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Us vs Them: Why Democrats and Republicans are at War
1. Used to denote people in general
2. Used to denote oneself and another or others
3. Used to indicate a particular profession, nationality, political party, etc., that includes the speaker or writer
1. Used to refer to people in general
2. Used to refer to people in general as seen in a position of authority.
3. Used to refer to people with a noted difference
Us vs Them Philosophy
The concept of aligning oneself with like minded individuals is nothing new. It is seen in everyday life, all around us. Book clubs, knitting circles and AA are perfect examples. However, this natural tendency has an inherent bi-product. The creation of a group centered on one thesis, will automatically create an opposing group. This "opposing" group is not necessarily for or against the original groups thesis; but because they are not part of the original group, they are by default assigned an antithesis. This process has been seen throughout the entirety of the world's written history. The Napoleonic French, Nazi Germany, the Ottoman Empire, The Huns and even the Jews led by Moses are historical examples. (I'm stretching the word 'historical' with that last one but you get the idea) The entirety of this philosophy can be stated in one eloquent sentence. "If you aint with us, yur against us."
What do AA, The Huns and Moses have to do with Politics?
At present day we live in a global society that has obtained for itself technological wonders that have far surpassed the expectations of even Jules Verne. The world that we find ourselves in, is in one word advanced. We have propelled humans out of the grips of earth's gravity to rendezvous with and explore other celestial bodies. We have vehicles that can withstand the immense pressure from oceans above, to explore the deepest crevices of the sea bed below. We have cell phones with instruction manuals thicker and wordier than Obama's last book. The point being, in a society that is advancing at such a furious and exponential pace why are our political representatives still stuck back in time with the Huns?
The Us vs Them Philosophy that has been employed in politics is despicable. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have embarrassed themselves as well as their country by taking part in name calling, bullying and taunting. Most people made the switch to more effective problem solving methods at about the same time they switched from Huggies to real underwear. The juvenile behavior of our country's representatives is stupefying... These are supposed to be the best America has to offer, yet they can't even formulate intelligent insults. Here are two perfect examples of highly decorated senators, taking a few moments out of their busy day to ruin one another's.
If a child treated anyone with the disrespect displayed here, he would probably be getting a spanking. (PLEASE UNDERSTAND: I am in no way suggesting that Barbara Boxer or Jim Imhofe be spanked by each other or anyone for that matter. Not only does no one ever want to see that, but additionally, having to witness such an event might be unconstitutional via cruel and unusual punishment. It could easily be considered worse than water boarding) Although, I need to thank Senator Imhofe for proving my point so concisely. "We won, you lost" Apparently, this is what policy making has come to. Two-hundred plus years of legislating has devolved into a contest where points are scored through school-yard tactics of throwing mud.
This contest pits one side against the other in a never ending game one upping the opponent. However, this philosophy can be reversed. To do so we as a people must examine the actions that cause politicians to adopt an Us vs Them mindset. These actions are the fuel for the fires burning between the right and left. The flames are consuming the foundation of American democracy. These actions need to cease for the fires to be extinguished. Then and only then will the aisle be safely crossed. I have isolated the three actions that are the main contributors: Gerrymandering, Obstructionism and Attack Ads. In the remainder of this commentary I will delve deeply into these subjects, examine them and propose possible solutions; as well as point out many ironies along the way.
Children do the darndest things, don't they? If you give a child a pen, he or she will be more than happy to draw and color nonsensical, ridiculous shapes... all over your walls, floor, and best suits. But not even a school yard full of blind kids armed with sharpies would be able to produce the shapes that make up some of this nation's congressional districts. I have assembled an all star list of the country's most peculiar districts for you to gander at. (links below)
Although they may look pointless and random, these amoebas do have a purpose. Congress has the power to re-draw the lines of their districts in any configuration they desire. This enables members to include citizens who are in favor of their policies and simply draw around those who are not. The result of this is what is known as Gerrymandering. The term was coined by a Massachusetts newspaper editor, who believed that a brand new district in his state looked like a salamander... How precious. Does this look like a salamander to you? Because it looks like someone trying to get reelected to me.
