When I was 15, my parents wanted to expand my horizons, so they sent me to Utah County.
They had friends who lived in Payson and had a son my age. In somewhat of a summer cultural exchange program, he stayed with us in Salt Lake for two weeks, then I stayed with his family for two weeks.
I quickly was included in his clique and every day we went to a diner that was the high school hangout. As we sat together over hamburgers and Cokes, we were entertained with stories by the class seniors about their exploits against the kids from neighboring Spanish Fork. All the stories had the same theme. The Payson kids would beat up the Spanish Fork kids, then take away their girlfriends. They also consistently trounced the "Spanish" in drag racing.
After a while, I decided those Spanish Fork guys must have serious self-esteem issues. Still later, though, I began to suspect that if I had stayed with a kid from Spanish Fork, the stories would have been different. The Spanish Fork guys would have won all the fights, had faster cars and charmed the socks off the Payson girls.
It's all about perspective, and from whose perspective the story is being told. That experience, to me, is a metaphor for the political climate we have today. I have tested this theory from time to time by alternately tuning in to MSNBC, the liberal station, and Fox News, home to some of the most high-profile pundits on the right.
My conclusion: A person who gets his or her information from MSNBC and a person who gets it from Fox live in two completely different realities. The perceptions they are presented of the world are nearly polar opposites, and the talking heads on both channels have facts and figures and experts to back them up.
The problem is that victims of this hyperbole from both ends of the spectrum are the gullible folks who eat up everything they see and hear from their chosen medium.
Then they go to their conventions, primaries and general elections and elect candidates who share their same slanted beliefs.
No wonder we can't get anything done in Washington.
To the Fox News viewers, the Wall Street occupiers are stooges for a larger force of evil with a socialist agenda. And they all need a bath. The tea party folks, on the other hand, are hard-working regular folks who are tired of big government robbing them of their liberty.
To those who watch MSNBC, the occupiers are the honest folks, frustrated with a system rigged for the rich. The tea partyers are pawns of large corporate interests who are behind the rallies against the populist calls for social justice.
Fox viewers hear all about the millions spent to recall Republican governors and legislators who are trying to do away with collective bargaining. MSNBC viewers hear all about the millions spent to prop up those Republican governors and legislators.
Locally, we hear from Republican legislators and their supporters that teachers unions are destroying education because they only care about keeping their unions powerful.
From educators we hear conspiracy theories about those legislators and corporate interests that want to privatize schools for profit at the expense of students and teachers.
None of these people are talking in any meaningful way to each other. They are just beating each other up, driving faster cars and taking away their girl (or boy) friends.
And their fantasies are validated by the partisan media we have allowed to commandeer the discussion.