The two big things wrong with politics

I tried for a good ten minutes to find a title that briefly and succinctly describes our broken political reality without using any type of expletive; I failed. It goes without saying that, particularly at the national level, the red-versus-blue tribal mentality of the day is extraordinarily awful. I’ve been trying to figure out the underlying causes for a couple years now, and think I have finally zeroed in on two central ailments.

The first is an adulteration of sincere information, which runs hand-in-hand with the demonization of views that challenge one’s own. This, in my opinion, has by far the most deleterious consequences.

As I have noted repeatedly in a somewhat jovial manner, the degradation of the consumption of “healthy” information has been somewhat rapid in this state. Newspapers are shriveling, news radio stations are shuttering and local television news has largely been reduced to 30 minutes of shooting coverages and cats of the week. Make no mistake, this is not because of a lack of competent journalists in all mediums. It is because the average Texan — indeed, American — is far more comfortable getting his “news” from the television monitors at a gas station than in something he actually has to read. I purposefully say he because the problem is significantly worse with men.

However, apart from apathy on the part of the average citizen, many political inclined individuals have moved away from the fair arbiters of newspapers and other unbiased news sources. Fox News and MSNBC are rather trite examples, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Many blogs allow partisans to create a completely alternate universe where their fantasies can become reality –ever so briefly. For a liberal in Austin who got 100% of her politics from Burnt Orange Report or Addicting Info, perhaps there could have been genuine shock to the utter shellacking that Wendy Davis and the Democratic slate received in Texas last year.

However, to cast this issue as equally bad on both sides would be monstrously disingenuous. When it comes to blogs and other online sources that spin the truth or just make stuff up, nobody even comes close to the Tea Party. I’m friends on Facebook with a few rabble-rousers within those organizations, and I see no shortage of evocative headlines from sketchy sources littering their timeline. They are the political equivalent of the National Enquirer, though that would probably be an insult to the Enquirer for the 5% of stuff they don’t make up.

Take this recent article from “Next Generation Patriots” about a supposed report linking Hillary Clinton to the Benghazi terrorist attack once and for all. Nevermind that even the Republican committee that orchestrated the investigations have cleared the administration. This is a BOMBSHELL REPORT! Sadly, all too many people believe this drek, because somehow they have been deluded into thinking that these uber-partisan online tabloids are more reliable than actual newspapers. I am baffled and speechless.

Similarly, I saw a Facebook friend share this nearly year-old post from “America’s Freedom Fighters,” which alleges that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the American government. At this point, I’m really at a loss for words. Are the authors of these sites actually delusional, like in a clinical way? Or do they just sit around a big room thinking of provocative things to completely lie about? And yet, individuals heavily involved in Tea Party causes, the 1% of the political process in this state, actually believe them and are influenced by them.

The decline of the information process has a companion in the elimination of robust opinion journalism. In my view, the harmful effects are comparable. We have become a nation of echo chamber dwelling simpletons, who become offended by anything that challenges our own preconceived notions.

For example, since the summer, I have served on the editorial board of The Daily Texan (one of the top 10 largest newspapers in the state), also serving as an editor for the opinion/editorial section. I like to think that the Texan runs our editorial content the way a reputable publication should. For the three semesters I have sat on the editorial board, our consensus opinion has been somewhat left-of-center, but we have always gone to lengths to ensure we have a plethora of conservative voices as columnists.

Sadly, few appear to appreciate this dedication to diversity in the editorial pages. The columns chock-full of liberal talking points get spread far-and-wide by like-minded individuals and groups; same for the conservative talking points. The few times I have shared columns that I disagreed with, but were particularly thought-provoking nonetheless, I faced nothing but derision by the “Tea Party Democrats” who incessantly accused me of being some type of horrendous political traitor who should be ashamed of myself.

Opinion content is not about validating all of your existent beliefs. Rather, it is about challenging your conventions. I have always been raised to believe if you cannot defend your views and positions against criticism and derision, they weren’t very good beliefs to begin with. With politics, that is especially true.

I subscribe to three magazines: The Atlantic, The Economist and Texas Monthly. If I had extra time and money, there would likely be others on that list, but those three in particular have always struck me as understanding how opinion content should work. They are unafraid to taking bold, new positions, and they defend these points with logic and reason remarkably well.

