Stereotypes always have a grain of truth to them. Particularly in the last decade, the political scene has become increasingly heated and divisive, and although every group on the face of the planet believes they are justified in their actions, discernible and despicable patterns have emerged that tend to uniquely characterize one group from the other.
I tend to be classified as liberal, not necessarily because of my views (which lean liberal, yes) but largely because those I often pick debates with are conservative. These debates typically are very formulaic: a passionate but ill-informed conservative makes an inflammatory and fallacious post, I attempt to point out the logic error, and all hell breaks loose. Obviously everyone (myself included) is going to think they’re right, but there have been very, very few instances where I honestly conceded error on my part. The many other encounters left me scratching my head as to how exactly they were arriving at the conclusions with which they’d ad-hominem’d me into oblivion.
The following is a list of five very specific patterns I’ve noticed. They are very interrelated, but still distinct enough to warrant discussion.
1. Obama is Evil
Not So Subtle goes into detail far more eloquently than I could, but the ridiculousness of the archetypally-extreme rhetoric that some Republicans are spewing is truly stunning. Painting Obama as the Joker or Hitler, calling Obama as other liberals “anti-American” (as if Republicans had a monopoly on the term), and even labeling Islam as an “evil religion” reeks of narrow-minded oversimplification.
I wrote an entry a few months ago laying out how these extremes, these Hollywood-esque depictions of true good and true evil simply don’t exist in the real world; everything and everyone consists of some varying combination of the two.
A friend of mine who is a brilliant aspiring journalist and avid follower of politics wrote an article pertaining to this very topic within the realm of the health care reform “debate” (more like chaos). Whether or not Republicans are actively trying to stifle debate and throw roundtable discussions into disarray is irrelevant; the videos of those roundtables are embarrassing. The few people who are actually heard over the incessant babble of the mob reveal utterly incoherent and strictly partisan beliefs. Everyone else is acting like a toddler. Why anyone – Democrat (who should be trying to spread the message of what the health reform bill will do) and Republican (who should be trying to suggest viable alternatives) alike – thinks this is a productive way to spend the Congressional recess is stupefying.
But hey, if you truly believe in the ends justifying the means, then go right ahead and simplify the message to “those who believe otherwise are evil.”
2. You’re either with us, or against us
People like to say that football is a metaphor for life: adversity, competition, exhaustion, perseverance, teamwork. In having played it, I can say without reservation that they are exactly right. But what Republicans don’t seem to realize is the meaning of the word “metaphor.”
Awhile back I found this fantastic article elucidating the differences in priorities between liberals and conservatives, and in this vein it’s easier to understand why conservatives tend to be more exclusive than liberals. I also understand that, biologically, humans can only give two shits about so many other humans. It’s genetic – we can’t have the same level of emotional attachment to a perfect stranger across the world that we do to our parents, or siblings, or spouse (David Wong of then-pointlesswasteoftime.com, now cracked.com, wrote an excellent article on this phenomenon).
But the level of exclusion that swept the country under Bush and continues now under Obama is horrifying. Dissent against the conservative agenda – which, by the way, is how this country was created – seems to be viewed as intrinsically anti-American, at times even worthy of the term “terrorist.” It also significantly hinders cooperation when simply learning one’s political leanings immediately signals the end of any constructive discussion.
Can I exercise my rights as a citizen no less American than you before you start calling me a godless, freedom-loathing, America-hating terrorist?
3. Rewrite the dictionary
If you plug “political spectrum” into Google, you can quite a variation of the landscape. Even the Wikipedia article highlights how difficult it is to create an all-encompassing political spectrum, as the definitions of each are changing.
Republicans, it would seem, have taken it upon themselves to redefine a few terms so, denotation aside, they are immediately given a partisan connotation that essentially makes or breaks a debate. Terms like “socialism,” “communism,” and “free market” no longer have any meaning in a discussion, but rather serve as political leverage one way or another.
When did socialism become evil? Last I checked, many of our allies employed the economic philosophy to a greater degree than we do. Even here in America, we have lived for decades with programs like Medicare and Social Security, and turned a blind eye to the monopolies like AiG and Microsoft that have used their majority market share to all but extinguish competition in the capitalist free market so vehemently mentioned now.
Communism being associated with evil is more understandable given its history, and yet no one seems to be remember that pure communism has actually never existed to date – the former Soviet Union and current North Korean and Chinese regimes are closer to totalitarian governments than a true communist government.
And don’t even use the “free market” argument to decry the government-run health care plan; we haven’t had a truly “free market” here in America since its inception, for the reasons I mentioned two paragraphs above. Same for the bailouts: no “free market” stabilization would have occurred, since such a thing doesn’t exist without oversight and regulation.
My favorite is when people tell me that the reason we haven’t suffered another 9/11-esque terrorist attack is because of the outrageous military spending we’ve been undertaking since then, and our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is one of the biggest and most laughable logical fallacies one could ever fall prey to, and frankly if you have used this line, you are a complete dolt. While I have no doubt that the ramped-up security at airports, at the borders, and other measures taken have improved our situation, whether or not our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have directly resulted in a lack of terrorist attacks here is inherently unknown. Just because I’ve never seen a living platypus does not mean they do not exist.
Take a look at where all our taxpayer money is going: our military budget for FY2010 is well on its way to $700 billion. No other department in the entire budget even approaches $80 billion. Education, science, NASA, civil works, small businesses…everything else combined can’t remotely compare to the DoD’s annual budget.
All the previous points lead me to this one.
I can’t even pick a place to begin. Republicans’ staunch hatred of abortion while simultaneously clamoring for increased military spending and support for the death penalty; espousing the works of Jesus in one breath while condemning entire peoples and religions in the next; reciting the freedoms inherent to every American citizen prior to drowning out attempts at reasonable debate with obnoxious “Just Say No” chanting…the list goes on and on.
The whole ordeal with Sarah Palin’s pregnant teen daughter comes to mind: where whats-her-face was shielded and supported in her pregnancy by the conservative support base, had it been Obama’s daughter that was pregnant, they would have been rabid with judgment.
Conclusion and Disclaimer
I do want to mention something important: I do not honestly believe every single Republican or conservative to perfectly fit the bill laid out above. Nor do I remotely believe that Democrats and liberals are collectively the opposite of the aforementioned. I am simply laying out the most prominent patterns I have observed in my internetting, my newsreading, and my in-person discussions.
Also, with regards to my final and most important point: everyone is guilty of being a hypocrite. The difference is whether or not individuals recognize and acknowledge that fact in themselves.
In closing, I am immensely proud of my country. There isn’t anywhere else on the planet I would want to live, work, and play on a permanent basis. As such, I will point out where I think it can improve, and I in tandem. I simply hope that both sides of the aisle can discuss their viewpoints in a calm, rational fashion before our nationalistic zeal tears us to pieces.