Monday, October 29, 2012

Come Again?

I was in my mid 20's before the terms Democrat and Republican meant anything to me, let alone liberal or conservative. I had heard those terms plenty times before, but really didn't associate them with anything in particular. Retrospectively, I feel like not knowing made me more naive about how things work in some cases, but perhaps more informed with the details of actual issues.

The concept of a political spectrum doesn't make me cringe in itself, so much as how people associate so closely to either end without really educating themselves on the matters at hand. Too often, it feels like fanatical commitment to being a member of group or reciting bumper sticker cliches, perhaps without knowing what you are really saying. I am sure my view will prove wrong in a number of instances. But it's a feeling I haven't been able to shake.

Part of my attitude comes from how I consumed media from the time I graduated high school through my mid 20''s, in particular news. I took to papers for their strongest attributes. The Wall Street Journal was by far the best for business (it's counterpart, the Financial Times, had a more worldly, comprehensive, story-like take on the markets). The New York Times was best for social, cultural, people, and general interest issues. And while I was wholly ignorant on political matters, I referred to the Washington Post for politics when I had the money. Sometimes I would watch CNN.

These were always supplemented by a local paper, usually the Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, the Trenton Times, or one of the various local papers available for the lower Connecticut region. I wanted a New York only paper, and occasionally referred to some pink thing that I think was called The Sun. I tried the New York Post a few times but to me it read like Maxim magazine met a tabloid: a lot of shock and scandal factor and bikinis, but  little in the way of knowledge (it's sports coverage, however, was excellent). I'm not sure if that has changed. When I got into the working world I watched Bloomberg TV in the mornings and listed to Bloomberg radio in my car (I had interned at Bloomberg during undergrad).

I was put on to Fox and MSNBC when I was maybe 26. And I had two initial reactions. Firstly, that their main purpose was to serve as counterparts to one another. Second, that the amount of knowledge gained for my time given paled in comparison to most forms of media I consumed. I heard a lot of noise, but could never be sure there was much to listen to.

I kind of feel the same way when I hear people talking about politics. I get the distinct impression people spend more time trying to pin down how conservative or liberal you or your argument is, and almost no effort trying to decipher the merits of what you are saying.

Sometimes it bores me. Sometimes I'm indifferent or annoyed. Sometimes it drives me batty. But mostly I find myself putting in far too much effort trying to dig substance out of all these predetermined notions.

I prefer the boring as can be C-Span. For some reason politicians tend to be far more plain spoken there. Part of it is probably time: you can fit a lot more into 30 - 120 minutes than you can in 30 - 600 seconds. And I suppose part of it is that they are usually explaining things to people - often professionals, politicians, government officials, judges, students, academia, or press - who are already somewhat familiar with the issues. So you get detail you might not hear otherwise.  If I don't understand something I heard or saw I go to the library or do a search on Google (the results of which I only trust so much).  Usually, I find research driven by the internet and books work better together than apart.

The whole how liberal or conservative is your stance thing feels secondary to me. I understand that it matters. I respect it if that's your position, or if most of what you say can more easily be attributed to one side than the other (from what I'm told I look and feel like a conservative, but speak more liberally on social matters - I don't care much, I just try to think the problem through). But it isn't the beginning and end, the answer, to everything. To me it makes complete sense if you are a politician. Otherwise, why are you putting your complete and full faith in a sales pitch? Supplement all that with some homework of your own.

I don't know if this post had a point. But the extremity of it all bothers me.