Hot Button Issues, No. 4: Talking Politics

At all.  As my liberal friends on Facebook have made me abundantly aware these past several weeks every time I have posted even the mildest endorsements of the candidate running against our incumbent.  As my family has made clear as a condition for visiting at Thanksgiving.  Talking politics in and of itself is a hot button issue.  Unless, of course, you simply agree with me.

Why should this be?  (I know, it's me being naïve again, but here we go.)  "Don't talk religion or politics except to very intimate friends," or so Lily Haxworth Wallace advised way back in 1941 in her New American Etiquette.  On that count, however, I have no intimates, at least politically.  Or the ones that I do have are all at the National Review.  Plus Barry (hi, Barry!), my oldest friend in the world (albeit three months younger than me), and Prof. Mondo, whom I know only from the blogosphere.

And maybe you, if you're reading this now.  (Maybe.)  But why?  Why should politics of all things be impossible to talk about in polite company?  (Okay, so there's also religion and sex, but let's stick with politics for the moment.  I know, I know, it's uncomfortable.)  Most of the readers who have responded to my previous post on embracing my inner conservative have told me that they actually agree with the beliefs and values that I list: private property, equality before the law, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and the priority of certain cultural values over others.  No arguments there, right?  (Right?)

How about my other hot button issues thus far?  Gay marriage--okay, I've had some disagreement there.  Patriotism--mainly cheers.  Western civilization--ditto.  Oh, but it's the same few people leaving comments, isn't it?  Everyone else, perhaps these buttons aren't that hot after all?  What, then, would be--other than Big Bird?  Oh--and, of course, preferring one political candidate over another.  Now, perhaps, we're getting somewhere.

My guy
My guy
Tell me, on what do you think that you and I actually disagree, if you are voting for the other guy?  Don't we both care about children?  About helping the poor?  About making sure that our grandchildren aren't paying for the debts that our country is running up now?  About keeping our nation safe from our enemies?*  About having an economy in which people can find employment to support themselves and their families?  About ensuring that no one in our country is discriminated against on the basis of sex, age, race, class, or religion?  (I would add political beliefs, but that might be stretching it.***)  About having a world in which people are free to pursue their dreams?

"Ah, but," you'll say, "the other guy doesn't want that.  The other guy just wants power.  The other guy just wants to pander to his cronies.  My guy actually cares.  He wants to help everyone get jobs, take care of their families, realize their dreams."  Your guy, my guy.  Could it be that we all actually want the same things but--and I'm going out on a limb here--disagree on the way in which to accomplish them?

The other guy
The other guy
No, it couldn't be.  The other guy is evil.  The other guy is deluded if he thinks his economic policies are actually going to work.  The other guy is insulting to women, gays, ethnic minorities, immigrants, and our foreign allies.  The other guy lies constantly.  The other guy doesn't have enough experience.  The other guy doesn't have the right kind of experience.  The other guy is too privileged to sympathize with the majority of Americans.  The other guy is arrogant, conceited, and self-righteous.  The other guy keeps secrets about his past.

Clearly, there is more at stake here than simply whether it is a good idea to continue to tax ourselves at our current rate in order to encourage the kind of community that we want to have (which would seem to me to be the biggest issue that we are voting on).  But how, exactly, when we are arguing about money does it come about that the other guy is necessarily "evil"?**

*Unless, of course, you don't think we have any.  Or that they are of our own making.  There, I am afraid, we might actually disagree.  Another post.
**And, yes, I'm begging the question here.
[***I also acknowledge that according to their party platform, the Republicans are not on the same page as I am about legalizing same-sex marriages, but I do not read anywhere in their defense of marriage a desire to discriminate against educating or employing people on the basis of their sexuality as such.  Or on the basis of their weight, marital status, parental status, or any of the other ways people might be distinguished from one another other than in their relevant background and skills.]

Comments

  1. About ensuring that no one in our country is discriminated against on the basis of sex, age, race, class, or religion? (I would add political beliefs, but that might be stretching it.)

    But not as far as adding sexual orientation would stretch it?

