Our Political Gymnastics

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Image Source: Club Penguin

When George W. Bush was in office he was harshly condemned from the political left and loyally defended from the right for his response to Hurricane Katrina. Instead of visiting in the immediate aftermath, President Bush was photographed observing the destruction from the comfort of Air Force One as it flew over.The image would be used to supposedly show the president was disengaged from the storm’s victims.

bush flyover

Jim Watson/Getty Images

Later Bush reflected on how he would have been taken to task if he had landed instead. He imagined his critics would have said, “How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?”

Which happens to be the exact reasoning people are using to defend President Obama for golfing instead of going to assess the current flooding in Louisiana. The tables have turned and it is the lack of boots on the ground that is now ridiculed from the right and rationalized from the left.

I don’t pretend to know what the right response is for a president in times of crisis. I don’t know when one should abandon a needed vacation or when the magnitude of a disaster requires the president’s presence.

What I do know is that we are overly willing to bend and maneuver our opinions in order to line up with the politicians we support.

We have become Olympic level gymnasts in our ability to backflip and contort ourselves into whatever position will most serve our politics. We jump and twist and twirl, though without any of the elegance exhibited by the Simone Biles of the world.

Had it been Hillary who recently showed up to Louisiana with a truckload of supplies the folks at Fox News would have called it a publicity stunt and the people at MSNBC would have skewered Trump for not caring enough to respond. Instead it is the opposite. Our opinions change based on which side did what.

If our preferred politician does a thing, we defend or justify their actions. “Give them grace,” we say. If a politician we don’t support does the same or a similar thing, we condemn or vilify their behavior. We cry, “Crucify them!”

This is why Trump backers can talk about Bill Clinton’s infidelity with straight faces and Hillary supporters can claim that Trump is out of touch with ordinary citizens.

We are so devoted to our political positions that we’ve lost the ability to be objective, honest, and consistent. We reek of hypocrisy. Our flexibility exceeds that of the world’s elite gymnasts and we are probably going to hurt ourselves.

Somehow we have reached the point where we are afraid to call out the behavior of the people we support politically. We are unable to acknowledge that people from our political slant make mistakes or that at times we may strongly disagree with them.

It should not be hard for us to say, “Despite supporting this person on a large percentage of issues, this decision was wrong.” Or “I will probably vote for this person, but the way they responded to this was not okay.”

Sadly, it has become unfathomable to admire the response or policies or decency of a person from the other side of the aisle. Instead we end up awkwardly swinging back and forth as if we are on the uneven bars. Our moral position is summed up as, “Today it is okay when my side does it, next time it will be wrong when your side does.”

If our moral indignation is determined by the person, not the behavior or belief, we lack core values of much substance. If the party name behind a politician is what determines how we respond to what is said or done, we lack intellectual integrity. When we have selective outrage and relativistic convictions we lose our credibility. There no medals for this balance beam routine.

There are certainly times worth calling out politicians. Let’s just do it with integrity. Let’s not excuse or dismiss behavior we wouldn’t allow in a person from a different political persuasion. Or condone behavior we opposed yesterday. Let’s not condemn things we have previously applauded or applaud that which we have previously condemned.

Let’s be fair and honest in our political assessments. And consistent and principled in the things we believe and the standards we hold our leaders to. And let’s leave the backhand springs and gravity defying stunts to the professionals.

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