The Problem with Writing about Politics

Even though I’m finishing a novel about politics, I find it increasingly hard to write directly about current political issues.

I started writing a post for this blog about the 99% who are occupying Wall Street, Los Angeles, and even Minneapolis to protest against the 1% wealthiest Americans. There is now a new group, the 53% who are protesting against the 99%.

1%, 53%, or 99%. Have we turned into types of milk? But it’s not just the issue itself that is causing me frustration in writing about it.

As I have gotten older, I’ve learned to look at all sides of an issue. I understand the plight of the 99%, but I can see the point of view of the 53%, since I too had to work my way through college and earn what I have today.

I see the frustration of both the 53% and 99%. That’s because I don’t see the difference between the hipster who lives in his parents’ basement and spends his pocket change on weed and the trust fund baby who glides on her parents’ fortune and seeks to parlay a sex tape into a reality show career. I don’t see the difference between the poor person who commits welfare fraud and the CEO who trashes his company — leaving shareholders, employees, and customers in financial ruin — and uses Federal bailout money to pay himself millions in bonuses.

Everyone needs to work hard, be honest, and pay their fair share to contribute to society. This isn’t class warfare. This is a basic American value. The issue is as simple as that.

Unfortunately, many people don’t look at issues this way. People like the visceral, the sound bite, the extreme. It’s much easier to compare your political rivals to Hitler than to try to understand their point of view so you can address it. I was once as shrill and extreme in my political views — when I was in college and broke, frustrated, and scared. As I got older, made a life for myself, started interacting with different types of people, and learned more about the world, I became more open to others’ points of view. But try to have a mature discussion about a political issue with a 53%er or a 99%er. You’ll wind up being called a communist or Nazi (or both, even though it makes no historical sense).

That’s why fiction may be the one of the few ways to have intelligent political discourse in this country. When you write characters that readers can relate to, it can tear down the readers’ ideological walls and help them see things differently. Satire works too. I’m a big fan of Lewis Black and Jon Stewart because they rip through the nonsense and cut the self-important and the ridiculous down to size. They’ve also shown that they go after the left and the right equally and have no patience with stupidity from either side. And both sides are offering stupidity in abundance.

We need to look at problems creatively and with humor to give us the perspective to solve them. The first step is that we need to stop putting ourselves in 1%, 53%, and 99% boxes and see how the 100% of us can work together to solve this current crisis.