Is there any political issue upon which all Americans agree? If there is, it’s certainly not defense spending, social programs, taxation, campaign finance, healthcare, or abortion, nor is it energy, trade, marriage, foreign policy, guns, illegal immigration, unionization, or the national debt, the economy, the environment, education, civil rights, crime, or drugs . . . hell, we can’t even all agree on jobs and infrastructure!
Unanimous agreement on any of these issues is extremely rare, even on a historical scale. World War II may have brought us to statistical unanimity on defense spending, and back in 1789, there were few voices of dissent offered against the general provisions of the Second Amendment. Yes, true consensus seldom occurs, but the degree of division found today is equally uncommon.
Last year’s debate surrounding healthcare is an excellent example of not only how wide the chasm between liberal and conservative voter opinion, but also of the nature of the divide. From the onset, Republicans spared no effort to cast the healthcare bill in the most negative light possible; labeled “Obamacare,” it was a “government takeover” of healthcare; it was being “forced down the throats” of voters and would result in bringing “death panels” to destroy the “best healthcare system in the world.”
The result of this unrelenting slander campaign was to completely pollute public opinion amongst conservatives. Voters rallied against the bill, believing the hyperbole to be fact, and stood in stringent opposition. Conservative opinion became so stacked, that the repeal of “Obamacare” became a vital element of the Republican election campaign of 2010.
But then, as the din of election rhetoric started to subside, the campaign dust began to settle, and another dynamic soon emerged. Preposterous claims of “death panels” were replaced by a slow seeping of factual information regarding what the healthcare bill actually contained. This soon led to liberals and conservatives alike arriving at more well-developed positions, and public opinion on repeal quickly began to tilt.
Once the equation changed from “do you want to repeal the government takeover of healthcare” to “do you believe that insurance companies should be able to refuse coverage because of preexisting conditions,” people were suddenly empowered with real knowledge of the issues, and were soon to adopt a position that actually reflected their personal values.
Many voters previously in favor of repeal found that they actually supported certain aspects of the bill, like allowances to help Medicare recipients cover out-of-pocket prescription costs, parents being able to include children up to age 26 on their plans, and the prohibition on denial for preexisting conditions. Once armed with facts in place of manipulative hyperbole, support for complete repeal dropped to only one in four voters.
If this were an isolated story, it may be dismissible as an aberration in an otherwise healthy political process. But the sad truth is that this sort of deception and manipulation is the rule, not the exception, and the process in question is not only unhealthy but exceedingly destructive.
The real story about healthcare or jobs or the deficit, or whatever specific issue you choose, is that the Republican spin machine has become so expert at political theater that no matter what the underlying facts, they’re able to develop a script for each issue that portrays the conservative position as pro-American and patriotic. They’ve actually become so adept at this manipulation that conservative voters accept their contrived plots, and willingly suspend reality, without question, most often to their own demise.
Regardless of political views, any observer of this dynamic has to be in awe of its power. The spinmeister’s craft is dedicated to beguiling the unwitting victim by playing on emotions of fear, pride, and fairness. By evoking the emotional response, the skilled spinmeister obscures the facts, avoids troubling questions about substance and effectively uses distraction to open his victims to exploitation.
Who isn’t against “government takeovers” — of any kind? The government is supposed to represent the people, not rule over them. And “death panels” or having anything “rammed down your throat?” What American wouldn’t be repulsed by such imagery?
The truth is that these characterizations have nothing to do with the underlying issues. They’re offered for the sole purpose of poisoning the well in order to drive opinion without any real evaluation of substance.
In reality, when all the extraneous bullshit is stripped away, all Americans care about the same things: about the wellbeing of their family and friends, and about the values upon which they base their lives. These core values may vary from person to person in terms of what they might hold as most important in a given situation, but they are, at the same time, universal. All people care about fairness and reciprocity, and they also care about protecting others from harm, about loyalty and respect and the sanctity of life. These values form the moral foundation of our culture.
Sadly, the Republican spin machine has succeeded in co-opting this basic set of American values, casting them as unique unto itself, and has in the process managed to artificially split the nation. They’ve created an alternate reality where they alone are held to believe in hard work, where fairness is dictated by the market (instead of by people), and where corporations are entitled to more rights than the citizens of our nation. Amazing? Absolutely, but the truly inconceivable part is that something approaching half of all Americans buy into this nonsense.
The truth of the matter is that what divides Americans is much less about a split in values and much more about the split in valuables. If left to discuss and debate our values without self-serving provocation by manipulative elites, the vast majority of Americans would be able to find common ground on which to build consensus and develop workable solutions. But such interaction would not serve the goals of those who seek to keep us divided, so they do everything they can to drive the wedge as deep and often as possible.
We’ve allowed the politicians and media to cast the debate as “big government” versus “small government,” when we all know that what we really need is “effective government.” We argue over raising or cutting taxes without first discussing the services We the People deem appropriate and how best to fund them. We accept that we’re divided over energy and defense and abortion and all manner of social and economic issues, but instead of engaging in dialogue and attempting to find real solutions, we just accept the winner-take-all, zero sum game of American politics that’s been defined for us.
This is not the way our democracy was intended to work. The Founding Fathers established a republic designed to ensure that the interests of all citizens would be taken into account. But in spite of their sage efforts, our representative government increasingly represents only the interests of a very small, very wealthy, and very powerful minority.
The real division in America has nothing to do with left and right. This is an artificial construct designed to keep the masses in perpetual tension — to keep us divided. Today’s public is presented with one fraudulent dichotomy after another, all stemming from complex political positions built on heaping assumptions with questionable logic. It is this complexity that prevents solution, because it ensures that the public never engages in meaningful discourse at a level low enough to find our common ground — the level of our core values.
There is no issue on the social landscape upon which a majority of Americans cannot find a suitable compromise. All that’s needed is an earnest discussion at the most basic level. Americans are decent people with a true sense of fairness, who have proven time and again that they’re capable of working together for the common good. All they need is leadership willing to speak the truth and stop beating the drums of division long enough to foster real dialogue.
Unfortunately, politicians want us all to believe that our differences are irreconcilable, that the other side is the enemy, unpatriotic and incapable of coming together and agreeing upon workable solutions. This is a fallacy, but it’s kept alive by constantly reintroducing issues that are recirculated and debated over and again, whenever The People threaten to expose the truth — that the only real divide in America is top and bottom, between the haves and have-nots, and that divide is widening with every passing year.
It is up to We the People to reject yet another season of the Kabuki Theater that is left/right politics in America. We must demand an end to the deceptive practices of both major parties, equally to Republican fear-mongering and Democratic lip-service, for it is their dance that’s taken us to the edge of destruction. We must come together as a people and insist on a real conversation, or else continue to be exploited by our nation’s economic elite and their servants in public office.
The People only win when we unite.
If interested in a look at how your personal values fit with your politics, pay a visit to Your Morals.org.