The following is part of a series of articles on reimagining politics beyond the pundits. For more, read Liberals Aren’t Un-American. Conservatives Aren’t Ignorant. , Not Everyone Is Out to Get You , and Daring to Accept Our Differences .
Remember the good old days?
Our 44th president was sworn into office after a landslide victory triggered by disgust with the status quo and excitement for real change. A former community organizer and inspirational orator, he looked to have the stuff to heal a divided nation. Business as usual would no longer be an acceptable excuse for legislative gridlock. There would be no sacred cows, no ideas unworthy of consideration, no more of the tired bromides that have defined political discourse since Watergate.
Less than a year into his term, however, President Obama is being vilified on both sides of America’s media-saturated divide. Listen to the right’s verbal bomb throwers and you’d think the republic was on the verge of a top-down socialist revolution. Tune in to the left’s self-righteous blowbags and you’d get the sense Obama is already warming up for the third act of a Shakespearean tragedy, where absolute power can’t help but corrupt absolutely.
So is this the shelf life of hope? Eight months?
It depends on who you pay attention to, the pundits or the public. The Bill O’Reillys and Keith Olbermanns of the world thrive on pseudo-intellectual cynicism and partisan knife fights. It’s in their interests to churn the political waters and convince us that their noise pollution is a true barometer of the nation’s mood.
Step outside either party’s echo chamber, however, and we’re betting you’ll find that the desire for a higher level of conversation and a greater sense of community is swelling across state lines, red and blue. That liberals, conservatives, and libertarians are equally weary of the 24-hour noise channels and do-nothing legislative jockeying that has characterized generations of government. And that on a number of key issues, from health care to civil liberties, there’s room for forward motion.
In fact, a variety of thinkers believe that more and more Americans are anxious to see the end of attack politics, to entertain legitimate difference in opinion rather than demonizing one another. Reasons for this optimism include voting patterns in the 2008 election, shifting demographics across the country, and changing attitudes among a growing number of young voters regarding community service and compromise.
The following stories are designed to help you take advantage of this turning point at both the local and national level. All that’s required is a commitment to open-mindedness and self-criticism and a willingness to trust those you don’t immediately agree with—or even like. In other words, for a few pages at least, just turn off the pundits and really listen.