Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Can you see the goodness of your political opponents, or do you see them as demons to be destroyed?

New York Times writer Paul Krugman wrote an editorial declaring that the problem in the country and the world is the Republicans.  Not a surprise for him to think that, of course, as he is a cheerleader for the Left wing of the Democratic Party.  I often read him, but I usually find him to be part of the problem in our politics rather than part of the solution.  By that I mean that he is firmly in the camp that sees the political world as split between the good people and the bad people.  He seems to me to have a very limited sense of imagination when it comes to putting himself in the shoes of his political opponents, and can only see them as enemies that must be destroyed, or at least defeated very very soundly.  

I am sure that there are millions and millions of conservatives who would take angry exception to Krugman's notion that their political beliefs are a result of being bought by the .01%.  Somehow, in Mr Krugman's world, Republicans are dim-witted pawns of the super-humanly persuasive .01% who apparently can buy the opinions of scores of millions of people with their supernaturally powerful lobbying.  That notion says that conservatives are stupid, naive, sheep, unable to reason for themselves.  

Needless to say, Krugman will have no chance of ever persuading any of them to see the light that he is so certain of.  Of course, those who see the world the same way that Krugman sees it will think that he has once again made a brilliant analysis showing how those who agree with Krugman are smart and good, and those who disagree are dumb and/or bad.

And of course, the same situation is on the other side of the political spectrum.  Conservatives are always thrilled by the partisan arguments of George Will and Rush Limbaugh, and are convinced that if they could just get the other side to pay attention to the great wisdoms that they utter, everyone would eventually agree with them.

What is missing, I think, is understanding.  It seems to be so very difficult to use our imaginations when it comes to political debates.  That is to say, it seems almost impossible to imagine the goodness of our political opponents.  To get our minds inside the mindsets and moral values of those we oppose.

To one of Krugman's points, it is certainly true that greed and almost pathological indifference to the suffering that many on Wall Street caused is there.  But there are very positive effects of the financial and corporate world as well.  And just seeing those who support conservative ideas as pawns of the greedy enemy is a lack of imagination, it seems to me. If we aren't at least a little confused and uncertain, I think that may be a sign that we are trying to calm ourselves with the certainly of ideology as the world swirls scarily around us.  

If we can see our political opponents as human, respectable, and good, then  from there politics can actually happen, that is, negotiation, compromise, solutions that are free from the iron grips of the True Believers on both the Right and the Left.  And politics can stop being about doing anything and everything necessary to keep from losing to the evil demons on the other side of the isle.

Guess what?  Our political opponents are not going to go away.  Both extremes seem to think that finally in this, this, this election they are going to vanquish the opposition to the point where they disappear.  Never happens.  They always come back.  

It seems to me that there is a simple test to tell if you are able to see both sides of an issue.  If you can't argue persuasively, intelligently, and emotionally for both sides of a issue, you don't really have an opinion about it, you aren't at choice about it, you are just reacting. If you can't see and feel the emotions underneath the positions of your political opponents, I don't think you can really make any claim to making a real choice rather than just being a knee-jerk liberal or knee-jerk conservative.  I have been on both sides of the political spectrum, with passion and study in both cases, and I know that there are good people on both sides, and of course there are scoundrels as well.  

I guess my main point is that you can't persuade someone to change their minds if you think that they are evil or stupid.  You have to start with respect and understanding.  And I don't mean the kind of understanding that psychoanalyzes them and concludes that the reason they believe what they believe is because there is something wrong with them.

All that being said, I think the Republicans are more intolerant and divisive than the Democrats now, but the Dems are completely entrenched in the protection of their patiently built up entitlement systems and social agendas, every bit as much as the Republicans are entrenched in trying to dismantle the entitlement mentality of the nation and their own conservative social agendas. 

 Result?  Demonizations all around.  Which I regret.