Friday, February 25, 2011

Our two-party politics are like Pro Wrestling

I'm sure somebody has made this comparison before, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me the many parallels between politics in the U.S. and Pro Wrestling (what we used to call "Big Time Wrestling" when I was a kid).


In both cases, each player assumes a role, often an overstated one - a character. At the height of Wrestling's popularity, when a Pro Wrestler stepped into the ring, there was an immediate visceral reaction of the crowd - jeers and cheers, and even tears sometimes. Hulk Hogan, the clean cut, pro-USA face would square off against the evil Russians. "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan made his point with a 2x4 and waving an American flag. The good guys and bad guys have changed, but pro Wrestling still works like this. The story is basic: good vs. evil - more importantly, it is base, entirely feeding on emotion, that of supporters and detractors. It doesn't matter if a character is hated or loved - it only matters that they stir powerful sentiments, one way or the other.

This is exactly what we see in U.S. politics. If you want to get a strong reaction, just utter names like Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, or Dick Cheney. And it goes beyond those in government too. If you want to really get people riled up, mention Rush Limbaugh, Al Sharpton, Glenn Beck, or Michael Moore.

These figures conjure an immediate and intense reaction. It doesn't matter what these people are for, their detractors are going to be against it. And this applies equally to the left and right.

Whether Nancy Pelosi, Michele Bachmann, Barney Frank, or Mitch McConnell, they all seem to be playing a very specific character, one that seems to, at times, be speaking more to their opposition than to their fans. It's hard to find people that really love Pelosi, even on the left, but it's easy to find people on the right that find her utterly repulsive - their rage comes through just speaking of her. The same can be said regarding Michele Bachmann for those on the left.

The issues don't matter when you're talking about these extreme characters. It only matters who came up with the idea and who it is promoting it. And, in fact, no one really looks too closely at the actual voting records anyway, except on the really extremely emotional issues like abortion, gay-rights, and such heated topics. What no one notices are the many quieter issues, where both the parties, all the characters on both sides pass bill after bill supporting special-interests, the super-rich, at the peril of the middle-class and poor, like tax-cuts for the super-rich, bailouts for Wall Street bankers, wars that send billions of middle-class tax dollars to Halliburton and KPG, and healthcare legislation that favors insurance companies. Yes, even Democrats vote for these same bills too, sometimes under (simulated) protest, but eventually all this stuff gets a YEAH vote from Democrats too.

They all play the role of their defined character, to stir up the emotions, mostly for the sake of those that hate them, while quietly voting the same as their counterparts at the end of the day.

Sometimes this comes out. One in-your-face example was the bailouts. Both sides voted for them and yet both sides use rhetoric to blame the other - and each side has been able to successfully convince their supports that the OTHER side was the cause of the bailouts - but both sides voted FOR them folks, remember? Diane Feinstein's office, just one example, was inundated with calls opposed to the bailouts - 93% opposed them, but she voted for them anyway, telling her constituents they were just "confused".

Even when it's in our face like this, we seem to just revert to business as usual, and seldom hold these monsters accountable - by voting them out.

Nowhere is logic or rationale - we have WWE type characters playing to the most base fears and emotions. That's what stirs people. Once you sink your claws into their base emotions, they don't need logic anymore - they will seek out and find the "rationale" they need for that position and filter out all opposing arguments, no matter their merit, or basis in fact. On the Internet it is easy to find information to support any given crazy position and equally easy to filter out any information that you don't like.

Sometimes it looks like these characters, like Sarah Palin and Barney Frank, exist more to stir up the other side than anything else. That math works. As long as there are enough voters hating one side, there will be enough votes for the opposing side. This is most evidenced by how voters speak of choosing the lesser evil - most people end up voting against the other guy, not voting for anyone.

This driver gets so powerful that people become their own worst enemy. If you consider how some of the nation's poorest people endorse hard-line issues that help the super-rich at their own expense - it's because the other side is even worse, on the grounds of them not being god-fearing Christians or other such emotional basis. We have these same people calling teachers "greedy" while Wall Street bankers are "important" - all because San Franciscans and East Coast elites are so easy to hate.

Ever notice how the issues that have the least monetary impact get the loudest arguments, with both sides entering into what are practically screaming matches - all for theater, establishing their character's role, while not having much impact to anything significant (especially not financially significant), while some of the issues with the greatest potential impact are mostly radio-silent, with votes taken on weird days at weird times, and with almost no debate.

There was almost no media outcry or debate on the house floor about the Iraq war or the Wall Street bailouts. While issues such as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), a Ground Zero Mosque, or a House resolution to protect Christmas (to say nothing of Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods), receive all the media attention. While these issues may be important, they really have little impact, one way or the other, on money and power, so they are terrific places for politicians on both sides to "take a stand" - to go over the top to bring out the nature of their character using the most theatrics possible. And they are issues where the vote can match the rhetoric because, at the end of the day, these issues have little impact on those at the top in control (applies to both parties) so they don't really care a whole lot how their puppets members vote. These kinds of fake issues are wonderful for both sides. They let the characters really play up their role, without any cost to their power.

The so-called "Bush tax-cuts" and the 2008 Wall Street bailout (AKA Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008) really highlight this point. With the bailout, the GOP staged theater showing how they opposed the bill, but in the end, sold out and enough of them voted for it and the bill passed. We saw the same thing with the tax cuts for the richest Americans. At first, Democrats made all kinds of noise, but ultimately, they pretended to "compromise" and voted for the exact same bill they so passionately opposed a few days earlier.

It's hard to imagine that there isn't somebody in charge of this. It all seems so well orchestrated. While some members of congress are pretty obvious shills, it doesn't really require Mitch McConnell and Barney Frank to even know they are just playing a role. It probably is not that hard to find people that mostly believe their own rhetoric and think they are "doing the right thing" but sometimes have to step in line with the party leaders when it's time to tally the votes, in the name of compromise and "good sense," even if it is in conflict with their own rhetoric. But somebody had to seek out and find those characters and help them get elected, or put them in a prominent position of power or place them on a popular radio or TV talk show.

I hate to suggest a conspiracy, but it's hard to believe this just happens naturally. And there is the question of who wins and following the money.

We still get to vote - and I still believe our elections are mostly not fraudulent - we just have to stop doing what they want us to do. We must look past the rhetoric and not get caught up in emotional trigger-words. Look at what our elected criminals vote for, what they actually do, and the impact to ordinary Americans, not what they say or how they say it.

This information is out there - it can be hard to find among all the misinformation, but it's there. Don't take Glenn Beck's or Rachel Maddow's word for it.

I agree with the Tea Party on one thing - vote the bums out - we just might not be talking about the same bums. Somewhere in there may be a few decent apples, particularly in the House where some folks can perhaps run under the radar for a while - but ultimately they all need to answer to their party's leadership - and so they are screwed... and we are screwed. I suggest we begin by simply voting out everyone that voted for bailouts. You have to start somewhere.

1 comments:

Ben said...

Perfectly put. I've said that exact same thing numerous times in comparison. Couldn't agree with you more, brilliant post.