U.S. politics as seen through a Central American lens
We have once again completed a successful one-month college course in Nicaragua among our friends in the town of El Sauce. The relationship between Geneseo and El Sauce continues to grow and flourish bringing benefits to both communities.
While in El Sauce, I took a month off from listening to the ridiculous blather bubbling up from the open sewer that is otherwise known as the 2012 Presidential Election. It was great to take a break. It was hard to come home.
My time in Nicaragua was an opportunity to think about political labels and sound bites and how fraudulent and meaningless they can be.
Throughout my careers as teacher, minister, elected official, and journalist, I have had a consistent response to those who might come at me, trying to convince me with labels and sound bites. My response always begins, “In reality, the issue is more complicated than that.”
Years ago, a student in my class was making a political argument by repeating the talking points of her favorite politician. Another student challenged her to support the argument with facts. She steadfastly refused. She said, “I believe this because I don’t have time to check the facts. I believe this because it’s easier.”
Let’s face it folks. That very honest student speaks for us all, whether or not we choose to admit it. We believe things that are easy to believe. We reject ideas that require time and energy to research.
Political labels and sound bites allow us to have opinions on subjects that we know nothing about. That would be less harmful if our opinions didn’t turn into votes and our votes turn into policies that come back to bite us in the behind.
Take Nicaragua for example. Last year, I spoke on the phone with a father of a student who had applied to my course in Nicaragua. He told me that he would not send his child to a terrorist, communist country like Nicaragua.
First of all, if we check the facts, Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in the Western Hemisphere. This is ironic because it is one of the poorest. Secondly, the ruling Sandinista Party makes no secret that it includes Marxist principles in its policies. But, as I often say, life is more complicated than that.
Marx said that religion is the opiate of the people. The Sandinista’s have billboards all over the country proclaiming that they are both Socialist and Christian. In fact, Nicaragua is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. El Sauce is a town about the size of Geneseo. The Catholic Church is three times the size of St. Mary’s and is full for three Masses on a Sunday. Some folks walk two hours to get to Church.
In homage to the church, the leftist Sandinista’s passed one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws on the planet earth. It is a law that the Rick Santorum wing of the Republican Party would love to have passed in the United States. That wing of the party also hates communists with a passion. Strange bedfellows indeed! Politics, like life itself, can be very complicated.
So we bad-mouth Nicaragua, we execute an embargo against Cuba for half a century, and we run begging to the Communist Chinese to loan us trillions to fund our national debt. Sound bites are easy. Reality is complicated.
The Nicaraguan Sandinistas are socialist in that they believe education and health care should be available to all. Unlike Marx, they believe that private property, private enterprise, and free elections are necessary in a free society. They make deals with religious authorities, even when they disagree with them.
A wise teacher of politics once said, “Public policy is never determined by the facts, but rather, by our impression of the facts. The success of public policy is not tested by our impression of the facts, but by the facts themselves.”
You and I can stand on top of a building and argue whether or not a human being can flap his arms and fly. We are just two people with two different opinions until somebody decides to jump off the building and flap his arms. Facts are powerful things.
Between now and November, some very rich people are going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to pepper-spray our nation with political labels and sound bites. (Remember the good old days when rich people used to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building hospitals and libraries.)
Even when we don’t take the time to research every issue, let’s at least close our eyes now and again and acknowledge that the realities are more complicated than they seem.