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The Daily Tar Heel

American politics is going South

As any good college student does on a daily basis, I procrastinated the other day. While squandering untold precious hours of my quickly dwindling time in Argentina, I came across one of the most outrageous foreign political dramas I could possibly imagine.

In the midst of economic hardship, an unpopular war and general malaise, a country elected an apparently bright young visionary with an academic background and foreign-sounding name who promised a new direction for the nation. Sadly, this newfound hope quickly devolved into the prevailing partisan quagmire in just a short time.

Within months one party subtly accused the other of being beneficial to corporations at the expense of the people. The other was convinced that the ruling party intended a thinly-veiled takeover of the nation. Both camps seemed to agree that their opponents were incompatible with the future of the country. To make matters even more confusing, a popular media source was accusing the president of being born in a different country and thus disqualifying him for the presidency.

I could hardly believe my eyes as I learned more and more about the convoluted politics of Peru in the 1990s (Wait, what did you think I was talking about?). The fact that I can fairly accurately compare the political mess of the 2010 midterm elections to that of a developing South American democracy — only years out of a military dictatorship — should be disappointing to us as Americans.

In a country with over 200 years of popular elections, it appears that the U.S. has not risen above the tragic tactics of mud-slinging and ad hominem attacks. Witness the straw man bashing, attacking “socialist” or “racist” agendas.

Calls to “punish” our enemies abound. Sounds good, except that the enemies in question are our fellow citizens whose main offense is having different ideas than ours. It would appear from the rhetoric being thrown around casually that “they” (you know, them) are at best fools and at worst liars who should only barely be seen as a legitimate rival of political expression.

As many “Yes We Can” stickers as you may have and as much as you despise the “know-nothing” Tea Party, chances are that you would not be willing to support President Barack Obama if he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by fiat. Likewise, as much as you rail against the “free-spending liberals,” you probably do not want to see them overthrown and rotting in jail. And if you do, you probably need some help.

Thankfully, neither of those scenarios will happen here. Nonetheless, as the rising generation of the world’s greatest democracy, we should think twice before we dive headlong into the divisive rhetoric of our forefathers.

We should be very grateful for that, because many of our Southern neighbors do not fully have that security.

But we should ask ourselves: Is the ferocious, bitter and demeaning rivalry the best we can do?

Kyle Olson is a columnist for the Daily Tar Heel. He is a junior international studies major from Stafford, VA. Email him at kdolson@email.unc.edu.

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