The Poverty Of Our National Debate

We had a debate party tonight for the Biden-Palin debate. It’s nice to watch it in a group of like-minded people. Taking the Democrat/Republican debate seriously is a bullshit game and I don’t have any desire to bring this farce into my normal life.

After the debate was over, I wanted to discuss the debate. After all, it’s weird to watch something for an hour and a half and then just ignore that we spent that time watching it. The problem is that I hate the punditry. No one actually said "did Palin do what she had to do?" (I probably would have screamed) but it’s just really hard not to talk about "what will people think of this debate?" And part of that is because we all know what we think. We saw through Palin deliberately ignoring the questions and reading her already-prepared speech. We all had a basic understanding of what is fact and what is a lie or misrepresentation. It’s nice to share little stories (like stories from the article about how McCain is a jerk). But it’s so damn hard not to fall into a discussion about the horserace, about what other people will think. Why is it so hard to talk about what we think? Not what we analyze, but what we actually believe? Instead of predicting something that will come to pass regardless of our predictions, shouldn’t we be developing our own beliefs? That seems far more relevant to our lives.

There’s probably a lot of reasons for that. It’s intimidating to be entirely genuine, to speak without irony. And all the news is about the horserace, so we are all well informed, it makes it easy to talk.

I think a large part of the problem is that the spectrum of opinions is so narrow (even if also bifurcated) that it’s hard to have an interesting discussion of political issues. Lacking anything of real substance to discuss, we discuss the discussion, we make predictions instead of forming real opinions. While I’m willing to blame many things on the Republicans, this is the product of both parties, of the narrow ignorance of "conventional wisdom." For instance, the debate about the economic bailout has been rich with rhetoric but starved of any real ideas. I didn’t even realize how limited the debate was until I listened to this interview where Steve Fraser kind of says, well, we can do whatever we want. That is to say, we can actually make collective decisions about the direction of our economy, instead of the impotent position that is assumed in all current debates, where we can only poke lightly at the economy (and it’s implied anything more would destroy it).

We can’t really talk about what kind of healthcare system we’d like, because the system nearly everyone wants is not an acceptable part of conventional wisdom. Socialized healthcare is the only reasonable option, but of course there’s lots of ways it could work, there’s lots of room for genuine and important discussion. But instead we have a staggeringly horrible proposal, and a merely not quite as bad as the current situation proposal. Given this set of options you can’t have real discussion.

In the end our own happiness is mostly in our own hands. The choices we make for ourselves are more significant than the choices made by the government (the choices we make collectively). But our collective choices do matter. We certainly haven’t figured out happiness. And maybe government does best when it has the least effect on our lives, but while that’s one end of the bifurcated conventional wisdom, as an idea it remains largely uninspected. When I consider many of the pleasant conveniences in my life, government is part of a lot of them. It doesn’t do much to make me more spiritually fulfilled, but the idea that government is a hopeless place to look for our collective happiness is a truism that lacks real consideration.

Political discussion is stuck in a terrible intellectual rut. Blame falls equally on both parties. They hold on greedily to their monopoly of political thought. It’s like religious doctrine, something to which politicians must submit before being allowed to progress, a sign of submission to a larger system of power. I have this hope that Obama is going through the rites with discipline but without true belief, that he is being subversive, diving straight to the belly of the beast. But this is only speculation, perhaps a naive dream, a desire to project my hopes onto a figure of vague and general hope.

I don’t really want to spend too much time discussing all the things that are wrong. This is the depressing comfort zone of the left. I want to talk about how things could be right, about how we can make a world that isn’t just less unjust but a world that is more beautiful, more wonderful, more full of life and freedom and passion. I want to exult in the potential of the future.

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