I used to think that Vitriol was some kind of heart or arthritis medicine. A recent report from Yahoo! stated that vitriol was being used to sell politics, and I thought since many of our politicians in DC were old that this was helping them stay at their jobs — ease the pain in their joints, keep things up in the air, help keep the ol’ thumper ticking. Whatever it took to keep them at making our country a better place. Then I learned it meant being caustic or nasty — specifically, a glassy hydrate that forms on metals. Since we once had a Teflon President, this seems an appropriate metaphor in the fiber optics age. I would agree that politicians are a caustic lot, and given the rise of pundit journalism this disposition seems to be settling in — after all, it is politics and many of us enjoy and rely on politics being a spectator sport. There does seem, however, to be a few things missing in all of this. First, there is little discussion of diplomacy. Where are the great statesmen? A few of our leaders are eloquent, but that does make one a statesman.
We live in a global village, yet many of our leaders are only protecting their own small constituencies. A statesman seeks ways to bring about a greater good for all. A great statesman can reach across parties and interests (or aisles, as they say in DC), yet that is a dying art. It doesn’t need to be. Second, Albert Gunther once wrote that if you ask a Democrat about the media, she would say that the media is pro-Republican and anti-Democrat, and vice versa if you ask a Republican. In other words, it is not only the politicians that have been prescribed Vitriol. There’s a reason pundit journalism is popular. Finally — and this is coming from someone who works at a large, state university – many, many people really don’t care. They’ll vote for their favorite candidate every four years – often the choice is based on looks or parental guidance (and I use that term loosely) – and then forget about the whole thing. Pundit journalism speaks to a small, yet vocal, crowd. We need to get back to civic journalism, where the point is to look at specific problems at the community level and figure out solutions. We also need a few courageous individuals to run on a global political platform. Of course, they would have to be good looking to get anyone to vote for them.