In a recent facebook conversation, I challenged a conservative friend to provide some reasons as to why he, and many other conservatives, believe Obama is a socialist. Instead of answering my question, he accused me of being too emotional, and then said that Obama is somehow fostering a culture of dependency, in which the government has gone too far telling us what to do (with the exception of the right to privacy, the right to collectively bargain, telling people who can and cannot marry, and letting the Christian religion seep into government policy—then it’s OK for the government to tell us what to do). Not a fact to be found in the entire response…pure opinion.
This same gentleman also recently said that only conservatives are rational people, and that liberals are the ones who resort to calling names; additionally, in the past he’s insinuated that liberals don’t use facts or data to support their positions, and indeed, that we are responsible for dividing this nation.
In other words, our interaction went something like this:
Me: Your dad’s a garbage man.
Him: No, your dad’s a garbage man…and he stinks.
Me: No, in point of fact, your father actually picks up other people’s garbage—here’s a link to a photo I took of him at his job.
Him: Don’t get so emotional just because your stinky dad’s a garbage man.
Him: Garbage man.
So, the question is, what are we, as a political movement, left to do with this kind of obstinate wrongness? I mean, when my friend’s dad comes home in a garbage truck smelling of garbage, then tells him at the dinner table that he’s a dermatologist, and my friend believes him, what can we say at that point? Because this is what the Republican party, Fox News, and the conservative media are designed to do—to convince people like my friend, that they are on the side of good, and to manufacture whatever kind of narrative, labeling, and distortion of the truth to sell that lie—and they’re damned good at doing it.
A friend recently sent me this link, citing the fact that Fox News has been the number 1 cable news network for 10 years running: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/fox-news-top-cable-net-celebrates-10-years-145314917.html
Scary. And a reader comment on the recent Star Wars post takes it even further: “I’m not sure I share your optimism about converting fiscal conservatives from the Dark Side. Studies have shown that once an ideological position is staked out and people are confronted with facts that contradict that position, they paradoxically become more entrenched in their viewpoints (sort of feeling like their values are under assault and that they need to respond by defending them).” Scary.
So essentially, we can’t convince hardcore conservatives that they’re wrong, even if we can prove it empirically by using facts and data. According to Einstein (or Benjamin Franklin—there seems to be some controversy on the topic), the definition of insanity, “is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Regardless of which genius said this, it captures conservative thinking on most everything. A perfect example is the Republican plan for the economy. After decades of cutting state and federal taxes, the most serious “intellectual” conservatives—people like Paul Ryan—still suggest that tax cuts will lead to job creation and therefore greater tax revenue, despite substantial evidence to the contrary (like the fact that we have a massive deficit, many of the states have massive revenue shortfalls, and though the economy is recovering, much of it has been in the form of growth without jobs—especially high paying ones).
And the media makes it even worse by putting out false or misleading information.
Think of it this way: Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the right wing media are fisherman, and they’re willing to try anything to catch as many fish as they can. That means sometimes they troll big bright flashing lies through every channel of information they can find, knowing that the dumbest of all fish will believe them and be caught (Obama is not only to blame for the economy, but he’s actually actively trying to destroy jobs, for instance). Other times they throw flies or lures meant to mimic the truth, or to appear legitimate, catching those who are a bit more cautious or somewhat intellectual (Barney Frank is at fault for the mortgage crisis because he had something to do with Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae). And then, they always know that they can throw on a big fat gob of eggs or a nice juicy worm to catch the fish that are just too greedy to care (Obama has raised taxes! The liberals are just spending like madmen!).
Now, the next part is critical, because dead fish can’t vote. So instead of just eating these people, the conservative media just leaves them on the hook, knowing that most of them can’t escape the lie they swallowed in the first place, and that even if they do spit that hook, most of these fish are so stupid/insane that they’ll easily be hooked again with another lie. And therein lies the problem—many conservatives are hooked, and hooked so deeply by the distortion of truth that they right wing produces that it is unbelievably painful to try to fight to get free of their captors. Indeed, many of them just swim right under the boat, having forgotten that they’re hooked in the first place.
So what are we to do? It seems rather hopeless when our opposition, many of whom we know to be reasonable people in other aspects of their lives, are politically insane. Luckily, there are rational ways to react, based on the knowledge that many conservatives will never agree with us, and are totally incapable of making rational decisions when it comes to politics (well evidenced by their lack of a cogent Presidential candidate). The key is to focus on the fish that haven’t yet been caught.
How to Beat Conservatives—the Politically Insane:
Rule 1: Engage them. Challenge them. Don’t accept their garbage.
Why, you ask? After all, they’ll never believe us, right? Right. However, the important thing is that other people will see these arguments—rational, reasonable people, that might not be all that politically inclined. These are the non-voters and independents, and this is where most campaigns are won and lost. Critical to our political effort on the left is that we capture these people, expose them to our ideas, and confront the Republicans on their lies and bullshit. In large part, this is already working: the Republican party is viewed more unfavorably in nationwide polls than Democrats, and Americans correctly identify Republicans as the reason our government fails to work. Thus, even if we don’t convince the nuts on the right, the truth is on our side, as are logic and reason. Others will see this, and remember—anywhere from 30-50% of Americans don’t vote on average in any given election—if we can convince those people to join our cause, the idiots that regurgitate right wing talking points fail to matter.
Rule 2: Make Sure You, and Everyone You Know, Votes.
People forget, and I’ll admit something here I’m not proud of—I didn’t vote in 2010—and because so many of us didn’t do our part in that election, we ceded the House of Representatives to the Tea Party. If you really care about seeing progressive reforms enacted, and if you really care about taking this country back from the Republicans, we have to make sure every single liberal out there votes. Moreover, we have to make sure people that are non-political vote as well. Make a point of asking your friends, neighbors, and family, if they plan on voting. If not, encourage them to do so, and whether or not they intend to vote, remind them to register to vote a month before, and remind them again to vote on election day. You might also tell them who you plan on voting for and why. But what if we end up turning out conservatives, you ask? It doesn’t really matter—conservatives will tend to vote anyway—and the truth is there are far more of us than them: if everyone voted in every election, Republicans would never win the Presidency, and we’d have super majorities every year in both houses.
Rule 3: Signage
Use bumper stickers, lawn signs, and any other way you can think of to spread the word. Post articles and blogs (yeah, yeah, blatant self promotion) to your facebook page, tweet them, and send mass emails. Again, the truth is on our side, and in the end, most people just want a few basic things: 1) a good economy, where everyone has the chance to use their hard work and talent to make the best life they can for themselves, 2) the freedom to live life as they see fit without government interference, 3) basic access to health care, education, roads, a post office, police, fire, and military protection, and 4) fair laws and a fair system of justice. The conservative platform violates every single one of these principles. We need to point this out loudly and often. The idiots won’t listen, but most everyone else will.
In other words: Occupy Rationality. Vote for Democrats.