The major result of this preditorial redistricting is the creation of safe districts. Why is this this a problem? Everybody wants to live in a safe district, right? It's better than Compton, South Chicago or Detroit right? Wrong. Safe districts will naturally elect either the most conservative republicans or the most liberal democrats. In these districts there is no viable competition for the seat from the opposing party, therefore the competition will come from inside the safe party. Inevitably, the voters will nominate the candidate farthest from the center in the primaries, due to their like minded political stance. That candidate will have no problem getting elected and will be catapulted onto the national stage, utterly unwilling to compromise with the enemy sitting across the aisle. His only fear is that when the next election rolls around he might be dethroned by someone further from the center than he. Not wanting to look like a weak moralled moderate (God forbid) he dives head first into a tirade about how the troubles of the nation rest squarely on the shoulders of the opposite party. Making himself look like a buffoon on cspan, but all the while rallying the troops back home in his amphibiously shaped district.
This little maneuver breeds politicians that embrace the Us vs Them mentality. They are multiplying like rabbits in these salamander shaped districts! But do not despair... As I said before, there is a solution. We find it in the land of fish, chips, warm beer and jolly good teeth. The UK dealt with the problem of Gerrymandering by creating Boundary Commissions. These are independent, objective groups that determine and maintain district boundaries according to fluxes in population. If the United States were to implement this type of independent commission, it would drastically reduce the number of uncooperative ideologues and possibly encourage (dare I say it) bipartisanship. The present atmosphere of Us vs Them could be cleansed of pollutants, and morphed into an improved legislating body.
When a minority in the senate feels that they don't have the numbers to move forward with their party's plans for cameral domination, they resort to the statue of liberty play straight out of the partisan playbook; Obstructionism. The prevalent Us Vs. Them political philosophy has opened season for weaponizing senate procedurals to impede the the legislative progress of the majority. Filibusters, appointment holds and exploiting senate rule XXII (supermajority) are some of the more popular strategies. These tactics have the potential to slow the senate to the pace of Al Gore giving a powerpoint presentation on global warming. Humor aside, these actions are superbly effective. And due to their effectiveness, they are overused and abused by both parties. Recently, the G-No-P has taken its fair share of flack because of its obstructionist tactics during health care reform and other proceedings. But it was not long ago, 2005 in fact, that Democrats were threatened with the (drum roll please) Nuclear option. (Pronounced Noo-clee-ar) This was an over-hyped hallow gimmick to persuade obstinate Democrats to stop obstructing procedurals with filibusters. Despite what the talking heads at CNBC or FoxNews regurgitate on air, both parties are equally guilty of obstructionism; Period.
Most people, including some senators, are fed up with Us Vs. Them obstructionism. Senator Evan Bayh from Indiana is taking the political position of officially pissed off. So much so that in an article published in The New York Times entitled Why I'm Leaving the Senate,he voices his frustration on the use of obstructionism. " Last fall, the Senate had to overcome two successive filibusters to pass a bill to provide millions of Americans with extended unemployment insurance. There was no opposition to the bill; it passed on a 98-0 vote. But some senators saw political advantage in drawing out debate, thus preventing the Senate from addressing other pressing matters... Filibusters have proliferated because under current rules just one or two determined senators can stop the Senate from functioning. Today, the mere threat of a filibuster is enough to stop a vote. I submit this question to you the reader. Do you think there might be a problem with the Senate when Evan Bayh, a career politician, wants the hell out because it's too political?
So what is the solution to the Senate's malfunction? Some critics want to let the missiles loose with the nuclear option. This would reduce the number of senators it would take to stop a filibuster. This solution is unacceptable. The supermajority has already been reduced once in 1975 from 67 to 60. Any further reduction would be voiding the benefits of a properly conducted filibuster. When not abused, a filibuster can create compromise. The minority party has a right, and a duty to voice their legitimate concerns, which can be implemented into compromises. If a simple majority had the option to silence the minority, legitimate concerns may never be heard.
