A while ago, Sean Penn and Kid Rock got together to celebrate America. That’s no small feat since they have nothing in common politically. The latter is actively helping Mitt Romney and the former probably thinks Barack Obama is what the U.S. has to settle with in lieu of a more leftist alternative. But joining forces is what they did for this ten-minute “public service” film that opens with the pair hurling every insult at each other that the two sides could come up with. That’s followed by a love fest where they celebrate everything that unites Americans. Far too corny to have an impact, the film also features two stars that few Americans are likely to care that much about. But the message is clear and likable – a difference of opinion should be respected, as well as cooperation.
However, that’s not exactly the situation we’re having right now. The race for the U.S. presidency has tightened after Obama’s weak performance in the first debate, which is only making both sides dig in deeper and ratcheting up the hatred against one another. The vice-presidential debate last Thursday is a clear example of that. The deeply unfair, clumsily edited ad above shows how Republicans viewed the debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan – in their mind, the Vice President bullied the Congressman and laughed at his sincere efforts to talk policy. That comes as a surprise to Democrats who saw the debate as Biden making up for Obama’s lackadaisical approach two weeks ago; to them, Biden was an aggressive fact-checker who refused to let Ryan get away with his lack of budget specifics and his distorted view of how the world looks. Democrats simply appreciated Biden’s flirt with the base (isn’t that what VP candidates are supposed to do?) and Republicans were shocked at his behavior.
How two sides can view the same event in such starkly different ways is highly interesting, and I don’t have to go any further than myself to notice the gap. I want four more years of Obama, and I was virtually cheering as I watched the debate, fully enjoying Biden’s no-holds-barred performance. The fact that Rush Limbaugh called Biden the very symbol of a “mean, rude and disrespectful” Democratic Party is funny, cause that’s how every liberal views Limbaugh and his relationship with the GOP. I think Rush is simply admiring Joe in secret.
This is all undeniably fun for those of us who have picked a side. But independents are not amused. The middle ground always gives way to either left or right in various ways. One clear example was recently presented by TIME Magazine in a cover story labeled “The Fact Wars”, which states that even though everybody’s talking about fact checkers they don’t really have much of an impact. Campaigns simply don’t care if their lies are revealed or not; all that matters is that voters listen to their message on radio and TV… and people do listen. Just visit any rally and you’ll find plenty of people who believe that Obama is a Communist Muslim and that Romney wants to kill the American car industry. Politicians who choose the middle road are generally shunned, including former Florida Governor Charlie Crist and former Senator Arlen Specter, who died yesterday. Even Senator Jim Webb, who’s campaigning for Obama, is hardly an icon to liberals who find his Blue Dog credentials suspect.
The differences may be stark, and those who have picked a side should not feel ashamed; ideology must be an important part of the political debate. But the constant lack of respect for those who seek middle ground is annoying.