Monday, June 20, 2011

The two dumbest words in politics: 'Either' and 'Or'

You're either for jobs or for the environment.

You're either for unions or for business.

You're either for war or you hate America (you're with us or you're against us).

If you were to listen to the political 'debate' these days on MSNBC, FOX and CNN that's what you'd assume. It's always either/or.

Makes for great TV. Who doesn't like to see a good fight?

But it's also killing our country. Politicians on both sides have been all too willing to grab a piece of the simplistic narrative.

The right has become the party of kooks, glomming on to every wacko anti-government conspiracy theory and elevating it to GOP gospel.

The left has taken on the role of the cerebral professor, always searching for answers, but often oblivious to how things are in the real world.

They both need to give it up and start engaging in some critical thinking that might actually accomplish something. A good start would be to acknowledge that there are valid points to be made on both sides of the aisle.

Creating jobs without protecting our environment is pointless. We work to create a better future for ourselves and our families. What kind of future includes a poisoned water system, unbreathable air and an ever-warming planet that threatens to obliterate entire cities?

But creating rigid regulations with no concern for what businesses need to do to implement them is absurd as well. There are actual people in those businesses who have to pore through every new law and figure out how it impacts there bottom line. Would it kill you to make things a little easier for them?

Unions have given us, as workers, so much over the years. The 8-hour work week, healthcare, safer workplaces and more. And they continue to be a champion for the little guy in the face of an ever-increasing corporate dominance in our politics. We need someone to help level the inherently un-level playing field that exists between a single worker and his employer.

But again, we need to face the realities of the 21st century. Like it or not, we are part of a global economy now. Which means companies face extreme pressure to keep costs under control. And that often includes wages. How do we balance the needs of lower and middle class Americans with those of businesses that see their foreign counterparts able to get the same level of work for a fraction of what we earn here? There's no easy solution, but ignoring the problem or pretending we can go back to a world where the other 6 continents don't matter is simply naive.

And then there's war. Nobody in their right mind likes war. Sure, there are some wackos out there who think any chance to kill people without repercussions is just plain awesome, but most Americans shutter at the thought of our young men and women getting shipped off to fight in some faraway land. Which means, many of us are not 'for us' when we go to places like Iraq. But we are also not 'against us' either. We simply think our leaders should think a little more deeply before sending our citizens in harms way.

Some feel the Iraq war was justified. Some feel no war is justified. And then there are the rest of us, who fall somewhere in between. Maybe Afghanistan is a more just war. Maybe Libya is a cause worth fighting for. Maybe not. But when everything gets framed as yes vs. no you don't tend to hear about the multitudes of opinions that fall somewhere in between. And that's a shame.

Now, some things should not even up for debate. Basic human and civil rights should transcend politics and be assured for everyone. Unfortunately, these issues tend to get thrown in to the either/or machine and tossed back at us as 'reasoned' debate on subjects like gay rights, the right to health care and the right to due process. Instead of debating these issues, we should be fighting over the best way to make sure these rights are guaranteed.

Those who have read my blog know I can be pretty firm on the progressive side of things. And you may think this post runs counter to such a strong point of view. But I disagree. I am not married to any policy prescription. What I am unwavering on, however, is a constant commitment to progress. And the only way to keep moving forward is to see things as they are. The world is rarely black and white. Solutions are rarely simple. And debate is almost always complex.

Ultimately, we have to choose. Do we want to be entertained nightly by a bunch of stiff-haired half-wits on cable TV or do you want your children to live in a country that provides them with opportunity and freedom?

In this case, it actually is either/or. We can't have both.

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