The real solution is for the majority party and the media to call attention to abusive obstructionism. If the Republicans threaten to filibuster at every turn, the Democrats should not back down from the vote, and allow them to filibuster. (or vice versa) Let cspan and other news networks broadcast wall to wall coverage of John McCain reading the Phoenix phone book for 14 consecutive hours. Let the public see obstructionism in action. I guarantee that before John could read halfway to 'Maverick' his popularity would be in the single digits. Demand that our supposed watchdogs cover these corrosive actions, and hold our representatives accountable for their actions on the floor. Coverage like that will make filibusters so unpopular with the public that no senator would dare undertake this action unless absolutely necessary. Obstructionism would diminish by leaps and bounds.
For decades, Americans have never had to be told when an election was on the horizon. This is certainly not because they are politically informed. But because obnoxious, hurtful, and tasteless political ads begin to multiply on their television sets. The gloves come off, the finger pointing begins and generally the channel is changed. However, for those of you like myself who enjoy a good laugh, we watch these cartoonish depictions of politicians dismembering each other until election day. For your viewing pleasure I present the greatest hits collection of the worst attack ads ever created. Enjoy.
Best part is at 2:21
After seeing these attack ads is it any surprise that our elected officials refuse to work with one another? Would you be able to work alongside someone who depicted you as a demon sheep or wolf with wingtips or whatever that was? Or would you feel comfortable cooperating with someone who has accused you and your party of betraying all American troops? These ads are a digital slap in the face accompanied by a challenge to a duel. When bombarded with the childish antics portrayed within, is it even possible to have adult discourse with the other side of the aisle? These ads evoke emotional responses of animosity and borderline hatred between the two candidates and their respective parties; making it very difficult for either side to work with, let alone trust, one another after the election is over. This is simply the largest obstacle hindering compromise in American Politics today. Combativeness has eroded what was left of cooperative politics, and as a result the canyon that lies between Us and Them continues to become deeper and wider.
The cure for this pandemic is not clear cut. There is no recent precedent for treating one's political opponent with dignity, in fact there are years of precedent against it. Politicians have zero motivation to treat each other humanely, because voters love an ol fashioned, dirty, underhanded, smear campaign. Nothing gets voters in this country more elated than quotes taken out of context, half-truths and rumors thrown around like cream pies at Barnum and Bailey.
So, why do we cheer for their routines, when these clowns hardly deserve an audience? The same reason that circus goers pay for their ticket; entertainment. Specifically, entertainment through confrontation. But... What if the audience left the stands and demanded a refund? Do you think those on center stage would change their act, perhaps sing a different tune? The solution is well articulated in an observation by Joseph Hall. There would not be so many open mouths to detract and slander, if there were not so many open ears.
We as voters need to decide, here and now, what we expect from our politicians. Do we want sources of confrontational entertainment made popular by the likes of Larry Curly and Moe? Or do we want Statesmen? Actual statesmen... Those who are unafraid to lead by example and with integrity, rather than pointing fingers and calling names. If we turn a deaf ear to the malicious messages that bombard us before every election, then and only then will candidates' gums cease their irrelevant flapping. With nothing else to discuss, potential candidates might just innovate solutions to the problems of our country. And one day perhaps (this is a big perhaps) develop into the statesmen that our country so desperately needs, and the public voraciously desires.
Us and Them
After all, we're only ordinary men...
I want you to do something for me. Take a moment to absorb what has been written here. Take note of the concepts that divide our political realm. The causes of this divide have been laid out in a vibrant blend of plain English and a fair amount of sarcasm. However, as important as the solutions I have offered are, not one holds a candle to the paramount underlying truth that has seemingly been lost not only politics but in life itself. Reread the definitions of Us and Them at the top of the page. (go on, I'll wait.) Notice anything peculiar about Number One of each definition? They are identical.
People in general. People without label, identity or ideologies. But with inalienable rights, dignity and intellect. Just people. Now, if we can adopt this definition into our lives and embrace this ideal as a people, us and them will cease to matter; for We will be one. With only one people the words us and them will lose their meaning entirely, and will soon fade into archaic irrelevance.
-Darin G Tabor