Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Time to Listen?

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2012 at 9:16 AM

In the hour before President Obama was to take the stage in Charlotte to accept the candidacy of his party, the thunderstorm crashing through Memphis took out power to my house. So unfortunately, I wasn’t able to watch the president’s speech as it happened.

Which is a much better excuse than what I would have had to use otherwise, namely: I was watching a DVRed episode of “Project Runway” and didn’t stop it when the speech began.

I did catch bits of the convention – a metaphor-crazed Michigan governor here, an NRA-appeasing Montana governor there – but ultimately, I just didn’t have the time. Or, okay, the interest. As much as I enjoy having my opinions echoed back at me by authority figures, I don’t really clear room in my schedule for it. And, based on the ratings for both parties’ parties, neither did most voters.

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Now that debate season is underway and the presidential campaign is in the home-stretch, my attention has waned even more, even though I admit it’s not a great idea to zone out now. No matter whose side you’re on, your guy is on shaky ground.

I wouldn’t claim to be the World’s Busiest Person, but I’ve got some stuff going on. I’m the parent of two kids in two different schools. I work full-time. I volunteer a few hours a week. I’m in one-and-a-half book clubs. And so while I feel a deep stake in this year’s election, I can’t honestly say I’m following it with any type of concerted effort. It’s just not part of my day.  

“But waaaaait,” I hear you thinking (yes, opinion columnists are psychic, it’s what makes us so deeply insightful. And humble), “This political crap is everywhere!” But is it really? One of the most memorable quotes I’ve seen from Samuel Halpern, infamously shit-saying father of author/Twitterer Justin Halpern, was, “You don’t read news, you read stuff you agree with.” And that, I’m afraid, accurately sums up most discourse this year. Thanks to Facebook and the joy of linking, it’s possible to go through your day seeing things only from the perspective you already hold. On the off chance something in your “news” feed bothers you, you can literally hide the offender. And even this limited mode of discussion is starting to wear on people. As the election looms closer, more and more posts appear with the sentiment, “Let’s just not talk about it, okay?”    

I understand that urge, and combined with my generally lackadaisical attitude, it’s easy for me to respect it. But deep in the back of my guilty-Lifetime-watching mind, I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We should talk about it. Not just in enclaves of same-thinking peers, but with everybody. Sure, there’s a lot of ranting on both sides, but I’ve also seen clearly expressed opinions that dissent from my own, not from cable news talking heads but from people I grew up with and respect. Like the career Naval officer in Bahrain who feels like Democrats infantilize the military (sort of saw his point there) or the mother of young children turned off by Biden’s (probably all-too familiar) petulance. It may not change my vote, but it hopefully makes me a little bit less of a one-way monkey (“Project Runway” joke? Anybody?) when it comes to my overall perspective.

The televised debates have been a cufflinked form of bloodsport, with fans poised on either side to cheer on their man and see all exchanges as points for their own team. But maybe in the days that follow this week’s round, we should try to put down our giant foam (middle) fingers and talk about the things that really matter – how our lives work, what we need to keep ourselves and our family safe and healthy.

Or better yet, maybe we should just listen. Because after all this is over, half of us are going to be disappointed, and somehow, we’re all going to have to find a way to make it work.

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