Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"I Have Trouble With 'The Shrug'"

It stings, or maybe more accurately, as when my six-year old camper Howard Rosen wrote home “Camp shtings”, it shthings when the ideas you believe in are repudiated by the voters.

When that happened last Tuesday, I didn’t feel too well. Though I’m sure it was worse for the president, who immediately sought comfort in another country. (“Where can I go where people have it worse than I do? I know. India.”)

In an effort to process the rejection, your thoughts inevitably go to “They didn’t understand what we were trying to do. Our ideas are right. We just didn’t explain them persuasively enough.” But then, I think, “That’s exactly what the other side says when they lose."

“It’s so obvious! When the rich pay less taxes, we all succeed! Why can’t they understand that?”

It also shtings quite severely when, along with the True Believers whose views happen to be the opposite of mine, the extreme fringe of lunatics and haters is swept to victory as well. That has to be encouraging to them.

“Being crazy and hateful wins elections. Write it down. We’ll use it again.”

My response to when good things happen to scary people is not anger. It’s confusion. And sadness. And a historically resonating, internal shiver. When the policies you believe in are voted down, so be it. The people have spoken. At least, the people who voted.

But when reasoned argument is defeated, at least in part, by fear-mongering, racist undercurrents and Hitler, Stalin and Satan analogies, it’s not just one side’s agenda that takes a drubbing. It’s civilized society. A fact that, to me, is considerably more serious.

I have no problem listening to the other side explain where they’re coming from. If, to some people, the increasing number of billionaires representing the greatest disparity between the super-rich and everyone else since the 1920’s demonstrates that people have the ability to get really rich in this country, I get why they’re against policies that would interfere with those efforts.

If you believe over-regulation stifles economic growth, I understand your opposition to regulation. If “starving the beast” keeps government from wasting our money, I get it – don’t give them so much. If military strength abroad keeps us safer at home, a muscular foreign policy is obviously the answer. If you believe that government handouts create dependency, cut back on “entitlements.”

I understand the principles, and the policies they engender. I don’t agree with them, but I understand. The place I get lost is where, after reasonably espousing their positions, conservatives seem, not oblivious – these are thoughtful people – not disinterested, it’s hurtier than that…conservatives seem indifferent, yeah, that’s the word – indifferent – and to my not entirely unbiased sensibilities at least, dismissively indifferent, to the disturbing consequences of those positions.

Time and again – and I’m talking about when I’ve seen them on television – conservatives’ responses to the problematic consequences of their core beliefs is reflected most tangibly in an identifiable physical gesture known as

The Shrug.

Examples? I’m sure there are more than both time or my limited knowledge can provide, but here are just a few. Conservative policies, based on fundamental conservative principles:

Privatize Social Security

People have a right to invest their own retirement money any way they want. Fine. Possible Consequence: They invest it in what are widely touted to be “can’t miss” stocks. Like Enron. They lose all their retirement money. What happens to those people then?

Shrug.

Privatize Education

The best businesses are productive, efficient and cost effective. Run schools like a business. Possible Consequence: Not all businesses succeed. When they don’t, “business” files for “Chapter Eleven” and moves on and sells windmills. What if the “school business” goes belly up? What happens to the students?
Shrug.

Companies, Large and Small, Must Be Permitted To Fail

Let’s say we followed that principle, and allowed all the banks and the investment houses and the car companies go under. Where would the economy be now?

Shrug.

Keep Government Out Of Health Care

But what if you get really sick and you don’t have health insurance? Or your insurance company drops you, or severely limits expenditures for your treatment? What happens to you then?

Shrug.

Guns

The Second Amendment guarantees, at least since the last Supreme Court ruling, an individual’s right to own a gun. That guarantee is in the Constitution. But back then, they had single-shot muskets that took forty-five seconds to load. Now, we have modern weapons that pump out bullets at a considerably faster pace. Is that really the same thing?

Shrug.

And the number of guns you can own? Shouldn’t that make a difference?

The Constitution says nothing about that.

It wasn’t an issue back then. But it is now. Should we not do something about that?

Shrug.

Money As Free Speech

Limiting the amount of money you can spend on a campaign is equivalent to limiting Free Speech itself, which you’re Constitutionally prohibited from doing…because it’s Free Speech. But what if the corporations, who are now free to spend as much as they want, overpower the people with opposing views whose financial resources are considerably thinner? Won’t that mean that all points of view will not be able to be equally heard?

Shrug.

It is possible that conservatives are right about everything. A convincing argument could, not easily, but perhaps over time, persuade me to change my mind.

But you have to finish the story, conservatives. If you want my vote, you need to reassure me that, along with an unswerving commitment to your core beliefs, you are aware of the problematic consequences of those beliefs, and have reasonable solutions for dealing with them.

One thing I can tell you.

The shrug is a turn-off.

Of course, you may not need my vote. You did very well without it.

2 comments:

Gnasche said...

The only time I ever voted for a Democrat or Republican for a federal office was in 2008 when I voted for Democrats to end the war. Instead, they gave Bush all the money he wanted for war and Bush didn't veto their kickbacks to the farmers. So why did I waste a vote on the two-party alliance? shrug

I think if you asked those questions (what if you lose your retirement? what if you the government doesn't give you money to teach your kids? what if your money-making business fails? what if you get sick?) to a community like the Amish, they'd know exactly what to do.

Unfortunately the rest of us are so addicted to independence that we'll accept any resolution that doesn't involve interacting with our neighbors or relatives.

As far as guns laws, though, the whole reasoning is that the citizens should be more powerful than the federal army. Even with automatic weapons that's no longer the case, so I don't even see the point of the second amendment anymore.

Diann said...

I have that same internal shiver and I wonder what happened - and how it happened so quickly. How did we move from a country that, if not supported, at least accepted the idea that caring for the elderly, the poor and those unable to care for themselves was a worthy goal to a country of people who want to strip our government of any social responsibility?

I know that I heard the first stirrings shortly after President Obama was elected. The ideas expressed were along the lines that "now there is a black man in office and he is going to try to give all of our money to black people." I was shocked the first time I heard that sentiment - and after that from how many different people expressed the same idea.

Every action that the government makes, controversial or not, has side effects - some good, some bad.

I think that the far, far right not only built on the racially based fear and the fear of change that almost all of us have but also exaggerated the dangers of every step the president has made until a large portion of the population is almost hysterical with fear, which has activated the survival instinct. Many people are now afraid - not for their life, perhaps, but their lifestyle and haven't been able to separate the two. When you are afraid for your life, your ability to think about others is eclipsed by your own fight to survive. I know that sounds extreme, but that is the sense that I have gotten from many of my conservative friends and coworkers.

Hopefully, as a country, we will not make any decisions that we regret until the hysteria fades.

Personally, I have found that _The Daily Show with Jon Stewart_ has reduced my stress level tremendously.