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Monday, April 15, 2024 — Houston, TX

Politics as usual epitomized by gridlock

By Cody Shilling     1/27/11 6:00pm

With congressional midterm elections as a prime example, we are witnessing the polarization of politics. There is an increase in personal attacks and the constant attempts to humiliate the opposition. Our elections and our politicians' rhetoric are no longer about why their particular policies or views are better for the country: It is now all about how America will be driven into the ground if we elect their opponent.Of course, they never discuss any real reasons of why that will happen or how they will do better. The reality is that fear-mongering is alive and practiced widely in today's political scene and comes from both major parties. The Republicans decry everything done in the past two years, regardless of whether the policies enacted are those they wished for (such as health care reform). Meanwhile, the Democrats portray the Republican party as little more than the party of "no" and paint a bleak picture of economic destitution and failure if Republicans are reelected. Neither of these platforms focuses on issues of real substance. That could be a symptom, not of the people in charge, but of the people who voted them there.

Politicians today have become less leaders of the people and more representatives of their district's local interests, hence the common practice of earmarking extra money for individual districts in the federal budget. Of course, people of Houston wouldn't want to pay for a bridge in Alaska, but they would have no complaint whatsoever about a congressman securing funds for a new, subsidized medical clinic as long as it gives jobs to Houstonians. Politics today is no longer a national issue; it is nothing but a game, convincing voters (who are often ignorant of both the major issues and the representatives they are voting for) who would do a better job pandering to ?their interests.

In today's sound-bite driven world, politicians tend to shy away from actual argumentation and debate on whose policy would best benefit the nation as a whole. Instead, they try to woo voters using ethos appeal that can be shortened to a few seconds for news clips or online postings since we do not have the patience for any more than that. And as politics becomes increasingly professionalized, we lose visionaries and truly competent leaders, who are skilled at articulation of logic and reasoning and not swaying people's passions by stirring up anger at rallies. We must learn to actually examine what elected officials say, whether it has merit, and - something we don't see all that often - what following their course of action will actually do to the country.

The last step seems like such a self-obvious requirement for critique, yet all too often we find it lacking to an unacceptable degree. One of the best examples of this is the modern presidential debate. Each of the candidates responds to various questions from voters or responds to his or her opponent's response. In theory, this is a great chance to determine which of the two individuals is the more capable of articulating answers to American concerns and who has the broadest, best-constructed plan for improvements upon previous policies. But nowadays, watching a debate is little more than hearing the written party platforms played for a national audience. There is no real cross-examination of the other person's arguments, and no real interaction between the two candidates. Both candidates simply repeat their already known positions trying to make listeners feel more patriotic and hopeful about their, the candidates', positions. We do not hear Republicans explain why, although the Democratic plan to let certain tax cuts expire will do a large amount toward cutting the deficit, it is still better to keep the tax cuts on the richest 2 percent of all households. And we certainly don't hear Democrats addressing the issue that the kind of government spending we have currently does not have a solution that can be pushed off until later. The fact is that the U.S. government has never committed that kind of turnaround from serious spending a much less involved role, and it will not until hard choices are made now. Simply writing a pledge won't do anything. Waiting to cut spending is not going to do anything. But the larger problem is that we don't even have serious conversations about which course of action would be better for the country. What we have are politicians who put their desires for reelection and their constituents' whines above the good of the country. And that, unfortunately, is politics as usual.

Cody Shilling is a Will Rice College sophomore.

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