Liberals don’t know how to talk to or appeal to conservatives. And for whatever reason, they refuse to learn. Probably because they’re good Americans and in the words of that great American sage and cartoon character, Ed Wuncler, “We’re American. We don’t quit just because we’re wrong. We keep doing the wrong thing until it turns out right.”
There’s an interesting interview with cognitive linguist George Lakoff going around in which he discussed this problem. His thesis, essentially, is that it’s not so much policy differences that make Liberals so unappealing to conservatives. It’s that Liberals have erroneous ideas about how to win people over while Republicans have it down to an art form. He argues, and has been arguing for decades now, that Republicans are masters of messaging and framing while Democrats prefer to work from facts, idea and reason.
Basically, Republicans understand how people think about the world in real life because they approach politics from the perspective of marketing and communications. Most people reason from their emotions, their values and their worldview with facts, ideas and reason serving primarily to shore up what they already believe. If a fact, idea or reason doesn’t fit with their values, worldview or emotions, it will be dismissed or explained away because to do otherwise would require adjusting if not completely overturning the mental framework they depend on to function. Which is a much bigger upheaval than the simple admission of error and adjustment of opinion which liberals assume would be the response to encountering information which conflicts with current beliefs.
Liberals on the other hand, tend to rely on academic ideas about how people should think. The problem, of course, is that how we think things should work, generally has little effect on how they actually do work. It’s always going to be more effective to start with how things actually work and try influence change from that point of reality than it is to simply stand on how you think things should work and demand that everyone move to where you are. The Democratic insistence on working from facts, ideas and reason without learning the nitty gritty of messaging and framing which would allow them to show how their policies fit into or build on existing conservative worldviews dooms them to failure over and over again.
Probably the most glaring example of this failure on the part of liberals has to do with liberal’s unwillingness to fight. Somehow liberals seem to have decided that they are above fighting and they eschew it whenever possible in favor of trying to persuade or when persuasion fails, regrouping to try again. No where was this on more vivid display than during the aftermath of the election. Obviously, the election was close. And there were reports of serious discrepancies between exit polls and election results of the sort which are known to be possible indicators of fraud. And how did the DNC respond? They didn’t. It fell to Jill Stein to raise the money necessary to demand a recall in effected states. When it came time to execute the actual recounts, the RNC had lawyers crawling everywhere, challenging ballots and processes left and right while the DNC’s presence was barely visible.
After the recounts, there was still the hope that the electoral college might save us. Protecting the country from a foolish mob electing a despot is literally one of the reasons the founding fathers created the electoral college. We all know that if the roles were reversed, the Republicans would have mounted a coordinated, well funded campaign and media blitz to convince the electoral college to give the election to the winner of the popular vote. They would have been working it from any and every angle they could think of, no matter how outlandish. The DNC, however, did essentially nothing. Told us to accept that an apparently racist, unhinged, authoritarian con-artist would be running the country and move on for the sake of unity. What fight there was on that front came from private citizens and social media.
Not only is the unwillingness to fight bad strategy, it absolutely guarantees that conservatives will prefer voting for a dirty sock over a liberal. At least the sock has the temerity to raise a stink. Conservatives tend to place a very high value on community and loyalty. Part of that sense of community and loyalty knowing that someone’s got my back and will go to battle for me if need be. Someone who won’t even fight for themselves can’t possibly be trusted to fight for someone else. Liberals don’t know how to fight and they don’t want to fight. They seem to have eschewed fighting as somehow beneath them. They seem to have conflated fighting with “going low” and they want to be known for “going high”. But going high is NOT synonymous with refusing to fight.
The fear that liberals have – and I’ve gotten some of this pushback myself – is that by fighting we make ourselves no better than the belligerents who went to figurative war with Obama after he was elected. We’ll be seen as sore losers, they say. They worry that we’ll alienate people. And all of that is pure and utter rubbish.
From the conservative perspective, if you won’t fight, you can’t be trusted to defend. If you won’t fight, you’re not committed. If you won’t fight, you don’t really have confidence in what you’re saying. If you won’t fight, you’re not a person who can be trusted much less followed.
