Personal and Political
I have a theory that your politics reflect your personality. Not always, but usually.
Conservative and liberals are not only political opposites, but generally have polar personalities. Conservatives are driven by reason, liberals by emotion. Is it coincidence that women, the more emotional sex, skew Democrat? The Democrat ladies in my life vehemently deny that emotion drives their politics, often with an emotional outburst to let me know my suggestion wasn't appreciated. I rest my case.
This sentient vs. sentiment divide is as important to politics as any issue or any party. Whether someone is logical or emotional at their core affects what messages will persuade them, and how they will attempt to persuade.
When listening to speeches or debates, conservatives respond to the message, liberals respond to the meter. Obama's cadence and soaring rhetoric regularly brings audiences to their feet (except for Obama fans who faint for dramatic effect.) After watching an Obama speech, my wife will turn to me and say, "Now that was a great speech!" To which I'll assure her, "No, no it wasn't." We sat on the same sofa, watched the same TV, and listened to the same speech. While we heard the same words we processed them differently. Soaring rhetoric about the better schools and brighter tomorrows moves her. Soaring rhetoric only moves me to think "how?", "how much?", and "how predictable!" Reason makes me cynical. Emotion makes her optimistic.
Optimism blinds. We've all had relationships where we failed to see faults in our partner because we built up an ideal image of that person in our head. Sometimes, in moments of candor and reflection, we recognized those faults, but we ignored those faults because we desperately wanted the relationship to work out. Some things are not meant to be. The sooner that you admit a mistake or that the relationship is doomed to fail, the better it is for all parties to move on and find what works better.
Government programs are like relationships. There are usually signs, often early on, that the program is going to fail. For example: Head Start. The liberal is blinded by his optimism over the program's shortcomings because, to the liberal, intentions are more important than outcomes. Further, it takes exceptional integrity and honesty to admit that you're wrong. Perhaps that's why we see more converts from liberalism to conservatism than vice-versa. Charles Krauthammer made that conversion:
"If I'm not mistaken, you started out as a Democrat," suggests Prelutsky.
"True," says Krauthammer.
"I'd always been a Democrat. I was a Great Society liberal on domestic issues. I even worked in the Carter administration and did some speech writing for Walter Mondale. But my evolution came in the 1980s when the Democrats were talking about a nuclear freeze. The Great Society, I came to see, did far more harm than good. I became a free market conservative."
Thomas Sowell made that conversion as well:
"I was a Marxist I guess for a decade from about the time I was 20 to 30 roughly" said Thomas Sowell.
"What changed my mind was not anything I had read. I was a Marxist when I went into Milton Friedman's course at [the University of] Chicago and I was a Marxist when I came out of it. What changed me was working as an economic intern in the government in 1960 and discovering what the government bureaucracies were like in terms of their motivations and how they do their job. I immediately realized government is not the answer. Life taught me. I think that is true for most people."
Sowell and Krauthammer were intelligent enough to recognize and honest enough to admit that many government programs fall far short of their intentions. Outcomes were more important to these gentlemen. Outcomes are what matter.
Perhaps I'm wrong that it's liberals' optimism that prevents them from admitting when they're wrong. Maybe it's their narcissism.
I'm not saying that to offend liberals, though I'd imagine that it would. (Then again, when aren't liberals offended by uncomfortable truth from a conservative?) I'm noting liberals' higher rate of narcissism because that trait affects which policies liberals support. For instance, a liberal who doesn't smoke usually supports smoking bans in restaurants, a growing number of public settings, and likely altogether if they had their way. Ditto for guns. I don't smoke and I'm not particularly fond of the habit. Yet, I place liberty before my feelings, and I support restaurant owners deciding whether they'll permit smoking in their business. My feelings should not trump rights. The narcissist believes his feelings are so correct, so important that others should necessarily feel the same way. The narcissistic Liberal sees government as having the right, even the duty, to make others follow what the liberal believes.
Conservatives who are smirking or nodding along -- stop. While every negative trait I noted about Liberals may be true (alright, they are true), they are also the same traits that has a Democrat in the White House and American culture lurching left.
The logical conservative mocks the liberal for acting on emotion, but, in the end, emotion sways people more than logic. This won't change. If anything, this will worsen. American schools, both high schools and universities, continue to pump out students unable to spell the word Constitution, never mind understanding Constitutional concepts. Instead students are taught how not to discriminate, how not to offend, and how not to judge. The modern day see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. For a democracy to be successful voters must possess enough critical thinking skills to judge which politician's policies aremost apt to succeed. American graduates, however, are increasingly viewing politics via emotions rather than via their intellect (or lack thereof). Advantage: liberals.
Conservatives often pride themselves on their quiet dignity. That is admirable, but politics is like advertising -- it's all about the eyeballs you attract. We all know the liberal in our life that rubs us wrong because they're outspoken at work, at school, seemingly everywhere. Their narcissism leads them to assume that everyone must agree with their views so they talk openly about those views as though they're the accepted norm. Meanwhile, more reserved conservatives keeps their lips sealed. While outspoken liberals annoy the conservatives around them, those liberals, by virtue of being outspoken, are creating the idea that liberalism is the dominant, and thus correct, political ideology in that environment. People in that environment who don't follow politics closely (most Americans) are then seeing liberal talking points go unchallenged by the cloistered conservative. The assumption becomes that most people accepted Liberal ideas. Advantage: liberals.
I'm not saying that conservatives should become liberals. We need to keep some adults in this group home we call America. Conservatives should consider, however, why liberals win major battles. Hint: It's not liberal policies, it's how they present those policies. Conservatives need to be a bit more narcissistic in presuming that others want to hear their views. And when conservatives present those views, they need to add some humor and emotion. People don't care about your message unless they see you care about them.
James R. Kaminski is an attorney and writer living in Washington, D.C.