Saturday, July 30, 2005

How to give a damn

If there’s one thing that people of all political stripes can agree upon, it’s that not enough people care about big-picture issues. As fun and tempting as it is to devote the bulk of one’s mental energy to such TV shows as “Big Brother,” we must never forget that intricate political issues should also be foremost on every citizen’s mind. So why aren’t they? Probably because of such banal wording like, “intricate political issues should also be forefront on every citizen’s mind”—words like those barely register a blip on the passion meter. I have torn socks that are more interesting.

My theory is that people would care more if issues could be presented in more engaging ways. Republicans have already mastered this tactic, allowing for the rise of the current neoconservative philosophy in government. Come on now, do you really think that the majority of Americans think that their deepest religious beliefs should be the law of the land at the cost of freedom? Do most Americans approve of losing their privacy in the name of safety? Would most Americans be in favor of the war in Iraq had it been presented at face value? Probably not on all counts; yet all of these tenets are currently shaping our laws. Why? Because conservatives have been able to present them in ways that get people riled up. Affirmative Action? Call it “racial preference.” Reproductive rights? Call it “baby killing.” Opponents of the PATRIOT Act? Why, they’re unPATRIOTic! The GOP is skilled at shaping complex issues into “real-life” scenarios that give the average person only one “right” stance—their way is the American way, no exceptions.

Progressives must learn how to engage average Americans in the same way, but without resorting to my-way-or-the-highway conclusions. It’s easier than you might think. I offer two hot-button issues and how they could be explained to, say, your average politically apathetic college student:

Supply-side economics: Imagine going to a bar with a group of friends for a round of beers. Everyone pools their money and pays the bartender for the drinks. The only rub is that the bartender declares that all of the beers will go to the biggest and/or fattest person in the group, the principle being that the big person will want to give away the extra beers to his friends. Of course, there’s nothing requiring him to do so, and he’s more than free to just take those beers home and stash them in his refrigerator. Meanwhile, the other people in the group are left holding the bill and never get their drinks. Any wonder, then, why they nicknamed it, “trickle-down economics?”

Privatization of Social Security: Imagine if your parents had scrimped and saved money for your college tuition from the day you were born. Then one day, when you’re 17, they decide that you could handle the money better than they could. So in a grand gesture, your parents give you your entire college tuition in cash. Furthermore, they tell you that it is a good idea to spend a considerable portion of that tuition on a brand new car—after all, when in you’re in school you’re going to need some hot wheels! Never mind that you’ll probably wreck the car next week, and in their fervor your parents will forget to warn you of the necessity of insurance or of any other perils that lie ahead. If you were given unlimited access to your college fund, no strings attached, how would you spend it? Honestly. Even I would be tempted to go at least a little nuts with it. In any case, much of that expenditure is probably going where it will never be seen again. And I’m not talking about the bursar’s office.

Now I know that these examples are neither perfect nor thorough; however, I guarantee you that they will get people talking. And that’s the real purpose.

More examples to come...


Crystal said...

My husband likes to watch the Sunday morning political shows and I use to watch them with him, but now it just makes my head hurt. Most Americans are just tired, we work more hours per week than the people of any other country (in the industrialized nations), there isn't an adequate social support system to assure that everybody has healthcare and daycare for their kids etc., and so the last thing people want to do is spend their leisure time stressing over what's happening in Washington. Yet what happens in Washington has deep effects on our state of life, but we're all just too tired to care.

Ian McGibboney said...

Which is, of course, exactly why we need to care.