Jon Stewart has a great bit on how our politicians (he focuses mostly on Republicans) have gotten into a war of words that is becoming one of the worst in recent memory. Well, it's at least the worst since the last campaign. Things may feel like they're escalating, but really we're just getting into the election season. But as Stewart points out, it's gotten to the point where neither side even acknowledges or realizes just how much trash they're spewing towards one another.
Mud-slinging, fact-hijacking, falsehods, truth-stretching, and embellishment have all been a part of our campaign cycle for a while now. Thanks to Citizens United, corporations are getting on the fun with their political ads that take even more out of context figures and soundbites to try and twist the truth. As I've written about before, information is now being whittled down to the point where there is no context, and where context no longer matters to anyone. It's a two-way street, meaning a politician can say anything they want, and then defend it by decrying the lack of context. But all this does is serve the never-ending sludge-fight that has become our national discourse. There is no debate on issues, there is only propping up the party line, and stalling out legislation. There is no discussion, no agreement, no deal-making. It just seems that politicians are not even aware of themselves anymore. And what's worse, the media largely lets them get away with it. Occasionally, someone will call out a truly ridiculous claim. For example, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have been having to answer claims by economists who say their plans for deficit and debt reduction don't add up. They have made some very grandiose statements about how they will fix the economy, but there hasn't been a real discussion about their plan because Romney simply calls any analysis that doesn't agree with him bad.
It's an example that speaks to the larger problem. Our leaders have come to the point where they will dismiss any criticism of their plan as being partisan, because they expect any and all dissent to be partisan. They don't take that criticism as a learning experience, but double down on their beliefs and further gridlock the system. And the criticism itself has largely become politicized. With the exception of a few nonpartisan think-tanks, a lot of the "analysis" is done by partisan groups looking to skewer an opponent with their own plan. Again, this is not helpful criticism, it's deliberately meant to be damaging to a person's character as well as their policy.
And that's my final point. It used to be that politicians debated one another on the policies at hand. Now, it's personal. The folks in the Tea Party, and those like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, have become more vocal about attacking people based on their personal traits rather than on a policy. They have attacked "liberals" rather than a specific position that this "liberal" takes. What this does is oversimplifies the battle lines, making it easier to target people. All they have to say is "liberal" and those who listen to them know not to support that person. They don't know anything about them, but are making a judgment on them as a person, rather than a politician, and without knowing their position on anything.
So, politicians are attacking their opponents on a personal level, using out-of-context soundbites and outright lies, and are not listening to the slightest critique of their own policies no matter the source. All the while, the media is feeding into this, because it makes for good entertainment, and is cheaper to cover than the tedious explanations of positions, and the debates that go along with solidifying an argument for or against a policy.
And the worst part of all? This crap works.