Sunday, November 2, 2008

Political Labels--worth less than a penny

I don't write about politics; however, we are coming quite close to national elections and everywhere I go it would seem that there are two questions of such pressing concern that even strangers will ask them. 1--Are you a democrat or a republican? 2--Who are you voting for? The first question falls squarely into a topic I cover in my Advanced Expository Writing class: labels.

There are some practical areas where labeling people may have some use. There are also areas where labeling serves no practical purpose, but instead is used as a way of stereotyping people or forcing them into a mould which may or may not fit them. "Democrat" and "Republican" are two such labels. I'm with Mark Skousen when he says: "The three main reasons why labels are best avoided in political discussions are: (1) Labels are often an inaccurate description of a person's or group's views. (2) Labels often become pejorative terms used in character assassination (3) Labels put people into political boxes and keep them there, preventing individuals from objectively considering alternative opinions and changing their minds." Go ahead, I dare you, come up with a clear cut definition for those two terms that will stand up to every use and in every case. It can't be done.

The following are some political labels that are commonly applied to groups and individuals:
Left-wing liberal
Religious right

Social Democrat
Soccer mom
Out of touch
Flaming liberal
Silent majority
Moral majority
Heartland centrist
Special interest lobby
Security moms
Bleeding heart liberal
Oppressed minority

Your political stance—and thus your label—depends on whose ox is being gored. Asking if someone is either a democrat or a republican fails to take into account that at any given moment as regards any given area that concerns me I may be an amalgam of lots of different labels, none of which may apply five minutes from now if I focus on a different area of concern. Looking at the list above I recognize that every one of those labels could apply to me, singly and in combination, at some point in time.

To vote for a party, at least for me, is an impossibility; both major parties say things I may agree with on a particular subject at a particular time. They each say things I vehemently disagree with as well. And this is one reason why I don't write about politics: the words used to label the various political actions and ideologies are so ephemeral as to prevent a reasoned argument. Unless there is 100% agreement and congruence about what a label means across the board then all we are doing is arguing apples and pillowcases.

What's worse, for me, is that all the candidates running for office this year seem far more interested in slapping on labels on their opponents rather than clearly and cogently telling me what they believe and what they hope to do about the specific problems facing Americans. It was all summed up for me in the answer given by someone who is running locally. He was asked what his position was on local school overcrowding, and what he would propose to end the overcrowding. His answer? "Like my fellow Staten Island Republicans, I am appalled at the conditions present in our local schools. When elected I will make it my business to end this assault on our children. They deserve more from us. A united Staten Island Republican caucus is our best bet for doing something about the school situation. My opponent has no workable plan for changing things, just more rhetoric about how things need to change."Anyone else see the irony in this answer, if it can actually be considered an answer at all?

So to those who keep asking my party affiliation, my answer is "all of the above" and sometimes "none of the above," or maybe "some of the above." As to whom I am voting for, well, I started this posting out by saying I don't write about politics. As part of that, I don't discuss for whom I am voting--that is between me and my ballot in the privacy of the voting booth. What I do do is encourage everyone to vote; it's both a right and a privilege.


Anonymous said...

For someone who doesn't write about politics this reads pretty political to me. But I agree that the labels Democrat and Republican really don't mean anything anymore. Me, I'm looking at what a candidate says about the issues that are important to me and to the country and I'll vote for the one that comes closest to how I want things to be, never mind what party that person is in.

Anonymous said...

I don't even listen to much of what the candidates say anymore, because they all say whatever necessary to the particular audience to convince them to vote for him/her. Instead I look at what they do (and have done in the past) and who they keep as their closest advisers.


A Living Nadneyda said...

Nice piece, I love the labels! I'm thinking of spicing up my life and adding a few more of these labels to my blog profile... ;-)

Anonymous said...

So I woke up this morning feeling like a concerned fundamentalist Patriotic to the right arch liberal with leanings towards Centrist values that are left wing in nature. And that's just before breakfast. But wait, I feel a streak of liberal arch conservatism coming on. Yeah, the labels don't mean too much to begin with and they don't apply really well to real people. So what do you suggest instead? There has to be some way to identify the candidates other then by their names.