Conversations around the Petition Table

October 9, 2011

Maybe I should try some of that first-person-narrative, personal-experience-type reporting that I’m told is blogs’ specialty.

Recently I started volunteering with some local candidates’ 2011 election campaigns.  One day I went with two other volunteers, two college students, S. and D., to a big community event where we distributed literature for one of the candidates, C.  While there, we ran into another volunteer, a liberal, M., a middle-aged woman, gathering signatures for a Democrat ballot initiative.  The four of us talked for a while.  A few things struck me. 

  1. First, M. and S. knew each other, but it turned out that they knew each other only from running into each other several times before at other events like this.  M. later remarked to me that they and other volunteers like them are passionate about their respective causes, but they also respect each other, and indeed the four of us were able to have a cordial, even jovial, conversation at some length.  I think that’s great.
  2. Of course the fact that we were joking around, even about the things we disagreed about, doesn’t mean we don’t also deeply disagree with each other.  M. remarked that in her opinion, another one of the Republican candidates, L., doesn’t do a good job of representing all of her constituents, but cares only about white people’s interests.  M. admitted, without being asked, that she based this judgment solely on L.’s votes, and how M. thought they affected different neighborhoods.  In other words, by M.’s own admission, she was making the very serious assertion that L. doesn’t care about black people, not because L. had said she didn’t, not because she had ever cast a vote that was discriminatory on its face, not even because she had systematically done good for neighborhoods that happened to be white but not neighborhoods that happened to be black, but because M. thought L.’s votes were mostly in the interests of one or two of the wealthier neighborhoods, presumably at the expense of all the other predominantly white, predominantly black, and variously mixed neighborhoods.
  3. It turned out that all four of us support the Republican candidate I was there for that day, C.  M. remarked that she didn’t consider herself a Democrat or a Republican; instead, she said she was for black people, wherever that takes her on particular issues or particular candidates.  She didn’t seem to see any incongruity between this and her criticism of L.
  4. S., D., and M. are black.  S. remarked that other black people have called him a sell-out, an Uncle Tom, etc., for being conservative and supporting Republican candidates.  I had heard white liberals I know talk about black conservatives in a similar way, but apparently there are black liberals who do, too, to his face.
    That always seemed very strange to me, by the way—that some white liberals feel free to mock black conservatives as working against their racial interests, or words to that effect.  In other words, from these white liberals’ point of view, a white person is free to hold whatever values he chooses—conservative, liberal, whatever—and that’s a normal, legitimate choice.  But for a black person, there’s only one correct answer—liberalism.  I.e., these white liberals think they can choose for all black people, and any black people who don’t fall in line with the choice these white liberals have made for them are idiots, or self-hating, or other really bizarre insults.  I would have thought that liberals would be the first ones to agree that talking about people that way is not at all—what’s the term?—“politically correct”.  But apparently not.
  5. M. is Christian, and she and I agree on a lot—that each of us is called on by God to give to help the poor, for example—but she makes the same error in thought that I keep hearing liberals make (I’m starting to wonder whether there would be any liberalism left in the world if it weren’t for this error): thinking that government is no different from anything else, whereas in fact government is set apart by the extremely important difference that government has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.  She says (like probably every liberal Christian I’ve ever talked to about it), We have to help the poor (and of course I agree so far), and then she effortlessly slips from that to saying, Therefore we have to have the government help the poor.  No, no, no!  God commands us to give (by our choice) of what we have to help the poor; that is very different from commanding us to use force or threat of force (whether through government or otherwise) to take from others to give to the poor.
    At one point, what she was saying sounded almost word for word the same as what I had heard another liberal argue not long ago:  “I would define government as when we come together to accomplish things.”  Ah!

8 Responses to “Conversations around the Petition Table”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    Wouldn’t the best way to draw attention to your candidate’s name be to actually use his name?

  2. Tevyeh Says:

    “M. remarked that in her opinion, another one of the Republican candidates, L., doesn’t do a good job of representing all of her constituents, but cares only about white people’s interests.”

