Since leaving the realm of daily journalism, specifically the opinion pages of the Kalamazoo Gazette, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to stomach politics.
Prior to switching to psychology full time, I spent six years taking the pulse of southwestern Michigan, particularly as it relates to politics. I sparred with Fred Upton and Jack Hoogendyk on a number of occasions, held meetings with dozens of local politicians and handled the letters and comments from community members who held strong political views.
Since leaving journalism, I have been encouraged to run for office and get involved in party politics, but so far I have found that to do that would betray all the ideals of journalism that I still embrace.
Now, I find myself switching channels whenever a political segment comes on either my television or radio. From what I do hear and based on my own immersion in the subject for the past six years, I feel quite comfortable in my understanding of where the leaders of both major parties stand on the issues. I don’t need to hear, read or see it 24/7.
I will vote but I firmly believe our system is broken and I am most disappointed in the media’s coverage of politics as a sport and its increasing polarization into conservative and liberal camps.
A recent New York Times piece about how journalists allow both political parties to wash their quotes before using them in stories is just another example of the sorry state of the field.
My time away from journalism has also made me realize how most of the people I talk to each day find politics too complicated, too ugly and generally too out of touch with what’s going on in the United States of America.
That’s why Kalamazoo journalist Chris Killian’s plan to visit the swing states and talk to voters from August to November is such an intriguing idea. I’ve worked with Chris at the Gazette and we both studied in the counseling psychology program at Western Michigan University.
Anyone who has read Chris’ work in the Gazette can see that he cares about people and is dedicated to telling their stories.
Based on my experience, I have a few predictions as to what he’ll discover.
There are a small number of strong conservatives and strong liberals who back Republicans and Democrats no matter what. These folks are so rooted in their beliefs that you can present factual evidence of mistakes both parties have made and it won’t make a bit of difference. There’s even research that explains this which you can read in Jonah Lehrer’s book, “How We Decide.”
I suspect he will also meet people who do not understand how our political system works. I ran into a number of people over the years who thought U.S. Rep. Fred Upton voted in the state Legislature. People will take time every four years to vote in the presidential election, but they rarely take the time to vote for the politicians who will have the most impact on their lives - school board members, city commissioners, even state legislators.
Another group Chris will encounter are those who decry the government and complain about paying taxes, yet take full advantage and can’t imagine living without its services - Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, disability, etc. Some of these people even work for the agencies which provide these services. These folks consistently vote for whoever promises to not raise their taxes, yet these same politicians vote to raise all kinds of “fees” which results in those who are struggling having to pay more for services.
But most people are much more complicated than our visions of conservative and liberal, people whose life experiences and outlook don’t push them into one category or another. Their stories are the ones I’m looking forward to reading and that Chris has pledged to write. I believe that these people are the heart of our great country.
I’m excited for Chris and his project. I love that he has been able to raise money through the Internet to pay for this enterprise and I kicked in a very small donation myself. As of my writing this, he has raised $3,601. He’s got 17 more days of fundraising and I figure given the age of the van he’s driving, he may need all he can get for unexpected repairs.
I look forward to seeing what he will produce in the coming months. It’s giving me a glimmer of hope for both journalism and the democratic process.