The Fallacy of Both Sides in American Politics and Policymaking

All too often in our political discourse we hear about both sides. For years, our news style has furthered this construct, exemplified by the blue and red maps showing presidential election results. Then, many people align themselves with a side because they perceive a particular party embodies all the policy positions they hold.

When I was in journalism school, I learned that certain newspapers were adamant about maintaining objectivity by deploying a standard structure to frame debates in terms of proponents say X while opponents say Z. In recent years, this approach has come under attack for legitimizing viewpoints that might be considered unfit to print. For the sake of argument, you could have a story about National Pi Day celebration that explains how pi is used to calculate the circumference of a circle. If following that proponents/opponents format, should the article include comments from someone who argues that the diameter of a circle is irrelevant to the calculation of its circumference? As absurd as that sounds, do you see examples of people with fact-less notions being given credence or latitude for the sake of fairness?

I’m sure examples o’ plenty come to mind, along with ways the dissemination of false information has become harmful.

The insistence on and furtherance of dichotomies is of no use to people who make distinctions across a variety of topics that are argued against or embraced by political parties. Voters are supposed to pick between two parties based on the platforms on several policy areas. Abortion, guns, freedom of religion/First Amendment, income tax levels, healthcare access, free markets vs. market intervention, LGBT rights, immigration, etc.

Worse yet, the binary mindset breaks each of these complex issues down into yes or no. No abortion or no restrictions, no guns or no control, low tax or high tax, etc. Then, you have the contradictions. When does one man’s freedom of religion impose on the rights of someone else and should that be allowed? Why would a party that used to promote free markets rally around tariffs?

So, nuance is no longer allowed in any of these areas. Critical thinking is out of style. And then you have the so-called tribalism.

When then presidential candidate Barack Obama derisively said that some people clung to their guns and their religion, I was pretty surprised a very smart guy would suggest, even inadvertently, that the First and Second amendments are somehow not worth holding onto. On the flip side, many conservatives have developed negative stereotypes of liberals; see rampant use of the word “libtard.”

It’s gotten to the point where people feel compelled to pounce on anything done or suggested by the other side. Let’s take a small example. Our new Harris County Judge (executive officer) was criticized by an official from neighboring Chambers County because she spoke Spanish during a news conference addressing a petrochemical conflagration on the ship channel that created a massive plume of toxic smoke. I don’t live near the Houston Ship Channel, but could see the plume from home. It certainly stands to reason that a public official communicate as broadly as possible to a diverse community. Frankly, I don’t know if there was a Vietnamese translator, but there most certainly should be here.

Obviously, her speaking Spanish touched off concerns about illegal immigration and protecting American (Anglo) culture. Sigh. Never mind public safety! I don’t defend Judge Hidalgo blindly because I am a pro-illegal immigration Democrat “libtard” or some such. Actually, I voted to re-elect the Republican incumbent she defeated. I recently watched news coverage with her misspeaking about criminal justice at a county Commissioners’ Court meeting and being corrected by the district attorney, who is also a Democrat.

For us to move forward as a society, we have got to get back to basics. Regardless of party affiliation, public officials must be held to account if they misstate facts. They must be corrected when they purposely push disinformation (you know who I am talking about who was not exonerated on the question of possible obstruction of justice).

But it’s not just the politicians, people. We the people need to get a grip on reality too. For instance, when I have spoken in favor of Second Amendment rights, I hear about the mass shootings and how we must ban semi-automatic weapons. When I respond by noting that a school shooting nearby was perpetrated in a deadly manner with a handgun and a shotgun, I wonder if I am inadvertently making an argument for banning those too. The reality is most gun deaths come from homicides, suicides and accidents with handguns, not the mass casualty events with AR-15s. And every time, we hear that the shooter was a recluse, a weirdo, a person with mental health issues, etc. I suggest we research the mental health issues that contribute to making someone a mass murder instead of dictating exactly what kinds of guns law-abiding citizens may or may not own.

There are many serious issues that require immediate and substantive discussion and action, including, but not limited to, examining (1) how to replace the Affordable Care Act if it is nixed, (2) how to enforce immigration law in the current circumstances (I’d note that a wall is not stopping busloads of people showing up to claim asylum when they might be seeking work rather than running from political persecution), and (3) fill in the blank. Which public policy issue do you think requires an in-depth, factual reexamination on a bipartisan or nonpartisan basis? The only way out of our impasses is to drop the partisanship and focus on the facts to find solutions.

The Sage Leopard, thesageleopard@gmail.com