Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Purging Some Apathy

My posts have obviously been few and far between lately. There are several reasons for this, but I must admit that my absence has been partially due to a sense of disgust at the current state of the Presidential campaign and the dominating effect it has had on the media's coverage of the various policy debates. It's made me want to take an extended break from it all - and I think that is a bad thing.

I blame both campaigns for this.

David Brooks wrote an insightful piece this week that attempts (successfully in my opinion) to diagnose why the McCain campaign has taken the low-road in this campaign. In short, Brooks argues, the nature of the media's coverage is forcing him to attack Obama. Though I am uncomfortable with this conclusion, his argument is pretty persuasive. It is certainly not the whole story, nor does it even come close to absolving McCain for some of the absurd and/or oversimplifed arguments he is advancing (e.g. claiming we can even come close to lowering the deficit by only cutting pork barrel spending). Nevertheless, Brooks argument provokes a useful debate on why we see what we do from our politicians.

Obama is not blameless either.

Although I have been much more impressed with the idea-centered nature of his television ads and his publicized speeches, he has declined McCain's invitation to appear in a series of one on one town hall style debates. There is no good excuse for this refusal. We would all be better off to hear these two men go head to head on the issues instead of continuing to be subjected to the ludicrous filters and priorities of the mainstream media - both the liberal and the conservative players.


I didn't think about the content of this post before I wrote it - which is somewhat unusual for me on this blog. But I felt it was necessary to write something as I find myself being consumed by the affliction that I have railed against so many times on here before... apathy.

It is tough to even feel minimal value - much less anything near contentment - at reaching so few people with this blog in the face of the spectacle of the trivial, misleading and often harmful presentation of our political process that I see on the news most days.

But I remind myself that this spectacle is precisely the reason it is important to stay engaged and sounding off. We should all remember our responsibility to do what we can with what we have where we are (hat tip: Teddy Roosevelt).

So...I'm going to redouble my efforts! I hope each of you will do the same in your own way.


Megan said...

I, too, have grown a little tired of it all. I think another issue for me is just how early the campaigning starts.

It's a good thing they serve a four-year term, so we at least have a little bit of a break :). I imagine it would never stop if the terms were only two years.

I will read that article you linked, but my initial opinion is that no matter how justified it may be I do not like low-road campaign ads. They are a HUGE turn-off for me, and I find myself wondering what type of citizen they are targetting--'cause I'm pretty sure I don't want to know them.

Jared said...

Oh yeah - I'm with you. I definitely don't excuse McCain or any other candidate that resorts to them, but it is still helpful to understand some of the underlying causes. Out of many politicians this would not surprise me - but coming from McCain it kind of does. At least, it surprises me based on the McCain we knew years and years ago.

James F Barry said...

I too have been a bit dismayed. What I am struggling against now is the character assassination of Sen. Obama. I know it is out there, but when people I know and love spout outlandish claims taken out of context and present it as fact, I struggle to retort.

Amanda said...


Do you feel there is a generational gap between our age group's feelings of apathy and even resentment toward the negative campaigning compared to our parents or grandparents?
For example, my father and father-in-law are staunch Republicans, meaning that they don't really care about issues, they just "know" they are conservative. Period. They are so attached to the label of the party that they refuse to look outside of the comfort zone. I tend to feel our generation is actively engaged, though, in the current political climate and can, therefore, adjust accordingly.
( I have taken some huge liberties here and do not mean to lump every person of any particular group into a concrete category. )

Jared said...

James -

I'm with you on the character assassination point. I'm currently finishing a post that speaks to this (referencing some recent comments about Obama by Rush Limbaugh).

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I struggle in the same way you do when I hear intelligent people spout ludicrous and/or baseless criticisms about Obama (e.g. that he doesn't really love America and/or is some kind of manchurian candidate with overtly negative/harmful intentions). This happened to me this afternoon. A close friend of mine from college (University of Arkansas) - who graduated with close to a 4.0 and is about to finish medical school asked me if I thought Obama could really be trusted to promote America's interests. Apparently he has been receiving some of the infamous emails that accuse the Obamas of refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, etc. etc.

The best response I can come up with is a direct rebuttal of the baseless claim (I cite my reading of his books, and the fact that he has lived and benefited from the American Dream) coupled with a few examples of his policy ideas that I DONT like. I do this to try to to establish/reinforce my credibility as both an objective ADN informed observer.

I'm not sure how effective this approach is... but it is the best that I have come up with so far...


Amanda! Thanks so much for writing. It always makes my day when someone new posts a comment.

You've raised an interesting and important question that I don't have the knowledge to answer with much confidence... but I'll tell you what I think :)

As for the resentment towards negative campaigning... I have no useful thought about any generational differences other than to say that older people probably tend to be more settled in a political party and therefore probably judge an ad predominately based on the messenger rather than the message. In other words, I would guess that a rigid liberal would probably consider a negative add by Obama to be "informative" and a negative ad by McCain as unappealing - and vice versa.

As for apathy...

It seems from your comment that you are pondering the ability and/or willingness of young people to be receptive to new ideas and/or cross party lines? If this is what you are saying I would say that in general young people are always more open to new ideas whether they be political or cultural or whatever. The more important question - and the one that I can't answer - is will our generation maintain this intellectual flexibility as they get older or will they too settle on a particular political party or ideology as they get a little older??

One could argue that our generation is equipped with dramatically superior resources (e.g. the Internet) with which to constantly improve/update their opinions and therefore, will demonstrate more diverse political opinions over the course of their individual lives than our parents.

On the other hand, one could argue that once a citizen develops allegiance to a particular party during the first part of their life (whether it be through emotional investment via voting for them over time or association with like-minded friends or perceived effectiveness or betrayal by a particular party) it is almost impossible to break it outside of a once in a generation event and/or leader.

I have to say, I probably believe more in the latter scenario. I had the privilege of attending one of the top public policy graduate programs in the country over the last few years and I saw some of our generations most well-intentioned and able-minded young people demonstrate a discouraging level of susceptibility to groupthink. They would hear an argument from a trusted source or party and more often than not - it would not occur to them to challenge it.

That being said - I did find the majority of these same people very willing to entertain and accept counter arguments or new facts that did not fit neatly into their comfort zone - which is very encouraging... the key was they had to encounter a source willing and able to deliver it - and they did not go looking for it on their own.

So... I guess I'm firing a lot of shots in the dark here at your question. Hope some of this was useful...

Keep this discussion going if I didn't address the question appropriately or if this sparks any new thoughts!