Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tear dots

Having long been an observer of politics, it has occurred to me over the years that the things that make liberals cry are not necessarily the things that make conservatives cry. This observation was validated recently when Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, made an appearance on 60 Minutes. The soon-to-be Speaker of the House, with his wife by his side, choked up when talking about the American Dream and how he hopes he can use his new-found power to make it accessible to more Americans. He reacted in a similar fashion when appearing before reporters shortly after the magnitude of the Republican victory became clear.

This reaction is certainly understandable, given Speaker-elect Boehner's humble background (one of 12 children whose parents owed a neighborhood bar in southern Ohio). It is probably true that a rise from such humble beginnings to being third-in-line for the top office in the land could only happen in a handful countries in the world. If I were in his shoes, I would probably cry, too.

Lots of people cry when reminded of their childhood or early adulthood. The feelings come up at weddings, funerals, and reunions. My uncle, who witnessed the horrific reality of the German concentration camps, never failed to attend his Army unit's reunion. (He could still don his uniform even into his 70's.) Even speaking of it would cause him to tear up. Some people weep upon hearing The Star-Spangled Banner or Pledge of Allegiance. The sight of a flag-draped coffin is heart-breaking for many. It apparently caused enough concern for the George W. Bush administration that they forbid pictures to be taken of them.

These are things that stir emotion in most of us, regardless of our political philosophy. They touch our patriotism and/or sense of nostalgia in a very meaningful way. They relate to God, country, and family--the very foundation of conservative religious values.

I didn't notice many moist eyes, however, in the early 1980's, when President Reagan was ignoring the new plague that was devastating thousands of American families. I don't see many tears being shed by conservatives for the miners who suffer from atrocious working conditions; or the folks who, as recently as last year, could not get health insurance because they suffered from poor health; or the people who, through no fault of their own, have been out of work for six months or longer; or the gay men and women willing to give their lives for our country by serving in the military who are at risk of being discharged; or the women for whom an unwanted pregnancy means physical, emotional, or financial ruin; or the workers who lose their jobs to sweat shops overseas; or home owners thrown out of their houses because they lost their jobs through the machinations of Wall Street billionaires.

What good is love of country if you hate so many of its people? It's easy to get sentimental over an ideal, a concept, a document like the Constitution. What's hard is to really care about human beings--imperfect, untidy, sometimes smelly or selfish or intimidatingly needy--people. To care about them is to realize that the work isn't done when the tears dry up. And this is why liberals are different from conservatives.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 'science is bunk' dot

In a news analysis story in the Denver Post yesterday titled, "On climate, the ignored elephant", Charles J. Hanley of the Associated Press makes poignantly clear that delegates to the two-week-long climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, were constantly looking over their shoulders at an invisible "elephant in the room", careful not to agree to anything that would actually require the U.S., along with other major polluters, to reduce their output of poisonous carbon dioxide. Although careful not to be too specific, delegates insinuated that the biggest obstacle to making real strides toward confronting "one of the greatest challenges of our time" was none other than "the impending Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives". Euphemisms included "governments deadlocked because of ideological divisions" and the "backward politics" of an unnamed developed country.

This item leads to connecting a dot to a David Brooks column titled, "Social science palooza", from The New York Times, December 6, 2010. In it, Mr. Brooks refers to this item from Kevin Lewis, who covers social sciences for The Boston Globe and National Affairs:

Classic research has suggested that the more people doubt their own beliefs, the more, paradoxically, they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them. David Gal and Derek Rucker published a study in Psychological Science in which they presented some research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counter-evidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs, thus confirming the earlier findings.

When I read this, I was reminded of something I read few years ago in Drew Westen's brilliant book,
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. In it, he tells of studies done in measuring the brain waves of college students during the presidential campaign of 2004 when presented with videos of their favorite candidate making statements, followed by other videos presenting evidence which contravened those statements.

