only divided the nation, but also has given rise to a country wallowing in propaganda from slanted media sources (present newspaper excluded) and demagogues. Even underground cave dwellers have been confronted with the question, “Are you a liberal or conservative?” Upon responding to this inquiry, a person is immediately placed in one of two camps by the reductive interlocutor. The liberal believes in “moral truths,” considers the Bush Administration to be his number one source of stress, and quotes underground, 1960’s Canadian protest poetry. The conservative, on the other hand, describes himself as “compassionate,” takes notes when listening to Rush Limbaugh, and has memorized entire passages of Paul Wolfowitz’s writings. Indeed, when a voter answers the liberal/conservative question, his whole essence is distilled into one of two categories, as if he is reduced to wearing one of two colors in clothing. Moreover, all liberals are automatically staunch Democrats, and all conservatives are automatically staunch Republicans. Because of this unfortunate stereotyping, people are pressured to pick one party or the other, instead of picking and choosing views, and thus they blindly conform to their parties’ propaganda, I mean, platform. The media prospers from and contributes to this pressure by surrounding voters in a sea of political sophistry. To illustrate this point, observe a handful of non-fiction authors of The New York Times Bestseller list, as of this writing: Michael Moore, Paul Krugman, Bill O’Reilly, and David Limbaugh. Ultra-liberal, ultra-liberal, ultra-conservative, and ultra-conservative. Each writes books that view current events in the one-sided light of his one-sided prism. These parochial writers make a living by selling to millions of buyers, although it is not clear that these books belong on the non-fiction list. Furthermore, conformist, compassionate conservatives can receive a fax every day, which will inform them how “good Republicans” should react to certain issues such as rectitude of the Iraq war, the propriety of tax cuts and the insignificance of Enron. Thus, throwing rationality to the winds and the Green Party, some members of society seem to have embraced propagandist homilies and have ceased to think critically. This excessive devotion to parties also contributes to increasing susceptibility to demagoguery. In his 2000 Republican campaign acceptance speech, George W. Bush said: “I think of Mary Jo Copeland, whose ministry called ‘Sharing and Caring Hands’ serves 1,000 meals a week in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Each day, Mary washes the feet of the homeless, then sends them off with new socks and shoes. ‘Look after your feet,’ she tells them. ‘They must carry you a long way in this world, and then all the way to God.’” While it is difficult to find more pleasing platitudes, this statement does not contribute to Bush’s point about aiding the less fortunate. More likely, it is aimed at arousing the emotions of the listener, to persuade him to believe in the incontrovertible good of the Republican Party. Democrats perpetrate such demagoguery, too. Dick Gephardt revealed in his campaign for the 2004 nomination that his children consist of: an underpaid school teacher, a gay daughter, and a son who recovered from terminal cancer. His background does not contribute at all to enhancing his political statements, but it does arouse sympathetic emotions in the listener, blinded by the lack of content. Leaders can more easily sway their follower’s opinions through sentiment, because constituencies are so willing to accept anything the leaders spew. Both parties disseminate rhetoric that they uphold the ideas of democracy, justice, and free enterprise. These grandiose claims ring of verisimilitude in the same way that Big Brother does. For, democracy is based on popular sovereignty in which the masses should be well-informed and participate actively and intelligently in the political process. However, if we blindly follow our parties, like lemmings, we are participating passively and mindlessly, which is perhaps as terrible as not participating at all. One last thing: it was George Washington who delivered the beginning quote that so presciently condemns the party system, in his farewell address. But he was only the Father of Our Country. What did he know that we don’t?