Political Divisiveness: Why We’re as Much to Blame as the Politicians and Media

One of my best friends from college had a strict policy: no Political Party bashing when she was in the room. At the time I was just settling in to my political beliefs and my political identity as what I would not decry as inaccurate to refer to as an “extreme leftist” (technically I’m an Anarcho-Communist who sometimes settles for Socialism). I didn’t give much thought to her rule, because living in Louisiana at the time there was a certain, almost necessary release of steam that came in the form of mocking and insulting State and National Republicans. After all, as I saw it then, and as I to this day have a hard time not seeing it, they were the ones standing in the way of progress; they were the ones blocking LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws; they were the ones fighting over and over again for years and years to repeal the ACA, the first step in getting this country a decent health care system. As I saw it, they were the ones that were so clearly trying to ruin all of the things that I held dear, so why wouldn’t I call them ass holes and idiots and douche-bags? Why wouldn’t I vitriolically express my distaste for their tactics and beliefs?

About three years later, I understand why. It took me three years to gain just a piece of the political maturity my best friend had then and still has. See, I didn’t realize that when she said she didn’t want to hear any Party bashing, it wasn’t necessarily because she wasn’t as angry about some of those issues as our other friends and I were. She just had the insight and understanding that unleashing all of our frustrations and pain and sometimes hatred on the singular body of one Party, which is made up of millions of people, politicians and average citizens, well-intentioned and corrupt, and finally people that believe everything the party says and people that only align with the party because of one very important issue, didn’t just serve as blowing off steam: it served as throwing all of that nuance aside and allowing ourselves to simplify the argument to the point where it became so easy to breed hate and complete and utter refusal to cooperate.

And that’s exactly what we see in D.C. today. Hate. Hate and complete and utter refusal to cooperate, on both sides mind you.Yes sometimes it looks like once side is trying so hard to cooperate and the other side is being simply belligerent, but honestly, that pretty much depends upon who the majority is and who the minority is. Right now we see it with Democrats offering modest proposals (not the Jonathan Swift type) that 90+% of Americans agree with, and Republicans refusing to vote for them, when there is a vote. It seems that Democrats are saying “hey, we know you won’t write a bill for what we’d really like to do, but how about these loopholes and regulations, just to compromise on this issue,” and Republicans are saying “hell no.” And then there’s the refusal to have a customary hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, which would make it easy to say (and I’m thoroughly guilty of this) that Republicans don’t give a shit about anything but partisanship. But here’s where we can’t get swept up in what’s going on today.

Because, in fact, what’s going on today isn’t so different from what’s gone on in that past. And as much as it seems it is unprecedented  for the Republican controlled Congress to block President Obama’s nominees, it’s really not. In the early 2000’s when President Bush first took office, this Senate document shows that Senate Democrats refused to hold hearings on 8 of the 11 Federal judicial nominees that came from President Bush for over a year, and two of the three justices that got hearings were originally nominated by President Clinton. Not only that, but when Democrats lost the midterm Congressional elections and Republicans took control of the  House and Senate, Democrats turned to filibustering to stop President Bush’s nominees from getting a hearing, which turned out to be qute successful for them. And it’s not just the Bush era. Bush era republicans were citing the hypocrisy of Democrats who criticized Clinton era Republicans and on and on. There’s always different statistics to go with it to make it look like the party blocking nominations is the first and worst.

Similar is how intertwined Republicans have been with blocking seemingly common sense legislation that Democrats are pushing for. Of course most central to the public eye right now is that Senate Democrats had to have a filibuster-type session to block any Congressional business just to have a vote on two gun control laws that 92 and 85% of the American public supported. And they had the vote. And both failed. Actually I should say all four failed because there were Democratic and Republican versions of each law. Not only did all four fail, but they failed on party lines. The partisan “mirror bills” were by no means the same, but they were different versions and implementations of the same idea. And still, both Democrat-sponsored bills failed because Republicans (the majority at least) voted against them. Both Republican-sponsored bills failed because Democrats (and a few republicans) voted against them. This has largely been seen as an epic failure of the Republicans to set aside party differences and make sensible changes to gun control. However Democrats, while they were the ones who force Majority Leader Sen. McConnel (R-KY) to schedule a vote, have largely escaped questioning over why, after their bills failed, they then voted against the Republican introduced versions, just so something could get done. But looking at most media outlets lately, that’s what you see day in and day out, that Republicans are obstructing things that seem to be common sense, and things that would help the American people. Again, it’s hard not to generalize.

But let’s look back a little bit, and before I continue I want to make sure it’s clear, because the gun control laws were spurred to a vote by the Orlando massacre, that any examples I give going forward are comparing to the attitudes and actions of party members; I am absolutely not trying to in any way compare the issues I’m going to be talking about to the tragedy that happened in Orlando. And if I do not do a good enough job of showing that I am truly sorry.

