Adam Silver | Putting people over politics
The Silver Lining | Social media exacerbates the rivalry in American politics
October 10, 2012, 1:39 am·
The Silver Lining
American politics has all the makings of a great sport. Winners are glorified and losers forgotten in this high-stakes, competitive game. There’s a reason why elections are also called “races.” The only thing missing from the mix is a Congressional fantasy league.
Both teams convert their opponent’s failures into points on a scoreboard. During election years, this becomes particularly apparent.
In 2004, when bad news came in from Iraq, Democrats put a political spin on it in an effort to remove Bush from office.
This year, any numbers that indicate an improving economy have frustrated Republicans.
We’ve hit a new low. Now we pay more attention to how wars and unemployment affect our politicians than how they play out for our country.
As a result, politics are valued over people.
This trend has stained political discourse at all levels — from your local coffee shop to the halls of Congress.
But we shouldn’t treat politics like any old game. The stakes are too high. The wager is our future, and lately, the bookie is China.
Many will blame politicians, but I blame myself and I blame you. This is a democracy, after all.
Last Wednesday, during the first presidential debate, President Obama and Gov. Romney laid out different strategies to get America back in the game.
But Facebook or Twitter feeds from that night failed to reflect the substance of the candidates’ message. Instead, the posts I came across focused on crowning the debate’s winner. Republicans did touchdown dances while Democrats went on the defensive and justified Obama’s poor performance.
These social media soapboxes allow us to mindlessly celebrate our party’s victory and gloat in front of our friends, circles and followers. Facebook and Twitter exacerbate the heated rivalry that increasingly defines American party politics.
After the latest job’s report was released last week, the same game played out on social media. The unemployment rate finally dipped below 8 percent — prompting Democrats to let out a collective sigh of relief while Republicans found ways to poke holes in the figure. Some even hypothesized that the Bureau of Labor Statistics fudged the numbers.
It seems as though we’ve forgotten that those numbers represent people, not points on a scoreboard. For those that found a job this month, it means stability. But uncertainty still shadows the lives of 12.1 million Americans who remain unemployed.
These people have been forgotten. Those of us watching the campaign and the debates forget that the numbers are about them, that the election is about them.
Mindless partisanship, where voters act like sports fans, has leaked down to the lowest levels of each party. It has even seeped onto this campus. We tie our politics to our pride and act as if parties are a favorite sports team.
If nothing changes, our generation will become the most divisive yet. Our political consciousness happened at a time of instability. We woke up to 9/11 and grew up waging two politicized wars without being asked to make sacrifices for the cause. We’re so used to horse-race press coverage of the campaign trail that it is the norm — rather than substantive reporting on policies.
These surroundings have taught us to keep score, but that doesn’t mean we can’t thicken the discourse — we’re not tied to the politics of winners and losers. As students and newly enfranchised voters, we must realize that the politics we demand are the politics we get.
I can’t answer for my party and don’t expect you to answer for yours. I know there is a lot of space between Democrats and Republicans, but why do we insist on using it as a battleground? I want to see it used as common ground.
What I’m asking is small: join me. I’m pro-progress and you should be too. Let’s change the discussion. When we talk politics, let’s not search for a victor. Let’s search for solutions.
Adam Silver is a College junior and masters of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. “The Silver Lining” appears every Wednesday. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him @adamtsilver.