I used to believe that politicians didn't know the effect they were having on the rest of us. I have begun, however, to suspect the opposite. Politicians may know exactly what they are doing. It seems they want us either completely indoctrinated or completely battle-weary. If they can't have our unthinking allegiance, they will have us disconnected.
As a registered independent, I wonder where all the moderates have gone. Why is C for compromise a scarlet letter? It is clear both political parties are going to have to sacrifice some of their sacred cows for Republicans, more taxes for the rich; for Democrats, fewer entitlements.
But the strength we need from our leaders is not more rhetoric regarding "principles" or "convictions." A new strength is required, the strength to stand up to those who really pull the strings. For instance, how many politicians are willing to push back on a well-funded lobby? There have been a few positive examples Sen. Lindsey Graham and others rejecting the mindless Norquist pledge not to raise taxes, for example but we need more leaders willing to be "tarred and feathered" by their own constituents.
I don't pretend to know all the reasons why it has gotten this bad, but let me suggest just one: We may be confusing policy with principles. It is possible to have principles while being flexible about how such principles are made policy. In contrast, current thinking suggests that if someone disagrees with my policy or law, then they must be attacking my principles.
What nonsense! I am not so wise in my own conceit that I actually believe that the way I form policy is the one-and-only way I can honor my principles. Confusing policy with principle leads to inflexible, black-and-white thinking, and inflexible thinking generally produces self-defeating outcomes political gridlock, fiscal "cliffs," bankrupt Social Security accounts.
Confusing principle and policy is, at best, the way of ongoing gridlock, and, at worst, represents the thinking of a radical jihadist. Is this an overly dramatic example? Perhaps. But it is only a matter of degree.
We should not, as FDR warned, fear fear itself. We should fear the opposite: stagnation and apathy, until we have no other choice but to act. And then act we will, not out of a healthy fear. Not in an attempt to bring about pragmatic solutions. We will act out of a knee-jerk, inflexible desperation that will produce only more of the same.
Bryan Bushman is a licensed psychologist in Ogden.