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    1. Anonymous from November 5, 2012 8:23 PM

      In a comment that now seems to be missing you said something close to "This is why I hate discussing politics. Of course, stretch nondiscrimination as far as you like. I tried to get the whole list and missed one."

      Your recent posts actually show a pattern of omitting the same one. You missed it in your Embracing My Inner Conservative post when you defined equality before the law as "the law should be the same for everyone regardless of wealth, status, religion, ancestry, or skin color" and later reiterated the foolishness of treating people differently in law due to "their religious beliefs or their ancestry or the environment in which they grew up."

      Similarly, in your post on Western Civilization you did not include sexual orientation with gender and religion as conditions against which Western cultures have made laudable efforts to reduce discrimination.

      It is of course possible that all the omissions were inadvertent, but something that one omits repeatedly tends to be either something one does not find important or something about which one is ambivalent.

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    2. I deleted that comment because it was too off the cuff. Yes, you're right, I have not been including "sexual orientation" in my lists--because it was not included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I was trying to be accurate about the basis of our present legal understanding (something that some of my other readers seem to want to call me on--not supporting myself with the proper documents). I personally am not at all ambivalent about it: see my post on "Gay Marriage" (Did you comment on that one, too? I can't always tell who my Anonymous commentators are.) You have put me in the position here of having to defend myself personally, which I find uncomfortable. I am tempted to start telling you about all my gay married friends and how our church has promoted their marriages actively--but would you be convinced? This is the kind of baiting that I find incredibly difficult in our present conversation. Do you know me personally, or is this a more abstract concern?

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    3. I should say, "in our present political conversation," not the one that you and I are having here. Sigh. Language.

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    4. And here you go, proof that I have even marched in Chicago's Pride Parade: Coming Out. Am I forgiven yet? Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.

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    5. I am a wandering blog-surfer, not anyone you know personally. I believe that you feel and believe what you say you feel and believe. I am not understanding how your feelings and beliefs about rights for LGBT people fit with your declared voting choice.

      Do you agree with the Log Cabin Republicans' estimation that, should Governor Romney be elected, he will not waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans?

      Do you feel that conservative economic policy and foreign policy will benefit all Americans to a degree that outweighs specific equal-rights advances for some?

      Or are there other factors?

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    6. Thanks for the response! I did not know about the Log Cabin Republicans before, but, yes, I would agree with them if they believe that Romney is not inclined to "waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans." I wouldn't be voting for him (as opposed to against Obama) if I thought that that was his agenda.

      I am, however, voting for what I see in his economic and foreign policy (thus my posts on Big Bird and the 47 percent, as well as the quotation from what Mitt said in the first debate). I have confidence that we as a society believe deeply enough in equal rights that the campaign to recognize gay marriage will prevail, but only, as I suggest in my post on that issue, if we are willing to recognize the ill effects of divorce on everyone as well.

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    7. Good grief, I am having a hard time being clear here--it must be the election day jitters. I wouldn't be voting for Romney if I thought he was going to waste his time on legislative attacks on LGBT Americans. There.

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    8. I sympathize with your election-day jitters! And thank you for sharing the details of your position.

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    9. Thank you for hanging with me while I tried to clarify them!

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  2. If your conversations with your gay friends haven't made this clear to you, I don't know how I can do better, but the difference between "your marriage should one day be legal"(http://www.barackobama.com/equal-rights/) and "your marriage should never be legal"(http://www.mittromney.com/issues/values) is a very large one for the families involved. A lot of emotion rides on it, and the financial ramifications over the life of a family may be significant.

    Should Governor Romney carry the day tomorrow, for your gay friends and family who live in the United States of America, what you believe about gay marriage (a dazzlingly generous "it's not as threatening to society as divorce is") will not be as formative to their lives as the fact that Governor Romney believes gay marriage should be federally illegal (with a dazzlingly generous rider of "but states can make provisions for benefits like hospital visitation.")

    Your gay friends and family members are, perhaps, a little snippy on the subject because they are, perhaps, a little scared about the future.

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  3. Politics is a no-no topic in polite conversation because it's something people do have strong, personal feelings about and in order to keep social settings from getting overheated it's just best avoided. I'd say this is doubly true in these increasingly polarized times.

