Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thanks for the Compliment (about not being simplistically partisan or ideological)

A few words about a direct message I received on Twitter. It made my day. I just signed on a couple weeks ago and still notice and appreciate new followers. Here's what came in earlier:

I can't figure out if you're a liberal or a conservative. But your tweets are interesting.

I was glad to know at least one person finds my tweets interesting, but even more was pleased to learn my messages didn't betray any simplistic political perspective. I definitely situate myself on one side of that seeming divide, but believe doing so publicly, at least through a one-word label, is counterproductive. I'm convinced that the effect of such simplistic partisan or ideological affiliation has been toxic for our politics over the last two decades (at least). Of many examples, recent events in the New York State legislature, which for weeks were deadlocked in a 31-31 partisan tie, with both Democrats and Republicans wanting to be the majority, come to mind as a ridiculous, adolescent exercise serving no one.

In the echo chamber of contemporary media politics, I've long thought that media and journalistic reports should stop automatically including the party affiliation following a legislator's name (e.g., Peter King (NY-R) or Al Franken (Minnesota-D)). What value is added by those letters? Yes, I recognize that politicians self-identify with parties, rely on them for funding and support, and work in groups or caucuses organized along party lines. With so much information available from so many sources, it's perhaps understandable that having ready hooks on which to hang one's views and build communities of interest makes not only good sense but effective strategy.
Perhaps most fundamentally, an R or D, a L or C not only neatly -- too neatly for me -- summarizes re-assures us that we belong to a political tribe. Of course, the price, the loss of genuine nuance and robustness and contrarianness in our social and political discourse, seems much greater.

It's probably naive to think so, but every step that can be taken, by media organizations as well as citizens and social media participants, to acknowledge more fully the complexity of political and social life today should be embraced. So I hope I can keep on being hard to figure out, at least in terms of labels. The best ideas, I'm convinced, are often interesting precisely because they don't simply re-affirm already known positions or platforms but provoke one's thinking beyond.

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