Editor’s Note: Bob Wood is investment advisor and TMO contributor. His opinions are his own.
Over the holiday season, I had the pleasure of connecting with a very old friend who lives on the other side of the planet from me now. Our conversations about politics showed that we have separated ideologically about as much as we have geographically. It is that separation in how we think that illustrates how we’ve been manipulated by the powers that profit from our divisions.
My old friend was hesitant to engage in political conversations upon learning that I consider myself a liberal. My friend is a conservative Libertarian living in a liberal city that stands out as such in a very conservative state. Some of his conversations about politics have strained relationships to the point that he self-censors in fear of losing friends and risking business opportunities.
Having engaged in some contentious arguments with conservatives, I understand how his reluctance to discuss important matters that affect us all was formed. His opinions of today’s left wing Democrats can be colorful.
To be fair, I have no admiration for today’s Democrats either. I view them as the lesser evil, the slightly- less corrupt option for voters, but corrupt nonetheless. But it’s not the differences between the parties that convinced me to stop voting for any of them. It’s the similarities of their policies that bother me.
What aggravates me the most is how contentious arguments over those differences affect relationships among us. Arguments over global warming, whether waterboarding is torture, or which party is responsible for whatever crisis befalls the country divide us into an Us vs. Them, right vs. left society.
So many of us are time-constrained and get our information from our media outlets of choice. The same topic is delivered by various media according to the preferences ingrained in their audience. The Iraq War was either the greatest geopolitical blunder in American history, or an honest attempt to prevent terror attacks in the future.
Global warming is either a serious threat assured by 97% of qualified climate scientists or a liberal scam designed to enrich Al Gore. Gay marriage either threatens to sanctity of my traditional marriage, or an example of discrimination that is ending as we mature as a society. A jaded observer might agree with this quote from Dr. Paul Winfield on today’s media:
How many rational intelligent people do you know that can watch the news and not be emotionally affected? Let’s pause and reflect on the mastery of this achievement. Your friends aren’t idiots, they’re probably both well educated, perceptive, involved with the issues; how can this little “news” broadcast perform such alchemy in your living room?
Perhaps I should rightly call it reverse alchemy, as its purpose is to take noble things and make them base.
Continually stirring, poking, prodding, fanning, enflaming all of us against one another into polarized, separated, isolated, victimized, under constant attack, minorities surrounded by enemies. Divide and conquer.
To me, this divide (and the arguments that brought us here) is a distraction from what we should be focused upon. While we fight amongst ourselves over issues like immigration, gay marriage or who was the worst president ever – Bush or Obama- far bigger issues are pushed aside.
The divisions we fuel by arguing over these issues prevent us from uniting against those powers that are stealing everything not nailed down – and many valuable things that are. While we argue over smaller issues, the wealthiest among corporate entities and us are making a mockery of the democratic process and enriching themselves using government influence they’ve paid for via campaign contributions and other forms of bribery.
We see that in action with the passing of legislation (included in the recent spending bill that passed with bi-partisan support) that insures against gambling losses of the ‘’too big to fail’’ banks. How many Americans would have voted in favor of that if offered the chance via referendum?
Recent polling shows that 67% of Americans oppose sending lethal arms to the government forces in Ukraine. That legislation passed in a virtually unanimous fashion on December 11. While the war in Iraq was being fought, sentiment towards our troops in harm’s way was as pervasive as it should have been. Who doesn’t support our troops? But this month, legislation was proposed to increase funding for things like health care and education for returning troops injured there.
As reported in the USA Today:
The largest piece of veterans legislation in decades — aimed at expanding health care, education and other benefits — was rejected [Thursday] by the Senate on a procedural issue after proponents failed to obtain 60 votes to keep the bill alive. Wrangling over an issue — veterans — that often receives bipartisan support, the legislation died on a vote of 56-41, with only two Republicans voting for it.
The legislation would have restored cost-of-living increases for the pensions of future military retirees; expanded VA health care by allowing acquisition of 27 new medical facilities and paid for reproductive services for 2,300 troops wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It also would have expanded compensation for family caregivers of disabled veterans — something now provided for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — to families of veterans of all wars. The bill was supported by nearly all veterans groups.
How many Americans voting for those Republicans who supported the march to war, and costs that now exceed $1 trillion and rising, would have imagined that returning troops would have to fight them for those benefits promised, and surely owed them by each of us in their debt?
The cost of the defeated bill was reported at $22 million, while $4 billion in funding for keeping the aging A-10 fighter jets was approved over objections of the Pentagon itself! Apparently the defense industry has a much more effective lobbying effort than do our returning troops.
Maybe what bothers me most is that a recent Gallup Poll showed that Americans overwhelmingly think their government is corrupt, with 73% in agreement. We know that our elected leaders betray us consistently, but instead of venting our anger where it would do the most good, we argue amongst ourselves over which truly meaningless wedge issue they promote.
Instead of fighting each other, enabling our government to sell us out in favor of their largest donors, we should be uniting in our own best interests against a government that, since its founding, was run by the rich, of the rich and for the rich – who promise us everything at election time and then deliver nothing after it.
The Founding Fathers mandated that only white, male, adult landowners would be granted the right to vote. Only the rich owned land. That requirement held for 60 years. But how much has really changed since then? Do we really have a true democracy when so few have any influence on government policy? Isn’t this what we should be arguing about?
Things are this way because we allow it to be so! We have the power to change things, but we supinely surrender it while arguing amongst ourselves on issues we will always be resolutely biased about.
I’ll never change my friend’s mind about global warming, leaving our health care system to the control of big business interests over putting us all on Medicare, and whether Bush and Cheney are war criminals and profiteers or just made some honest mistakes. So why do we keep arguing about them?
Let’s focus our energies on things we all agree on. If we agree that our leaders are corrupt and incompetent, let’s argue about how quickly we can get rid of them. Let’s agree to apply Pascal’s Wager to the issue of global warming.
Whether it’s real or a hoax, what harm can cleaning up the environment do?
And since we pay for every losing war our leaders rush us into on false evidence and phony fear mongering, let’s agree that future wars are commenced as a last resort only, and that private corporations should not be allowed to profit from them. That, in and of itself, will greatly slow the rush to war!
I am not my friend’s enemy. I am not yours either based on our different philosophical or cultural convictions though we’re frequently pitted against each other in the media.
The real threats to us are leaders that con us into thinking they will fight for our best interests while selling us out to the highest bidders.
We must agree first that changing all of this is up to us. Living in a democracy isn’t free. Until we hold ourselves accountable for not holding our leaders the same, there will be nothing much left of our country but memories of when things were better, and fairer.