Saturday, May 12, 2012

Are we addicted to negative politics?

According to a recent analysis, 70% of presidential campaign commercials run so far have been negative. It will only get worse. The 12-Step Program, which has proved successful helping restore health to people suffering from addiction, may be the last best chance to break our addiction to the dysfunctional behavior that accompanies political campaigns.

The first three of the 12-Steps may get you through the next six months. Step one requires an admission.  We are powerless over our addiction to negative politics. This addiction has made out lives unmanageable. Step two promises that a greater power can restore the sanity. Step three says we should acknowledge steps one and two by turning it over to that greater power. In other words, “I can’t control it, something bigger can. I guess I will let go.”

With one-tenth of one percent of the electoral votes necessary to elect a president, Wyoming voters are powerless to impact presidential elections. Regardless of whom we support, you and I are powerless to avoid the inevitable. Those measly three electoral votes will go to Romney no matter what you think or how much money or time you contribute. While we are powerless over the outcome, we can control our own sanity. But if we remain addicted and follow the campaign, reacting to the daily negativity of the candidates, their TV ads and surrogates, our lives will become unmanageable.

Regardless of how incensed we become listening to the attacks on our candidate, the only impact will be to our own blood pressure and our relationships with others. The same man (and it will be a man) will win regardless of how crazy it all makes us.

Accepting that, move to step two. A power greater than us can restore our sanity. That “power” takes many forms, usually referring to God or the way each view the Divine. There is a power greater than each of us at work in our lives. At the height of our addiction to partisan politics, we get ourselves worked into a frenzy, persuading ourselves the opposition is not just wrong but evil. Some compare the other party’s candidate to Hitler, question his religion, morals, ethics and even his Americanism. All of that is a certain indicator of addiction. But the second step promises us that a power greater than us can restore our sanity. For partisan addicts that power is democracy itself.

The nation’s founders were wise enough to create a system of government that includes a basic assurance that whoever gets elected can do no great damage to the nation in the four short years they are given.  Offset by the legislative and judiciary branches, the free press and our rights to assemble and speak, American democracy is in the final analysis, a power greater than our partisan angst and fears.

In a nutshell, it comes down to this. If we are addicted to partisan politics, and have come to understand how powerless we in Wyoming are in a presidential election and feel our partisanship causes us more anxiety and torment than we deserve, and we have faith that democracy is a powerful enough force to save us from our fears, step three teaches us “relax and let it happen.”

One secret of addiction that makes it difficult to break is what the professionals call “co-dependence.” The politicians are co-dependent on our addiction to feed their own. If you and I can break our addiction to partisanship, who knows, maybe that will lead those who benefit from our addiction to break their own.

How to do that? Don’t send them money. Turn off the cable news. Right wing, left wing…its purpose in politics is to stir the hatred, to make us crazy. That drives ratings, not sanity. Spend time and money where it makes a difference. Think local. Work for good candidates for Congress, the legislature, mayor, the city council and the school board. If we take good care of the home front, the national mess may improve.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a wonderful post. There is great logic in much of what you write. But I disagree that this negativity begins with, or is rooted in, national politics ... or even politicians in general. There is a fundamental divide in this country between those who believe THEIR religious tenants should guide public policy and those who object to ANY religion deciding or dictating laws and policies. I believe the separation of church and state is crucial to good governance. It is strong faith and unshakable belief that leads to raised passions and then to negativity. While politicians shamelessly tap into, manipulate, and inflame this negativity, they do not create it. There was a day when politicians tried to LEAD people to common ground. Those days are long gone.