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Post details: Red Herring Issues

Red Herring Issues

Ever since denizens of the Neanderthal valley acquired enough vocabulary to trash their fellow cavemen for wearing out of style loincloths, gossip has been an integral part of our evolution into higher forms of life. Considering the lack of electronic gadgets available to humanity up until recently, man's fixation on the fortunes of other men is understandable. In the absence of a boob tube, peeping into dimly lit windows of your neighbors must have been the best value in medieval entertainment. Who could blame the poor unwashed peasants for sitting under a linden tree and passing judgment on their peers. In the era of Facebook, our passion for sticking noses gently into other people's affairs has been coddled on a global scale. And there is nothing wrong with that - nobody is perfect, right? But a line should be drawn when this ancient human proclivity gets hijacked for political purposes.

The magical rise of Rick Santorum in the Republican primaries and his holy obsession with what happens in private bedrooms of private citizens is an indicator that the party of Abraham Lincoln knows quite well how to play the ball in the political arena. Economic issues? Nah, too complicated. State of education - we don't need that. Wobbly financial system? Oh, still plenty of blind eyes to turn in that general direction. Immigration, health care, runaway income inequality? Oh, quit bothering me. Why don't we just play into centuries old peeping reflexes and start commandeering personal lives of the electorate.

Not so long ago, Michele Bachmann (a serious presidential contender at that time) opined with an absolutely straight and well made up face: "Gay marriage is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in the last, at least, thirty years. I am not understating that." Really, Michele? We are running record levels of federal deficit, millions of families are struggling with the aftermath of the economic crisis, our military is stretched thin and tired, and yet somehow you think that the average citizen should worry about some gay couple getting married on the other side of the town?

Social issues make for a great political chewing gum - they set your jaws in motion, but provide no nutrition to the body. They certainly won't help laid off Americans achieve their dreams. Neither will they stop the wealth flow into the upper strata of the society. But maybe that is exactly their purpose. It's all just a clever distraction for the population at large. There is a well connected group of people who profit from the status quo tremendously and they have absolutely no real interests in bringing the jobs back or lifting the working classes out of their poverty. From the point of view of this class, the ability to convince masses to vote against their own economic interest is priceless. That's why the social issues appear to be such a godsend. They are a masterfully placed red herring. A powerful wedge hammered into the popular opinion alongside an artificially created cleft. Divide and conquer at its best.

When it comes to massaging the minds of general public, social issues are second to only one other agent: fear. Nothing will hold restive mood of the populace at bay like a little dose of trepidation. I know this first hand. Communists in the old Soviet bloc used this tactic day in and day out. They figured out pretty quickly that people who are afraid are much easier to control than free and confident individuals. And contemporary right wing media took this doctrine to new heights. From Good Morning to the Evening News, we are bombarded with new evidence that some tent dwellers growing poppy plants in a desert on the other side of the globe pose existential threat to our way of living. Or that the latest labor friendly bill passing through Congress is a thinly veiled attempt to establish a socialistic dictatorship of the USSR. In the 21th century there is no shortage of things to be afraid of.

Under normal circumstances people like Bachmann or Santorum would be great fodder for Jay Leno. Unfortunately, we gave up normal circumstances around the time George Bush rolled into the office. In the era when American Idol contestants have better public recognition scores than recent presidents and news cycle is driven by Lindsey Lohan's court appearances normality is a rare flower. The sad truth is that people have always found it easier to be passionate about something they understand. It is hard to be furious about the credit default swaps or central bank's inflationary policy when you have only a vague idea of how it affects your life. And politicians just love that kind of setup. After all, waltzing with a Styrofoam mannequin in front of the TV cameras is so much more pleasant than having your toes stepped on by fickle reality when you try to tango with thornier issues.

Watching the seemingly never-ending marathon of Republican debates has been a surreal experience. Hours of prime time programming wasted on debating what form of entertainment corrupts our population most or which Middle East country we should be invading next. Nary a peep about the real problems. That Ben Bernanke's printing press is killing middle class America. That Congress, well supported by generous donations from the financial sector, spares no effort in shifting private debts onto the backs of US taxpayers. That good manufacturing jobs are being exported to cheap Asian countries with poor environmental controls and virtually no labor protection rights. But why worry about our country's future, when we can worry about details of our neighbor's sex life?

In the old days GOP stood for the Grand Old Party. It appears that these days that very same acronym merely reflects on the pragmatic menu of choices their loyal followers are being offered:

Gossip or Phobia?

And would you like Freedom Fries with that?



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