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Kingdom of Fear: Scared is Good Business

There’s a feeling that things didn’t used to be this way. Even though our history has been filled with tumultuous times and bitter political rivalries, it seems as if we’ve come to a place where the bitterness inherent in our politics precludes the government’s ability to compromise. At the very least, we are politically divided like no time since the Civil War.

The Bipartisan Policy Center published a timeline which tracks great bipartisan achievements throughout American history. The last entry is from 2009, citing President Obama’s attempt during his first term to mimic Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Team of Rivals.” Perhaps they are waiting until the curtain falls on the Obama Presidency to add to the timeline, though I doubt it. It’s most likely that there are no later entries because even when the two sides do accomplish something it is not before the particular problem has reached crisis levels.

However, I do not necessarily blame the partisan wolves on the Republican or Democratic sides for allowing the national conversation to devolve in such a way. It only seems natural that political operatives and elected officials would pounce at every opportunity to make the other side “look bad.” I do not mean to be insulting – that is only an added benefit – but they are like greedy children left unattended in a candy store. Only instead of shoving as many sweets into their mouths as they can, they are allowing another, more odorous substance to escape from their lips as often as they can get away with.

No, the blame for the current state of affairs glances of the newsmedia and falls right into the laps of the American people. An uninformed electorate is the only way that the jewel of our American democracy loses its luster. The news media, including sites like this one, is partly at fault. That any of us have devoted any column inches to an asshat like Todd Akin – when he’s not running for office, that is – is almost shameful.

Unfortunately, while the practice of journalism is a public trust it remains privately-funded. Cable news has morphed into a series of ill-informed shout-fests because the viewing audience has allowed Fox News to consistently win every significant ratings battle.

Editorial ideology has nothing to do with my criticism. William F. Buckley Jr. was one of the founding fathers of conservatism and his show Firing Line was fair, intellectual, and simply excellent. Buckley even kept Ann Coulter on her best behavior. What I am indicting the viewers of Fox News (and all other cable news, except perhaps Al Jazeera America) for is voting for flair over substance.

Fear is good business. It’s a lot easier to keep people scared than to hold onto their affection or admiration (ask Presidents G.W. Bush and Obama, respectively). However the only problem with frightened people is that they don’t tend to think rationally, if they even think at all.

As long as we let them dilute any argument into one of two sides – with little regard for facts or nuance – we will remain ill-equipped to face the changing world. This week, Issue Hawk is going to look at what we are afraid of and stare the boogeymen right in the face.


Photo by myradphotos via Flickr

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.