Friday, March 22, 2013

The Politics of the Accuser

We wonder sometimes, when we're given a moment to think, why it is that our political system seems like such a monstrosity.   Most of us claim that We Love America (tm), and yet when we look out at how America actually manages its affairs, we recoil.  Our national conversation is, well, it's just plain mean.

We're radically polarized, a mess of snarl and snark.  Those who disagree with us are always and invariably the Enemy, evil incarnate, the very embodiment of every single thing that is wrong with humanity.  Even those who *seem* to disagree with us must be monsters.  They are evil, agents of sinister dark forces who are diluting the Precious Bodily Fluids of America.  If that seems a little crazy, well, it is.

And not crazy in a good way.

We hate that it is this way.  And yet we perpetuate it.  We claim to want one thing, and yet our words and our actions show us that we are another.   Patience, forbearance, and mercy are not our political virtues.  Take, for instance, the peculiar tension between two different threads of thought that flittered through the popular consciousness this last week.

Thread number one came from a sequence of reflections recently produced by the Republican National Committee.  It was remarkably frank, challenging the party to recognize that radicalization renders a political philosophy untenable.  One excellent quote, included in a thoughtful piece by Dubya's speechwriter Michael Gerson, went thusly:
We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.
That's good advice, frankly, and not just for political parties.  There are countless churches that do the same thing, both politically and theologically.  If you are Not Like Us, stay away.  We have nothing to say to you, but plenty to say ABOUT you.

And yet, at the same time, there's the news that both the Republicans and Democrats have spooled up their cash-driven oppo research organizations for 2016.  The Democrats call theirs American Bridge, and the Republicans call theirs America Rising, but both are just old school oppo shops.  What does that mean, you may ask?  Well, having lived inside the Beltway most of my life, let me share it with you.

Oppo research is when you pay folks to dig up dirt on any and all possible candidates from the opposing party.  Real dirt is best, but even fake dirt is fine so long as it sticks.  If you're a good family man, or have put your life on the line for America, you'd think those would be strengths.  But poisoning that strength is what this game is all about.  Oppo research spins a goofy story about moving your family in a crowded car into you being an abuser of dogs and a hater of all things American.  Oppo research turns combat-won Purple Hearts into lies and treason.

All that matters is sowing doubt, discord, and suspicion.  It's anything and the kitchen sink.  Truth is irrelevant, so long as the credibility of your opponent is subverted.

What's always fascinated and horrified me about this is how familiar it is.

In the great story of the Bible, there's a character whose job it is to tear us down.  His task, as it was assigned in the Heavenly Court, was to prove the unworthiness of mortals.  He was the first and greatest of the oppo researchers, the angel charged with the task of convicting and bringing accusations against us.

He had a formal title:  The Prosecutor, or, more accurately, The Accuser.   Or, if wikipedia is to be believed, The Opposer.

In Hebrew, that title reads: Ha Satan.

No wonder our political system seems so messed up.