So Republicans are soulless obstructionists that won’t even pass common sense bills that will help Americans… And so are Democrats. At least that appears to have been their modus operandi during the Bush years. Remember the financial collapse that started becoming reeeeaaaally evident around 2008 or so? The Great Recession as it’s lovingly referred to by the hundreds of millions of Americans whose lives it impacted (not to mention the countless people in other country’s whose economy took a hit when the US’s did) in ways from pay cuts or having to put a small business growth plan on hold to being fired or evicted and countless other things that happened to people during that time due to the Recession which in some sectors of the economy is still hanging on. Anyway, you might remember the recession in a similar way that I do: it was caused by Republicans allowing loose regulations on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which allowed them to give bad mortgages to people that couldn’t afford them in the first place while profiting like bonkers off of it all. Maybe you consumed a different story line during that time and maybe you didn’t. But the story line the Democratic party was spinning was definitely that the Republicans allowed this loose regulation, causing economic collapse. And they sold it pretty well. They won big in the 2008 election.

But what if I told you that’s not exactly what happened? You see, as early as 2003 President Bush was calling for the creation of a new oversight agency within the Department of Treasury which would tighten the reigns on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, noting that they were largely deregulated. And Republican lawmakers took his directive. In early 2005 Sen. Chuck Hagel (R – NE) introduced S. 190 (109th): Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005 which would have amended the 1992  Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 to create an independent oversight board for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) [future rival in the presidential race to then Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL)] was a very outspoken proponent of this bill. Reportedly, the bill was blocked by Democrats from making it to the floor. I say reportedly because it’s very difficult to find information from a credible source on this, and the source I have likely leans right. There are also reports of the two financial agencies paying some people off. I’m not entirely sure why there’s little information on this bill. Perhaps because it’s a dead bill that was drawn up 11 years ago. Perhaps there’s more. What is clear, however, first, is that the bill was certainly drafted, and second, is the claim in that article which I’ve seen several times, and which this White House historical document details, that President Bush and his administration made 17 requests dating between 2001 and 2008 (so basically his entire Presidency) in press releases, reports, and speeches for Congress to put more regulation on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And from the information I can find, it sure wasn’t the Democrats jumping up to oblige him.

So here we have an instance where lawmakers seem to simply play along party lines, even with something as big as a financial crisis down the pipes, though I’m certainly not suggesting anyone could have known how big the crisis would be. But the point being, Democrat or Republican, it makes very little difference, they’re both vulnerable to these kinds of political games. What seems to really change the spin on it is who the president is and what party they’re in. But these aren’t the only instances. If I was so inclined, I could likely look back decades and find the same type of behavior. From blocking justices just because of ideology, to blocking bills that experts or the American people agree will help the United States, to playing the blame game after one of the games above ends catastrophically. There’s good in every party, and there’s bad in every party. I’m not saying you shouldn’t choose a side. By all means choose a side and be proud of it. But I think my college friend was right to institute a “no party bashing” rule. Because we, as human beings are often looking for things to criticize and drag through the mud, and a party isn’t a person, and their actions are that of a collection of tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people that we might never meet in our life. Lashing out and saying “Democrats are such fucking scumbags, I don’t see how anyone tolerates those corrupt figurehead douche-bag politicians” might seem like you’re just blowing off some steam after something in the world of politics that made you upset, but what you’re really doing quite a bit more. First of all, you’re insulting anyone around you that might be a Democrat. Second of all, you’re contributing to the attitude that it’s impossible to work with someone of another party. And that’s where we get this gridlock in our congress from. It’s not a top-down phenomenon. I really believe it’s a bottom-up phenomenon. We communicate to our representatives and members of our party one way or another that we do not and will not tolerate compromising with the other side of the isle, because as far as we’re concerned, even giving an inch is lowering ourselves into an endless pit of quicksand.

And that’s not the attitude we should have about our politics. At least it’s not the attitude I want to have about our politics. I want to see in my life time a Congress that over 50% of Americans have confidence in. I don’t want to see it dip lower than the 17% or so it’s at now. I want us to have a vibrant political system where our politicians can compromise on things like health care and gun control and economic policies no matter which party is in power. I want to see elections where people aren’t pitted against each other like mortal enemies who have nothing in common. And I really think that starts with that “no party bashing” rule. Sure you can talk about how frustrated you are with a law or policy, you can vent about how the government isn’t getting anything done, you can even express your distaste for certain candidates (especially if it’s Trump), but any phrase or sentence that starts out with “Republicans are…” or “It’s the Democrats’ fault that…” or any number of those variations, let’s give those kind of sentiments a rest. And who knows, maybe if we start to have conversations and try to compromise among ourselves instead of just throwing out talking points to valid criticism (e.g. “I’m not going to listen to your partisan attack on the ACA; Obamacare has lowered our uninsured rate to the lowest in history!” or “The Second Amendment is absolute; you’re not really trying to regulate this type of gun you’re trying to take all our guns away!”) we can start do that thing where we “be the change we want to see in the world.” It’s not too much to ask, is it? I know for me, the hope of society that doesn’t seem so dismally divided is enough for me to at least try this simple thing, even if it’s all I can do at the moment.

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