I was enraged. Listening to NPR doesn’t usually have that effect. Political coverage is something I enjoy about election season. But not today. By the time my commute ended, I was livid.
It started with a story of how Romney is campaigning that Obama eviscerated the welfare law. Three authorities — PolitiFact, the Washington Post, and FactCheck.org say that Romney and his campaign are lying through their teeth. NPR interviewed someone who’d just heard Romney’s claims at a campaign rally. The citizen thought that it really wasn’t right that Obama had taken the work requirements out. When the reporter told her it wasn’t true, and the authorities who had checked the facts, the citizen just responded, “Well, you don’t really know who to believe anymore. So many supposedly neutral parties aren’t. I’m trust Romney and Ryan to tell the truth.” My blood boiled. To think that this country has gotten to this point.
People will believe what they want to believe, in spite of evidence to the contrary, especially if it fits better with their world view, e.g. welfare recipients are voluntary parasites. People will believe that the media lies to them outright. Worse yet, if a bunch of folks believe that the media is lying and these fact-checking folks are lying, what does that say about the state of the electorate? Or worse, what if those folks are right? I felt sick.
Then there was the story about the Missouri Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, with his gaffe that women’s bodies could prevent pregnancy from “legitimate rape.” How infuriating! This is the 21st century! “Legitimate rape” rather than what? Fake rape? Is date rape “legitimate” or fake? But that’s not really the worst part — it’s the complete ignorance of biology that scares me. Someone in the government doesn’t know basic biology? (I am a fan of the Get Your Laws Off My Body bumpersticker.) No, that’s not the scariest part — the scariest part is that there are enough people in the nation who would probably nod in agreement, believing the same thing that he does. What does that say about the state of education in this country?
But that wasn’t all. NPR then began to talk about how that Senate race, formerly classified as a toss-up, was now being slated as a likely victory for the Democrat, and how it was likely to affect the ability for the Republicans to get a majority in the U.S. Senate. The analyst began to talk about red states and blue states, and I wanted to explode. Is it any wonder that we have such a polarized electorate? The media is playing announcer for a political sports match: who’s got the ball, how many innings are left — pick your favorite team sports analogy, but the press is feeding into this whole rivalry, complete with team colors. Yay, it’s a close game! Isn’t this exciting? Of course not, I’d rather my team was beating the crap out of your team. The political analysis that used to be so interesting was feeding my anger instead.
Let me explain. The U.S. public education that I received taught me that for democracy to work, you need an informed electorate. The media and other watchdog groups play an important role by uncovering inconvenient truths and extending your knowledge beyond your personal experience. Public education makes sure the electorate has a basic education so they can weigh the facts, understand political debates and issues, etc. Similarly, the legislative body must be educated enough to understand the issues in the laws that they’re writing.
So, based on today’s stories, depending on who you choose to believe, we have a gullible electorate, corrupt national watchdogs, an ignorant and possibly sexist legislator, a two-party system that generates politicians that are increasingly polarized from each other and therefore less likely to be able to work together, and/or a national media whose emphasis on conflict abets the polarizing tendency of the two-party system.
I can’t watch. It’s a train wreck. It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to be a disaster.
So do NOT talk to me about politics this season. Make no mistake, I’m going to vote. It’s my civic duty. But the current atmosphere of dishonesty, ignorance, and prejudice is way too toxic to be healthy. I’ll ingest some other form of entertainment or education on my commute.