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Intro: "Someone very smart once said, 'Your labels are your handles.' And we've got handles. Left and Right. Liberal and Conservative. Democrat and Republican. In these war-weary years of our financial discontent, we are clinging harder than ever to those labels. Or, perhaps, the labels are clinging harder than ever to us. Either way, this increasingly embattled form of identity politics only makes our handles easier to grab. And the country easier to steer."

(art: Nate Beeler/The Washington Examiner)
(art: Nate Beeler/The Washington Examiner)

America: Divided, Conquered

By JP Sottile, Reader Supported News

28 April 11


omeone very smart once said, "Your labels are your handles."

And we've got handles. Left and Right. Liberal and Conservative. Democrat and Republican. In these war-weary years of our financial discontent, we are clinging harder than ever to those labels. Or, perhaps, the labels are clinging harder than ever to us. Either way, this increasingly embattled form of identity politics only makes our handles easier to grab.

And the country easier to steer.

Like the shiny handlebar of a child's bike, our political culture is adorned with two tassels ... red on one side and blue on the other. For the moneyed elites who run this country, getting what they want is as easy as riding a bike. They make sharp turns to the right and veer a little to the left. But, all the while, they keep peddling exactly where they want to go - directly to the bank.

It is no coincidence that the gaping gap between the super-rich and everyone else has widened at the same time the rift between Red States and Blue States has grown. Instead of the ever-more relevant distinction between "rich" and "poor," the political-media complex profits from emphasizing the woefully binary, two-party paradigm that serves them so well. Political salespeople feed us a steady diet of re-heated arguments, each advocating that you buy their brand. And you are what you buy. You are either Red or Blue. A one or a zero. With us or against us.

The more we identify with this binary system of ones and zeroes, the more the financial class is able to play their zero-sum game. They get the sums, and we get the zeroes.

The greedy hands of the top 1% grab us by those Red and Blue handles and turn us against each other in order to keep us from turning against them. It's all just public relations to the power people who shuttle to the nation's capital on private jets, eager to grease the palms that pull our strings ... and tug on our tassels.

Forget Red and Blue ... their true allegiance is to green. And each successive election cycle sucks more and more money into the coffers of their vibrant, growth-oriented political industry. This coming year, the President plans on raising a billion dollars [1] for his re-election. The GOP will try to match it. Where does that money go? To advertising-hungry TV stations, well-heeled consulting firms, pandering pollsters and the manipulative lobbyists who live in the recession-proof economy of Washington, DC.

When you get down to the bottom line, it's all about the bottom line. The two parties, the media and the wealthy people who own them both, all profit greatly from perpetuating this epic dog and pony show that distracts us from the real "us vs. them" - the brutal class war that has raged for three decades.

It's ironic that, in this land of labels, we have such a hard time with economic class. Despite the facts and figures, many of the poor and working poor still call themselves "Middle Class." Oddly, so do many of the wealthy. Yet, the actual Middle Class shrinks every year. It doesn't seem to matter who is in control, whether Republican or Democrat. They organize us around fiery "hot-button" issues, but, from Reagan to Clinton and from Bush to Obama, they've held the line on key economic policies: tax gifts for the rich and subsidies for corporations; outsourcing and globalization; deregulation and bailouts for Wall Street; and Alan Greenspan's maddening method of using the Fed to enrich the rich.

Meanwhile, the more we hate the stance of the other side, the more likely we are to accept less from our own party. Even as we find it harder to vote for someone, they know, at the very least, we will readily vote against someone. Despite President Obama's broken promises and concessions to the power of Wall Street, his team knows that the Blue People have no choice ... they will vote to keep the Red People from winning. The same goes for the other side, where the Red People reliably vote against their own economic self-interest due to a variety of social fears and moral judgments ... anything to keep the Blue People from winning.

You see, they have us ... handled.

And it's only getting worse. We increasingly mimic the babbling heads by actively slapping labels on each other. Patriots and traitors. Fascists and Socialists. Pro and Anti. The Tea Baggers sling ill-informed epithets like "socialist." So, the Left uses "idiot" as the go-to response to the loud ignorance of their fellow Americans. It's an angry reaction to the long-manipulated Right's seething, self-satisfied claims of moral superiority.

Calling each other names offers a visceral satisfaction. But saying "they started it" does nothing to bridge the growing gap between us. Rather, these identifications keep the body politic marching to the two-party tune of the moneyed elite. So long as we obey the orders - "left, right ... left, right ... left, right" - we present little threat to their rarified position or to their unique power to spill the blood and hoard the treasure of both this country and of the empire they've built around it.

The more we are divided, the more they can conquer.

Rejection is our last resort. When we look at the bottom line, at the empire that is draining our treasury and the sacrosanct economic policies both parties refuse to transgress, we see that we must stop playing into their hands. We have to stop letting fear of Red or Blue line the pockets of the rich with green. It's hard. It's hard to stop fighting.

Another smart person once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." We know what that led to, right?

Don't wait for the civil war or for other side to change. Make a start by ending your part of the cycle. Give your money to a "third" party. Money talks, so speak up. Give your vote to a "message candidate" outside of the zero-sum game of the two parties. Start looking for alternatives and support them. Don't expect different results from pulling the same lever ... over and over again. And stop playing the media's predictable game of "I'm rubber, you're glue."

Why? Because the two-party system wants to keep its grip on our handles. If we reject their labels, perhaps they'll lose their grip and, eventually, lose their power.

America must give up the empire abroad and end the class war at home. To get there, we must first reject the two-party system and the language of political division that is doing little more than making us all either red or blue in the face.


