I was watching some old episodes of The West Wing on the weekend and I came across two scenes that I think epitomize part of the problem with politics today. Both scenes are from Season 2 and the first one is of a Republican lawyer, Ainsley Hayes, speaking with two other Republicans about how the White House offered Ainsley a job. The two Republicans talking to Ainsley aren’t speaking too kindly of their Democratic counterparts.
In the second clip, Ainsley Hayes has accompanied Sam Seaborn to a meeting on Capitol Hill that Sam is to have with Congressional aides. Seaborn is trying to convince these aides (to convince their bosses who are Senators), to vote for a bill.
In the first clip, we see Ainsley have an epiphany of sorts about the people she had met on her interview/tour of the White House. After listening to her fellow Republicans speak negatively about the people she’d met, she stands in their defense. In the second clip, Ainsley, speaking to Republican aides, identifies their true intent — “beat the White House.” Instead of coming together for what was right or for what was good, these aides (and by extension, the Senators), were more interested in finding a way to best the White House (and by extension, the party in power — the Democrats).
One of my favorite clips on the issue of “dueling political ideologies” comes from a comedian, of all places. Chris Rock, while a little vulgar in his description, makes an extremely important point. (Chris Rock debunks the two-party system, false left-right paradigm.) Because of the vulgarity, I have chosen to link to the clip. I can assure that the only vulgarity in the clip is Rock’s swearing.
In the clip, Rock purports that people can get too tied down to a political position based on their affiliation to a party (or an ideology). People who call themselves Democrats, before even hearing the issue, sometimes, decide that they are going to fall on the more liberal side of the argument. Likewise, people who call themselves Republicans, before even hearing the issue, sometimes, decide they are going to fall on the more conservative side of the argument. I have no issue with people choosing to be view an issue from one slant or the other, but what irks me (and Chris Rock) is when people make up their mind about something before they hear the issue!
For example, I can’t possibly think that I’ve received the full scope of an issue if I just watch MSNBC (a progressive news outlet). Likewise, I can’t expect to have received the full scope of an issue if I just watch FOX News (a conservative news outlet). As well, it is important that people who watch these networks understand that in the news they receive from them, they are consuming a particular slant.
I understand that there is a compulsion by some to label everything in the visible (and non-visible) parts of the universe and that in doing so, of course, there needs to be names for political ideologies. Moreover, having names for political parties makes it easier to group together people who are behind a certain cause, but is it really necessary? Do we really have to have a “party” of people who call themselves the Democrats or the Republicans? Can’t we just have a Congress full of Independents? Can’t we just elect people based on their judgment, not their particular stance on when a fetus becomes a baby?
Again, I understand how difficult this is to imagine — electing a politician not based on issues, but on judgment. And I understand that the way that the current structure of the political landscape (of most countries) is such that politicians are forced into joining party X or party Y, if they want to work to have their issues (that aren’t necessarily mainstream) championed. However, I would like to point out the likes of Elizabeth May of the Green Party of Canada and Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as two outliers that show that it is possible to get elected without being affiliated with one of the mainstream parties of a country.