Chapter Three Ohios Liberal Northeast/Conservative Southwest Contrast: The Battleground State ***Historically, residents of Ohios northeast and southwest 6ind it relatively easy to be at odds, and to compete for superiority on the same 6ield. For instance, the Cleveland Indians are a Major League Baseball (MLB) team in the American League, but the Cincinnati Reds are a National League team. All the same, theres a spirited in-‐state rivalry between the Indians and Reds. Fans will travel en-‐masse from their respective corner of the state to the opposite corner in order to root for their team. Neither has won an MLB World Series in over twenty years. For those who dont care much for baseball, theres another in-‐state, Ohio rivalry in which to participate. This, of course, is the rivalry between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, the states two National Football League franchises. The Browns/Bengals rivalry is no less spirited than the Indians/Reds rivalry, to be sure. Sometimes, during a game, the heated rivalry between the Browns and Bengals foments into evening-‐news-‐worthy tomfoolery among the teams devoted fans. Moreover, as luck would have it, the family who owns the Cincinnati Bengals is, you guessed it, the Browns.Neither team has ever won an NFL Superbowl. Perhaps a less well-‐known but no less important rivalry is the one between Ohios liberal voters in its northeast and conservative voters in its southwest. Of course, this is not a rivalry in the truest sense, but it is a contrast that plays itself out time and again in the political circus of our media-‐driven election campaigns. In every Presidential election from the election of 1960 through the election of 2004, a majority of voters in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, Ohio, have voted for the Democratic candidate. During those same elections, a majority of voters in Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, Ohio, have voted for the Republican candidate – with the lone exception being in 1964 when a majority in Hamilton County voted for the democratic candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson. The stark and static contrast in preference between voters in Ohios northeast and southwest illustrates well the polarized state of our current political playing 6ield. Add to this the severity of partisan skirmishes in Ohio and we see why political candidates treat, and media-‐types brand, Ohio a battleground state.
The Battleground Brand – Blessing or Curse? How Ohioans engage with the political reality behind this moniker has the potential to be either a blessing or a curse. Unfortunately for Ohioans, and the country as a whole as well see later, the way that we’ve participated in the political environment of the past 40 plus years has progressively fed the polarization of partisanship by our politicians and the media. The irony of our sometimes child-‐ like participation as fans of our hometown sports teams is that, at least there, our participation is somewhat enduring. Said Indians ! fans dont simply watch and root "#!$%&!(!)#**#+!*,%&!*,-.! for the Cleveland team when they are playing their rival Reds; they participate and support the team when it moves on to Boston or New York the next week, or is back in Cleveland for a home stretch the following month. Similarly, Bengals fans get suited up for both home and away games all season long, not only to see them play their despised rival, the Browns, but also to play the Pittsburg Steelers, or the Denver Broncos, and so on.Our participation in the political process isnt quite as enduring, though. We in effect only suit up for the big election game and, once weve cast our vote, generally stop participating in the political process until the next election. This kick-‐starts the destructive spiral which weve been trapped in for the past 40 years. In this spiral we vote, and then passively participate in the outcomes of those elections by consuming sur6icial media accounts telling us how the person we elected (or didnt help elect) is doing. Yet the divisiveness doesn’t end with the election. Rather, the mudslinging campaign rhetorics get recycled in a steady stream of media messages, which keep us enthralled in a comedy of errors rivaling the absurdity of reality television. The irony of this cycle is vicious indeed. For instead of directing our available energy toward participating in local affairs, we tend to move further away from our neighbors and deeper into our polarized, media-‐fed ideologies. Simply put, the battleground brand has built so much equity of late that weve come to accept it as our fundamental political reality. Such acceptance further perpetuates the problems of the contrast trap. But, we dont have to acquiesce to this status quo. Ohioans, and all other Americans alike, can deconstruct the
