The False Divide: A 12-Step Program for Liberals

December 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm

I read the following in our local newspaper this morning in the comments section of an article about John Boehner and the GOP’s new rules for the upcoming Congress:

LibertyTMan: I wonder if Obama will like these new rules? Reading the Constitution in public certainly sounds better than reading the Quran in private.

brcats responding to LibertyTMan: That’s so cute how you did that. So witty and intelligent. 1) I could care less about who reads The Bible, Quran, Talmud, or C. S. Lewis in private 2) Obama is a constitutional lawyer, so contrary to Fox News and SLiP, he has a much greater understanding of the document than YOU.

geewhizalready responding to brcats: Obama … a constitutional lawyer … you’ve got to be kidding!

brcats responding to geewhizalready: Maybe Glenn Beck didn’t cover that yet. Yes, he is a constitutional lawyer. You must be in a contest to win the “stupidest thing ever written in a blog”. Good work, I think you just took the lead.

AmericanRights responding to brcats: No he wasn’t. You need to do some research.

Now I don’t care about the fine points of Obama’s status at the University of Chicago.

What interests me is the back and forth. Republicans vs. Democrats. Conservatives vs. Liberals.

Call it what you want, you’ve probably seen this before. If not in the comments of your local newspaper, in the back and forth punditry of our media.

The format of the back and forth usually goes like this. First, conservative commentator says something “outrageous”. Here, LibertyTMan throws out the bait that Obama is probably “reading the Quran in private.”

In response, the liberal commentator accuses the conservative of being stupid. In this case, brcats makes a sarcastic comment about how “witty and intelligent” LibertyTMan must be. Later brcats says that geewhizalready just took the lead in a contest to win the “stupidest thing ever written in a blog”.

Here’s the conversation structure in another form. Conservative says something designed to “get a rise” of a liberal. Liberal claims that this isn’t true and condescendingly “fact checks” the conservative.

You’re a communist! Oh yeah, well you’re stupid!

This is the false divide that currently substitutes for political discourse in our country.

The truth of the matter is that both sides probably have more in common than they disagree on. But now the sides have been pitted against each other.

Democrats vs. Republicans is largely a false divide.

Ann Coulter wrote about this strategy in How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must):

You must outrage the enemy. If the liberal you’re arguing with doesn’t become speechless with sputtering, impotent rage, you’re not doing it right.  People don’t get angry when lies are told about them; they get angry when the truth is told about them. If you are not being called outrageous by liberals, you’re not being outrageous enough. Start with the maximum assertion about liberals and then push the envelope, because, as we know, their evil is incalculable.

There you have it in a nutshell: how to create a false divide.

Take a group that has just about everything in common, Americans, and create a false divide by turning some of the group against the rest and then watching the backlash.

Our country has been largely divided along these political and social marketing lines when, in fact, we all largely share the same beliefs.

We all want things like:

  1. More jobs
  2. A stable economy
  3. A strong country
  4. Social and personal responsibility
  5. A meritocracy
  6. Fairness
  7. Freedom
  8. Prosperity

I bet if you asked LibertyTMan, he’d tell you he has many, if not all, of these beliefs. But Mr. TMan has been told that he can win if he can pick out a “liberal” and get said liberal angry. And that’s exactly what he does.

He throws out the bait and then watches as Brcats gets angry, takes this personally, and lashes back with a stupidity comment of his own.

The winner? The real winners of this argument are the large corporations who are just happy that no one is watching them lobby the government for ever larger handouts. The losers? The American people.

So what’s a liberal to do?

Here’s my suggested 12-step program for the holidays:

  1. Don’t fall for the bait.
  2. Remember that you are arguing with a person. Ask yourself, would I say these things if this person were my friend and was standing right here in front of me?
  3. This doesn’t mean you have to compromise your position.
  4. But you may have to accept that the two of you may disagree. To paraphrase the Gambler, this means that you should know when to hold ’em and know when to walk away.
  5. You can only change yourself.
  6. Repeat, you can only change yourself.
  7. This does not mean you need to agree with conservatives, but keep in mind what you have in common with them as people and think about your approach.
  8. Keep in mind where they are coming from. Ask yourself, who is your real argument with? Most likely, it is not with the person who is saying these things, but with the person or organization from which said person is hearing them.
  9. That said, is there a better way to fight than showing this particular person how “stupid” they are?
  10. Remind yourself that no one ever changed because you told them that they were wrong. This means that as dirty as you may think the word is, you may need to “sell” your ideas.
  11. Find areas of agreement and common ground and demonstrate how maybe you’re not the evil liberal communist pinko son-of-Stalin that you have been portrayed by the media as.
  12. Always maintain your sense of humor.

All of these things seem obvious, but judging from the sheer number of conversations I hear that sound like the above back and forth, it’s still not self-evident.

You may not convince conservatives if you follow this plan. But you won’t fit into their narrative of liberals as “intellectual elitists trying to tell us what to do”.

And, by showing respect, you should find yourself in a position to ask for it in return.

I’ve found that if I treat people with respect regardless of ideology, then I will often get this respect returned automatically. If it’s not returned, then I’ll call them out on it and show them how I respected their opinions and ideas. If it’s still not returned, ask yourself the question, is this person really worth having a conversation with?

In hush-hush tones, many conservatives will tell you off the record that they don’t really believe much of what is said. Do you think LibertyTMan really believes that Obama reads the Quran?

Maybe or maybe not. He may just think it’s a funny exaggeration. He may say it because it’s socially acceptable, or he’s been taught to have no respect for “liberals,” or he’s found, like Ann Coulter, that it works: liberals get angry and he’s able to change the subject away from one he couldn’t win.

In the face of all of the anti-liberal, anti-government material in the mainstream outlets, remember that conservatives will most likely view you at first as an outsider. Especially if you fit the narrative that’s been told about liberals.

The good news is that it’s not that hard to get around. It’s simply a matter of showing a little respect and demanding it in turn. Most people, regardless of political ideology, are pretty respectful when it comes down to it.

This is yet another thing that we all tend to have in common.

If you don’t believe me, think about the last time “showing” someone that they were wrong actually convinced them of anything.

Good luck and Merry Christmas!