When I came to the United States, I was 21 years old and had never had an interest in politics before (which I attribute to my wonderful parents never discussing it at all). This changed when I arrived in the US and my sheltered mind was exposed to the 2008 elections. The intensity of this election season was like nothing I had never witnessed before in New Zealand. Due to the conservative Christian evangelicalism I adhered to at that time, I naturally gravitated towards the Republican Party and even wondered how Christians who voted Democrat reconciled their faith to their political stance. Needless to say, I had a pretty naive view of the world, politics, and religion.
Over the past four years, however, as I’ve read up on political theory, economic theory, theology, philosophy, and other things, I gradually shifted from the right-side of the spectrum to the left-side. But then seeing that the Democrat Party was just as useless and partisan as the Republican Party, I have come to settle on an independent status, with proclivities towards the left, though ultimately I enjoy a smorgasbord approach to the two parties. Though it is a challenge to have to navigate through all the trite sophistry and sophomoric apologetic tripe you hear from the political pundits and party cheerleaders. Thankfully, though, there are some good non-partisan resources out there (e.g. the CBO) and some relatively unbiased news sources (e.g. The Hill, Al Jazeera English, The Economist, and the Christian Science Monitor – don’t let the wacky name fool you, it’s actually quite good). Though most people I have talked to concerning politics, whether they be Democrat or Republican, seem to have an all-or-nothing attitude towards a party, toeing the party line on every single issue.
Here are three obvious, yet disheartening, truths I have learned about politics over the past few years:
- Politicians just stick to the zeitgeist of their party so as to get (re)elected.
- Cognitive inertia and confirmation bias are a potent combination in voters.
- The cross of Christ is often confused with the cross of Constantine (“in this sign you will conquer/win”).
The first point is why I have a general dislike for all politicians. They all seem like duplicitous hacks who will say absolutely anything to court a bloc of voters. The second point touches upon a fundamental fallacy in human thinking – we have an innate desire for self-corroboration. We would rather discuss our own views with other like-minded people and have a good circle-jerk about it, than have an open-minded, and maybe even intellectual, discussion with those holding different opinions. The third point touches upon my main beef with the Republican Party, which is that the (anti-intellectual, authoritarian, nationalistic, and militaristic) Religious Right has too much influence over the platform of the GOP. Apparently, the white, middle-class, and thoroughly capitalistic, American Jesus has come to save his Chosen Nation from the gays, socialized medicine, and Islam!
But, ultimately, the most important thing I learned about political discourse in this country comes from everyone’s favorite political talking head, Papa Bear Bill O’Reilly, who during his recent debate with Jon Stewart said the following (which, ironically, describes his own career):
The problem with the discourse situation in America is Capitalism. You can make a lot of money by being an assassin. A lot of money… It doesn’t matter if you are left wing or right wing. You go in and you’re a hater – radio, cable, in-print, whatever, you get paid. And there is a people who do that… and they go in and they don’t believe half the stuff they say and they just rip it up and they get paid a lot of money. … And capitalism drives that. There are people, Americans, who wanna hear hate, and they hear it. And, that has just blown it all up.