And yes, when you fight, you will be chided for being rude, for being stubborn, for sowing conflict. You will be accused of being a sore loser. You will be told that you’re alienating people and hurting your own cause. You will be told that you’re being unreasonable and pushy and unfair. You will be mocked and ridiculed and called names and told that you smell bad and your mother dresses you funny. Because that’s what fighting looks like; you put your truth out, people push back and see if they can get your to back down. So you double down, stand your ground and do exactly what your opponent tells you you must not do. In a fight you have to be indefatigable and creative and confidently certain as all get out. It’s a fight, not a prayer circle.
And here’s the thing about conservatives; by and large, they mean to be good people. They want to do right by people. They in no way intend to cause harm. And they want pretty much the same things that liberals want for themselves and our country. The problem is that on one side, you have this dishonest, manipulative, untrustworthy party who, by any reasonable measure, seeks power rather than the best interest of the American people. But they’ll fight you tooth and nail. They’ll wage a war on you that you aren’t even participating in and win three battles in the time it takes for you to learn chords to kumbaya or construct your next argument. They don’t care if their enemies get mad and say mean things about them. They’ll just use that as a badge of honor and a weapon to wield.
And whether liberals like it or not, whether they think it’s the way it should be or not, the reality is that fighting works. A lot of people simply feel safer throwing their support behind people who they can trust to fight for them in the face of threat over someone who may be right all the time, but don’t even have the wherewithal to fight for their own ideas and their own share of the power. It’s much easier to change the way people think by working with current reality than by just demanding that they change, after all.
So that’s the kind-of bad news for a lot of liberals. If they really want to win and have a shot at offering a serious counterweight to the unAmerican right wing radicals who have taken over our country, they’re going to have to learn to fight. They’re going to have to learn to absorb the blows, the criticism, the rejection, the accusations and nastiness that are part and parcel of fighting without shifting, moving or bending. They’re going to have to learn to dish it as well as they take it. And that’s damn uncomfortable for a lot of us.
A lot of people associate open conflict and the intense battles of a fight with those who are abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel. But you can be plenty abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel without fighting. It’s not the fighting that’s the problem. You don’t have to fight dirty, be dishonest, dehumanizing or even particularly harmful to fight. You just need to fight clever, judicious and strong. Because the good news is that if we fight, we’re going to win. The other side leans so heavily on dishonesty, cruelty and manipulation because what they’re fighting for is bullshit. Behind that strong, take-no-prisoners, fight to the death front, there’s not really much there that anyone actually wants.
On the issues, once you strip off the liberal label, the American people agree with us. They just can’t trust us or take us or any of our policies seriously. What good is having great policy goals if you don’t have the gumption to fight to enact them anyways? So we’ve got to step up and fight because if we don’t, we’re abandoning ourselves, our country and our neighbors to an abusive, dishonest, manipulative and cruel movement ruled by a racist, unhinged con-artist. If that’s not worth fighting over, I don’t know what is.
There is this bizarre phenomena that I run into now and again where someone will respond to criticism of modern racism by pointing out that in the early to mid 20th century, the Democratic party, particularly in the south, was unabashedly racist and for a while even aligned itself with the Klan. Like I’ll bring up the fact that Trump was enthusiastically supported by white supremacists and someone will say, “the Democrats are the real racists. They were the ones who passed all the Jim Crow laws.” To which I respond . . . whaaaaaaa????
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the history, it is quite true that the Democrats were, in the past, active proponents of racism and segregation. That all changed after the passage of the civil rights and voting rights acts in the 60s, of course. By the late 70s, Republican Ronald Reagan was campaigning using rhetoric about states rights and racist tropes about “young bucks” and “welfare queens” while Democrat Jimmy Carter was campaigning in African American churches. In the 1980 election, the people who used to vote for the racist Democratic party of the mid 20th century now voted Republican.
So what in the world do people who insist on responding to criticism of current racism by pointing to the Democrat’s history of racism think they are doing? What point do they think they are making? How exactly do they think I’m supposed to respond? I am deeply confused when people do this.
Do they imagine that I will be so shocked to hear that Democrats used to embrace racism that I will refuse to have anything to do with them and run into the arms of the party currently supported by racists in order to maintain my purity? Am I supposed to go easy on today’s racists because in the past they would have been Democrats?
