Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rhetoric and Reality

One of the things that bothers me most about politics is the spectacular manner in which our leaders manage to use a shared rhetoric to pursue conflicting policy.  This infuriates me for several reasons. It occludes the real issues, it demonstrates hypocrisy in our system, and it fills debates with sound bytes rather than discourse.  That all sucks, but the thing that annoys me about it most is that it makes it painfully clear that our politicians believe that the American public has a broadly shared set of values.  If that's the case then why aren't we able to agree on a single damn thing?  If we have the same goals, the debate should only be about the most effective means to meeting those goals, and we have all sorts of tools for measuring progress towards them.  Let's look at some examples.

Freedom - I'd say freedom is a pretty much universally lipserviced American value, though when it comes down to it we appear chronically incapable of passing beyond rhetoric on this subject.  Here's an interesting commentary on the issue:  Basically, we always talk about how free America is - we seem to value that quality highly - yet when asked to make specific policies to enhance the freedom of the American people, our politicians routinely balk.  Examples abound in the article and in recent political history: Patriot Act, all sorts of fancy shmancy warrant-less acquisition of electronic communication.  Maybe politicians have recognized that we don't actually value our freedom as much as we value hearing the word freedom in the context of pro-American rhetoric.

Opportunity - If I had a dollar for every time a politician used the phrase "American Dream" I would have very many dollars, maybe even enough to run for office.  So far as I can tell, the American Dream is basically about upward mobility.  If not "Rags to Riches" then at least "Rags to House-Lawn-and-Cable-TV".  Too bad we're not doing too well on that metric:

I'm not really sure what we should do about this sort of nonsense, other than be more explicit about our goals, the relationships between our goals and proposed legislation, and the measured impact of enacted legislation upon those goals.  Good luck getting any of that passed through our legal system.

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