Can I be serious for a moment? Usually I use this space to yell about music, but did you kiddies also know that Auntie Rachel has a degree in yelling about politics? It’s true!
Guys. Don’t Laugh. I’m serious.
As is my duty as a blogger, I’m going to talk about something seemingly insignificant that will turn out to be Of Importance. And as anyone who has heard of the internet knows, Facebook is the thing the kids are on about these days.
Facebook has its creepy, all-knowing finger on the pulse of… basically everything. So it would seem natural and beautiful that Facebook would try its hand at helping The Kids stay involved with politics. Among its pursuits to this end: a near-daily poll on (sometimes) relevant political issues. Usually, it’s an opportunity for thousands of people to yell about Ron Paul or cheer on Barack Obama. But this poll really caught my eye (excuse the screenshot):
(results current as of 2/10)
There are lots of implications I could draw from this, but for not-wasting-your-time purposes, I’m going to stick with what was most striking to me, besides the glaring grammar error in the title of the quiz.
Facebook is doing an interesting thing by asking us this question: by breaking down “liberal” and “conservative” into categories describing the social and the fiscal (notably, “moderate” was not thrown into the mix, which itself has implications, but not ones I’m going to discuss now), Facebook is not only taking away our comfy party labels, but is asking us to know what the hell we’re talking about.
And here is where we come to the eyebrow raiser, at least for me: the category “Fiscally liberal, socially conservative” was only entered by 3% of respondents. Now, I don’t have data for this, really, but I do know this: “Fiscally liberal and socially conservative” describes –we’re told by the teevee and the politicians– the largest and most special-est group of voters in the country.
Yes, here are your NASCAR Dads, Soccer Moms, Security Moms, swing voters, and really what I would imagine to be a huge percentage of Americans. Often described as moderates, these are people who, for instance, cain’t abide by no homos, but who depend on social programs like Medicaid, Social Security, Welfare, and so forth. These are blue-collar workers whose livelihoods rely on subsidies and tariffs, but who feel that abortion should be outlawed or restricted. (Heck, it’s even what some people would consider the “most Christian”– that is, being charitable and providing for the poor, but legislating what you feel is immoral or ungodly– and indeed of the few Facebook respondents who chose this category, many of them expressed this belief.) That’s a lot of people. Now, it could be that this elusive demographic belongs almost exclusively to an age range not really represented on Facebook, but I think the answer is a little less statistically improbable than that: to have only 3% of respondents identify this way shows what seems like a deep misunderstanding of the terms “liberal” and “conservative” as they relate to social and fiscal issues.
And really, I think the misunderstanding here relates to mainly to fiscal matters. The media do a great job of distilling for us what liberals and conservatives believe socially- conservatives love Jesus and hate The Gays, whereas liberals hate fetuses and love violent video games- as America (The Book) puts it, “the bichromatic rainbow that is American political thought.” “Liberal” and “Conservative” have thus become highly charged words, and we’ve come to feel as though it’s a tiny act of bravery to label ourselves as either one. Certainly, each group feels as though its label has been perverted at the hands of the other group to become a “bad word” in the media and the political sphere. So we all know where we stand socially- or at least we know whom to hate. But because of (what I perceive to be) a general lack of real discourse on most of our media outlets, coupled with the fact that Democrats and Republicans in our government often generally agree on fiscal issues, fiscal beliefs aren’t sexy, and aren’t important. And when “Liberal” and “Conservative” have taken on the definitions they have, suddenly someone who is only familiar with the terms as they relate to polarizing social issues might have some trouble extrapolating that to his or her fiscal viewpoints.
So, then, the least desirable option is going to be the least represented. Those of us who identify as either “socially liberal/economically liberal” or “socially conservative/economically conservative” have already come to terms with being called these things. And those of us who described ourselves as “socially liberal/economically conservative” feel okay about it because we know “conservative” sounds like “saving” and, hey, saving money is good. But if you know that “Liberal” means “the opposite of how I feel about deeply polarizing things” and you don’t have a good sense of how to apply it to fiscal matters, then you’re not going to be so quick to label yourself “Socially conservative/Fiscally liberal”.
I could go on and on. And I’m not calling the Facebook generation (as loath as I am to call it that) stupid- just lazy, and with a larger burden to be proactive. While I do feel that the media and our representatives in government have their hands in simultaneously dumbing down and polarizing our political landscape, I think the ultimate onus is on my generation. Kids, get off your asses and learn about what you believe. Only if you really understand what you believe can you really stand for anything. If you don’t bother to learn, you’ll always be a member of a percentage to be thrown around by pundits and political candidates, and hell, bloggers.