Saturday, October 25, 2008

Democrats are wrong and Republicans are stupid?

In the New York Times Campaign Stops blog, Douglas MacKinnon has a piece where he lays out an argument for why McCain could still win. Ignoring the polling numbers, MacKinnon relies on a sad fact about Democrats, which even Obama is quoted as saying in the piece: “Don’t underestimate the capacity of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.”

MacKinnon thinks the Democrats could fail again by underestimating the Republicans. That's a fear I share. But he explains it as follows:

"Republicans think Democrats are wrong, but Democrats think Republicans are stupid, and that’s why Democrats lose."

I've wrestled with this, and felt my share of liberal guilt about dismissing a large swath of the American population as stupid. But this statement is reductive. Republicans don't just think Democrats are wrong. Despite the fact that I live in a small town, because of my political views people like Sarah Palin believe I live somewhere other than the "real America". Because I believe in those words John McCain put in air-quotes as he spat them out, "Women's Health", many Republicans find my beliefs tantamount to infanticide. Because my interpretation of my Christian faith demands that I take a strong position as a pacifist, many Republicans think I'm a coward, or, at the very least, that I don't support people like my brother-in-law, who is currently serving in Iraq. People can respectfully find one another to be wrong. It's hard to respectfully call someone an unpatriotic, cowardly baby-killer.

Meanwhile, I see Joe-Sixpack Republicans who have suffered through years of stagnant wages while the plutocrats have become wealthy beyond imagining holding fast to the illusion that their hard work will make them part of that top one percent of earners. These folks decry socialism not out of some ideological sense of fairness to Paris Hilton, but out of fear left over from the Red Scare, and out of a genuine ignorance about the state of economic inequality in our country. I hear the descendants of immigrants voice the same kind of xenophobic slurs that translate to the mantra of generations of bigoted Americans: "We're the last ones who should get in." I've watched anti-abortion or fiscally conservative single issue voters pull the lever for a party that has a proven track record of increasing the number of abortions during their watch and of increasing the size of government and the federal deficit every time they occupy the oval office. I've watched people who claim to believe in enlightened self-interest vote against their own self interests over and over again. I would love to find a gentler word than "stupid", but nothing comes to mind.

I am willing to acknowledge that the Republicans, until this election, have had a more formidable political machine. If that's the measure of respect, then I respect them more than I do the Democrats. But that's George W. Bush style respect; respect earned through fear. I hope that, after four years of an Obama administration, Americans can rediscover a different definition of respect, wherein people lay out arguments based on facts and well reasoned political philosophy rather than race-baiting, fear-mongering, and reductive labels. When we still disagree, which we will, we recognize each other as informed, thoughtful, patriotic citizens who believe in each other's goodness and shared hope for our country. I want to feel that kind of respect for Republicans, and receive it from them in turn, but I'm not there yet, and the Republicans I know aren't there either.

8 comments:

@bdul muHib said...

I'd go further, and say the irony is there's nothing wrong with many Republican allegations. It's an honor to be called unpatriotic, as that means we're putting Kingdom First. It's an honor to be labeled a socialist, as that means we are putting into practice some of the Early Church, and are desiring to serve and help the least of these.

busyfeet said...

Well, said, Ben! It really is a shame that political discourse isn't more respectful. We get so damn distracted from the issues, and to whose detriment?! Our own! It seems that if conversations were really pointed, critical and mutually respectful, then we'd make much more progress as a nation. Besides, how is it that we're "promoting" democracy abroad when ours is so f'ed up in this regard? You know, so many people are voting, but they're voting without delving into the issues and their respective ramifications. As you said, people vote against their own interests. I mean, what does it say about our democracy (and our citizenry) when people's votes are based upon lies after lies? (Oh, and what's with socialism being so demonized? I mean, understand how communism, in practice, has been a dismal failure in some places like Ethiopia, Cuba,..,but socialism? I feel like I need to learn more because socialism has its benefits. I mean, I would say I'm part socialist in that I support universal health care and other sorts of programs that help people in need. Am I evil?

Benjamin Gorman said...

I'll bet you pinkos like programs like Social Security, too. Wimps! What, can't stand the sight of the elderly freezing to death in the winter, or starving to death in the streets? See, you don't have the spine to live in the Real America.

Seriously, tonight I hung out with some friends who are Republicans, and intelligent people I respect. They never once made me feel like an unpatriotic baby-killer. So maybe there's hope for us all.

@bdul muHib said...

Oh, Ben, I don't think you're unpatriotic at all! But unless you religiously follow the signature song of "Meaning of Life", I'd have to seriously affirm the 2nd appellation...

Joel said...

My quibble with your arguement, and it is a small one, is that Americans cannot "rediscover a different definition of respect." We would be discovering such respect anew. Fear-mongering and race-baiting are as old and fundemental to the republic as elections. A major political realignment, however, might allow progressives to stop cowering in the corner the way they have for most of the last 28 years.

laurenj said...

A lot of Dems I know think that Republicans - pretty much anyone who lives in the center of the country - are stupid. Partially because, as you laid out, there is so much contradiction in the conservative platform. But I'm sure that a critical eye could pick out a few progressive contradictions as well.

@bdul muHib said...

Definitely. We know Obama is the Messiah, yet there is that one time he made a mistake...

Anonymous said...

I won't say this near as eloquently as you did, so bear with me. I think a large part of the problem is that we tend to hang around people who think and believe similarly with ourselves, so that when we hear the "other" side via the media we feel free to rant disrespectfully about people’s ideas when those people are not around. Like your recent visit with Republican friends, I work around many people who disagree with me about a number of things (religion, politics, our jobs), but we seem to manage to have respectful discourse, b/c we are in close proximity and have to recognize one another as intelligent adults. By and large, if people are forced to argue face to face, intelligent folks won’t devolve into name calling. At a certain point, most of our belief systems reach a faith point, where we just believe what we believe regardless of any level of inconsistency, hypocrisy, or intelligent argument otherwise; the trick is to have that respectful disagreement on an intellectual level so you can understand where that point is. Once you get there in a respectful discussion, it’s much easier to understand where the “other” is coming from, and move on based upon whatever commonalities exist. - Bill