    It seems to me that Liberals tend to have a preoccupation with the subjective motives of policymakers (and people with political opinions generally). Individual motivation being invisible, they draw inferences about these motives from…well, sometimes from scant evidence. Cynic that I am on political matters, I think this approach might “work” (in that it correctly identifies policymakers’ motivations) in some cases (e.g. we shouldn’t be surprised when a policymaker promotes the interests of a campaign contributor). However, I suspect that most attempts at discerning a political actor’s subjective motives lean heavily on the imagination. Many liberals seem to think that conservatives can be lumped into two brackets: “stupid” and “evil.” (See Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” for a blatant example of this mentality). Because a conservative policymaker is more likely to be in the “evil” category, the worst possible motives can be assigned to his every political undertaking.

    Whatever. Far be it from me to begrudge people the active use of imagination. My biggest objection to this preoccupation with subjective motivation is that it distracts from an objective analysis of the actual or likely *effects* of this-or-that policy or proposal. Say I want to advance Policy X because I think it will end poverty, balance the federal budget, cure cancer and provide homes for stray puppies. If Joe Schmoe also supports Policy X, then we are in complete agreement with respect to that matter. But let’s say Joe Schmoe only supports Policy X because he hates kittens and (due to a flawed zero-sum analysis) thinks that anything that’s good for puppies is necessarily bad for kittens—“Yeah, let’s stick it to the kittens. Mwuahaha…” For practical purposes, should I care more about his bad motives, or about the good that I think will come from Policy X?

    The liberal preoccupation with motives also works to the benefit of liberal policymakers. Take, for instance, the Affordable Care Act. When I point to the problems inherent in a system designed to expand and galvanize the employer-based, low-out-of-pocket-cost monstrosity that has gotten U.S. healthcare in such a mess, I am often rebutted with the “observation” that “at least the Democrats are *trying* to do something.” The likely *effects* of Obamacare are all but irrelevant to a discussion of its merits—the Democrats’ genuine *desire* to provide Affordable Care for All seems to be far more important to some people.

    This is all just one man’s perspective. Any liberals want to rebut me?

  3. Snoodickle Says:

    I don’t need much of an imagination to divine the subjective motivation of every policymaker who ever lived – to get reelected.

  4. docrob50 Says:

    Well, it doesn’t surprize me that you have difficulty with “that personal-experience-type reporting.

    The reason being 1) there is nothing pertaining to Theology in your post 2) instead of seeking to work together for a common good, you would rather use your narrow view of the bible to justify a secular political agenda.

    So, stands to reason you cannot speak well from personal experience because the life you would seem to know is built on thoughts and ideas and the reasoning of others. And all the above, the bible tells me are no more solid or permanent than castles-in-the-sand.

  5. I observe, without further comment, that “docrob50”, far from rebutting Tevyeh, has made himself an example of what Tevyeh was talking about, the tendency of liberals to imaginatively ascribe bad motives to people who disagree with them: I disagree with liberalism about forced redistribution of wealth; therefore I must be “us[ing a] narrow view of the bible to justify a secular political agenda”. There’s no way I could have it in the correct order—God first, then (if at all) politics—because, well, conservatives are guilty until proven innocent. Oops.

    • docrob50 Says:

      …and what exactly is a “Tevyeh” that I have allegedly made myself an example of?

      Or could I just as easily reply that once again “conservatives imaginatively project their own shadow tendencies upon others because it causes too much anxiety and ambiguity to pull back such projections and own one’s fear?”

      Or perhaps we could move past all that and actually have a dialogue without hidden agenda’s on either side and with minds open to at the very least hold our own pet opinions at bay long enough to give the words of each their proper due?

      A challenge.

  6. […] to tar the Tea Party movement (or conservatives generally) as “racist” (speaking of liberals’ tendency to assume bad motives of those who disagree with them).  That’s a very poisonous word to throw around so cavalierly.  But let me take those […]

  7. […] made some of these arguments myself, some years before the dynamic produced Trump.  My left-leaning friends in general didn’t see it, then or […]

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