When Will We Learn to be Adults?

I have been thinking about this for a while. There is a reason a whole bunch of our politicians talk to the American people like we are stupid. There's a reason we don't get treated like adults.  Bluntly, it's because we don't act like adults.  This is not to cast the net widely on every American, of course, but vast swaths of our politically loud act as impatient children or hostile hate and fear-mongers rather than informed citizens. On the right, you have these malicious, hostile hate groups and fear mongers who want President Obama to fail at any cost. On the left, we have the impatient, spoiled children throwing tantrums every other minute because they're not getting a certain thing in a certain legislation, or because they are not getting something fast enough.

Let me say at the outset that there is no moral equivalence between the loud left and loud right, of course.  There is no moral equivalence between vicious hate mongers and impatient children.

All day long, we hear from the loud right that President Obama is a Muslim Kenyan witch doctor who wants to kill grandma and end America as we know it. All day long, we hear from the professional whiners on the left that President Obama is a sellout corporatist betrayer of the true blue.  The Tea Party thinks the individual mandate in health reform is "government takeover of healthcare" and now the government is going to determine what coverage you get, and what gets paid for, and when you must pull the plug on your ailing parent. Ideologues on the left think the individual mandate coupled with the absence of the public option is the government corporatizing itself and delivering Americans to the lion's mouth of having to buy "junk insurance" from the evil private companies with no protections.  The vicious, violent right encouraged their supporters to throw bricks through the windows of those who voted for health reform.  The childish keyboard activists ostensibly on the left threatened to primary progressives who vote for health reform.

The bought-and-paid-for-by-the-banks right and those they could fool tried to take down financial reform because, ZOMG, it was an affront - an affront I tell you - to free markets (I mean the freedom of the banks and financial institutions to screw us over again and again).  Never mind that those reforms are now in place to protect the retirement nest eggs of the 60-something white guys that populate the Tea Party and to protect them from being sold financial bills of goods they do not understand (seeing as how they can be sold pretty much any bill of goods).  The impatient left declared the most significant banking reforms since the reforms instituted after the great depression (and dismantled systematically by Republicans beginning in the Reagan era) "not good enough," "too weak," and, predictably, a sellout to banks!  Never mind that the position they are advocating left's darling (including mine) Elizabeth Warren to be appointed to would never have existed without the financial reform bill.

The racist right have gone after the president with vicious, malicious, racist attacks: demanding his birth certificate (which has been available for years), attacking his wife and children on things they have never attacked a white President for, and complaining that black people and others of color should stop complaining about racism now that we've elected a black President. All the while, the whining left has pretended that being the first black president of the United States does not present a whole new unique set of challenges for the President in addition to all the challenges he signed up for.  I will be perfectly clear about it: the racial insensitivity and the lack of consideration of those challenges on the loud left has been astounding to me.

As I said, there is no moral equivalence between mal-intended, often-violent, racist attacks on this President from the right and the tantrum-throwing umbrage on the whining left.  None whatsoever.

But both are missing a critical component of adult debate that is crucial to a democracy: nuance. I never counted on the right to have it much. But I expect much more of the left. On the left, we are supposed to be free thinkers, civil debaters and to let facts inform our opinion rather than the other way around. Doing so requires the understanding and thoughtful consideration of nuance, whatever the issue at hand may be. Knee-jerk reactions such as we seem to have often on the left blogosphere are antithetical to nuance and thus to democratic discourse.  Broad brushes without examining the nuances and details may be a lot of things, but they do not help build an informed citizenry in which all political power is rightly inherent.

When we scream about how the removal of a single proposal from a broad reform bill that will still help 32 million people means the bill should be killed, we are not helping build an informed discourse.  When we assert, without solid evidence, nefarious plots to kill the public option by the White House despite the President's repeated statements of support for it, we are not helping build an evidence-based society.  When we are so hung up on one interpretation of preventing "too big to fail" (break-up authority) that we don't look at the entire financial regulatory reform bill and its benefits, including resolution authority, we're not serving ourselves or our peers well.  When we're declaring the bill weak and unworthy based on that, we're doing a disservice to reason.  When we are oblivious to the unique challenges this president faces - especially ones due to his race - we are simply not paying attention.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.  In fact, democracy is not a sport. Democracy is informed consent of the governed. Democracy is not simply a government elected by a vote of the people. Democracy is a citizenry - certainly those who want to be heard on specific issues and influence public opinion - thriving to be better informed, not louder. Democracy is dissent, but it its informed dissent. Democracy is not trying to fit the facts to some pre-ordained narrative. It is, rather, the wisdom that results from an informed citizenry to let the facts guide the narrative.

Our founders strove to build a more perfect union. Us liberals, we believe that also means a more progressive union. We cannot build a more progressive union if we are too busy establishing our narrative to be the "correct" narrative.  In order to build that progress, we must be informed citizens.  We must be adults.  We must be wary of knee-jerk reactions, and we must be willing to see issues with perspective and context.  We must learn to deal with nuance.

Our politicians will stop treating us like children when we stop acting like them.