The polarization of America’s political parties might be brainwashing us all. Hillary Clinton’s 11-hour testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing put the former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate at the mercy of interrogative congressional representatives. And for nearly every minute, a bitter battle between the two sides of the aisle waged on.

Like Bernie Sanders, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D–Md.), a member of the committee, has had enough with the e-mails. He concluded, “It is time now for Republicans to end this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.”

Meanwhile, Republican members of the committee maintained the full-court press on Clinton along with stern looks and an icy indifference to humor.

The conservative base continues to exist in its own subset of reality regarding Benghazi. Now many of the major news outlets agree, none of the investigations drummed up anything significant about Clinton. But this does not include Fox News (sigh), which continues to label Clinton a liar. 

The partisan tension is so tangible now that CNN reports the hearing “is unlikely to have changed any minds.” We’ve survived the Benghazi round unswayed, so until another event causes controversy, the two parties have been called back to their corners in what is ultimately the fight for the 2016 presidency.

Listening to Cummings during the Benghazi hearing, he spoke with an impassioned voice and appeared to be emotionally stirred during parts of Clinton’s testimony. Meanwhile the Republican congressmen were cold and stern, like Bond villains. 

But I’m a liberal. To see it that way, am I conforming to the rules of partisanship? I struggle to determine whether I’m judging conservatives by what they say on the record or my preconceived ideas about them. By stepping into the shoes of a conservative sympathizer, it’s easy to buy their argument. They’re steadfast, serious and seem to hold their beliefs loyally. To each party, the other one seems to be made of buffoons and cheats, leaving middle-of-the-road-Americans with a difficult choice to make.

Political beliefs are influenced by other values. Conflicting principles lead to political debates where no solution is possible because both arguments make sense. Thanks to the two-party system, American voters are pressured into voting one way, and choosing a candidate based upon shared beliefs. 

But what if that same candidate also pushes for initiatives that would work against the voters’ self-interest? It’s hard to imagine a tougher political position than being something like a devout Christian living in poverty, a voter who watches the GOP simultaneously champion religious beliefs and rail against most social programs.

Seemingly major political distinctions like these are glossed over by the two-party system of politics, and voters don’t know how to vote in their own self-interest rather than for the politician who best resonates with the party. Calling someone a Republican or Democrat means as much as anything they could say in their own defense.

Titles resonate with the public more than a substantive debate about the issues (unless you’re Bernie Sanders). Americans seem to spend little time thinking about their own beliefs. I call this the “Shut-up-and-take-my-money” theory of voting.

The quickest way to identify a conservative extremist is to find the person who hates Democrats, and vice versa. When loathing for the enemy is a prerequisite, any move to compromise can cost you your livelihood. Just ask John Boehner.

The stalemate that couldn’t be ended by an 11-hour hearing in the House of Representatives will face one of two possible outcomes. First, the deep chasm that divides the two parties could remain unbridgeable until Election Day, and we can publicly look forward to 12 more months of dogmatic spitfire until the next president is decided.

Or, anyone intending to vote should take a deep introspective look at their own values and analyze their roots. This is the more hopeful, albeit much less likely, way to cut down the confusion and noise of the partisan divide on an individual standpoint. Whether it’s legalization of marijuana, an increased minimum wage or a white-hot military response in Syria, each unique belief has its own nuanced set of motives and values that we often fail to analyze within ourselves or our candidates.

The outcome of the election is the prize. At the moment the next president is announced, both parties get to see how well their campaigning strategies paid off and how many of the undecided they could lift up onto the bandwagon. After all, a CEO doesn’t need to be persuaded to vote for tax cuts. Whichever party claims the presidency will shuffle the deck — the game of politics will start anew and the Benghazi hearing will become a distant memory.

Society is so accepting of authority that it has allowed marketing firms and microphones to hijack our political system. The parties and their supporters tell us what to believe. It is easy to trust a voice on the radio, or someone giving a lecture, because they speak with some authority. Yet the system works best for individuals who choose candidates that conform to their own beliefs and fight the social obsession with joining one of the two existing clubs.

We can go through debates and hearings until the C-Span satellite crashes to earth, but the voice each voter should be concerned with the most is their own. Holding a free-form debate with the mirror should be higher up on everyone’s agenda in order to to establish a set of personal beliefs, and make it harder for political ad-men to buy and sell voters to big-politics.

The broad scope of two-party politics is too unspecific. It compromises individual values for conventional wisdom. Joining under either party’s flag with no self-awareness groups members into a faceless mass to be directed onward, and is a willing loss of liberty.

Tyler Scott can be reached at tylscott@umich.edu.

 

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