Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Us And Them

Imagine a room with ten people, half of them Tea Partiers and half normal people like us. Suppose the conversation was limited to Mom and apple pie, expanded perhaps to all relatives and recipes. Would political affiliations be revealed? Possibly not if we tried hard to contain ourselves. What if we added movies or books? My guess is that values would slip out which translate into political persuasion.

It calls into question the differences, not just in policy, but in mind-set, even language, between the two parties. What makes those who don’t live in the big house on the hill vote Conservative? Why do they continue trying to de-legitimatize the President, suppress voter turnout and saturate the media with lies? Can it be traced back to family dynamics early on or is it, as Woody Allen suggested facetiously, a brain tumor?

Clearly, if people voted in their best interests, Democrats would win every election in a landslide. Why they do not is a fair question. Class consciousness is such a taboo in this country, close to a third of union members align themselves with their corporate bosses. Marx would turn over.

There are those, raised by strong patriarchs, who listen for that authoritarian voice their entire lives. Bertrand Russell once said, The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves and wiser people so full of doubt. Tea Partiers are the folks who see deliberation as weakness. Fear is their default position whether it is fear of God, fear of immigrants, terrorists or anyone who just doesn’t look like one of us.

Conservatives are also afraid of change. They are the push-back against progressive social programs. Of course not all change is progress but as Groucho, that other Marx, sang, Whatever it Is, I’m against it. This has been the Republican mantra. Gridlock is not dysfunction for these people; it is their goal.

Technology is much more than gadgetry. It causes a disequilibrium in the way we live, at least until we come to terms with it. In this age of unimaginably accelerated innovation those with a Conservative bent tend to fall back on traditional institutions like the church and other real or imagined myths and these familiar images trump class in the voting booth.

And then there are guns; another function of fear. Republicans are terrorists in the way they keep the threat on a front burner. Bush used red alerts to win support and placate the Pentagon. The Karl Rove’s of the country may one day be seen, metaphorically, as terrorists who flew their plane into the towers of Wall St., crashing the economy and subverting national interests.

A corollary to fear is punishment. They think in punitive terms. Death penalty, water-boarding, assault rifles, bloated arsenal of weaponry, Quantanamo are all part of it as if our mission is to eradicate the satanic worm from the sin-sick soul.

Liberals are more likely to come from families which model empathy. They question authority and live with the tension doubt creates. They are more concerned with equal opportunity, social justice and environmental degradation. They ponder. They reason. And they call their mother.

Of course Republicans also call their Moms and even return their library books. We probably share more than we know on a personal basis. If those original ten people were stuck in an elevator between floors some new alliances might be forged. Cooperation, I submit, would be more fruitful than competition. Damning the government won’t get them to the next landing; in fact one or two may find a new appreciation for government inspectors.

This country co-exists with the two strains but has never been so divided since Civil War days. To the extent they can be reconciled we will persevere. As long as Conservatives chose a non-negotiating position the nation will fall further into disrepair. Maybe they are too busy salivating over the flood of corporate cash, hoping to elect their shell of a man who echoes Groucho’s lines, These are my principles and if you don’t like them, I have others.

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