myth of ideology and expose the self-‐defeating fallacy of battleground politics. If we come to understand what supports these misrepresentations, and for what purpose, Ohio can help change the way we do politics in America. The battleground brand, if it proves to be such a catalyst for change, could be Ohios blessing in disguise. Deconstructing the Myth of Ideology and Battleground PoliticsWeve long been trained to see contrast in political matters. In some ways, its all we see. Liberal/Conservative, Democrat/Republican, Pro/Anti, For/Against, Yes/No, Red/Blue, Tax/Borrow. While these contrasts are not inherently bad things, the contrast trap has us choosing adherence to a singular view of the contrasts, and assuming anyone who embraces another perspective of the contrast is our opponent. From where we stand though we can barely see the contrast trap through the clouds of ideology hiding the futility of its operation from our view. Yet, like all clouds of collective belief, they are only impenetrable as long as they are unquestioned. The truth of the matter is that Ohioans can dispel the various ideological myths enshrouding the contrast trap, cast away the battleground identity, and lead a cultural shift toward embracing the whole of the contrasts comprising our sociopolitical reality. Our question becomes when do we call this battle to task? When do we demand more from our political process than this either/ or approach? How much longer will we allow the political circus to mask our institutional inability to constructively participate in local politics? Why not now? ! This 2012 Presidential Election year is the "#$%!&$()$(!*+,!&%-./!01-$! perfect time to begin, and if we dont begin this year we will only 6ind ourselves needing to begin the next election year. For no matter where we currently stand on the political spectrum, we can all acknowledge that the long-‐term wellness of American democracy is on the line.The fact is: Cleveland and Cincinnati are two of the top three cities in the country where concentrated poverty has worsened. Neither the left-‐leaning northeast nor the right-‐leaning southwest has been able to halt the progression of poverty and its social ills over the past ten years.
Ohios Democrat northeast and Republican southwest contrast is a microcosm of the same problem at a national level. During the Great Recession, and the slow, painful period of recovery that we’re currently in, blue states and red states are both more like black-‐and-‐blue states. Battered 6iscally, and with unemployment historically high, all states, whether historically red or blue, have been equally assaulted by the downturn. This is because the contrast trap created by battleground politics leads predominantly to cut-‐throat elections and subsequent band-‐aid governance and policy making – not toward solutions comprised out of coalitions of distinct interests collaborating upon commonly shared ground. Yet do we actually expect a government of career politicians, who retain incumbency as masters of the splintered state of political discourse, to send their cash-‐cow out to pasture? As long as the people expect ideological rigidity why should a representative anger the purists in their base by transcending their constituents’ immediate preferences and cooperate with the opposition?What we’re witnessing in our government and culture today is the dangerous inclination towards the idea of no-‐compromise. The debt-‐ceiling debacle of 2011 illustrates this perfectly. First, Congress and the Obama Administration found it impossible to reach an accord and justify an increase to the debt ceiling. Then, after creating the possibility of an eventual Treasury default, they raised the debt ceiling without addressing the issue of de6icit reduction. Instead, they formed a super-‐committee which, months later, revealed that it also couldn’t reach consensus and had failed to 6ind a way forward on the massive de6icit problem our country faces. It’s time to own up to the fact that there’s more to politics than the preferences of our personal tastes. Until politics is renewed as a habit of association in which we slowly shape and reshape our ideas about the world in which we live through personal engagement in the life of our communities, we will continue down dead-‐end alleys chasing red-‐herring solutions. This taste-‐based approach to statesmanship has Republicans and Democrats alike, be it in Congress, the state house, or on city council, professing allegiance to ideology at the cost of progress. And, in the meantime, this guarantees us yet more time in the contrast trap. But if we’re unwilling to adapt our ideas and uncomfortably change our political habits so as to better contribute to the vibrancy of democracy, as individuals, we cannot reasonably hope to hold our elected of6icials to a higher standard than we ourselves embrace.The Costs of Our Political CircusThe bitter irony is that the more we cling to the inviolability of our own faction’s point of view, the easier it is for a small group of political elites to hold onto their power by emulating the Roman Emperor Caesar’s method of maintaining authority: Panem et Circenses, or bread and circuses. Today’s bread is seen variously as tax cuts by conservatives
