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Must everything be political?

Jul 25, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Driven by media commentators who need us to fight, we politicize almost everything

This summer a quarrel has emerged in Wyoming over whether it is permissible to teach long-established facts of science in our schools because they might be taught or interpreted in a way that appears to support a political position that is out of favor.

There's nothing particularly new about such a disagreement anymore. Standoffs over textbooks, the subject matter of particular courses, and the past or present affiliations of teachers have been the basis for many a politically based fight in recent decades.

Wyoming's newest addition to the body of agitation brings to mind a few questions: Should political points be the most-important consideration in every issue? Is politics the automatic starting point for everything? Is that the way we want to live?

If the foremost consideration for any question must be politics first then virtually every issue will be distorted by factors extraneous to those that ought to be at the true heart of the discussion.

Incredibly, political concerns are entering a wider and wider spectrum of consideration. Medical treatment is highly politicized now. The "liberal" and "conservative" angles on flu shots and other vaccinations already have been known for a while, but now similar talk is creeping into conversations about medication, hospital procedures and surgery.

Politics now plays an astonishingly large role in some places on matters of building construction, nutrition, transportation, the arts and, or course, religion. Followers of sports talk shows know that there now are conservative and liberal points of view on football (punting on fourth and short is liberal), baseball, (the American League is the liberal league because of the designated hitter) and basketball (the shot clock is conservative, the zone defense is liberal).

As national discussion is hurried along by media commentators who get richer if they keep everyone fighting, no doubt there are political opinions on a gardener's choice of flowers, ketchup on a hot dog, and front-wheel drive vs. rear. Entertainment has long since been viewed through political lenses. That's one reason there are 500 TV channels.

Gradually there is less and less to unite us, a smaller and smaller piece of common ground for all Americans.

It makes for a lively climate of human interaction, to be sure. If an argument every hour is what you want, then you've come to the right place. If you want to hunker down and never see or hear anyone who might make you think differently, then you can do that too.

Honest disagreement helped define our American ideals and shape our nation. And, lord knows, the world is better with both chocolate and vanilla.

But in better days political disparity seemed to be limited to bigger questions. It seemed to be driven by an objective of eventual unity more than it does now. We tended to argue because we wanted the best answer for everybody, not because we couldn't let the other side win.

The day might come when we need each other more than we think we do when all we ever do is argue and jump to conclusions. We might all be well-advised not to draw battle lines so quickly and with such anger and absolutism. Daring yourself not to think "politics first" is one way to go about it. Try it sometime.

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