Political Reality Test

red_berry tree

2013-11-10 – Who is more attached to reality, republicans or democrats, conservatives or liberals? I’d been thinking about this for a while when I stumbled into an online discussion yesterday that I’d like to expand on today.

The online discussion was triggered by an article on the Forward Progressives site entitled “Why Do So Many Conservative Voters Choose to Reject Reality?” in which the author Allen Clifton bemoans the asserted fact that conservative citizens in this country “literally vote against their own interest” (emphasis in the original). Clifton attributes this to a rejection of reality.

I saw this article on the Rachel Maddow Fan Page in Facebook and posted the following comment:

Steve Froikin I hate to say this, but articles like this contain the seeds of Republican [appeal to these voters]. It basically says: “You are stupid. I despise your values. And, by the way, I don’t understand why you don’t like me.” Don’t you think there might be a better approach?

The comment thread largely ignored this question, as most commenters seemed to like piling on with evidence of conservative stupidity, but one guy did respond. Here is what he said:

Tim Powers There hasn’t been a better approach for me. I have tried to ‘reason’ with them one on one; they don’t apply reason to their claims and only straight up insulting me for merely questioning their claims. So, no there doesn’t seem to be another way.

I didn’t respond back because I was out on a long walk, so the thread just passed me by. But I think it is an important issue to understand why the reds and the blues in this country are so unable to talk to one another.

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I doubt that a voter’s grasp of reality is one of them. Both sides of the divide have deficiencies in this area. Again, I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but I’d like to talk about two of them today:

  • How group identification affects your assessment of reality; and
  • How values affect your selection of evidence of reality.

There have been studies that show that we evaluate political statements based on who says them. So a statement like “I advocate policies that promote job growth” is cheered if made by a politician you like and jeered if made by a politician from the other side. This is apparently true, even if, when you dig into the details, both politicians are supporting the same legislation.

The biggest example of this is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is, of course, called Obamacare. And therein lies the rub. The right considers Obamacare to be so evil that it risks the destruction of the United States. Yet the differences between Obamacare and Romneycare (or other Republican plans, like Issacare) are pretty slight. The salient difference is in the label: Obamacare or Romneycare.

Now, if you think that this demonstrates Republican intransigence and dishonesty, consider this question? In all the years before the enactment of the ACA, why didn’t Democrats ever sign on to the Republican health care plan? Sure, it wasn’t a single payer plan. But when Obama embraced the market-based health insurance plan, Democrats signed on! It was better than nothing because it will cover tens of millions of people who have previously been uninsured. Why didn’t that same reasoning lead Democrats to support a Republican plan in years past? Because it wasn’t the Democratic plan. Group identification, plain and simple.

Now, the groups I’m talking about could be called Democrat and Republican or liberal and conservative or left and right or red and blue. But I think it is helpful to think of them as traditional values versus equality.

Equality is a numbers game. Statistics rule. Dollars and percentages. These seem to be hard facts. So when progressives accuse conservatives of being out of touch with reality, the world of numbers is what they mostly refer to.

Traditional values is an emotional game. Reality for a conservative is their faith and their pride in their country. No wonder the numbers people don’t get it. There are no numbers here. Is it stupid to value faith and country? I don’t think so. I may disagree with the policies these folks advocate, but that doesn’t make them stupid.

The left see themselves as oppressed outsiders. And the right perceives them as foreign. Guess what, outsider and foreign are two sides of the same coin.

The right defends the status quo against the outsiders. The left wants to break down the status quo to get access. Again, it’s the same thing, just a different point of view.

So how do we get past this? Tim Powers (see above) has tried but doesn’t see another way.

But there is another way, and that is to value your opponents’ positions and try to understand them. Value, not agree. The point is to understand and to welcome difference, not reject it.

The struggle for gay rights is a case in point. This struggle could have continued for years if it had been pursued in the courts and the streets as a right to be different. But that’s not what happened. The gay rights movement changed from a struggle to be different into a struggle to be the same. It became a struggle of gay people to remove obstacles that prevented them from sharing in traditional values!

Sure, this strategy didn’t win everyone over. But it has made amazing progress. It affirms marriage and the family while seeking to extend these things to people who were shut out. And, in so doing, gave people who might have reacted with rejection room to become comfortable with the new idea.

You’re not going to win over the zealots, but there are plenty of people in the middle. Call them stupid, tell them that they have no grasp of reality, and you’ve lost the battle.

(And if you want to see an example of what happens when a conservative institution reaches out and values the other side—without agreeing with it—just think about how the world has reacted to Pope Francis.)

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2 responses to “Political Reality Test

  1. Steve,

    Your post in its effort to understand (not necessarily to agree with) is quite admirable. Your reference to Pope Francis is apt. He seems to be a most unpretentious and kind man, but not a simple one. In time, I suspect, he will be vilified mostly by ‘conservative’ Christians, those who want it all. The sme is true in political debate, ideologues on both sides (conservative and liberal), vilification rather than argument will dominate because we humans want it all.

    As you may know, I have withdrawn from active political debate, engagement, not out of a sense of personal superiority, or a sense that I am above it all, or from resignation (I haven’t won a poltical argument in my extended lifetime). At this stage in my life I bristle a little at ‘advocacy’, at the effort to shape reality in the present case politcal reality. I have withdrawn (temporarily, I hope) from philosophy or at the effort to get at the structure of reality. Serious music and fiction provide me a new asylum. Why? Because I am taking a personal stand about “narrative” and creativity, life’s meaning consists in part in the stories one’s life tells and what new, the creative, one brings to that enterpirse. Perhaps, I am just camouflaging here a philosphical stance influenced by my efforts to understand the thinking of the likes of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Richard Rorty among others. My withdrawal into fiction and music doesn’t excuse me from thinking about the political, but it does indeed make me more sensitive to the thoughtful analysis you have provided your ‘public’ in this post.

    • Thanks, Greg. It is always great to see your comments. I talked to Bob R Monday for his birthday and we talked about you. He is retired now and has a Zen master (whatever that means to him). He was due to have dinner with Anne P and her husband that evening and she just posted a video of her dancing a Polka (at the restaurant) with Bob. Good luck with the music and fiction. I have a couple posts here about the truth in fiction (https://eightoh9.com/2013/10/31/rand-paul-and-fiction/) and (https://eightoh9.com/2013/04/14/truth-or-fiction/) and probably some others.
      My younger son just announced his college major–really a double major: art and music. Courses in his major eats up 3/4 of his remaining time in college. I am going to suggest he take courses in writing and literature, some business, and some kind of normal psychology (cognitive?). The writing and literature would be to give him a third part to his theme of artistic expression. The psychology is to understand audiences (and so I would add that he might want to take a theater course). And the business is for obvious reasons, but also to add depth to an understanding of audience.
      My other son is looking into returning to college after his stint as a chef. He would do pre-med. If he does that, he’s already prepared for long hours and he’s worn a white coat and worked with knives.

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