When Kerry supporters were shown evidence challenging their beliefs, the part of their brains that indicates an effort to reconcile what they had just seen with their preconceptions became more active. In other words, there was at least a brief period of confusion and reassessment. Though they may not have ultimately changed their minds about Kerry, they had learned something or, at least, had been given "food for thought".

However, when Bush supporters were placed in a similar position regarding their previous beliefs about their candidate, the area of their brains which produces the fight or flight stimulus was almost immediately active, suggesting that, as in the study mentioned above, their reaction was to argue even more forcefully for their preconceived notions of truth.

This explains, perfectly, why Republicans can insist that global warming is "the worst hoax ever foisted upon the American people" despite over-whelming evidence to the contrary.

It explains why Republican hooligans from the Bush campaign could be sent to Dade County, Florida, to harass and intimidate the poll workers trying to sort out the hanging chad mess in 2000 and appear to be so utterly self-righteous that it reminded me of the mobs that used to string up prisoners locked up but "at risk of escaping justice" in the late 1800's and early 1900's.

It explains why Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina could shout out "You lie!" to President Obama in the middle of the State of the Union address (and be financially rewarded for it by his constituents)...and how a sitting Supreme Court justice could sit in the front row and visibly and plainly mouth the words, "That's not true," when the President said that the decision in Citizens United would lead to a massive increase in spending and influence by corporations in upcoming elections--something that we now know is a fact.

It explains why Republicans can be handed a sheet of talking points and told how to vote on a bill before Congress and they will follow it, without a word of question or complaint.

This is what happens when one's politics is based upon religion or beliefs inculcated in young children by their parents without any basis in truth but rather an unquestioning obeisance or respect for the "teller of truths". It is what happens when a person's ego has been so bruised that they dare not admit the possibility of error. It is what happens when self-worth is married to Eternal and Unchanging Truth. It is what happens when conservatism becomes preserving the status quo at whatever cost. It is what happens when one believes that all goodness came into being two thousand or two hundred years ago and nothing good has happened since. It is what happens when cynicism about humanity replaces the belief in one's own capacity to discern the truth.

The regulatory dot

Today's Progress Report, from the Center for American Progress, makes clear the difference between the two major parties as to whom governmental regulations are meant to serve. No, not, as those foolish Democrats seem to believe, the people, as in "of the people, by the people, and for the people", but the banks and Wall Street, as in "of the banks, by the banks, and for the banks". That's right. According to Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus of Alabama, the newly elected chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, "In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks". This will certainly come as welcome news to all the Tea Partiers out there in Wonderland who blame borrowers for ripping off unsuspecting bankers and naive Wall Street accountants.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Let's re-name the G.O.P.

I think it's time that we discarded the elephant as the mascot of the Republican Party. After all, the elephant is monogamous, big on family, and wise. Plus, it is becoming an endangered species. None of these attributes apply to the modern Republican Party. The only similarity between Republicans and elephants is that both travel in herds and leave a mess in their wake.

I propose, as modestly as I possibly can, that the new generic mascot of the GOP become the Fat Cat (think of Garfield). Instead of being the Grand Ole Party, the modern Republican Party would be known as Grandiose Obsequious Powerbrokers.

Case-in-Point # 1: With Americans suffering from the least cost-effective health care in the Western World, the Republicans lined up last year like, well, elephants, trunk-to-tail, behind the rogue bull known as the health care industry--immune to the suffering of people whose bellies were bloated, not from too many cocktails and calories, but from organ failure.

Case-in-point # 2: Blocked tax relief for 98% of Americans unless millionaires and billionaires got the biggest tax breaks of all.

Case-in-point # 3: Blocked medical aide for 9/11 rescuers and other victims because "it wasn't paid for". If it weren't for their implacable resistance to comprehensive health care reform, beginning in 1993, such ad hoc aid wouldn't be necessary.

Enough examples for now. I will post others as they make the news in coming weeks.