The Great Divide
Fall is upon us once again, which for every red-blooded American means one thing: we bid a fond farewell to baseball and prepare to immerse ourselves in our true national past-time. Of course you all know which sport I'm referring to - the one where two teams go head-to-head and slam into each other mercilessly until one side is declared the victor; where fans on either sides paint themselves in reds and blues, where each side tries to scream the loudest to drown out the screams of the other; where commentators fill hours of airtime with stats, predictions, and commentary as they watch the battle unfold. That's right my fellow fans, election season is upon us once again.
Modern life is full of sports analogies - perhaps because so much of modern life is adversarial. After being ranked, graded, judged, and categorized for most of our lives, experience has taught us that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." While this "us against them mentality" may bring out the best in sport, it also brings out the worst in many other aspects of our lives.
Politics in our country has fallen victim to this "win at all costs" mentality. As a result, both sides have become so polarized that any meaningful chance at understanding or dialogue is going, going, gone! Rather than campaign on the basis of issues and solutions, modern-day campaigns have become epic mud-slinging contests. Rather than discussing ideas to make the country better or trying to find a middle ground on important issues, we spend our time demanding candidates' birth certificates or accusing them of being closeted Muslims.
In my mind, the Delaware Senate race epitomizes what is wrong with our current political system. For those of you not familiar with this race, it has been quite a circus. Republican nominee Christine O'Donnell is running against Democratic nominee Chris Coons for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden. There are plenty of reasons to criticize O'Donnell, plenty of valid substantive questions one might raise to attack her positions or qualifications for office (the woman had no idea that the First Amendment mentioned the separation of church and state). Yet up until this point in the election, the majority of the media's attention has been on the fact that at one point in her life she "dabbled in witchcraft." And so rather than focusing on the many issues pertinent to governance, the Delaware Senate race has turned into a good ol' fashioned Salem-style witch-hunt.
America was once arguably the greatest country on earth. Ironically, our myopic focus on an overly competitive political system has caused us to lose sight of what once made us great. While we were busy squabbling over Senate seats and House votes, we lost serious ground in the race to create a decent country for our children to grow up in.
In case you haven't noticed, our country is not doing so well. Since we seem to be so concerned with win-at-all-costs competition, let's see how we stack up when compared to the rest of the world.
According to the CIA World Factbook our GDP is second only to the European Union, yet our health system currently ranks 37th in the world and our life expectancy is 49th..We can expect to live a full six years less than those in the number one country. Our banks are ranked 108th out of 133 countries in terms of soundness, which means if not for the FDIC, your money would be safer just about anywhere else in the world. Our unemployment rate is 110th, so for those 3Ls still looking for jobs, there are 109 countries where you might have better luck than here. In terms of education, our children are 22nd in science, 27th in math, and 33rd in reading. This may not seem all that bad until you realize that those rankings only compare us to thirty-two other countries. So in every category our kids are in the bottom one-third, and in reading they're dead last.
Don't worry though, it's not all bad news, we're still number one in some categories --- like prison population and rates of incarceration. We also hold the top spot for gun ownership, external debt, and electricity and oil consumption. And while we were beat out for the top spot, we did manage to score 4th on the list of countries most likely to be attacked by terrorists.
Our country has serious problems - but rather than face them head-on and try to fix them we would rather spend our time hunting down witches.
With all the polarization and infighting, we have lost sight of the simple fact that we're all on the same team. The most important race we're running is against mediocrity, not against each other. We all want the same things: safety, peace, and prosperity. We may have different ideas of how to get there, but unless we can learn how to talk to each other, we'll never make it past the starting line.
Country Comparison :: GDP (Purchasing Power Parity), The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/20... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
The World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems, Geographic.org, http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Country Comparison :: Life Expectancy At Birth, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/21... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Soundness of Banks 2009 - Country Ranks, Countries of the World, http://www.photius.com/rankings/soundness_of_banks_2009_weforum.html (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Country Comparison :: Unemployment Rate, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/21... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Educational Score Performance - Country Rankings, Countries of the World, http://www.geographic.org/country_ranks/educational_score_performance_co... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Prison Population and Incarceration Rate - 2007 Rankings, The World Factbook, http://www.allcountries.org/ranks/prison_incarceration_rates_of_countrie... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Gun ownership rates by country, for countries responding to the UN survey, International Firearms Statistics, http://www.allcountries.org/gun_ownership_rates.html (last visited Oct 21, 2010).
Country Comparison :: Debt - External, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/20... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Country Comparison :: Electricity - Consumption, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/20... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Country Comparison :: Oil - Consumption, The World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/21... (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).
Likelihood of Terrorist Attack, photius.com, http://www.photius.com/rankings/terrorism.html (last visited Oct. 21, 2010).