Sadly, this is still relevant today. If you’re like me, the competing partisan versions of what caused (and what pulled us out of) the depression are mind boggling. Like everything else, it’s as if we’ve been living in entirely different versions of reality. Here Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter and Council of Foreign Relations’ Amity Shlaes have a real conversation. Shlaes was just on Glenn Beck Friday where they didn’t have a real conversation.
This is a particularly interesting video because it took place just before our current economic nosedive.
Two New Hampshire Democrats – one elected, one running for election – are in deep kimchi over their posted comments while discussing the death of former Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens in a place crash:
“Well a dead Palin wd be even more dangerous than a live one…she is all about her myth & if she was dead she cldn’t commit any more gaffes,” Horrigan wrote.
Horrigan was commenting on another post by a Democrat running for the state house, party activist Keith David Halloran, who found himself in hot water Wednesday after writing about the crash: “Just wish Sarah and Levy [sic] were on board.”
Any Democrats who think all the incivility flows right to left should reconsider. When you can no longer see people through the lens of humanity, you’re a bridge too far.
Michael Gerson, former speechwriter to George W. Bush, on Face the Nation yesterday, said that too many of our political controversies today are a result of “too many Americans looking for excuses to justify their rage.” He explained:
It works because we’re a big country. We’ve got over 300 million people – if you’re an internet site or a cable network and if you set out to find an excuse, some incident to emphasize you can find one in America and run it over and over again It could be a picture at a tea party rally of a single sign or a video that had to do with the new black panthers and it makes it look like it’s a crisis of race when in fact, these are incidents in America. It exaggerates…
Joe Keohane writes a powerful piece on how our entrenched political opinion resists fact that contradicts it. Here’s a snip of an article that’s just so good that it’s going straight into the Village Square library, but we’d strongly recommend you head straight to Boston.com and read the whole piece.
Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.
This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters – the people making decisions about how the country runs – aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong, says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon – known as “backfire” – is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”
“Most adult Americans spend their daily lives working in organizations where courtesy and civility are basic presumptions of how people should interact with each other. Moreover, discussion and negotiation underlie normal decision-making processes in the organizations and institutions of civil society and the economy. Americans contrast the environments in which they live their lives with a political order dominated by activists and elected officials who behave like squabbling children in a crowded sandbox. This is another reason why Americans dislike politics: They are put off by the people who specialize in politics.” —Morris Fiorina, Culture War?
Bob Schieffer’s commentary on yesterday’s Face the Nation:
(CBS) The smart, powerful, sometimes cranky Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey has announced he is quitting Congress after four decades because he is “bone tired.”
We came to Washington the same year, 1969, and his announcement reminded me what a different world it was back then when Members didn’t go home every weekend to raise money and actually stayed in Washington and got to know one another.
I can remember social occasions back then when Democrats and Republicans who fought by day, actually enjoyed each other’s company after hours.
No more. They say such awful things about each other today, they’re uneasy socializing and generally don’t.
Not long ago, for example, a staffer for a Congressional leader actually asked if we could provide a private waiting room for his boss who was appearing on “Face the Nation” because the boss didn’t want to share a room with someone from the other party.
In the old days when an old warhorse like Obey retired, members of the other party frequently said something nice (if innocuous). But in Obey’s case, the Republican National Committee spokesman took a final shot, saying it was “understandable that the architect of the President’s failed stimulus package has decided to call it quits.”
And Obey managed a parting shot as well & not at Republicans but at his own party, at the Senate his own party controls.
He said one reason he was leaving was he decided there was more to life “than explaining the ridiculous rules of the Senate to angry, frustrated constituents.”
In 1969, a House Member wouldn’t have said that, either – but he might have thought it!
This is just so good, I can’t think of a single thing to edit out of it. Donald Miller writes on faith issues and he could possibly be a one-person Village Square all by himself: Donald Miller “has appeared at such diverse events as The Democratic National Convention and the Veritas Forum at Harvard.” (For those of you keeping track, this must be credited to (who else but) Internet Surf Queen Lea.)
Back when I was hanging out at Reed College, I was pleased to be in an environment where truth mattered more than ego, or rather where people didn’t associate their identity with their ideas. What I mean is, finding truth was more important than being right. And because finding truth was more important than being right, students were able to learn.