and entitlements by liberals, while the circus is apparent in battleground political campaigns, and failed, revolving-‐door legislative debates. With so much of our energy devoted to the 6ight for bene6its and the spectacle of our elections, is it really any wonder that the accurate public expression of political beliefs and views has been devalued? We’re so used to seeing issues from polarized points-‐of-‐view that we rarely turn an inquiring eye toward the rhetoric promoting the party-‐line. Such unquestioning acquiescence in turn tends toward what’s known as preference falsi6ication. Our preferences are falsi6ied when we internalize partisan propaganda and use it to express our own opinions because it’s the only accepted medium for advancing our interests. Unfortunately, we lose the spirit of our preference by doing so. ! "#$%$&!()*+!,#!-&()+! The problems of preference falsi6ication are amply evident in the unethical and unreasoned use of propaganda to persuade prospective voters. For starters, it’s common practice for today’s political propaganda to frame an issue with euphemisms and dysphemisms, which cloak the issues that we face with intense emotional stimuli (positively or negatively), and thereby make collaboration and reasonable discourse a long shot. During Ohios SB-‐5/ Issue 2 saga, a piece of pro-‐labor propaganda was commandeered by pro-‐SB-‐5 interest groups and used to promote their own agenda. Both sides of the debate were actually running the same propaganda, spun with different shades of red and blue, to advance their separate interests all the while leaving hapless voters little choice but to go along with the party-‐line. This state of battle-‐cry political discourse should give us reason to pause. Do we reasonably expect to be able to address the fundamental issues underlying our modern problems as long as in6lammatory rhetoric is accepted as viable political speech? How are we going to be able to hear good-‐faith contributions from concerned citizens over the din of destructive diatribes? What’s obvious here is that as long as unique perspectives and broad-‐minded
approaches have no place in our public debates, we will continue to languish under apparently irresolvable problems.On the battleground of a war, there are no winners. No one wins in battleground politics either – except maybe the elite few who are willing to impoverish the rest of us to pad their own pockets. And, as conditions decline in our communities divisive propaganda thrives, while politicians capitalize on our rapt state of anticipation-‐for-‐change. In the meantime, our top-‐down organized political parties have come to rely on ever more sophisticated message-‐delivery systems rather than actually cultivating bottom-‐up constituencies. It seems that today, the more important an issue is to the country as a whole, the more extreme and paralyzing the ensuing barrage of rhetoric becomes. Such media campaigns make it clear that our political parties are more interested in cultivating adherents than encouraging constructive participation. Listen to practically any of the Democratic or Republican candidates and we hear how their party has a monopoly on the best way for America to thrive. These top-‐down political monopolies are violating the trust we have placed in them. For years, while we have been waiting for trickle-‐down solutions to bene6it our communities and us directly, members of Congress have legally traded equities of public companies using non-‐public information to tip the scales in their favor. As we wait for promised economic opportunities to materialize, Congressional leaders enjoy a voluntary pass on paying into the Social Security and Medicare systems while nearly 1 in 5 Americans waits in the unemployment line and many others are skipping the family vacation to make ends meet, or worse still. What’s perhaps most disturbing of all are the public professions by politicians of every stripe that their ideology has a lock on the answers to our collective problems. Such declamations are simply disingenuous. Without an actual understanding of the particulars comprising the experience of over 300 million Americans, how could any single contrast-trapped perspective hope to pave the path toward national solvency? Instead of trying to understand and cultivate the particular resources at our 6ingertips, our modern ideologues seem content to manipulate the mechanisms of persuasive force to surmount the opposition in the short-‐term. Yet while such tactics may win elections, the outcomes don’t reveal a real winner in the comparative contrast between Ohio’s liberal northeast and conservative southwest regions. Frankly, if the correct way of governance was one side of the contrast trap, wouldnt it stand to reason that the equality of conditions and the pursuits of liberty and justice would be noticeably greater in either Cleveland or Cincinnati? Of course, they are not, nor are they any better in Massachusetts than they are Florida, or better in North Carolina than they are California. And, so, with no simple solution to the problems we face, we need to look more deeply for what creates and perpetuates Ohios (and Americas) battleground fallacy.
