Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am

    One of the great things about American presidential elections is that candidates get together and debate the issues. Thus, each side gets to hear what the candidate is saying. And undecided voters then determine who wins.

    The trouble is, after the election, the two partisan sides retreat back into their bunkers, and they don’t even hear what the other side is saying, much less consider the other side’s points of view on the issues.

    I have friends on both of the extreme ends of these dueling political realities. Increasingly, each of them wants their news and information to be spoon-fed by sources that see the world exactly like they see it. Neither of them wants objective analysis of the issues. It’s not that they can’t handle the truth. It’s that they don’t want the truth.

    I know many businesspeople who are conservative. All day long. They start off their morning reading The Wall Street Journal. They drive to work listening to a local conservative radio talk show. They are loyal "dittoheads" of Rush Limbaugh in the afternoon. They catch another local radio talk show host on the drive home.

    And once home, they turn on Fox News, where Sean Hannity informs them that President Barack Obama is an evil socialist. They buy into the grassy knoll notion that all "mainstream media outlets" have a liberal bias.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I have extremely liberal friends. They wake up listening to National Public Radio. They monitor Air America radio online, where they also read the op-ed pages of The New York Times or The Washington Post. A couple times a day, they check the Daily Kos and The Huffington Post web sites.

    They drive home and turn on MSNBC.

    Too many people on both ends of the spectrum have decided to close their eyes and cover their ears to anything that contradicts their notions of the political universe.

    We have all too often retreated to partisan trenches that blind us from any critical analysis of this very complex point in American history.

    The conservative extremists say – and they’re validated by local Limbaugh wannabes – that Obama is destroying the very capitalistic system that is at the core of the American experience. They believe Obama wants to remake America in the image of Western Europe. They are frightened by the notion of a federal stimulus plan. They cannot for the life of them understand how Obama won the election in the first place, much less how nearly three-fourths of the American people still approve of the job he is doing today.

    The liberal extremists say Obama is cleaning up the historically unprecedented messes he inherited, at home and abroad. They say that the American government has increasingly swung at the behest of large corporations since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, and the erosion of regulatory oversight led to the excesses and the self-destruction of the nation’s banking system today. They say it’s long past time to rein in those excesses. They also are relishing the notion of a president who says America does not torture people.

    The liberals say former President George Bush drove this country straight into the ditch. The conservatives say Obama then covered it gasoline and lit a match.

    Here’s a clarion call. If your major source of news and political insight is Keith Olbermann, Arianna Huffington, Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck, you are not pursuing the truth, which cannot be condensed into pithy, neatly compartmentalized little soundbytes by people with preconceived agendas.

    Obama is not "The One," the omnipotent Jedi knight who has the answers to all questions. He also is not an evil man who is out to destroy all that is right about America.

    As long as we remain entrenched in our respective caves, er, camps, where the messages we hear are pre-filtered to our liking, we will never be able to critically assess the complex challenges that are before us.
    With so much at stake, it is time for an adult discussion with honest discourse to rule the day.


    Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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