Column: Media-fueled public perception prevents progress

If one were to look at a map of the United States charting reform, innovation, and collaboration, there would be a stark dichotomy the likes of which has never been seen before. In Silicon Valley, innovation blossoms, with young thinkers bringing every possible creation to life in what is one of history’s greatest technological booms. Conversely, there is little to no innovation or collaboration on Silicon Valley’s East Coast counterpart. In Washington D.C., a new and innovative idea will almost assuredly be met with “off the table” status. And while some hard lining and stagnation is to be expected in politics, is it really acceptable for our government to be so deplorable at its job? Have there really been such stark ideological shifts in both parties that don’t allow people to negotiate in a bipartisan manner anymore? Call me a helpless romantic pining for old times, but I fail to believe that. Instead, I place the blame on the pervasiveness of current media, and our infatuation with trivial reporting as a society.

Never before in our history has media presence been so widespread and pervasive. It permeates nearly all facets of American life, giving no break to America’s prominent individuals, politicians included. And this poses serious threats to those in politics, as everything they do is scrutinized by potential voters, from what they voted on that afternoon, to what they ate with their eggs that morning, to which homeless person they did or didn’t give a dollar to on the street as they were passing by.

Recently, Congress passed a raise to the debt ceiling, keeping America out of a default for now. The process to get there, however, was anything but simple. Republicans, who, for some reason, are expected to oppose keeping America fiscally solvent, had to practically hide who voted in favor of passing this debt ceiling, despite the fact that many of them supported it (House minority leader Mitch McConnell and 11 other House Republicans joined the Democrats in passing this negotiation). Congressional Republicans, led by Ted Cruz, needed to use a 60-vote threshold to allow the topic to be negotiated, and then allowed the Democrats to win by majority in the vote itself.

If, however, vote tallies were not affiliated with names in Congress, politicians would be free to vote the way they feel compelled to in order to uphold their oath of office rather than blindly vote how their constituents think they want them to vote. Already, McConnell and the other 11 Republican Congressmen have received immense criticism for this vote, despite the fact that it was necessary in order to keep the American government running for the next year. If the vote had gone through without the American people knowing who voted ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ an even larger majority of Congressmen would’ve voted ‘yes,’ as it’s what is best for the nation and no one would have been scrutinized for keeping America afloat fiscally.

This phenomenon isn’t the only risk of widespread media availability, though. I recently received a five page propaganda pamphlet from the Tea Party, telling me about the “atrocities being committed upon the American people [by Obama].” This in and of itself, while somewhat ridiculous if examined closely, is protected under our 1st Amendment, but it seems as if pure lies and hateful rhetoric should be monitored. The email went on to explain how the U.S. Postal Service and the Department of Education have been stockpiling weapons and over two billion rounds of ammo so that Obama, nicknamed the “King” in this email, could create a shadow army of federal agencies while dismantling the current military, stripping citizens of their guns, and shredding the Constitution. It went on to, among other things, completely misinterpret President Obama’s declaration of Executive Orders during his State of the Union Address. The email read, “Remember, Obama is giving more power to these agencies through his Executive Orders. He said so himself.” This, however, is taken completely out of context. In his Address, he used the promise of Executive Orders to enact promising changes to the American way of life that Congress and its ineptitude couldn’t deliver, such as raising the minimum wage for federal employees to $10.10 an hour. In no capacity has Obama used the Executive Order clause to create a “shadow army through federal agencies.” This type of fear-mongering and inaccuracy is not what reporting should be about, and only stands to hinder American progress.

For people who rely solely on these emails from the Tea Party for their political information, these ‘facts’ seem real, and thus their votes reflect their convoluted interpretations of American society. As a result, politicians, in order to maintain office, need to go against their better judgment and enact laws that may not necessarily help the American people overall. If pure fear-mongering and inaccurate reporting, along with hateful rhetoric, were censored by a non-partisan agency, it seems as if a lot of the political quagmire Washington is experiencing could fizzle out. Perhaps this isn’t the only solution to a now pervasive problem, but it surely is a productive start. Politicians need the freedom to regain their consciences and enact reform and legislation that is designed to help the American people, regardless of party affiliation or public perception. In fact, it seems as if the very tables the Founding Fathers were wary of when they drafted the Bill of Rights have turned, with the media exerting unequal power and control over those making the laws. Just as government has myriad restrictions on what it can or cannot do, so must the media be regulated so that it serves to promote both the transparency of the government and the welfare of the nation as a whole.