At Reed, discussing a philosophical or even scientific idea around a conference table did not look like a debate. Rather, it looked like a group of students attempting to put together a jig-saw puzzle. If a piece didn’t happen to fit, that was par for the course. You simply set it aside and worked together to make progress.
When we begin to associate our ideas with our identities (I am good because I am right) we lose the ability to be objective. And rather than learning to learn, we simply learn to defend.
To be certain, there are basic truths we must defend, but we don’t defend these ideas from our egos. Dr. Henry Cloud says that truth must go hand in hand with grace in order to be effective. There must be truth, but there must also be acceptance, regardless of whether somebody disagrees. This methodology frees the person to make an objective decision. When we become angry or condescending we take the truth and wrap it in a toxic-candy shell and get frustrated when people don’t like it. Truth wrapped in grace is more easily digested.
So my question is, do you take it personally when somebody disagrees with you? Here are some things I try to remember when engaging in a conversation in which there are differing opinions:
1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth: My ideas were not really my invention. Even if I was the first person to consider an idea, it’s still something I stumbled upon. I shouldn’t take it personally when somebody doesn’t agree. They aren’t rejecting me, they are rejecting an idea.
2. Methodology is Part of the Message: When I get defensive and then condescending, what I associate my ideas with an offensive subtext, and that association is very strong to the hearer. Imagine having a conversation with somebody who has terrible breath, standing there and smelling their putrid hot air as they talk. It’s the same with your attitude toward somebody when you’re discussing an idea.
3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal: If I don’t genuinely care about the people I’m talking to, I’ll be received like a guy standing there clanging cymbals together. The Bible makes a strong connection between a persons heart and their tongue. We tend to think we talk with our tongues alone, but the Bible says we talk with our tongues and our hearts. Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
4. The Other Person has Sovereignty: Even if I think the other person is completely wrong, they have a right to their beliefs. I can simply state what I believe and do so in kindness and that’s really it. If I’m trying to bully somebody into my way of seeing things, I’m not respecting the sovereignty of the person I am talking with.
5. I Could be Wrong: What we most want from the person we are talking to is for them to see things from our perspective and agree. That being said, though, are you willing to see things from their perspective? If not, try listening to their perspective then repeating it back to them. Ask them if you got it right, and if you did, say you will think about it. Then present your idea, too, and ask them if they understand your position. To be honest, they may not be as open as you, but once the conversation is over, I assure you they will have a new respect for you, and believe me, they will consider your ideas more respectfully. And besides, the truth is they could be right.
… the second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. These arguments we’re having over government and health care and war and taxes – these are serious arguments. They should arouse people’s passions, and it’s important for everybody to join in the debate, with all the vigor that the maintenance of a free people requires.
But we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. (Applause.) You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. (Applause.) Throwing around phrases like “socialists” and “Soviet-style takeover” and “fascist” and “right-wing nut” – that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.
Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth. But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. Michelle always reminds me of that. (Laughter.) The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning – since, after all, why should we listen to a “fascist,” or a “socialist,” or a “right-wing nut,” or a “left-wing nut”?
It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.
So what do we do? As I found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of politics is not easy. And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: Treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect. (Applause.) But civility in this age also requires something more than just asking if we can’t just all get along.
Today’s 24/7 echo-chamber amplifies the most inflammatory soundbites louder and faster than ever before. And it’s also, however, given us unprecedented choice. Whereas most Americans used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner, or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows. And this can have both a good and bad development for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.
But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.
Now, this requires us to agree on a certain set of facts to debate from. That’s why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. That’s why we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously once said, ‘Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Still, if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. It is essential for our democracy.
And so, too, is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people. I look out at this class and I realize for four years at Michigan you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars, professors and students. Don’t narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you’re leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with somebody who grew up in a rural town. If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your own race or ethnicity or religion, include people in your circle who have different backgrounds and life experiences. You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and in the process, you will help to make this democracy work.
Charlie Crist’s departure from the Republican Party is not just a Florida story; it’s an American story – a tale of two parties driven by their ideologues, squeezing out moderate candidates, alienating independent voters and isolating the place in U.S. politics where most things get done: the middle…
No matter who wins a three-way race in Florida, the factors that drove Crist from the GOP are a microcosm of broader political and social changes contributing to polarization.
“We have a deadlocked democracy,” said Pat Buchanan, a conservative commentator and three-time presidential candidate. “Both parties, held hostage by their extremes, are incapable of tackling the issues that threaten this country.”