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[politics] The fine art of denial in political discourse, part 1

This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following me for more than, oh, about eight or ten hours, but a lot of politics gets talked on my blog. And my Twitter feed. And my Facebook. I’m a strong liberal-progressive, Leftist by American standards, barely past the Center by European standards. In other words, I’m not a Socialist, or anything much like one, except in the highly inaccurate, perjorative sense that Republicans use “Socialist” as a scare word indicating anyone to the left of Richard Nixon. I like my nice capitalist paycheck and my nice capitalist house and so forth. My net worth would suggest I’m not a very successful capitalist, but by and large the system works for me.

I’m also not a Democrat, except technically. I registered Democrat in the 2008 election cycle because Oregon doesn’t have open primaries, and I wanted to vote for Obama. This was before his vote (as Senator) for the Telecommunications Immunity Act, after which I ceased donating money or offering my political support to him. I probably would have gone with Hillary Clinton otherwise, or just sat out the primaries completely. So yes, I’m still registered, but for most purposes, I don’t see a lot of distinction between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.

For most purposes. A few differences, however, count for a great deal. In the most basic sense, the Republican Party has become single-threaded, while the Democratic Party still moves in a number of directions simultaneously.

Prior to Ronald Reagan, both parties had conservative and liberal wings, with a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. I’m (barely) old enough to remember Richard Nixon in a political sense, and Rockefeller Republicans. Nixon proposed the Environmental Protection Agency and signed it into law. Can you imagine any modern Republican doing such a thing? As a purely practical matter, the Republicans today have become a very narrow party, dedicated to eliminating abortion, promoting Evangelical Christianity, protecting gun ownership, and lowering taxes. This is is the distilled essence of Sarah Palin, who is the closest thing the GOP has to standard-bearer of late.

The Democrats, by contrast, span the gamut of views on reproductive rights, religion, firearms, fiscal policy and host of other issues. It’s a bigger tent. Which is why you see Democrats so often forming a circular firing squad at crucial moments, with their justly famed prowess at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. They can’t agree on anything most days, while the GOP has religiously observed Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment by marginalizing almost everyone within their own party who doesn’t toe the line.

As it happens, I disagree with all the Republican signature issues, as well as their stance on immigration, national security, foreign wars, unrestrained spending, regulation, the role of government in society, and a number of other things. Mind you, GOP rhetoric, on spending, for example, can be quite reasonable. But from 2000-2006 the Republican Party controlled all three branches of government, and the United States ran up the largest deficits in history. Reagan’s record was quite similar. Conservative actions do not even begin to match rhetoric.

I disagree with the Democrats on a number of their positions as well, viewing them as largely the lesser of the evils, especially in their corporatist tendencies and their comatose quiescence on national security abuses. But our system is so heavily weighted against third parties I don’t see much point in going Green, for example, even if I wanted to. Besides, I’m not aware of a third party that matches my desires for strong progressive social policy, limited defense spending, an internationalist foreign policy, very strong gun control, strong environmental protections, and so forth. So my votes are generally Democratic, and by default my views wind up aligning with them more than anyone else.

All of which is to say, those are my views of the political parties. As individuals, the people I know in my life range from radical anarchists to neo-Hooverite paleoconservatives. To a woman and man, they are decent, thoughtful people, even though I disagree with many of them. I don’t talk politics with most, have blazing rows with a few, and friendly tussles with quite a few more. That’s how I learn, and adapt my views — by advancing them, defending them, and listening to people’s responses.

Am I guilty of confirmation bias in the evidence I seek? Doubtless, though rarely deliberately so. Do I ignore what I don’t agree with? More often than I’d like. Do I change my views on political topics? Yes, from time to time, though generally it’s a case of moderation rather than reversal. (For example, specifically due to an extended series of discussions on my blog a few years ago, I’ve backed off from my historical hardline opposition to home schooling. Likewise, I am more moderate on my views of gun control than I used to be.)

But there’s a pair of tendencies I run into from time to time in political discussions that frustrate me immensely. And they seem to have grown much stronger of late as political and social passions have been inflamed nationally by the poor economy and healthcare reform. One is False Equivalency, which I see both from angry people who identify as centrists, and conservatives squirming away from the excesses of their party and their fellow travelers. The other is a more specifically conservative trope, which is a version the No True Scotsman argument.

And frankly, they’re both pissing me off. More to come in a day or two…

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