The Right would love for the Left to buy into the dialogical framework they have built. It avoids facts (or manipulates them), does not engage in conversation (more interested in who is the best or loudest bully), answers difficult question with non sequiturs and makes calls to broadly defined archetypes such as 'patriot', 'liberal' and 'socialist' in order to demonize or promote something or someone by evoking an emotional response from the audience rather than being bothered with facts. The frame work is founded on the perception of being unchangeable and irrefutable. The purpose of that foundation is precisely to mask the reality that the whole thing is a shell game where everything is changeable and refutable.
In much the same way that parts of MSNBC are becoming a mirrored response to Fox News, the Left is falling into the Right's dialogical framework – and it serves the Right well. Not surprisingly, progress is antithetical to the goals of the Right. A system bogged down in name calling, shouting and an 'us vs. them' disposition will never move forward (or will only move forward begrudgingly as we try to pull the nation's legs through the muck).
They not only want us to do it, but in order to continue to support their agenda of not changing things too rapidly (which insures that those who are currently powerful remain powerful), they need us to do it. They feed us a message of divide that over-inflates the importance of everything as if the wrong choice will be catastrophic. People on both sides lap it up feeding the worst part of our humanity.
“But we live now in hard times, not end times.
And we can have animus and not be enemies.”
-Jon Stewart at the Rally to Restore Sanity
I'm decidedly with Stewart on this one. Those who will not engage in substantive discourse show either a lack of concern for the truth or a fear that their preconceived 'truth' isn't durable enough to hold up to scrutiny. Riding under both positions is a general unwillingness to nuance your current belief.
As Stewart said in a recent interview with Rachael Maddow, “My problem is, it's become tribal." Our nation has bought into the framework set up by the Right. We choose sides, come out fighting and act as if our very lives are counting on it. I suppose they are, but just not in the immediate fashion our passion would suggest.
My question is this, if it matters that much, why choose the path of mutually insured stagnation?
Yes, it has been far too long since the Left has had a charismatic, sharp minded leader to both represent us and give voice to viewpoints countering the ones expressed by the likes of Beck and Palin. We hunger for that person to step up. Olbermann is fine, but he's not the one. We thought Obama was the one, but the realities of the quagmire in D.C. have put an end to that. Rachel Maddow may be the rising star, but her admirable commitment to MSNBC may tie her in so closely with the response to Fox that it will hamper her ability to do it with all of the credibility she deserves.
We hunger for that kind of leader so deeply that we are willing to crown Stewart our leader, when he doesn't want to be our leader. He seeks to be a voice of reason, of sanity, calling out into the wildernesses of political and religious divide. As you can both see demonstrated and hear articulated in the video clip below, he believes that the intentionally divisive nature of our current national discourse is counter productive to progress. And I agree.
I hunger for substantive discourse in this great nation and I think most progressive do as well. But the frustration of banging your head against the wall you meet almost every time you try to engage a hard core Fox News devotee in civil debate has led us to do a most surprising, yet somewhat understandable thing. We have not only disengaged from substantive discourse with them, but at times with ourselves. Worse yet, as can be seen in the disappointment some have expressed with Stewart after the rally, we are looking for someone to give it back to the Right utilizing the same tactics and framework they use.
Our fault is in thinking our new leader has to be a progressive mirror image of the leaders on the right. What we need is someone who is different from all of that. Someone who can stand outside of the fray, asses the real issues, point to the fundamental flaws in each side's arguments and then bring us to the table for dialog, all-the-while calling BS on us if we start to slip back into fallacious debate or party -line politics.
It turns out that while Jon Stewart might not be the voice we want, he just might be the voice we need.
As a Christian minister, I hope that he is, or that someone with a similar message is just waiting in the wings for the right opportunity. This divided nation does not reflect a God who created us all equal. This divided nation would rather demonize the other (see the devil in them) than see the reflection of the divine that God has planted in them – we would rather hate our enemy than love them. Our lack of substantive dialog does not point to a God who delights in wisdom daily.
While we are not a nation of believers, I can't help but imagine what it would look like if those who do profess to worship God actually started acting like it.
Update: More on the dangers of this dialogical divide from one of my favorite thought thinkers: Dr. Seuss. (Thanks to a friend on The Christian Left for this connection).