I’m not above doing something because all the cool kids are doing it, so I’ve been composing stunningly elegant political rants in my head for weeks. Well, I’ve been ranting in my head. Sort of the same thing, right?
I hesitated to touch on politics–after all, this is supposed to be about writing and motherhood and my chicken obsessions. Well, writing and motherhood, anyway.
But I do believe that we’re all political creatures, that we live our politics and define ourselves by them, even if it’s by insisting that we don’t have them.
Writing and motherhood are part of my politics. I want freedom to play with language, and confidence that I’m sending my children out into a world that’s more healthy and loving and beautiful than not. And in some ways it probably doesn’t get any more political than that. So I’m getting all riled up about politics, and since I’m a word-nerd, I’m especially agitated by all the discourse.
Once again, it’s campaign season, that magical time of year when otherwise charming and intelligent human beings start lobbing poorly-constructed verbal grenades.
By conservative standards, I’m a raving liberal maniac. By liberal standards, I’m a cavewoman. I’m an independent, a non-party-line voter, the child of a registered Democrat mother and a father who used to claim that he voted Republican in order to cancel out her vote. I love my family, every last atheist, agnostic, Christian fundamentalist, Libertarian, diehard Democratic, far-right Republican, Independent one of them. Sometimes my checkered political heritage is useful:
Informed, politically adamant friend: I am outraged that Congressman Shady McSketchy did not vote for the Affordable Whoopie Cushion Act just because of the rider that the Evil Party tacked on at the last minute that would prohibit federal regulation of LOLcat postings!!
Me: Uhhh…I hadn’t heard. I’m from a politically broken home, and some days it’s all I can do not to burst into tears if I accidentally land on C-SPAN while channel surfing.
It’s nice to have an excuse. And politico-emotional baggage sounds a lot more legit than, “I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but I can tell you what Beowulf said when Unferth tried to lay the smackdown on him.” Perhaps I’m a little behind the times. Honestly, thanes getting eaten by a monster will always be more compelling to me than some politician accidentally saying the wrong thing on (or off) camera.
But occasionally I wonder if my somewhat nebulous political identity might actually be a sort of strength. I’ve suspected for some time now that this whole two-party thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s just cracked up.
It seems to me that both parties are frighteningly in line with each other on far too many issues. There’s a lot of impressive rhetoric, a lot of mudslinging, a lot of name-calling, and a lot of invocation of religion, science, morality, American values, freedom, Fox News, the Colbert Report, and a lot of other things. But politics have become largely about keeping the powerful in power, and that’s something the Republican and Democratic leadership can get behind.
As long as the fundamentally decent, empathetic, intelligent, average American people can be corralled by a false dichotomy, we are easy to control. We are the nation that dumped tea in the harbor, that raised our rifles against the world’s mightiest empire, that tore ourselves in two in civil war and then put the pieces back together. We are mighty. But we have become distracted by the smoke and mirrors of single-issue campaigning, obscenely expensive negative political ads, and language for which we’d put our kids in time-out.
Campaigning often feels juvenile. At the same time, though, I find myself thoroughly frustrated by the otherwise charming and intelligent average voters who throw around phrases like “he’s an idiot,” which, during election season at least, translates to, “He does not agree with me.”
May we never live in a nation where everyone agrees.
The fact is that politicians, whatever else they may be, are not idiots. They are geniuses. They have figured out a way to bifurcate this wild, crazy, individualistic, warm-hearted nation of dissidents and activists and believers and skeptics and rebels and straight-A students and little old ladies and bikers and little old biker ladies. We are so much more than two parties. So, so much more than these particular two parties, whose lines began to blur a while ago.
I adore the Democratic notion that we need to care for everyone, to make life livable for the poor and downtrodden and different. And I’m totally on board with the Republican ideal that federal government shouldn’t be scripting the minutiae of our daily lives, but that in many things we should govern ourselves more directly and accountably. To me, the original Democratic ideal sounds like, “Take care of each other,” while its Republican counterpart is, “People are good; trust them to do what’s right.” But both parties have strayed from these lofty ideals. The lines between them have blurred. During campaign season, everybody’s an extremist, and then we elect one extremist or the other, and that person is suddenly subject to the real challenges and constraints of the presidency, of dealing with Congress, of representing the unruly people of the United States. Republicans lean a little more left, Democrats lean a little more right, and the locus of power stays put. Nobody falls off the seesaw.
Because these people are not idiots. They know how to play the system. They know how to push our buttons, to play on our best impulses and most primal fears. And they win. Every time, either the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate wins the presidency.
What about the rest of us? You know, the people who aren’t Presidential candidates?
I’ve decided while writing this that I’m not “undecided.” I’m as decided as I can be. I’m going to vote in November–and not for an idiot. I’m also not going to write in “Elmo” or “Fitzwilliam Darcy” or “Clint Eastwood” or “Jon Stewart” as an act of political protest, because I want to feel like I have a little say. I want to be part of this messy process. I want to help change it, too, and I don’t think I can do that without getting my hands dirty. I will vote for one of two, but I will long for more options.
I hope, for my children’s sake and the sake of this country, that our richness and diversity may someday find greater expression in our political system. We’re Americans. We like our options. We like eight hundred satellite channels and candy in our ice cream and wide open spaces and too many automobiles. We love people with whom we disagree and coming together in times of trouble and donating our time and money.
Several years ago, in a spirited and wonderful conversation, a friend suggested that we form the Common Sense Party. Our platform would be Doing What Makes Sense. I’ve been a little obsessed with this idea ever since. In my imagination, the Common Sense Party is composed of everybody–people of all beliefs, backgrounds, and walks of life. I think it could work. Think about it. We wouldn’t agree on everything, of course, but since when did all the Republicans like each other? Since when did all the Democrats agree? Instead, we the people of the Common Sense Party would decide together, in spirited and respectful collaboration, what was truly immediate. We would actually find out what our constituents thought and (gasp!!) represent them. We would maybe decide to focus not on the hot-button issues that get people riled up, but on the things that will make life better for everyone. Does Congress need to vote themselves another pay raise, or could we be doing something more powerful with that money? I think we’d end up with a lot of common ground. After all, we’re people.
What does any of this have to do with writing? I’m trying really hard to keep this blog focused, but it’s so tempting to stray, to rant, to philosophize on any number of issues. But I think there are a lot of lessons for writers in the current election season:
1) Watch your language. Choose your words carefully, and consider both denotative and connotative meanings. “Idiot” is not a synonym for “different.”
2) The process is messy. You have to engage it to accomplish anything. You can’t just sit back and expect to have any agency.
3) There are always more than two possible endings to any story. And there are usually more than two characters.
4) You’re leaving a legacy. Make some magic.
Obligatory Political Post complete. Now I can get back to the real stuff, like figuring out what happens when the heroine is attacked by monsters and putting my little insomniac back in bed for the seven hundredth time.