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Politics ≠ College Football

I realize that many of my posts lately have been antagonistic towards the political process. In many ways I hate that but in other ways I have become convinced that moderate America needs to begin making it known in no uncertain terms that intelligent, reasonable, respectful discourse and independent thought is what will be our game in the United States. Not slander, backbiting, fear-mongering, lying, bandwagoneering, unyielding party allegiance, and ridiculous characterizations.

As we lead up to one of the great college football rivalries in the nation tomorrow (OU and Texas), I am realizing more and more that this athletic tradition may be what is teaching us how to behave when it comes to the leadership of our towns, states, and nation. As you know, I am a huge Sooner fan. In 1999 I became an OU student, where they immediately begin infusing in my head the deep traditions and beliefs of the institution. This is, of course, a normal part of identifying with anything that is truly great, such as the University of Oklahoma. One of the deeply held traditions at OU is the intense rivalry with the University of Texas. It infuses everything. The upside down Longhorn logo is almost as much a university brand as the OU logo itself is. The bottom line is that you HATE Texas. You hate them now, you hate them tomorrow, you hate them for life. When someone asks you the time, you tell them, along with "...and Texas still sucks." But the thing about a rivalry like this is... you don't hate them for any particular reason. It's just that all the people who came before you hate Texas and therefore you hate them too. To ask "Why?" about something like this is to completely miss the point. Hating Texas is something you do simply for the sake of hating Texas. And everybody loves it. All of this is true on the side of Texas as well. It's what makes the great meeting in Dallas every year so incredible and dramatic.

But here's the reality of it too... IT DOESN'T MEAN ANYTHING. At the end of the day, especially after the yearly game, you go home, and whether you won or lost, nothing important is affected. The whole thing is just a fun ego contest. You trash the other side just for the heck of feeling better about yourself, and this is okay because it's just stupid football.

Unfortunately, for many this mindset does not end with meaningless athletic rivalries. And tragically, this has become readily apparent in the world of politics.

The function of goverment is one of the most important issues on the face of the earth. Humanity rises and falls on the effectiveness, wisdom, and intelligence of governments. Studying world history is essentially the practice of learning about the story of local and national governance. Therefore, it would seem that the process of creating, maintaining, and running government would be one of the most sober, serious, and deeply thoughtful things that modern humans would do, especially in a society that is as advanced as America's.

Instead, the whole process is run like a giant, raucus college football rivalry. Sides are immediately drawn up. Millions of people who were trained to cheer for a particular team years ago don the T-shirts and signs and immediately begin the effort to out-scream and ridicule whosoever happens to be on the "other side." This is regardless of whoever the players on their team are or how well they are playing. Enemies are immediately identified and labeled as "dangerous" or "stupid." The trash talking begins and never stops. "Conservatives" mock "liberals" and vice versa. People are lumped together and disposed of both politically and personally if they happen to lean in a somewhat different ideological direction.

And the labels. The labels always trump actual ideas. The worst of the worst, sadly, are "liberal" and "conservative." Two of the most misused and abused labels on earth - both of which carry almost no meaning whatsoever anymore and have been relegated to convenient political tools or weapons, depending on the circumstance. Others that fly about like poisoned arrows are "socialist," "terrorist," "right-winger," "evangelical," "special interest," "partisan," "elitist," "big business," "out of touch," and "Washington insider." All convenient, easy-to-use, loaded words that quicky reduce complex issues and identities to fast soundbites and make it simple to discredit anyone at anytime.

Fashioning government is a complex, vitally important job of the nation's people. Is this not a responsibility that should inspire a quest for unity, dialogue, cooperation, understanding, and intelligent discussion? Does this not call for a serious examination and discernment of all ideas? Instead I see things like a friend's Facebook status that actually invited people who supported the "other" presidential candidate to "get in his face" because he enjoys seeing "ill-tempered [insert political ideology here]s." Seriously? Is this honestly what we're hungry for when it comes to the process of deciding our most important leaders? Are we really just interested in standing on our side of the stadium and taunting the other spectators just to get a rise out of them?

One thing about being a die hard OU or Texas fan and hating the other team so much is that it requires absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the other side. And that's okay. Very few OU students have ever even been near Austin, let alone the campus of UT. The same goes for UT students of Norman and OU. Nobody expects fandom to be a result of a deep, intellectual, informed decision made by weighing the merits of two institutions of higher learning. We just see the good things about our school and our team that we love and assume that that creates an automatic superiority and that anything different must be inferior.

But if we are "liberals" or "Democrats" and spend our days throwing stones at the "right-wingers" without seriously considering the deep implications and goals of more conservative social or economic policy, does that not rob us of ideas that may possibly actually have some ring of validity in keeping America on a responsible track? Or if we are "conservatives" or "Republicans" who detest the vile "liberals" who seek to make America a moral free-for-all and a "socialist" state, does that not keep us from considering real ideas that have shaped America for the good? By blindly casting insults to pre-defined groups of nasty ideologues, do we not all rob ourselves of what could actually be a beneficial give and take between a lot of ideas that ultimately balance each other out for the greatest common good possible? Is it not possible to stand outside the walls of an entreched ideology and continually examine the merits of ideas as you experience them? To me this exemplifies independent thinking, which is something that has played a massive role in building America into such an incredible nation.

But political parties, in the quest to conglomerate resources among those who are ideologically similar, have instead involved into homogeneous power machines. For example, the quest becomes not for the American people to get the best person into the White House, but for the Democrats to get a Democrat into the White House. This was the great problem facing a divided Democratic party after the hotly contested primaries. Thus, the language becomes about advancing the cause of the party, not of the collective will of the American people. This same language would have come from the Republicans had John McCain had any real competition from within that party. Thus, for many people, the most important goal is to either get a Republican or a Democrat into the White House. This means that ultimately, the identity of that person as an individual is actually less important than their party affiliation. We have actually seen this play out in very specific ways in this election. Had Barack Obama made a VP choice of a Democrat who was just like Sarah Palin, the Democrats would have found every reason to accept her and promote her while the Republicans would have found every reason to discredit her fitness for office. As it is, very little true, independent reasoning has taken place here. The party line has become the deciding force in how identity is shaped. This is exactly how big, crazy university rivalries, which are ultimately meaningless, are created and sustained.

I realize that it is difficult to always independently assess every idea and individual. Things like political parties, loaded labels, ideological loyalty, and simple punditry make decision making much easier or simply remove the labor of decision making altogether - and this is what many people truly want. When what you know or believe or have always done is obviously superior, why examine anything else? Just tow the line and everything will be great.

But, unfortunately, the stakes are much higher than this. In the end, no one will care if the Oklahoma Sooners or the Texas Longhorns have the better record. But everyone must care about the future and direction of our nation - care enough to truly examine all of the ideas and options and make informed, independent decisions about what is best. We can't leave the future of this nation up to the protection of ego or shallow self-promotion. And we can't let the process that takes us into the coming years be determined by who screams the loudest or fights the dirtiest. We are better than that. Let's prove it.

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Blogger Jessica - 6:53 AM

The hard part these days is that neither candidate really stands for anything. Trying to fit into one extreme or another is too dangerous so they just say what they need to say to move on to the next rally.

It's incredibly different (and annoying) being a moderate who sees good and bad about BOTH candidates. Who doesn't have blinders on that bleed liberal or conservative. And there seems to be few out there to have an intelligent, rational, emotionless conversation about issues and candidates. Usually when I tell someone I haven't decided who to vote for, I get overly-passionate rhetoric, pleading for me not to vote for one or the other.

Sigh...it's almost election time and Texas still sucks. Boomer Sooner! :)    

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