By Noah Bergam (V)
When I was a little kid, I got angry when I heard my name. Noah. I heard the word ‘No.’ Somehow that just pushed me over the edge. My older siblings, realizing my dislike, would further taunt me by calling ShopRite ShopWrong. I would cry.
Now it’s more sophisticated. I cry a little inside when I see political arguments and platforms supported fervently in the negative.
Ralph Ellison’s anonymous namesake Invisible Man asked a simple question. “Could politics ever be an expression of love?” The quote reads quickly in the context of the chaotic unfolding of the novel. But when I read it, I stopped and realized this combination of words is powerful.
It comes back to me every month for the Democratic debates. As I’ve watched these candidates give their heartfelt pleads for their causes, I’ve gone through my own little evolution as a viewer.
When I first watched in June, I was amazed by how eloquently they all could speak, swinging from topic to topic with such ease and intensity. Each candidate presented their own style, playing different gambits and spinning sophisticated responses, tying it back to their audience. All on the spot. It blows me away. But … but what? The charm blurred with repetition? The candidates are all a bunch of phonies? Emails!? Perhaps. But the fundamental issue I see is not with any of the specific values they hold or policies they endorse. It’s about a frame of reference. Their tendency to express their stances in terms of the partisan negative rather than the general positive. The tendency is captured by the standby:
“I’m the candidate that can beat Donald Trump.”
There’s a use for this phrase in moderation. But it ought not to become a cornerstone argument of the party—2016 is proof that doesn’t work.
When this mindset of opposition takes over for a few questions, the stage curls into an echo chamber, where counterpoints that lean to the center are labelled as enemy territory.
This was especially evident in the July debate; when Warren and Sanders kept recycling a certain phrase, they were met with opposition.
John Delaney warned against taking away private health insurance. John Hickenlooper objected to the Green New Deal’s broad promises of government-funded jobs. Jake Tapper asked Bernie how much taxes will rise for his healthcare bill.
The same response kept ringing up: “stop using Republican talking points.”
The intent of this phrase, as I see it, is to paint criticism as illegitimate partisan attacks. It’s defense built from offense––take the hard questions, that many voters are interested in getting direct answers to, and mark it as Republican, Trumpian spam.
This attitude has continued monthly. Of course, it doesn’t ruin the entire debate––most major candidates have their shining moments of clarity––but it confuses the very intent of these debates, which is to give the candidates a chance to explain their policies and disagree, so that we viewers can determine their differences and make the most educated vote we can. What is not needed is a constant, propaganda-esque reminder of our unity against those dreaded Republicans!
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama famously said, “When they go low, we go high.” Do not weaken the potential of your vote by thinking only in terms of who you are beating out. Vote for a positive, progressive vision of the future, not simply an anti-Trump candidate.
But everyone––this is a lesson that transcends party lines. I don’t know if politics could be an expression of love, but I like to believe that the heavy focus on partisan differences and identity could be relieved. That politics can be less an expression of electability and more an expression of a concrete stance, a vision.
In short, ShopRite instead of ShopWrong.