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Monday, April 5, 2010

The Politics of Self Esteem

UPDATE: Please also check out my new book, The Definitive Dossier of PTSD in Whistleblowers, in which I dedicate Chapter entirely to the exploits of Dr. Anna Chacko.

Robert Samuelson nails exactly how I feel about most political thought these days.

Purging moral questions from politics is both impossible and undesirable. But today's tendency to turn every contentious issue into a moral confrontation is divisive. One way of fortifying people's self-esteem is praising them as smart, public-spirited and virtuous. But an easier way is to portray the "other side" as scum: The more scummy "they" are, the more superior "we" are. This logic governs the political conversation of both left and right, especially talk radio, cable channels and the blogosphere.

Unlike economic benefits, psychic benefits can be dispensed without going through Congress. Mere talk does the trick. Shrillness and venom are the coin of the realm. The opposition cannot simply be mistaken. It must be evil, selfish, racist, unpatriotic, immoral or just stupid. A culture of self-righteousness reigns across the political spectrum. Stridency from one feeds the other. Political polarization deepens; compromise becomes harder. How can anyone negotiate if the other side is so extreme?

Dangers are plain, as political scientists Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams argue in their book "Disconnect: the Breakdown of Representation in American Politics." Using opinion surveys, they show that polarization is stronger among elites (elected officials, activists, journalists) than the broad public. About 40 percent to 50 percent of Americans consistently classify themselves as "moderates." By contrast, political activists tend to identify themselves as "very liberal" or "very conservative." But it is the political class of activists who "dominate the political agenda" and determine "how the debate is conducted."

Politics today is nothing more than a series of debates in which one side is not merely right and the other is wrong. In fact, it's a series of debates in which one side represents good and the other evil. Worse than that, both sides believe they are good and the other is evil.

In fact, the article that got me banned from Big Government made that point.

This sort of thinking means that one side of the ideological aisle can do no right and the other can do no wrong. All these sorts of groups exist to do only two things: expose every flaw of their ideological opponents and hammer home why they are right. That's it. That's boring and it accomplishes nothing.

Breitbart, on who's site my work appears on occasion, has become a hero on the right. That's because he takes every opportunity to expose each and everycorruption or mistake of the left. He gives the right a total pass. In fact, Big Government stipulates that you "don't go after your own". So, on such sites, stories are important because they fit into a proper ideological box. By that token, the folks at Media Matters are largely the same, only their targets are different.

Much of our political thought comes down to proving our side is right and the other is wrong. That's fine, in moderation. In fact, for many that's all there is. My first Chacko article on Big Government was entitled "The Scandal of Government Health Care: an Introduction to Anna Chacko". That title was chosen not by me but by the editor of Big Government.

The story of Anna Chacko is much more complicated than government run health care, but that's the attitude at Big Government. Everything is an opportunity to prove the other side is wrong.

That's the problem we have with political thought. We've lost sight of truth. Instead, we are all in a constant search for more evidence that our side is right and the other is wrong. That makes us feel better about ourselves.

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