My brother and I have been engaged in a lot of political discussion and debate these last few weeks. Thank goodness my long distance plan is no longer paid by the minute, otherwise I'd be paying some pretty high bills! Often times my brother and I don't see eye to eye on the issues. He tends to be fiscally conservative, while I tend to be more on the idealistic side.
But conversing w/ my brother about these things has been stimulating, even enjoyable, because he does not conform to the 10 second sound bites and viral headlines that media outlet after outlet are so quick to take out of context and squeeze into a consumerable package. He does not jump on bandwagon slogans and shock rhetoric. He does his homework. He consults multiple sources and evaluates them for their validity. He not only reads the speeches, but analyzes and interprets them beyond flashy partisan punditry. He listens to others' points of view with an open mind. And when he presents his argument, he provides evidence to support his claims, and works to make them as valid as possible. (And he throws in a bit of humor, too.)
In fact, I wish our own presidential candidates took a page from his conduct.
Kairos Calling is a blog that celebrates writing, and when I started this blog, my intent was to make the conversation about creative fiction and nonfiction. But I'm also a rhetoric girl--that's my bread and butter, my diploma on the wall, and it's the way I approach my fiction and nonfiction. And so, I'm pleased to see him following these basic rhetorical prinicples, and I grow more and more frustrated that the political debate in this country follows the template of a Mac vs. PC commercial rather than substantive, rhetorical, intelligent discourse.
This is where he and I are in staunch agreement.
When I listened to Obama's speeches during the primaries, I was struck by his message of hope. He spoke of change, but change came through ideas, through inclusion, through peace, through hope, and through visionary thinking. He spoke of the promise of restoring faith and pride in our government and in politics. For the first time in a long, long time, he made me feel good. Indeed, I felt hope.
But where has that message gone?
He has gone from ideas to ideology. He has gone from visionary thinking to playing it safe. He has gone from peace to tough-guy persona. He has gone from inclusion to regulation. He has gone from hope to placating. And he has stopped engaging in thoughtful, encouraging, intelligent debate. He has succumbed to the sound bite. He has turned his attention from positive proactiveness ("fired up-ready to go") to defensive reaction ("I have experience-Palin doesn't").
I read Obama's morning radio address in which he says he has a plan to fix the economy, to fix health care; but unless I'm looking in the wrong places, I don't see the actual plan. I want details. I want to see the ideas -- whether I agree w/ them or not. I'm tired of the validation that the situation sucks and I'm even more tired of the endless, childish finger-pointing -- I want to know what you're going to do to keep this from falling into my wallet when I had no say in either the problem or the solution.
For all the comparisons to Reagan that the Republicans use to align themselves, no one really understands what his policies were all about, because no one takes the time to study them anymore. We only remember a charismatic figure and the classic "Tear down that wall!"
For all the talk about experience, no one turns to the Cuban Missile Crisis and how a young JFK responded to it; we only see the photos of him sailing and being serenaded by Marilyn Monroe.
For all the talk of "offensive defense" and "pre-emptive strike" (or my favorite slogan, "peace through strength," or something like that), no one examines the momunmental decision by the IRA, once a terrorist organization w/ the same ferociousness as Al-Queada, to end their methods of violence.
We turn to news footage, bits and clips, footnotes and youtube, cereal box mentality. Why oh why don't we turn to our best resources: our minds and our libraries?
This may be simply a case where I'm using my blog as a forum to get on my soapbox, and I suppose that's my perogative since it is my blog... but there is a message in here, and it's one about rhetoric more than writing. It's also an open call to the candidates: if you want change, start with your rhetoric.
Start by breaking through the consumer culture and engage us through our minds instead of our screens.
Do your homework. Consulte reliable sources. Research. Take the emphasis off the pathos and amp up the logos (it'll do wonders for your ethos).
Stop listening to bullies who call you "elitist" because you turn an elegant phrase. (To steal from Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing: "You think Mao never turned an elegant phrase? How do you think he got 'em all to be communists?") It is high time we start celebrating intelligence not only as a commodity but as patriotic. Jefferson; Madison; Franklin: Elitist?
Talk to the people instead of at the people. You've done a so-so job of listening to the problems, but have you listened to our ideas? Aside from taking my money for more ads and soliciting me for my vote, have you asked anything else of me?
And for the love of Zeus, stop looking at us as demographics. White female liberal. White blue collar worker. Black woman. Gay male. Conservative Republican. Liberal Democrat. War monger. Peacenick. Independent undecided. Obama, four years ago you said we are more than these labels -- and yet, I don't feel any sort of collective comraderie. What happened to "citizen"?
And speaking of, here's a call to citizens: stop playing into the sound clips and out-of-context quotes. Do your homework. Research. Seek to understand. Evaluate your sources. (My advice? Turn off CNN, Fox News, and the whole lot of them.) Engage in open-minded discourse and not shouting matches. Evaluate, analyze, interpret, and then persuade. Be like my brother. He's behaving like a citizen.
Maybe, just maybe, discourse can be the instrument of change. Maybe discourse can restore the hope.
It's worth a try.