Particularly with the Economist, I found myself Freshman year of college disagreeing with a great deal of its content. The sophomoric juvenile in me wanted to just stop reading and retreat to the trite, backwards leftism of The Nation or Mother Jones —but the adult kept on reading. After a semester or two, two major developments had occurred in my political thought process. First, I had gotten a lot better at defending my tried-and-true liberal positions in the face of unwavering criticism. For example, the Economist is thoroughly skeptical of affirmative action, a program that I have always greatly supported. I like to think my defense of that position has been made more competent.

Second, and perhaps most important, some of my lousier political positions changed. Most notably, when I was in high school, I was a paleoliberal on topics such as free trade and protectionism. I opposed NAFTA. I favored silly, outdated things like tariffs and foolishly thought that such a course of action — say, by heavily taxing Japanese automobile imports —  could do things like pay down our deficit and assist in economic prosperity.

The more I did research inspired by those articles, the more I realized that free trade — arguably the Economist’s biggest trademark — is not an inherently bad idea. My introduction to economics class at Brandeis — a “saltwater school” in Boston, not a “freshwater school” in Chicago — corroborated this, and that was that.

Sadly, few people use opinion-based political content for such reasons anymore. All too often, it’s just used as a way to support what one already believes. Anything with which one disagrees with is immediately labeled heresy or worse.

The second, and admittedly probably less important, problem plaguing our political system is a total elimination of respect for authority. Let me clarify: I do not mean blind allegiance to one’s government or jingoistic patriotism or the like. Instead, I mean respecting the opinions of experts in their pertinent fields.

The most egregious example of this, in my opinion, is the Tea Party total adulteration of the word “constitutional.” In their topsy-turvy world, the constitution has taken on this divine power in which it is revered as a truly perfect piece of literature. “Look to the constitution” is the cliche that is the answer to nearly every single political quandary, much how “look to the Bible” is the trite retort for a proselytizing fundamentalist.

First, it goes without saying that the constitution is far from perfect (3/5ths compromise, anyone?), but the real issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of how we adjudicate disputes about the nation’s founding charter: the court system.

Even otherwise reasonable conservatives fall into this trap, quickly calling Obamacare some type of “unconstitutional” trainwreck. Most criticisms fall within the realm of one’s opinion, but the constitutionality of a law is not one of them. The Supreme Court explicitly upheld the crux of Obamacare’s constitutionality in 2012. By definition, that means it’s constitutional. I would say you’re supposed to learn about stuff like judicial review in the 11th grade, but the Oklahoma Legislature is definitely doing their best to prevent that.

The Tea Party, egged-on by those aforementioned political tabloids, has taken it upon themselves to usurp the judicial system’s authority to call something constitutional. To a lesser extent, the left has done this as well. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a Democrat insist the campaign finance restrictions struck down in Citizens United were indeed “constitutional,” I could’ve bought an extra Dr Pepper at lunch today. You might disagree with the decision (I do), but, by definition, it’s not constitutional. My father, an attorney, made a point of teaching me that lesson in 2008 after the District of Columbia v. Heller case. If 14 year-old Noah can understand, you can too!

Sadly, the distrust of lawyers on legal matters is not the only example of such willful ignorance. Teachers have lost their ability to teach children without criticism and, of course, doctors and other medical professionals are accused of not knowing better than parents on medical knowledge. This was recently exemplified by the recent brouhaha over vaccines.

These deleterious beliefs of one’s superiority over everyone and anyone — no matter how knowledgeable or qualified on pertinent issues — have penetrated even ostensibly professional quarters of our society. I recently found Greg Groogan, a reporter for the local Fox affiliate, promulgating that exact type of hooey, specifically on the vaccine issue. (If you want to have some fun, check out the succeeding conversation on Twitter. I called him out, and he went off on me in especially sanctimonious and patronizing way. This, from someone who just straight-up fabricated stuff during the last mayoral election.)

This was a little more longwinded than I was going for, but those are what I believe to be the two most harmful impediments to a functional political system that we currently face. I fully admit I have broken these rules myself on a variety of occasions, but I have recently been trying my best to follow them.

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Civil Affairs: Facts

CIVIL AFFAIRS

When is a lie a lie and when is it a political conviction made in good faith? Recent flare ups in Washington and the Texas gubernatorial election show that sometimes the two are interchangeable. Unfortunately, our political system has grown to accept its participants’ fibs, sometimes with strange results.

For example, about two weeks ago, the popular crafts chain store Hobby Lobby was in the news after its suit against the federal government reached the Supreme Court. The store was arguing against a provision in the Affordable Care Act, known by some as Obamacare, that requires employers to provide free or reduced-cost contraception to their employees. Citing religious liberty, the owners of the privately held corporation refused to do this, which triggered the lawsuit.