Partisan Politics, the Flip-Flop, and Individualism Imbalanced Let’s begin with some of our most common experiences of politics today. Open most any newspaper and we 6ind stories about gridlock in Washington D.C. or the successful lobbying of one interest group or another. We turn on the news and hear the dissection of electioneering strategies interwoven with disparaging sound bites, or we tune into radio programs and listen to politicians and pundits promising to save social programs or eliminate burdensome taxes. Everywhere we turn, myriad carefully crafted advertisements combining powerful images and concise messages work their seeming magic to convince us of the bene6its of electing so and so or passing referendum number whatever. And moment by moment we’re told who’s leading the race, thanks to the most up-‐to-‐date polling and statistical modeling, giving an air of inevitability to outcomes perhaps still many months away. Inundated as we are today by a barrage of bad news and doomsday prognostications, we’re presented with ever more furious claims of the necessity of a single party’s solution to what is supposedly a zero-‐sum political game. Yet, as we stand on this apparent precipice, we’re confronted by a practical irony: just when we’re told that we must act now or crumble under an impossible contradiction, millions of Americans and many Ohioans dismiss politics as impossibly 6lawed and irrelevant in their personal lives. Such a situation raises an important question. How could we be in such collectively dire straits and simultaneously be unsure whether we can even politically resolve our problems?Whether on the right, left, or middle of the political spectrum, the array of problems confronting the great state of Ohio and the nation as a whole is dizzying: the recession and its unemployment, education woes, unaffordable health care, spiraling national debt, crumbling infrastructures, terrorist threats, and the instabilities of the international economy have all coalesced into a storm so furious that all we seem able to do is 6ight for our very existence. Though instead of joining forces against these common enemies, we 6ind ourselves 6ighting tooth and nail against ourselves.
When we pause to consider the state of politics in Ohio and America as a whole, there are compelling reasons why many doubt our collective ability to arrive at political solutions to our problems. First and foremost is the fact that the political landscape of today has become a battleground in which the victors of each ! election seek to destroy the opposition and unilaterally impose their will on those who have been bested. We are reminded every presidential election cycle that Ohio is one of the battleground states that must be won in order for a presidential hopeful to make it to the White House. Now, in an obvious and important sense, there is no getting away from con6lict in politics. A man of no less historical clout than Niccolo Machiavelli tells readers that as a rule the best laws of the Roman Republic arose time and again out of the "#!$%&#!%(!#)&&*+,!#%!$%&#!%(!-./(0#1(*1(&! con6lict between the interests of the senate and the people. It was this wrestling of opposing parties which eventually moderated the speech of the vying interests and laid the foundation for legislative compromises capable of satisfying both sides. Yet such productive political con6lict is very different from the battle which characterizes our modern political life.The tv ads, newspaper editorials, pundit blogs, and talk radio programs are practically unanimous in their proclamations that there is only one way to rescue Ohio and resuscitate America: by resolutely embracing the party-‐line of one side of the aisle so as to win super-‐majorities capable of running roughshod over the opposition. Yet when the prosperity promised during each election cycle remains unrealized two, four, or six years later, is it any wonder then that the majority of Americans don’t regularly vote, and that those who do often harbor fundamental doubts about the viability of our political process? Frankly, there’s only so long that a reasonable person can stave off exhaustion’s apathy after so many failed battles.The Triumph of Expediency Over Democracy. What should be clear from the foregoing is that pushing resolutely forward will simply yield more of the same results. Instead, if we hope to realize the prosperity which we feel drawn towards, it makes sense to ask if something is out of place in our most fundamental political premises which may be causing us to spin our political wheels . . .