Sophistication and Politics (Draft)

Duck in Malbork

Eagle? Penguin? Ostrich?

George Lakoff has written about the connection between morality and politics and there certainly seems to be something to his Strict Father versus Nurturing Parent models of morality and how those correlate to conservative versus liberal political views. 

But I think it is increasingly difficult to ignore the intellectual divide in politics today.  In an argument, calling the other side stupid is name calling; “serious” critics and politicians avoid this offence at all cost.  However, if it is the case that you have a bird that looks like a duck and sounds like a duck it just might be a duck.  When it comes to intelligence and politics, I think we can identify a few ducks.

Perhaps what I am really after is sophistication in politics and political positions.  It might not be fair to say that politicians mindlessly repeating ideological dogma regardless of the facts are stupid — although it is hard to look into Michele Bachmann’s glassy stare and not wonder how things could be otherwise — when maybe some politicians just don’t have the right information. 


But there’s the rub.  How far apart is a lack of facts from a lack of intellectual inquisitiveness?   Wouldn’t you hope that someone standing up for a cause and ideals would have facts to support his or her claims?  Not in the Republican Party.  In fact, the less you know, the better.  And, I’m sorry, it is hard to respect the political right, both its leaders and the following horde, as sophisticated thinkers because of it.

Clearly we are not as smart as we should be as a nation.  Too many of us don’t have facts, we don’t understand our nation’s social and economic history, for example, and yet we expect intelligent political decsions from American voters.  We laugh at bits like Jay Leno’s “Jay Walking” in which he asks average Americans simple questions about history and current events and gets blank stares instead of easy answers.  That might be funny, but it points to a bigger problem here:  People don’t care.

Paul Krugman once again offers a smart essay today about America’s short-term thinking.  Mr. Krugman annoys the right — and sometimes the left — because he makes sense; he makes intelligent arguments based in facts.  You don’t hear that from the right.  (Glenn Beck?  CPAC?  Your local GOP representative?)

What you hear are inane folksy pleas for simple-minded solutions that exist completely out of any meaningful context with the facts. 

How often have you heard the tired complaint that government must learn to “live within its means”?  Great.  Who would disagree with that?  However conservatives have used a policy of planned underfunding to cut government to a point where there is no meaningful application of this argument today without turning us into a third-world oligarchy.  You can’t say to someone, for example, go fill my car’s gas tank and give them $20 and expect to get it done.  If they ask for the needed $50, they are not living frivolously, they are asking for what is needed to get the job accomplished.

For decades the right has demonized government, made it the scapegoat of all problems, big and small.  In the process the right supported irresponsible underfunding and debt-building policies that have left budgets from the federal level on down through local levels strapped with burdens that will be impossible to correct without funding changes.  Yet the solution to these problems is to cut more and more.  Even as we see our wealth and social progress collapse all around us, the right presses on.  Can this be a sign of intelligent behavior?

And don’t even get started on the racist, jingoistic fear and paranoia from the right.  Ignorance breeds fear and violence.  The cry babies on the right have all sorts of villains to blame for our economic and social decline.  The self-righteousness of it can be frightening and has already caused us much loss in war.

I think a lot about fear and ignorance in our country, and the reactionary bitterness it breeds, while I am reading The Coming of the Third Reich (2004) by Richard J. Evans.  I think we can do much better, but heed the warning of George Santayana:  Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.


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