Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to make a political issue out of agreement

If we were all as ideologically consistent as we believe we are, there would really only be a few things we’d argue about. Thank goodness we’re hypocrites! But in many cases, something happens that causes us to divide over an issue that we nearly always agree upon; and it usually involves siding with a friend.

Now, I don’t expect this to be the next great political issue, or the thing that will swing the 2012 election, and I’m not pretending it is, but I think it can serve as a good example of the difference between ideology and politics—and why the left/right dynamic is ridiculous.

The issue is about a background check company for social media, storing everything you’ve ever done on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al. for up to seven years. We have already been warned of the “dangers” of the internet age and Web 2.0 and how nothing ever really gets deleted, but this company, and the FTC ruling that it is fair and appropriate highlights a slippery slope that neither liberals or conservatives would be crazy about. For liberals, the idea that one’s personal liberty is being infringed or that mistakes cannot be truly taken back is chilling. For conservatives, the idea that someone/-thing is tracking you and may be used by a government agency is offensive. There is real common ground between the two ideologies around personal rights.

There are, however, two groups that hear this and get excited. The first, of course, are corporations—particularly CEOs and HR people that are looking for the ideal solution to weed out workers. This, of course is a tiny part of the population, but they have a great megaphone (according to the Supreme Court) in the form of big bank accounts. The other is the well-just-don’t-use-Facebook types. The people that see the solution to restricted liberties as an opportunity to make everyone step back to where they already are. You know; the person who doesn’t mind about the ramifications because it doesn’t involve them anyway. In other words: the “perfect” people.

The path to division becomes quite clear: despite the fact that both ideologies would naturally oppose such a thing, the pro-corporate and “perfect” influences within conservatism would undoubtedly encourage Republican leaders to champion this innovation and give conservatives an opportunity to champion personal responsibility, despite internal concerns about its compromising of a person’s liberty. Democrats would stand up, naturally siding with their governing ideology, and (shocker!) see themselves on the opposite side of the issue and (gladly) championing the rights of the people.

Of course, this probably won’t happen—and I could just as easily see the positions flipped on this same issue—but it serves as a hypothetical example of the wider, normally unexamined part of the political divide. Our governing ideologies are so very similar, but it is the local politics and affiliations that divide us.

What other issues should liberals and conservatives be ideological allies toward?