JP Sottile is a newsroom veteran. His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, Executive Producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, and a two-time Washington Regional Emmy Award Winner. In addition, JP is a documentary filmmaker. your social media marketing partner


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+16 # fred bjorklund 2011-04-28 20:59
I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you.
+2 # Wanda 2011-04-28 22:31
Don't give me that! What's that 3rd party going to do? You can't say, of course. The bottom line is as green for the third party as the other two.
Third party idea is a cop out for a public that doesn't support public funding of campaigns. Each qualified candidate through signature drive should be allowed only so much in spending and the public should expect honesty and integrity when talking about the issues. As long as the public want to be dumbed down with entertaining add contests then it's the public's fault.
The people get the government they deserve. Considering what Republicans are doing to this country, any middle class person who votes Republican is a Chicken for Col. Sanders.
+9 # jon 2011-04-28 23:26
"America must give up the empire abroad and end the class war at home. To get there, we must first reject the two-party system and the language of political division that is doing little more than making us all either red or blue in the face."

Well said, JP Sottile; but, where would you recommend we, as a people, begin?

I modestly propose that we ALL move our banking from commercial interests to a LOCAL credit union.

The more suddenly that this happens, the less likely that we - the People - will be countered by the Establishment, and we ALL know how good they, armed with their lackeys in Congress, are at countering the Will of the People - or anything else closely resembling a Democracy.
+2 # cadan 2011-04-28 23:49
Fred i agree. I think JP is right. With just a few exceptions it might very well be that any 3rd party candidate for any office is better than one of the two mainstream ones. How many 3rd party candidates support these multi-trillion dollar wars?
+5 # tomo 2011-04-29 00:10
Sure, it would be good to stop the reflex-action denunciations of one's political opponents. How many liberal diatribes does it take to prove Sarah Palin isn't very intelligent? Answer: "Too many." An infinite number wouldn't make a difference. So why bother?

The reason we bother is that were we to go in the direction to which J.P. points, it wouldn't be any fun. When Gandhi's followers were beaten with cudgels by the Brits, it wasn't much fun. When King's followers were bitten by dogs and hosed with fire hoses, that wasn't fun either. Going to jail can be a real downer. So we continue to do what we're used to doing. We rant against a loss of jobs to masses exploited overseas, but rush to get in on a sale at Wal-Mart. We despise Exxon, and Chevron, and B.P.--but we're a sucker for the "elegance, power, safety, and comfort" of the latest gas-guzzler--to the point we happily enter a new ten-year relationship with one.

We do politics as we do video games and watch Nascar--as an alternative to taking on the real challenges of our time. (It comforts us we're not "backward" like those clueless people in the Middle East--Tunisians , Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenese, etc.--you know, those Muslim types to whose countries we keep sending soldiers to teach their inhabitants the democracy and sound economics we have here at home.)
+1 # Betty Faas 2011-04-29 00:21
But, are we not afraid that, if we vote for a third party candidate or an honest candidate from our own party who is not considered 'mainstream' (in the primary), we are throwing away our votes and helping the other party's candidate win (someone we'd not want to win)?
+1 # je proteste 2011-04-29 02:36
The Blue People have no choice?

How else would one explain that low turn-out for the midterms?

(Does "None of the Above" count as "third party"?)
+1 # Scott Howdeshell 2011-04-29 02:44
Well done.
+2 # MJnevetS 2011-04-29 07:03
While I agree fully with the content, the 2010 election showed what voting for the 'other' results in. Voting my conscience resulted in a negated vote and a tea party/republica n sweep in my state. (Not that my 1 vote would have necessarily changed that outcome, but how many others voted for an 'unelectable' 3rd party candidate which may have helped skew the elections to the red side?)
+2 # thomash 2011-04-29 07:06
Ditto, fred bjorklund
+1 # spiritcallsus 2011-04-30 13:26
A most cogent article (except for the 3rd party recommend)... what the author calls "binary" (0-1) I call 'Dualism (+/-)" ... Dualism (+/-) is the world of limited ego belief systems where each thinks themselves "disconnected" (no "bridge") to the "other" ... promoted by orthodox (exoteric) religious views of God/Satan, Right/Wrong with no middle ground "grey areas" ... just Polarization and it's conflicts ... Dualism has the (/) in between natural potential differences as standing for the VOID or GAP (no Bridge) where there is no cooperation due to FEAR of differences (Conservatism on the "side" that refuses change) ... the "side" that calls itself the (+) and labels the other it's enemies (-) ... The very Truth of the UNIverse, what I call the BET (Basic Equation of Truth) and symbolize as (+=-) is a TRINITY which transcends Dualism and replaces the VOID of (/) with the COMMON SPIRIT of GOD (not God nor gods) with the BRIDGE SIGN of EQUALITY, the (=) in (+=-)... By the realization and the use of our common Spirit we can bridge the gaps and voids of fear (which our hidden leaders promote for divide and control means) with the common ground of compassion and cooperation which results in Creative Synergy (rather that fighting and destruction) ... Trinity (+=-) > Duality (+/-) ... ... PEACE THROUGH COOPERATION !!!
+1 # mindwideopen 2011-05-02 16:16
I must say I had a bit of an epihany reading this article...I recently started a new job and have a co-worker who leans pretty far right. Upon learning of his political persuasion I built walls. I steadfastly disagree with virtually everything the far right represents. I find the crap being spewed by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and all things Fox repulsive! My co-worker is no doubt equally sickened by Maddow, Schultz and Olbermann. I find it hard to be non-eliteist!

My point is, I have come to learn that politics aside, my co-worker is a really nice guy. This article addresses the most prevalent prejudice of our time...The political divide!

Thank you JP...Amazing article!

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