I live in Texas which is not known to be a liberal state. However, I live in the capitol, Austin, which is known to be a progressive, hip place to live. Yet we find ourselves situated firmly in this great state. Wanting to be a good, informed citizen I tuned into the final governor’s debate for the election coming up next month. The Republican is Greg Abbott our State Attorney General. The Democrat is Wendy Davis, a State Senator, who rose to prominence during the legislative session of 2013. That summer she filibustered the law that severely restricted access to abortion in Texas. Her filibuster was ultimately unsuccessful and the law that passed in the summer of 2013 went fully into effect October 4, 2014.
I find myself on one side of the political spectrum, however I still wanted to listen and see what both sides were saying. I know who I will vote for, but to me the debate itself is important. The back and forth of ideas helps all of us become better citizens. But I did not hear a debate. I heard political attacks hurled from the candidates mouths. Each called the other a liar. They were not engaging in a debate of ideas so that citizens could inform themselves and vote; they were engaging in an ideological war.
There are two clear examples of these candidates seemingly living in different worlds. First, in relation to the topic of education. Wendy Davis charged that Greg Abbott wants to extend standardized testing to include children as young as four years old. She even went so far as to say that it was on page 21 of his plan for education. Greg Abbott exclaims vociferously that he does not want to test four year olds. Which of them is correct? Does Greg Abbott’s education plan include standardized testing for pre-kindergarten classes? Or does it not? These are facts. One is true. The other is false.
The second example is slightly more complicated. Both candidates claim that the other is acting unethically in relation to the Texas Enterprise Fund. In a recent audit it came out that this pet project of current governor Rick Perry has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars with little or no oversight to private companies. Many of these companies never officially applied for these grants and their reporting requirements were almost nonexistent to prove that they were creating the jobs they said they would (here is a Dallas Morning News article that explains the scandal).
Greg Abbott claims that Wendy Davis personally profited when, as a member of the City Council in Fort Worth, she was part of the deal that brought $400,000 from TEF to a company that used her title company. Davis claims that Abbott should have had better oversight over TEF as the Attorney General. She charged that his office had gone so far as to cover up some of the missing applications. She says she didn’t profit. He says that all the companies met the “requirements” and it was the legislature’s fault for not requiring silly things like applications. Which is it? Both of these are contradictory claims.
These two seemingly disparate examples are actually examples of the same principle. People on different sides of the political spectrum no longer live in the same worlds. In all honesty it doesn’t matter who is correct. It doesn’t matter because I will believe the person that I already back. The facts no longer seem to have any relevance on our political discourse.
What is actually “true” is no longer important; what matters is being able to get the support of your base. These two candidates are not trying to present themselves to the public in a debate. They are appealing to their base. They want to convince those already convinced that they are correct that this election is important enough to vote in. In order to do that they have to scare their base into thinking that if they do not vote the opposition is not to be trusted to run the government.
Precisely because we have more information than ever at our fingertips, we are only seeing the information that already supports our world view. The sheer amount of loud information that is screaming for our attention prevents us from having debates. We spend all our time informing ourselves that we forget to think critically about what we are digesting. This debate here in Texas, a polarized state where all the progressives run to the big cities or hide in the small towns, is yet another example of how we have moved beyond simply disagreeing about the best path forward to demonizing our opponent as out of touch with reality.
All of this has left me feeling like I don’t actually trust either of these candidates. I will vote for one of them in November but only because I am afraid of where Texas will go if the other is elected. Apparently the fear mongering has worked, at least on me, even as I’m trying to rise above it.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.