Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Simplicity of the American Mind

It’s just a small detail embedded in a larger story, but it irritates me no end.

In Florida, the NRA weighs in on Charlie Crist’s bid for the Senate race, pledging support for the governor whether or not he runs as a Republican. In the words of one of the organization’s top lobbyists, “We support where a candidate stands on our issue, based upon their record on our issue.”

Don’t get me wrong. As Republicans go, I happen to like Charlie Crist. One of the few truly bipartisan, high-profile politicians in this country, he seems to be a guy who really is thoughtful, well-informed, willing to listen to others, and courageous enough to vote his conscience—even when it might cost him political capital. We need more people like that in Congress.

What irritates me is when people narrow their political focus to one over-simplified, isolated issue and vote accordingly—whether that issue is gun rights, abortion, gay rights, or legalization of pot. People who have no sense of how their sacred cow or their pet peeve is embedded in the broader fabric of society are doing the country a disservice when they cast a vote—a vote based on ignorance and bias.

Clearly, one of the biggest reasons for the animosity and blind partisanship so prevalent in this country is that all too many Americans are one-issue voters. They hitch their wagon to some organization that does their thinking for them—be it the NRA (pro-guns), Tea Party movement (anti-tax), or their local church (anti-abortion).

If all you are is pro-this or anti-that, then you’re not a good citizen.

Thoughtful, responsible, involved Americans certainly have points of view that guide their thinking. Everyone has a philosophy. Yours may be that government should be limited in its power, or that political decisions should be made locally whenever possible, or that the market should be free of government regulation.

I may (and I do) disagree with all those positions, but I respect them. My guiding philosophy happens to be the notion that government should protect the rights of individuals. I thoroughly enjoy and often learn from people who respectfully disagree with me.

A position based on a thoughtful, nuanced view of the world takes into account many related issues, not just one. Holding such a position requires intellectual work, the courage of being uncertain about some things, and enough respect for others to keep an open mind so that beliefs don’t harden into dogma.

I’m preaching to the choir, here. Readers and contributors to this blog tend to be thoughtful, well-informed, and unlikely to be motivated by a knee-jerk reaction to a single, isolated issue.

Those who are so motivated, however, are sludge in the engine of society.


Idna said...

You named this post: "Simplicity of the American Mind." But your treatment in singling out NRA, Tea Party and churches shows YOUR simple treatment of these groups.

For example, you claim that the Tea Party movement is anti-tax, period. Not exactly. You either don't understand the movement or you deliberately misrepresent it. The Tea Parties NEVER said that there should be NO taxes. So I'd like to clear up the mis-information.

Here are the Tea Party top-ten planks:
- the number-one issue is to protect the Constitution
- reject cap-and-trade,
- demand a balanced budget,
- enact fundamental tax reform,
- restore fiscal responsibility,
- constitutionally limited government in Washington,
- end runaway government spending,
- defund, repeal, and replace government-run health care,
- pass an all-of-the-above energy policy,
- stop the pork and stop the tax hikes.

I can't argue with these priciples. I think it's a pretty damn responsible approach to things. So if you disagree with these ideas (and I know you do!) then tell us why. Don't just malign groups of people with insufficient information.

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Idna,

There are NRA members who are not militant about gun rights. There are Tea Party members who have issues other than taxes. (Although the acronym allegedly means "Taxed Enough Already," does it not?) And there are certainly many church-goers who don't view the entire world through the distorted lens of the abortion issue.

These people are not single-issue voters. I'm talking about those who are.

Idna said...

Yes, Jane, Taxed Enough Already, is just one of the issues of the Tea Parties. You will notice that it doesn't say, "No Taxes, No How, Never!" It's a concept of degrees. Taxed Enough Already means, enough is enough ... message to politicians, "Quit irresponsibly spending the taxpayers' money!"

Everyone should pay some taxes. EVERYONE. Right now 47% don't pay anything. And, the bottom 40 percent of income earners actually receive a cash payment from the government at tax time ... for what? for not having to pay taxes? These people have no stake in responsible government spending because they are on the receiving end and demand more and more all the time. If you can get enough of the voting populace on the 'taking end', they will always vote in the irresponsible party … until the country is belly up bankrupt.

There was a disgusting display a few months ago in Detroit. People heard that there was going to be some kind of money give-away and lined up by the hundreds. When asked by reporters what they were standing in line for, the answer was "To get some Obama money!" When asked where that money was coming from, a woman laughed and said, "I don’t know. Maybe from his stash!" More laughter. Why would people like this EVER want responsible spending by government? (But I digress … we were talking about Tea Parties and Taxed Enough Already.)

Do you know where the modern Tea Party idea came from? Rick Sentelli, on the Floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange called for a Chicago Tea Party in response to what he saw as government encouraging bad behavior by bailing out irresponsible people who should never have been allowed to get loans for houses they couldn’t afford. I happened to see that live on CNBC. Then it was picked up by all kinds of media. I guess it really struck a chord with a lot of people because the Tea Parties were born at that moment.

Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the 17th-century French minister of finance, once remarked that "the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing."

I guess we are hearing some major hissing via the Tea Parties.

Catlover said...

Along the same line as Idna's post to pass on:

"When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the end of any nation."
By unknown author

Six said...

Jane - Is it at all surprising that the NRA is going to support the candidate they feel will best represent thier views? How is this different than a union telling its members who to vote for? I know more than a few union people who block vote with thier union and do not do any further investigating than knowing where thier union stands on a candidate. But yet your criticism is only on those who vote on issues with which you oppose...

Personally, I will never vote for a candidate who defends our actions in Iraq as being anything other than a mistake. I could agree with them in every other major issue and I still would not vote for that person. That's a deal-breaker for me. How about something a little less controversial, I would never vote for someone who was anti-women voting. I am flat-out-pro-womens right to vote, does that make me not a 'good citizen' as you describe? Sounds silly right? Well, if you agree with me on the pro-sufferage issue, you too are a single-issue voter. I am sure nearly everyone has at least one or two 'deal breaker' issues, including you Jane. I wonder what your issue is... I suspect your issue is the initial next to thier name - R or D?

Citizen Jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Citizen Jane said...

Idna, love the goose feathers analogy! Thanks for sharing that.

Six, I'm not being critical of the NRA for endorsing a candidate. I'm being critical of voters who don't look beyond the endorsement of one single-interest organization to consider the many, many other important issues of the day.

Your example of a hypothetical candidate who opposes a woman's right to vote is flawed for several reasons. One is that a position about guns may be just about guns. An issue about women's rights would necessarily have much broader implications regarding the candidate's attitude toward human rights in general and the role of government.

If I were in favor of off-shore drilling, I certainly wouldn't vote for Sarah Palin just because of her mantra of "Drill, Baby, drill." (Shudder.)

Citizen Jane said...

I had to delete two attempts at posting my last comment because of typos. I really need to get my priorities straight in the morning: first coffee, then blog!

Citizen Jane said...

Deal-breaker issue? Torture.

Six said...

I agree with you on torture... I will not support someone who supports torture. And my definition of torture is a fairly wussy-lefty-soft-on-terrorists version too (i.e. waterboarding is torture in my book). I wish Obama would take a tougher stand on the issue rather than keeping open the 'temporary' detention facilities strategically placed in countries that allow torture. I wonder why that is...?

Conservatives like to talk about 'American Exceptionalism' and God choosing the USA to serve as an example to the rest of the world... yet when it actually comes to walking the walk, well I am no biblical scholar, but I am fairly certain Jesus would not have tortured. Just sayin...