It is starting to worry me that I find myself dismissing as sadly misguided the perceptions of people on the other side of the political spectrum from me. I look down on their choices of news source as clearly being inferior to my own.
Then I realize that they are doing the same thing to me. They mock me for my lazy thinking and my sheep-like following of purveyors of untruths. How can this happen in our well-educated, democratic, world with free speech and a free press? What if we are all brainwashed?
We may try to fight against it by becoming well-informed, but the more we read, the worse it gets. The media are sowing the seeds of political extremism in all our minds, and there is no way to avoid it.
As a former educator, I have always espoused the value of education, the importance of reading, and benefits of critical analysis. I enjoy watching informed debates and I appreciate everyone who cites their sources. Now, though, I see that instead of creating a wide variety of possible viewpoints, all this has created only a narrow, and becoming ever narrower, set of choices.
It seems that most information sources now pick one side to praise and, at the same time, belittle the other. I know that often this is in order to simplify complex issues and to meet the demands of audiences with short attention spans. Even so, I wish more commentators could acknowledge the good aspects of opposing arguments. Just once in a while, I would like good criticism to come without sneering or mocking.
Is that too much to ask? Is there anyone out there bold enough to take the middle ground?
In Praise of Fence-Sitters
Taking the middle ground was once seen as fence-sitting—as being too insecure to take a stand one way or the other. Now it seems that the opposite is true. The majority of politicians and pundits are comfortable sitting on the extremes of their political party platforms. They are praised for doing so, and they are expected to join their pals at the edges. That’s where the votes and the financial support are, and so most are too insecure to move from those positions. The rest of us have duly followed suit.
So, the middle ground, where people of any political party might discuss issues in good faith, is largely vacant. There are not many public figures who are willing to admit that members of a different party actually have some good ideas. That is risky ground.
A multi-party team could actually come up with policies that would benefit most of the population. No-one would get everything on their agenda, but sincere discussion and negotiation could do more good for more people than the current division can accomplish.
We Need a Hero
If we can’t have a team, can we at least have a middle-ground hero? Someone brave enough to fight for cooperation. Someone wise enough to challenge extremism. Someone comfortable enough in their interpersonal skills to work with people from any political party. Someone proud enough to sit on the fence and stay there. I’d happily make that superhero a cape.