Stuck in the Middle

Politics, the news and life today remind me of a song from the early 1970s. The group Stealers Wheel had their biggest hit with “Stuck in the Middle With You”. The lyrics made about as much sense as any popular song from that era, which is not much. Still, one verse resonates loud and clear today, “Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right.”

Hold on! Before anyone gets his or her nose out of joint, left and right are completely interchangeable. If you are a big fan of a political figure on the left and would be prefer he be called a joker, or one on the right and would prefer he be called a clown, please feel free to swap those words in your mind. Believe me. It makes very little difference. However, if you are still reading, it is likely you are not a fan of either a clown nor a joker. You are stuck in the middle and trying to make sense of it all.

The sad truth of these lyrics is that those in the middle or anyone who tries to be objective about any issue today is bombarded by both the left and the right. If you prefer, again your choice, the objective or centrist person can be bombarded by both the conservatives and the liberals, the secularists and the religious or the pros and the cons.

The extent of the political divide in the United States may not be as extreme as some claim. It is possible that there is a large portion of the population that is decidedly centrist in its views. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine if that is true, and if it is, there does not seem to be a way for the middle to make its voice heard.

There was a time in this country when the middle could be heard. Surveys or polls would show something that sociologists have known for decades. On every issue, there are those strongly opposed to it, those strongly in favor of it and everyone else, regardless of what “it” is.

There was a time when survey data could be trusted. There was a time in this country when the news media worked to be objective reporters of facts. There was a time when even the most partisan politicians were civil to each other, at least publicly.

Today, the same demographic groups can be targeted by different researchers concerning the same issue and the results can be dramatically different. If there has ever been a time when the old saying, “Figures can’t lie, but liars can figure,” was more true than today, it would be hard to imagine.

Today, objective reporting of the news is almost impossible to find. Instead, the media practices a form of hybrid reporting that blends opinions and selected facts in a way that makes it almost impossible to know when the reporting stops and the opining begins. The confusion is further aggravated by the development of television programs, websites and publications that make the appearance of being news sources, but are really something else. They are, at best, comedic or satirical entertainment. At worst, they are outright propaganda.

Today, politicians attack each other viciously and personally. Political attacks have always been a part of campaigning for office. Politicians running for office have never been afraid to attack their opponents, but there was a time when “dirty tricks” and “smear tactics” were frowned upon by the voting public and media. In the modern political arena, it does not make any difference if it is an election campaign or a political dispute in Congress. It is no-holds-barred, down and dirty politics twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

A person who wants to make an objective decision about anything today is in trouble. Polling data is untrustworthy. News sources are suspect. Politicians believe civility and honesty are as old fashioned as handlebar mustaches and spittoons.

The objective person’s lot in life becomes even more difficult if they express what they feel is an objective opinion.  Objective opinions, middle of the road positions, or an objection to what is obviously biased information will automatically result in an attack from one or both sides of the particular issue.

In the political and public media world, the attack will come from talking heads in the television and radio communities, as well as the blogosphere. That seems to be expected and accepted.  What is disappointing and more bothersome is how this same attitude has trickled down, to steal a phrase, to the every day social media user.

Facebook, Twitter and chat room users seem to have no problem blasting another user’s comments. Instead of attempting a reasoned response or asking for more information, respondents will lash out at a person calling him or her a kool-aid drinker, an idiot or a hater.

Others seem to have no problem denigrating an entire group with sarcastic, or even offensive comments. At times it seems only the far (pick your poison, right or left) end of various political and social continua speak out on issues, and they do so either to intentionally offend or to provoke others to respond in kind.

I am not surprised this is the case, just disappointed. I am disappointed that people I know to be intelligent and caring individuals will lash out at any opposing view, and in some cases lash out when there is no real view expressed. When it is the clowns and jokers on both sides of an issue who get the attention, others will follow suit. When the clowns or the jokers in leadership roles on all sides of political issues set the example of making everything personal and aggressive, others will lower themselves to that level.

It seems the time of reason and common sense, not mutually exclusive by the way, is long past and forgotten. Today we live in a world where the outrageous gets the attention and notoriety gives one credibility. A world in which clowns and jokers compete with each other to see who can be the biggest buffoon on the talk shows. A world in which stating your opinion can result in you being unfriended or blocked, but ranting like a lunatic will make you trend up hyperbolically.

S. E. Jackson © 2012

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