I mean, back in the day, the Democrats were a big proponent of maintaining an agrarian society and distrusted paper money. The Republicans used to believe in a strong federal government and opposed states rights. Should we be trying to hold the parties to their original standards? Should I bring that history up when a Republican advocates for more control for states and a weaker federal government? If in 50 years, the Republicans are staunchly secular and the Democrats are highly religious, would it matter that in the past the parties were reversed? Does the label of Democrat and Republican have magic juju bound to it that transcends whatever the party is about in real time?
Can someone help me out here? I’ve tried asking these questions of the people who do this and, strangely, none of them have been able to come up with an answer that makes sense. And yet they keep doing it. I’m just trying to understand the logic here. Which, now that I think of it, is probably a mistake on my part. Sometimes the answer really is “because they’re morons.” It happens.
There’s a touching story up over at Slate about John McCain. It was actually written back in 1997. It’s about John McCain’s relationship with liberal Democratic U.S. Congressman Mo Udall who was also from Arizona. Shortly after McCain was elected to the Senate, Udall reached out to McCain and helped him to get his footing in the Washington political scene. In 1997 Congressman Udall lay dying in a hospital of Parkinson’s Disease. Sen. McCain made a habit of visiting the man every few weeks until the very end – until long after everyone else stopped bothering to go and even after Congressman Udall was no longer conscious. The Republican party could do a hell of a lot worse than have this man representing them.
BTW if you are interested in these sorts of things, John McCain’s daughter and a couple of friends have a blog they are keeping on the campaign trail called McCain Blogette which is supposed to be pretty good.
If you are a conservative interested in education, you need to read this excellent column by Neal McClusky on conservatives embrace of big government education muddling on National Review Online. Mr McClusky starts of with this:
For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every public school in America.
As you may be aware, over the weekend former secretaries of education Bill Bennet and Rod Paige had a column in the Washington Post advocating for the creation of a national test for education. Because the solution to something government meddling has already badly screwed up is . . . even more government meddling.
This flies in the face of what we have learned from the few government programs which have had some success in reform; states, when given the freedom are excellent incubators and laboratories for innovative approaches to entrenched problems. Welfare reform and Medicare reform are two excellent examples. I am also willing to bet that in 20 years we will be looking at state experiments like what is going on in Minnesota and Massachusetts as the beginning of healthcare reform.
The idea that education can be improved by giving more power and influence to Washington politicians is laughable. In fact, I would argue that the growing influence and involvement of national politics in the education issue have served to thwart any meaningful movement in improving education. There are, in my opinion, 3 things which need to happen in order for meaningful education reform to happen: teachers must be treated as professionals and have control over the conduct and content of their teaching, parents must be free to make educational choices for their children including enrolling their children in their schools of choice and the influence of large national teacher’s unions must be diminished. The nationalization of education works against all 3 of these changes. More and more teachers are being treated like trained monkeys who are expected to jump and hop according to what bureaucrats demand rather than using their brains, experience and skills to meet their student’s needs. A national agenda for education makes it very easy for powerful, out of touch national education unions to influence any education reforms which are enacted (one big target is much easier to handle than tens of thousands of smaller, local targets which are less likely to be influenced by lobbying efforts). In contrast, parents find it very difficult to get the attention of national politicians as opposed to local school board members and administrators who might be willing to respond to their concerns (if their hands weren’t actively being tied by national politicians and teacher’s unions). Not to mention that as long as the national teachers union has a strong influence in the political arena, parent’s are unlikely to be given much leeway in determining where their children will attend school.
Although nationalized testing and curriculum are taking on an air of inevitability, we must resist the temptation to short-cut our way into further disaster by giving the federal government even more say over what goes on in the classroom. As Mr. McClusky points out in his NRO piece:
no matter how much conservatives wish it weren’t so, decades of monopolistic public schooling have proven that government will never provide desirable standards. Indeed, the numerous inherent problems of government are among the many reasons that the framers of the Constitution gave Washington no authority over education. . . As Congress moves inexorably closer to next year’s scheduled reauthorization of NCLB, conservatives must reject calls for federal standards and tests, and remember the principles that they once held dear. Politically compromised, big-government policies will simply never provide the education our children need and deserve. Only pulling government out of education, and empowering parents and families with school choice, will do that.