By Chad Squitieri
When you mention the word "politics" to people, you often immediately get one of two immediate results. The first and most common result is something along the lines of a dull stare, accompanied with a hurried attempt to change the subject. The second involves something of a defensive stance, where the person you are talking to is ready to defend or attack any topic depending on how the party they identify with views the issue. This is not how political discussion is supposed to be.
The problem I see with typical political discussion in our world today that tends to lead to one of the two responses described above is a problem of context.
Somewhere amongst the blob of partisan political analysis, reality television contests and mass commercialization that makes up our popular culture, is a world of politics that attempts to fit in. The problem is, real political discussion cannot exist in such a setting. If we attempt to treat political discussion in a content deficient manor, then those are the types of political results we will end up with.
As a culture, we certainly seem to understand the product of the way political discussion is handled. You often hear people complain about how our government spends more time bickering and complaining than getting much done. Less attention is spent on fixing the problem that leads to such a product.
What political discussion should be is a mode to communicate different viewpoints amongst each other in an attempt to get things accomplished. What it should not be is something treated like a game where all that matters is whose team wins and whose team loses. What political discussion should be is a stage where individuals can present their ideas and principles, not a stage to simply praise friends and humiliate and disrespect rivals.
Political discussions and reality television both have a time and place to be carried out. The problem occurs when the rules of the latter start to blend into the first. If we want serious results to come from our politics, then we need to treat it in a serious manner. This means discussion should appeal to logic, and not to pure emotion. There is certainly nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone's political stances, but I find that, to do so, you should at least meet one requirement -- know why you are disagreeing with them.
Every week or so, the news cycle brings us new topics to discuss and debate amongst each other. The problem lies in the fact that almost every topic tends to have opposing viewpoints that can be categorized virtually down party lines. In other words, tomorrow or the next day when the next national issue to discuss comes up, you can bet on the fact that most Republicans will defend the issue one way, and most Democrats will do the same in an opposing fashion. While this might make sense for central issues that are deeply rooted in the heart of each political party, it would be quite the stretch to claim that every national topic that works its way through the news cycle is connected to such deeply rooted convictions.
As a culture, we need to embrace a political setting where individuals do not automatically feel obligated to defend each and every issue in a certain way no matter how they personally feel simply because they identify with a certain political color. It is only through real discussion that anything of value can be accomplished.
While there is nothing wrong in standing up for your principles, there are often times when such matters are not being discussed where a little open-mindedness and sincere contemplation can go a long way. I will end with a quote from president Thomas Jefferson, who gets the point across in a much more precise and elegant fashion: "In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock."
This post originally appeared in The FSView.