I don’t like to get into discussions of politics with people. I find that they are highly divisive. I can get along perfectly with someone, share many of the same values and hobbies, and generally like that person… until we start discussing politics.
As I was going to work yesterday I was thinking to myself, why is it that politics arouses people so much? Why is angry so often associated with politicians and their supporters? I think the answer is because politics is competition. There can only be one president, so anyone who would claim the position must prove himself* more suitable, more capable, more charismatic, more American than the other opponents. The higher the stakes, the fiercer the competition. Throw in the media channels which thrive on arousal — righteous anger, filthy gossip, horrific tragedy — and you have an environment where anyone who is not incendiary to at least some part of the population simply cannot get the attention necessary to garner support and win an election.
I am a fan of truth and freedom. I seek truth instinctively, and I sincerely believe that freedom of self determination is a fundamental human right that has been robbed from us by the bloated mass of our modern global society. And so, I have come up with a few rules that one can use to find truth in an electoral campaign, to cool the emotions that get inflamed by political discourse, and to be able to make a clear decision from an — admittedly pathetic — pool of humans claiming to have the solutions to our country’s ailments.
The first thing one must do is take a moment and understand what it is about our country that causes them suffering. Perhaps you might ask yourself
Why am I dissatisfied with my lot in life?
Notice that this is a very different question from the question, “What is wrong with this country?” To the latter you might (depending on your political leanings) answer, “Homos are destroying the moral fabric of our society!” or “Bigots are destroying the moral fabric of our society!” (Can you guess which answer belongs to which party? I bet you can). But to the question, “why am I dissatisfied?” you can’t really answer “because gays.” Because really, what do gays have to do with the fact that you can’t afford your medical bills? What do gays have to do with the fact that you’re overworked and underpaid but the economy is such crap that you can’t even afford to look for a better job because there aren’t any? What do gays have to do with the fact that you can’t understand your kids any more because they live on their smart phones and iPads and so do you, but on different websites on each? What do bigots have to do with the fact that you just can’t seem to exercise quite as much as you want, or lose that weight you’ve been fighting with? The answer of course is that gays and bigots have nothing to do with these problems, but more likely than not if you are dissatisfied in your life then you probably relate to at least one of these.
It’s easy in the hype of a political campaign to get swept up in the emotional tug-o-war. But the choice of a candidate is the choice of direction for our country and this is not something which should be made on an emotional basis. So the first step to seeing clearly where we want to go is to see where we are. After you have an understanding of what it is that you are dissatisfied about in your own life, the next natural question to ask is,
How do this candidate’s policies address the problems that are preventing me from achieving my own happiness?
This question is a little more vague, but no more difficult than the first. Some of the information you will see presented to you will be a deliberate misrepresentation of the policies in question. Advertisements for medical reform in the past have show images of the elderly being helped by smiling nurses while have absolutely no actual provisions for improved access or lowered prices for people in that age range. These types of misrepresentations are a sad reality of our political world and the best I can tell you is to ignore them. It is not worth your time or personal energy to actually research and understand the legalese that would actually determine what changes will happen. It is my recommendation that you simply remove consideration of the topic entirely from your decision because there is no way to get unbiased information.
Some things you will be able to think more clearly about. For example, a policy recommendation to restrict immigration: how would this address the concerns you raised before? More illegal immigrants mean more drain on the system’s resources without an offsetting tax input, but stricter regulations on immigration means those who want to emigrate will have a harder time being legal. Will they make it harder for you to get a well paying job that respects your personal life balance? Medical costs in the United States are the highest in the world. Childbirth and childcare are orders of magnitude more expensive than abortions, even abortions with complications, and those are again more expensive than preventative birth control. Will laws restricting access to birth control and abortion make your medical bills more affordable?
Finally, many political issues in recent years have also been moral issues. Laws restricting sex and human relationships are squarely in the moral hemisphere. Some people say immigration is a moral issue. I say that social security is also a moral issue, as is environmental degredation. It would be nice if politicians could stay focused on the amoral, working to improve things we can actually see and measure like the unemployment rate, frighteningly skewed income gap, market and financial volatility, international relations and so forth, but the moral will inevitably get involved. What then? I suggest that in the name of peace you ask yourself,
Will this politician threaten my own personal rights or force me to engage in what I consider immoral?
If the answer is no, you should drop questions of morality from your decision. If the answer is yes, the decision is more complicated. I would never recommend someone to act against their conscience. But, as before, let me clarify this question. Compare the above to, “Will this politician allow others to engage in what I consider immoral?” If allowing others to engage in what you consider to be immoral is a problem for you, then you need not participate in a democratic election. On this I have no kinds words of advice for you because it is simply not your right, God given or otherwise, to dictate the morality of others. “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself.” Remember it.
Of course, I have my own beliefs about what are appropriate and what are detrimental policies for any government, but I won’t force them on you. I just want to give you some tools to help you think more clearly about the issues themselves. I believe that politicians owe it to their constituents to make our lives better. A politician who merely maintains the status quo, or worse, regresses us, is a waste of oxygen. We are perfectly capable of not getting any better off without them!
So next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable political discussion with someone you’d really rather be friends with, have a go at answering these questions. I am sure that you will find you have much more to agree on if you look at the issues from the perspective of how they will concretely benefit you than if you try to discuss them on principle and emotion alone.