    For me, the arguments about taxes and money are secondary to concerns about the kind of social conservatism that seems to always go hand in hand with fiscal conservatism in the modern Republican party. How to best fix the economy, create more jobs, who/how much to tax are topics I see as valid points of debate, but civil rights are not. I don't wanna go back to the 1950s.

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  4. As someone who has recently quoted, apparently with approval, passages from Ann Coulter and others to the effect that "liberals" (whoever they are; I'm a social democrat, and in Europe, a "liberal" means more or less what "libertarian" means here) are evil, I think you're better positioned than I am to answer your last (pre-footnote) question.

    I do think that most Americans, outside of the radical extremes on both sides, agree with your list of common values. The question, though, is how we operationalize those values. A lot of research shows, for instance, that even whites and non-whites whose family incomes are equivalent are not at all equivalent in terms of family wealth or access to capital. Should they be treated "equally"? (Recall Anatole France: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.")

    Sure, the US has enemies--some of them (not all) encouraged by our foreign policy. Most have been relatively ineffectual, aside from 9-11. We need a rational foreign policy, including diplomacy as well as military power. Whether pledging to increase the military budget *beyond what the military has requested* is a good way to achieve that foreign policy is a question I will leave to tomorrow's electorate.

    As for taxing ourselves at our current rate: it's pretty low. I'd happily pay more taxes for the kinds of infrastructure and social services that I've experienced during my substantial stints living in the UK, Germany, and France--or for that matter, Vermont, whose progressive state income tax allows for pretty good infrastructure maintenance despite having a small population spread over a larger area, and having to deal with substantial damage each year from the weather.

    Finally, as for discriminating about political beliefs: in a democracy, political beliefs are precisely the kind of things that are discussed, hashed out, and voted on in the political process. They're not like color, creed, sexual orientation, or anything else fixed; they're open to revision (I hope). Frankly, I think that the political beliefs I had when I was 18 years old were self-centered, selfish, and naïve, and I'm glad that I have moved beyond them. But if my fellow citizens disagree, I'll be content (not happy, but content) to find that out, and if I think it necessary, to rethink my positions.

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  5. Actually, the friends and family who have been most snippy have said nothing about gay marriage, only the economy. But as I read it, what concerns Republicans is defending the family. This is the argument we need to make to change their minds. Marriage is about creating families; that is what we should be defending.

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  6. @anotheranon: But it was the 1950s that resulted in the Civil Rights Act. I don't want to keep living in 1968.

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    1. IMHO it was the social conservatism on many fronts during the 1950s (racism, sexism, homophobia) that gave rise to the many rights movements during the 1960s. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was a result and was and is a good thing, but I don't want to keep living in 1968 either - I want to move forward.

      The current Republican platforms on gay marriage, women's access to birth control, and narrow definitions of "marriage" and "family" in my opinion represent steps backwards - maybe not as far as the 50s, but still Not Forwards.

      I would also point out that Republican didn't always = social conservatism, and Democrat didn't always = liberal. Republican abolitionism and Dixiecrats are good examples of this. However, I find the social values of the Republican party as it now to be far too conservative for my tastes. And the Democrats aren't liberal *enough*!

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    2. I was talking about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the riots and campus take-overs of 1968. As for the Republicans, thanks to one of my other readers (who is still Anonymous!), I now know about the Log Cabin Republicans, with whom I side on the issue of marriage.

      You are absolutely right about the changes in the meaning of the labels: this is the gist of much of the reading that I have been doing. But I think the idea of "social conservatism" is itself in flux, as it is now the liberals who are insisting that the institutions which we have in place should not be subject to change.

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  7. @Brian: Did you pay taxes to those countries when you were living abroad or just use their infrastructures for free? If the infrastructure that you have in Vermont works for you, great. Let's do it state by state.

    Are you willing to rethink your positions based on any of the reading I have been recommending?

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  8. Funny that you should mention the "Coming Out" post. It was when I first read that post, a few years ago, that I realized you were a conservative. It's clear as day in that post... it just took you a little while to catch on!

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    1. : ) Bless you, you're right! Funny how hard it can be to see ourselves clearly, isn't it?

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F.B.

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