Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Why I Don't Like Politics

For a little while now, I have been debating whether to continue with my blogging. I only did any kind of truly regular (read: almost daily) posting during the spring of 2005, when the dialogue between the DA and myself was moving at its highest speed. I have found plenty of topics worth getting passionate about since then, but somewhere along the way, I fell into a trap that I now realize almost destroyed my blog.

Yes, I said “almost” – I’m going to continue as the Unknown Blogger, so this is certainly no goodbye. In fact, it may be a hello of sorts after a four-month hiatus plus intermittent posting beforehand. My leave from blogging was self-imposed, so that I could better see my way out of the rut I was stuck in. I can finally describe to you the trap that I was just talking about. It has two names: journalism and politics.

But especially politics.

As I continued studying politics with more than a passing interest, I became even more moderate than I was before. Don’t get me wrong, I still lean slightly conservative from a personal perspective; however, I have come to see politics as something not to be expressly defined as points between far-left and far-right on a line. Everyone would like me to take a side, and that’s fine during a political campaign, maybe even the best thing to do. But in daily life, being too strong a Republican or Democrat can hurt your ability to see the big picture. It’s not that I don’t like politics at all, because I clearly do; otherwise, I wouldn’t even bother to write this out. The kind of politics that I don’t like is modern American politics, which is founded on the most perfect of principles yet always seems to degenerate into some kind of overheated sports rivalry.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. I can set up the whole scene, and it’ll still play out like football.

Hardcore Democrat: “Bush lied!”
Hardcore Republican: “You crybaby liberals are ruining everything!”

Of course, they’re just trying to score points. It’s overtime now, and I get to flip the coin. But no matter who goes first, this will end in a tie.

The final score: 0-0. Both sides are wrong. Obviously, it should be clear at this point that Bush didn’t lie; he just didn’t know any better. Even the 9/11 Commission will tell you that much. But the other, equally-heard complaint is the kind I have discovered to be entirely wrong, no matter who says it or who it is directed towards. We need both sides, or the best policies – the ones most representative of and beneficial for the American people – will never be agreed upon.

In fact, our entire system of government requires the hidden checks and balances within the two-party system. You see, the United States government is based on federalism, which dictates a certain balance between national (federal) control and state control. That balance is set by the government, but can change over time. (Germany’s federalism, for example, is nationally-focused; on the other hand, Canada has a very state-centric form of federalism.) One of the absolute core issues between the parties involves where our balance falls, with Dems pushing for centralized control and Reps trying to spread the power out to the states. The golden secret of our political system is the end result of this constant struggle: Our balance never stays in exactly the same place for very long. It changes as needed and as the present state of our country dictates, which is why I call it “elastic” federalism. When the parties have equal input, elastic federalism allows the nation and its states to work together without trampling all over each other.

A good example of this is what happened with Hurricane Katrina. When New Orleans flooded and chaos ensued, liberals criticized FEMA (and eventually, President Bush by extension) for not acting quickly enough. Conservatives attacked the local government for not following evacuation procedures properly and put more responsibility on Louisiana’s shoulders. So how did it end? The national government provided aid, the states provided aid, and your grandma provided aid with a donation to the Red Cross. Everyone does their part in America, which is what gives us elastic federalism and what makes us truly great. Such is my small contribution to political theory, which dawned on me in part because I couldn’t accept that any one major political party (both subscribed to by about half of our population) could be consistently wrong about everything. To assume that one side is always right would be nothing short of ignorance, potentially arrogance.

So where does journalism factor into this? Well, when I started the (sadly neglected) College Blog Alliance, the blogs I added all dealt with the media in some way. But because I only included college students and professors, the opinions that I found and started paying more attention to were all coming from institutionalized journalism. As you may know, part of the reason blogging exploded was because dozens of perceptive citizens got tired of journalism as an institution, rather than as a craft. I began as an outsider like them, and was then pulled so far inside as to be rendered inconsequential. I am here before you again because I could never be a true insider; I am not liberal enough or politically correct enough to ever fit perfectly. The facts should always triumph over what might be popular thinking in the newsroom. My definition of speaking truth to power never has required the AP Stylebook-approved version of truth, and it never will.

I have learned that journalism is really more about a way of thinking than about a set of guidelines. If you’re a good driver, you can probably be a good journalist. Think about it: When you drive down a busy road, you’re looking for possible hazards, and you have to be able to pick up on them fast. It’s important to slow down for the kids playing on the sidewalk, but be ready to stop the minute their ball comes bouncing out onto the road. That’s the impulse moment. You have to look for that symbolically when you interview people, and when they drop the ball in conversation, that’s the moment where you put the brakes on and get the story. It’s not hard, so long as you’re not shy. The trap I fell into is what happens when you start thinking that it’s really that much more complex than that. You don’t need 300 books by journalists to do the job, nor do you need experience at seven different newspapers. You just do it.

So if you’re wondering where the blog is going from here, I would say it’s going towards something much more true to myself. If that includes oddball news reports and quirky little bits of info, so be it. If it includes music reviews (because I wouldn’t mind a little practice in case I have a shot at Blender), that’s okay too. I make no promises to post every single day, however, as I have a life and don't want to discourage myself. [Link Attacks are not coming back, sorry - Ed.]

But the media and politics still concern me, as they should everyone in this country, and so I’m definitely going to write about them. I don’t even have to like them much to do that.

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