Life on Two Planets

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Last week, while on a business trip, I performed a small experiment on several of my quiet evenings. I alternated watching Fox News Network and MSNBC and, besides a bad case of whip-lash, I learned we now live on two separate planets.

Each network's "journalists" discussed the same stories - the disruptions of the congressional town hall meetings was the big story of the week - with such different spins that you'd swear they weren't the same events. Each conveniently emphasized their strengths and ignored the weaknesses. Commentators demonstrated an irrational outrage and anger that overwhelmed any hope for discussion. Invited pundits usually repeated the party line, and the few guests who differed were shouted down.

How did we get to this point? Is our democracy in jeopardy due to a rising wave of intolerance, alienation, anger, short-sightedness and superiority? I remember when most people studied the news from various sources and arrived at an informed perspective not as much manipulated by the special interests, consultants and biased news sources on both sides. I remember learning in civics class that our nation, beginning with the founding fathers, was built upon discussion, compromise and tolerance of differing opinions. I remember when more political leaders represented all of their constituents and when the "friendly opposition" admitted some good in the other party's leadership. President Obama can't get out of bed correctly in the eyes of the conservatives, and the same went for President Bush and the liberals. After all, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut and a broken clock is correct twice a day. Such total and unbending condemnation of an opponent's every word and action demonstrates nothing more than the disingenuousness and raw bias of an opposition's perspective.

And, through it all, as we become more isolated, intolerant and resentful, the media networks' ratings rise, the special interests and activists get their way, the politicians get re-elected, and the consultants and lobbyists get richer. All is well in the suites of power while Rome burns.

We will never be a nation that is all conservative or all liberal and, besides, those are arbitrary points on a very long continuum. Neither party will ever get all it wants, and getting angry over that only gives us pointless ulcers.

Perhaps we as citizens need to take on a renewed level of civic responsibility and perspective that might include:

* Paying a bit of attention to the other guys. How can we take a stand if we truly don't understand all sides of the argument? There is no way anyone can understand any issue based upon listening only to pundits and commentators who agree with them. If Fox News or MSNBC is our only source of political information, we flat out don't understand both sides of the issues.

* Not allowing ourselves to be manipulated. Let's face it, the parties' and politicians' principal objective is to be re-elected by first pleasing the friendly special interests and news media. The interests of the electorate is a distant fourth or fifth in their list of priorities. Our leaders allow themselves to be manipulated and are often culpable in our manipulation for their own personal gain. If there is any sign of prepared Talking Points, you can be sure someone is pulling strings behind the scenes.

* Keeping a historical perspective. One of the strengths of our nation is that the pendulum has always swung between liberal and conservative presidents and congresses, and the net effect has been our moving down the middle over the decades, benefiting from the best and learning from the worst of our political extremes. Unhappy with our left of center Administration? Just wait and we'll be right of center before you know it.

* Considering what patriotism really means. It doesn't mean a nation that reflects only your particular values and perspectives. It does mean faith in our system and our ability to weather and emerge stronger from even the most daunting challenges. Believing that we are so weak that one administration can destroy it all is the opposite of patriotism. We survived a civil war, two world wars and a depression; and we'll survive Bush and Obama.

* Turning off the radio and TV and pondering the things we can change and those that give us pleasure. Reading a newspaper can't hurt. Spend time with the family and pet the dog. In a year or two the issues that keep us awake today will be distant memories and we'll be all fired up over the latest threats to our future.

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Richard Sem has 1 articles online

Dick Sem is a security and workplace violence consultant ( based in Wisconsin.

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Life on Two Planets

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This article was published on 2010/03/28
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