Those who know me best probably assume that my vote is already locked in for President Obama in November, but that’s not exactly true. Although I tend to vote Democrat, I am definitely not a party faithful. I am not registered as a Democrat, I have voted for Republicans in more local elections in the recent past, and Jon Huntsman would have gotten my vote this time around if he hadn’t run – and failed miserably – in the most conservative Republican Primary since Goldwater’s campaign. I am socially progressive and economically a little right of center; and so a moderate Republican actually would suit me quite well. But lately, I have needed to somewhat settle for Democrats because Republicans have generally been way out in Right field.
But I’ve found over the past few years that I get very upset and sometimes angry when I hear Republican talking points. I typically pride myself on being open to ideas and willing to listen to both sides, but when it comes to the extremes, I just sort of shut down. I’ve been trying lately to figure out why that is. What is it about someone that never waivers from their convictions that just drives me up a wall? I think part of it is that a person like that invariably becomes deaf to new information. Of course, they can only do this for so long. Eventually there will come a point when they cannot ignore that information any longer, but the absolute destruction this claims on their faith and convictions tends to make them bitter and depressed. How could it not? Their whole world that they thought they knew just came crashing down on them.
I have made a conscious effort to guard against that by never rejecting any information as “obviously” not true until it is proven to me without a doubt that it is actually not true. Evidence is the key to this. I try extremely hard to form my opinions based on evidence and not on my own emotional reaction. For example, my deep-down prejudice and my in-grained religious code tells me that homosexuality is wrong and is a choice. But my experience and brain research studies that I have read tell me otherwise. Which one is correct? I’m open to more evidence, but I am no longer open to someone telling me that I need to think one way or the other or else I am not a good Christian or not a good academic or progressive.
Another example is my changing viewpoint on economics. When I first began to think about economics in grad school, I was very much what conservatives would derisively call a Big Government Liberal. I had a very difficult time squaring my progressive social views with almost any private profit. For a while there, I would have probably been considered by most as a socialist. But as I gained new information through experience and research, I have become much more moderate. The socialist in me was almost dealt a fatal blow by the bank and auto bailouts a few years ago. This was entirely an emotional reaction. It just wasn’t fair! Why should I be on the hook to bail them out of poor decisions that they made? Later, I saw it in a slightly different way: we stunt economic development and growth when we prop up industries that fail because we wipe out the natural advantage that newer industries are developing. In other words, the automobile industry would have advanced tremendously as a result of a massive failure, but instead we told them, emphatically, to stay exactly the way they were. I can’t help but think that our economy will suffer for years to come from the consequences of not forcing our automobiles and financial industry to change and innovate.
Now, I have an even more nuanced take on economics. I went from socialist to free-market capitalist very quickly, but I’m still changing, still moderating toward reality. Is all government intervention bad? Absolutely not. In fact, economies work best when governments constantly force private industry to innovate, either by instituting much-needed regulation (i.e. fuel economy standards) or by letting them fail and investing in infrastructure that will assist the transition to rising alternatives. The reason why the clean energy companies are failing – and the reason why it has become such a controversy to use taxes to fund these failing companies – is that we tried to have it both ways. We tried to not only save the failing industry but also invest in new industries. Same thing is happening with High Speed Rail and other transit projects. You can’t save the old and expect the new to compete. We either needed to: 1) let the old industries fail and invest in the new, or 2) save the old and let the new innovations continue to struggle and die. We tried to do both, and the results of such a strategy always end up being similar to the second option (the new industries will struggle), but it just costs us so much more money to do so.
Anyway, my point is that I had assumed that the reason that I get so edgy with ultra-conservative (and, for that matter, ultra-liberal) talking points is because there is no room for change or even gradual evolution. I still think that this is a major part of it, because I see such collective willful ignorance of any adverse information as a real threat to not only our politics but our culture and economy. But I have recently realized why the stakes are even higher than a simple case of people being inflexible. Leave it to the most powerful Republican in the country to put it into words:
Utopia. When I first saw the video, the vision Speaker Boehner was laying out didn’t seem particularly new or harmful. It was a basic political, campaign-like speech. But the final sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. It all makes sense now. Moderates talk about practical ways to solve problems. Ideologues talk about Utopias, whether they say the word or not. And if you know anything about Utopias, you would know that whether they are based on right-wing or life-wing ideas, they not only don’t work for very practical reasons (i.e. innovation in any form is squashed because it inevitably would lead to rebellion), they inevitably destroy a society from within. The Soviet Union was a Utopian society, as was the American South. Both are still struggling mightily to be anything other than failed cultures and economies.
So, this is what bothers me most about the present Republican party. While I have issues with a faction of the Democratic party (the most liberal among them), I can’t seem to find many in the Republican ranks that are not hardcore ideologues. They are Utopians, not problem-solvers, and the idea that they could have enough power to begin implementing their Utopia honestly scares the crap out of me. At least President Obama is practical and is constantly moderating his own views to work with the opposition. I don’t see any of that with most Republicans.
And the scariest part for me is that I live in the most Republican state in the nation, where the Republican primaries (in which they have deemed that I am not worthy to vote) pick the eventual winners of our statewide and national candidates. By the time the general elections come around, my vote doesn’t count, yet my tax dollars are being spent on the election anyway. It’s getting so bad that even my city’s more moderate-to-liberal elected councilmembers are being overruled on policy decisions by state legislators who don’t live anywhere near Salt Lake City. I already live in a Utopia. I hope the rest of you don’t have to as well.