At first glance, a suit such as this, about corporate personhood and religious liberty, would appear to be a good-faith dispute made over legitimate political convictions. The problem with this is that Hobby Lobby does not actually cite categorical opposition to contraception as the basis for its lawsuit. Instead, it cites a belief that many forms of contraception, including some pills and intrauterine devices, are tantamount to abortion. Scientifically speaking, this is simply not true, as no evidence exists that indicates these methods end a pregnancy after fertilization. In fact, most evidence decisively shows that IUDs — or the other birth control methods Hobby Lobby cited, such as Plan B — are contraceptives and not abortifacients.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Cruz Control

“Texas is on ‘Cruz Control.’ Ted Cruz is the epitome of everything that’s wrong with Washington, and John Cornyn is along for the ride. He’s on autopilot, voting the way Ted Cruz wants him to…If Texas stays on ‘Cruz Control,’ we’re headed for a wreck.”

I encourage you to watch the full video. It is rather well-done, though its extended length makes it harder to use as an advertisement and may turn off some lazy people. Maxey Scherr, of course, is a Democrat running for the US Senate. She faces at least four challengers in next March’s primary, in what is shaping up to be the cycle’s most competitive Democratic contest. But from what I have seen in this ad, I think it would be a safe bet to say that Scherr is frontrunner.

Click here to read more about the advertisement!

Horwitz on the Far-Right

As I have discussed previously, I identify myself with the Democratic Party because it is, in my opinion, the sole reasonable political party in this country. In any other civilized country on the planet, I would find myself as a moderate or even a mild conservative. I did not leave these political philosophies, to borrow from the cliche, but this country’s definition of them left me. In recent days, I have found more evidence of this phenomenon.

The United States is the only country in the civilized world without universal, government-provided healthcare. David Cameron, the Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, calls his country’s socialized medicine program a “great national treasurer.” Even Margaret Thatcher, the great right-wing crusader of Britain, understood the importance of the program and did not dare attempt to privatize the service such that Britons would be forced to pay for healthcare. Such a position is deemed barbaric today in the British Isles.

Bearing in mind that the Democratic Party is significantly more conservative on the issue of healthcare reform than Margaret Thatcher, we come to Obamacare. The healthcare reform package, which I have never been a fan of, uses convoluted tactics to continue inputting bureaucracy into an already over-tangled private healthcare market. However, all said and done, the law does expand Medicaid for those who need it and has been shown to drastically lower premiums. Accordingly, it is better than nothing; though the GOP certainly does not think that way.

But the Republican Party does not find issue with the law from the left, as I (and, I would suspect, Margaret Thatcher) do. While my critiques of the law revolve around continuing to accommodate a privatized healthcare market that has failed the average consumer, placing an emphasis on making profit above giving successful medical treatments. Unlike that position, the Republican Party believes that Obamacare’s limited subsidies into the still-privatized healthcare market constitute a “government takeover” on the level of a Stalinist dystopia.

Not only does the Republican Party believe that Obamacare will be the end of life as we know it for the American people, they are so loyal to the position that they are actually willing to end life as we know it for the American people in a futile attempt to rescind the progress of the law. Ted Cruz, my State’s lovably McCarthyesque Senator, has now made a name for himself in leading his self-culled lollipop guild in forcing a provision to completely defund Obamacare to be a part of any bill to keep the government open, or to raise the debt ceiling.

As I have recalled in previous statements, I have many close friends who much prefer to stick their heads in the sand when it comes to politics, and equivocate as to their political philosophy. In a lazy attempt to be evenhanded for evenhandedness’ sake, they confide that they see the merits of both political parties, while roundly criticizing the extremists like Cruz. However, to once again borrow the outdated colloquialism, the idiots have taken over the asylum. House Speaker John Boehner, arguably the most powerful Republican officeholder in the United States, thrust his support onto a now-passed bill that tethers the defunding of the healthcare reform measure to continued funding of the government. Cruz influenced Boehner, they are the mainstream of the Republican Party!

As I have said during both previous debt ceiling showdowns, when Republicans play tricks like this, they take the economy hostage. Unfortunately for them, the United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists.

So, in recap, for all who still decide to play the idiotic ruse of balance for balance’s sake, remember this. The Republican Party is operating two great leagues to the right of the most conservative leader modern Britain has ever had, and are willing to bring about a worldwide economic disaster in order to accomplish these far-right goals.