Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sister Left, Sister Right

This week, Evan Bayh, U.S. Senator from Indiana, announced his retirement, stating:

“For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should. There is too much partisanship and not enough progress -- too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving. Even at a time of enormous challenge, the peoples’ business is not being done.”

What is it about politics that makes us so divisive?

Recently, my sister and I made a repeat attempt at discussing our philosophical differences, and though we each started out tiptoeing on proverbial glass paths, we managed to deep-breathe our way into an interesting discussion.

I love my sister. I admire her thoughtfulness and intelligence. She is one of few people in this world I trust completely. Yet, in the past, when we have discussed politics, we barely broach the second sentence before one or both of our blood pressures begin to boil with defensiveness and/or anger.

I don’t like titles, and I believe in politics, they are used too-often as name calling. But for the sake of clarification, my sister leans liberal and I lean conservative. We both feel strongly about our beliefs, but I also think we are both interested in the opinion of “the other side,” if not open-minded.

So, in our last discussion, as we each found ourselves working hard to keep our emotions in check so we could continue the conversation, I asked, “What do you think it is about politics that makes it so hard to discuss a topic without vitriol and emotion sabotaging the conversation?” I went on to tell her about the many liberal friends I have, with whom I can discuss any topic, EXCEPT politics, even though I am hungry to hear their opinions about current events. But I fear the anger it will stir up. In fact, with many of my friends, I sense such disdain of “the other side,” I remain a “closet conservative.”

Some friends and family to whom I’ve confessed my political leanings have replied, “Oh, Jan. You’re not a conservative,” as if there is something nasty or criminal about it.

So, my sister thought about my question for a moment, then said, “I think it’s because of Fox News. They feed on drawing anger toward the left from their audience. It’s like a drug.”

My heart pounded, as I prepared to come to the defense of the beast that feeds my political soul. I was ready to throw my hands in the air, feeling as though she’d just attacked my child. But I took a deep breath, and realized that my very reaction should make me reconsider. So, I toned down my defense, and replied, “I agree there are some people on Fox News that play off people’s anger, but not all of Fox is like that.”

But, I admit. I couldn’t let her get away with her “attack” completely unscathed. I couldn’t resist knocking “the left’s babies” around a little, too. “Besides,” I said, “what about Air America and MSNBC? Do you think they’re ‘fair and balanced?’”
We watched each other for a moment, and I think the answer struck us both at the same time.

It’s the media.

Each “side” has its own media, whether television, print, blogs, etc.; monsters that feed on sensational disagreement. And it is like a drug. The more sensational the disagreement, the more we watch for confirmation that our opinions are the right and true opinions, and that the other side is wrong.

Politics has been turned into a kind of prejudice.

prej•u•dice (prěj'ə-dĭs)
1.a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
b. A preconceived preference or idea.

It has become a battle, with each “side” doing what it can to be the winner. The ability to have decent dialogue has been lost in the battle. And the problem with that is, as evidenced by retirements such as Senator Bayh’s, the real loser is our country.

So, we are considering an experiment. For a month, we will each watch a program of the other’s choosing. I picked “Special Report with Bret Baier,” on Fox News Channel, and she picked “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC. Once we each accept these challenges (and they will be challenges,) we will watch, take notes, and if necessary, do the research to rebuke what the programs discussed.
I know each of us is hesitant to proceed, because we’re not sure if we can tolerate “the other side’s” media through the experiment. But, isn’t that the very reason we should conduct it?

If the experiment works as we hope it will, I’ll post results on my blog.


  1. I enjoyed reading this post, Jan. I recommend talk radio as well..that is, if you don't tune in already. :)

  2. Thanks, Sharisa! Believe me, I do listen to talk radio -- maybe a little too much. :-)

  3. Can't wait to hear about the results of this little challenge.