It’s not just Clint Eastwood – we’re all talking to empty chairs

Clint Eastwood’s cute little empty-chair act at the Republican Convention made for good political comedy, both the action and the reaction. But it is also a symbol that, sadly, reflects our political culture these days. It’s like we’re all Clint pretending that empty chair is Obama – because nobody’s making an effort to actually talk to each other.

Politicians of different stripes won’t talk to each other. Democrats and Republicans in Congress use their floor speeches, news shows, press conferences and everything else to lay a hard line in debates, and to talk to their base. They refuse to even address an opponent’s plan unless they can think of snappy lines to insult or attack it, as Clint did at the convention. Even the Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations were voted down by Republicans on the commission (including one Paul Ryan) and ignored by the Democratic president (one Barack Obama) who wanted the thing in the first place! What chance do any realistic plans have in a climate like that?

TV news loves pundits who don’t listen or engage with the other side. Their show has to be snappy too, and they need lots of good take downs to get the ratings up. So they bring on pundits who talk  to… nobody. They talk for themselves, to raise their own profile and get on more shows.

Internet and social media allow us to pidgenhole ourselves online, and read only those articles and tweets that we agree with. Anything that goes against our ideas, we can dismiss easily as crazy or unfounded, because hey, it’s the internet! You can’t believe everything you read. So we’re talking to empty chairs there, too.

No wonder Rick Warren cancelled his Civil Forum.

Shields and Brooks on the PBS Newshour is my refuge. They have actual debates, and engage with each other’s ideas. Unlike what I suspect we’ll see in the Presidential debates.

I suggest this: before the election, try to have a civil conversation with someone of the other side. Whether you’re liberal or conservative. What do you have to lose?

We’re all Americans, after all.



About developingnathan
I am a reflective person. I am an introvert, a friend, a brother and a son. I appreciate a well-crafted glass of beer, piece of music and turn of phrase. I am a professional of international development, a good pianist and a Green Bay Packers fan.

5 Responses to It’s not just Clint Eastwood – we’re all talking to empty chairs

  1. Bobbi Jo says:

    I’d love to have a civil convo with someone on the otherside, but I keep getting attacked!

    • i have trouble too – but keep trying!

      • Bobbi Jo says:

        Nathan, I am at a loss for words when it comes to approaching civility. I have come to the conclusion that what really lies under the surface of radical stances is fear. People want to believe that all the things they have always believed in are relevant and true even when socio-economic changes render old ideas obsolete. Does anyone like big government? Absolutely not, but when the private sector has depleted, exploited and greedly consumed the wealth of our population, what entity still has the power to replenish and sustain? Do you know how many people I know of who were earning good incomes, never before took any “handouts” who are now dependent on foodstamps and assistance? It wasn’t because they behaved irresponsibily. So, both sides need to start looking at what is real instead of this patronizing attitude of Darwinism which is quickly turning our world into an Oligarchy. I have voted both ways, now, I vote one way because the other way, the Reaganism of the 80’s is no longer a viable model if we are to sustain a great middle class society.

  2. I was watching Bill O’Reily’s reaction to the DNC this morning, & he said, “There’s no question that the country is worse off today than when President Obama took office. And if you’re speaking to somebody who disputes that, immediately terminate the conversation, because that person is irrational.” That’s exactly the attitude that leads to this political isolationism, of not even acknowledging that there can be any legitimate opinions other than your own. (Or in this case, Bill’s own – not surprised to hear this from Fox.)

    But it’s not just Republicans – plenty of Democrats I know are incredibly unopen to talking with people who have a different vision of this country. And I agree – I think it’s driven in large part by fear that people might discover that the other side isn’t simply crazy or irrational. Fear that we might not be entirely right in our ideas. Though I also agree with you that we need a FAR more inclusive economy… i study poverty alleviation abroad but there’s so much to be done right here!

    • Bobbi Jo says:

      Your comments are much appreciated. I remember a time in my childhood when people WOULD NOT for any reason, disclose what party they were affiliated or who they voted for. I now understand why. There was a cohesion in our communities back then that united us as Americans and discussing politics was frowned upon and disclosing your party preference was viewed as divisive and inappropriate. My parents wouldn’t even tell us kids because we had loose lips. There was a respect for the process and a reverence for one’s privilege and privacy. Nowadays, our family is split and things are said that are mean spirited. It starts with family and ripples out to society at large. I watch both parties, I see good points in both, but at this time in what will soon be history, I have to yield to the greater social good because as a person who loves and studied business in college, I have seen too much in the corporate community that has a profound negative impact in the name of profits. In the past, a single digit profit was good. It allowed corporations to reinvest in the business, provide a decent return to shareholders and sustain its employment rolls. When business declined due to an economic recession, companies would do whatever they could to keep their employees working and “ride out the storm”. Now, even a prediction of stormy weather sends them running to HR for a layoff list. The Corporate world is largely responsible for the situation that we are in and I watch who they support. BTW, trickle down theory is a joke. It doesn’t happen. I now work for small business, helping them with technologically oriented marketing – social media, website development, etc. If it weren’t for small businesses in this country, the underemployed would be unemployed and I believe our unemployment would easily be in the range of 15-20%.

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