For a long time, there was an aphorism about politics that struck me as fundamentally true:
“Liberals think conservatives are evil, conservatives think liberals are stupid.”
It seemed to sum things up pretty well, and it worked for a while. But I think it might have run its course.
While I was reading the rantings of the Tucson shooter, and the attempts to tie him to the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin and god knows who and what else, I was struck with how he focused on the stupid, illiterate people who didn’t recognize his genius. And that is a common thread on the left; how their opponents are stupid, ignorant, uneducated, idiots who revel in their intellectual shortcomings. (The subtext is that they should just shut up and listen to their intellectual betters, who obviously are correct and should be heeded.)
On the other side, the right denounces its opponents as being fundamentally wrong. They are not stupid; if anything, they are over-educated; too fixated on theory and too separated from reality; all too eager to impose their ideas on a world that resolutely refuses to comply with their notions of how things ought to be. And, as always, too wrapped up in the good of “the people” that they cheerfully sacrifice individuals to achieve the collective “good” — as they define it.
And both sides are all too quick to resort to the “evil” model, even if they don’t come out and use the word. It’s couched in lusts for power and control and money and other things, but it “evil” would cover it quite nicely — if they felt comfortable using such primal language.
I admit, I fall victim to it myself on occasion. I find myself wanting to grab certain folks by the shoulders and shake them, shouting in their faces. I want to yell “you theories don’t work! They never have, and they never will! That’s been proven time and time again, each time with a huge cost in money, freedoms, and even lives! Stop saying that this time will be different if we just try a bit harder! Grow the hell up and learn how to deal with the world as it is! You’re too goddamned smart to be this stupid!”
I dunno what it will take to break this new cycle. The elections of last November seemed pretty divisive, but the results — a divided Congress — started showing some signs of hope. Both Houses were making tentative steps towards finding ways of getting along, at least in some ways.
And I honestly don’t know how the Tucson shooting will affect things — if at all. The left is trying like hell to hang the shooter on to the right, and the right are fighting right back to keep that noose off their necks. It’s my current suspicion that the nutjob had only slightly more clearly defined politics than John Hinckley or Lee Harvey Oswald, and he didn’t draw much “inspiration” from anything outside his own diseased mind. But that won’t keep him from being used as a political football. In that context, it’s a kind of a relief that he was taken alive — it’s easier to put words in the mouth of a dead man.
It’s an ugly state of affairs. And, sadly, I can see many ways it could be even worse.