Conservatives, Progressives, and Perception

Michael van der Galiën tries to wrap his head around the disconnect between the way progressives and conservatism view themselves and their counterparts.

The main problem, it seems to me, is that partisans and ideologues have a tendency to abandon rationality and adopt an “us versus them” attitude about politics. Starting from the premise that one’s ideological opponents are mostly decent folks who share most of the same broad goals but differ in the preferred route for attaining them or in how trade-offs should be prioritized would solve 99% of the problem.

That attitude is, for a variety of reasons, largely a relic of a bygone era. The combination of 24/7 media saturation and the emergence of a permanent campaign has turned politics into the equivalent of a team sport, with all the fanatical overreaction that goes with it. I see no signs of that changing any time soon.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    Starting from the premise that one’s ideological opponents are mostly decent folks who share most of the same broad goals but differ in the preferred route for attaining them or in how trade-offs should be prioritized would solve 99% of the problem.

    That attitude is, for a variety of reasons, largely a relic of a bygone era. The combination of 24/7 media saturation and the emergence of a permanent campaign has turned politics into the equivalent of a team sport, with all the fanatical overreaction that goes with it. I see no signs of that changing any time soon.

    It started with the conservatives declaring War on America. At first the rest of us didn’t pay them any mind, thinking it was just a rhetorical device to get attention for unpopular views. That was America’s biggest mistake. We never should have ignored the conservative assault on our values, their attack on civic dialogue, and the infection of weaker minds through powerful media propaganda programs with the virus of hate.

    Now that the real Americans have woken to the danger the battle has finally been joined.

    Conservatives will be defeated by the patriotic, the faithful, the progressives and the liberals. Conservatives, in the end, always lose. That has been the record of mankind throughout recorded history. Until the good guys win however the bad guys, the conservatives, will have time to further harm our society and our nation.

  2. Edgardo says:

    You’re right. Let me add what I think is the most important force leading to the “us versus them” attitude. It is what I call the losers of the Cold War–the ones outside the Soviet Union and China that really believed in the possibility of a different, non-capitalist world, and that because of their belief they had chosen to ignore all the crimes committed by the Soviet Union and China against their own people. In addition to many organized groups in Europe and other countries, this group includes many in the US that are not organized in a party (some of them are trying to capture the Democratic Party). They know they are a minority (even in most countries where they have been able to get power, like in Spain, where I’m now) and so there are anger and aggressive. In many ways, this group is not different from Islamic fundamentalists and that’s why you’re going to see increasing confrontation. In the past few years, I’ve seen this increasing confrontation in several Latin American countries and to a lesser extent in European countries.

  3. Ken,

    Is your post intended to be a parody or in some way satirical?

  4. I think that while the “99% of the problem” is good advice from a diplomatic negotiation standpoint, but it is harder to reconcile with actual issues.

    Take for example abortion. There is a fundamental starting point on whether or not the unborn should be seen as human or something less than human. If the unborn is just a collection of cells, then society imposing on your private choice on what to do about those cells should be pretty limited (along the order of making sure plastic surgery is safe). Grant that starting point and “conservatives” would be as aghast at government interference on a private choice as the most ardent “progressive” is on abortion. But if you think the unborn are human, then its pretty hard to just stand around when millions of people are being killed every day because others think they are sub-human. Grant the point that the unborn is human and most “progressives” would agree that mass killings is not a part of the society they want to be involved in. To say we have the same goal and are just on different paths is sort of like saying you can agree to disagree with a Nazi on the Holocaust while it is going on. Of course most people don’t want to get down and answer the fundamental question on the unborn question because it gets real messy. When is humanity endowed? The two “sides” names reflect this fundamental positional difference. Pro-choice and Pro-life. Each is for the positive aspect as it sees it.

    Of course on the abortion issue, the “conservatives” are “progressive” in that they want to change the status quo. Meanwhile the “progressives” are “conservatives” in fighting any change including those that might make you think about the situation (like seeing an ultrasound of the unborn at that stage of development).

    Is Iraq an unjust war that has us killing for no sane reason or an attempt to defend the US by bringing the enlightenment of democracy to the Mideast even at the cost of our treasure and blood. You can go on and on about a lot of different issues and for most of the major ones, there is a fundamental difference in viewing basic facts to start from. And I think that honest people on both sides would grant the others logic chain once you agreed to that fundamental view point. Conservatives don’t want to support unjust wars. Progressives don’t want the US to be destroyed. Okay maybe there are a few exceptions, but you are really pushing to the extremes to find them.

    Is it affirmative action or race based discrimination? Are we righting past wrongs or creating current wrongs?

    Every two weeks I have lunch with a political spectrum of folks. We often agree to disagree, but enjoy the debate on the issues. We especially enjoy pointing out the hypocrisy of two positions (or defending the positions as being fundamentally different). At a minimum, both sides get to stick their heads out of their respective echo chambers for a bit and we both get to see how the arguments play with those in the middle. And trust me, there is nothing for pointing out inconsistencies in political philosophy than open debate between capable people who view some fundamental facts about the world differently.

  5. Hal says:

    Starting from the premise that one’s ideological opponents are mostly decent folks who share most of the same broad goals but differ in the preferred route for attaining them or in how trade-offs should be prioritized would solve 99% of the problem

    So I guess the last 6 years have been a dream? I mean, from Glenn Reynolds “they’re not just anti war, they’re on the other side” to the “media is losing the war by sapping our purity of essence” to Malkin’s mad poo flinging to Coulter’s shouting treason from the rooftops to Jonah Goldberg’s once and future “Liberal Fascism”…

    I mean, really. Conservatives lose an election and NOW they’re really just nice guys and simply misunderstood by progressives?

    Geebus.

  6. Hal,

    The problem is, of course, when we try to put everyone in camps (e.g., “conservatives” and “liberals” or whatever)–that individuals have used harsh rhetoric is undeniable. However, the process continues to perpetuate when we take a few specific examples and generalize them.

    Even the assumption the somehow everyone is on a “side” is part of the problem.

  7. ken says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  8. just me says:

    YAJ I agree that part of the problem is that some issues just don’t have too many points of compromise.

    I also don’t see the whole “us vs them” attitude changing much-because anymore politics seems to be as much about scoring points against the perceived opponant as it is about really solving problems.

    I think in general one side gets so tied up in demonizing the other side, that any points of compromise or at the very least polite debate gets lost in the rhetoric.

  9. floyd says:

    The only people who could possibly want more[from] government are those who are incompetent to run their own lives. It’s about time we stopped “raising children” and once again started raising adults.

  10. Bithead says:

    This pretty much encompasses what I was suggesting, as regards the varied perceptions of windbaggery, a few posts back.

    Of course, that can be taken a couple of ways, too.

  11. I agree with YAJ that there are real and fundamental disagreements driving a lot of this. I think a lot of calls for civility are thinly disguised calls for the other side to peacefully surrender.

    Yet I value civility, and I believe that we could find more common ground than we do if there was more of it.

    The sports analogy is not far off the mark. The fact that Giuliani does well in polls of Republicans in spite of his pro-choice position, while Romney does less well in spite of his shift to a more pro-life position, suggests that even an issue as divisive as abortion is not as important as winning the game.

    However, I think boundary maintenance is a better explanation for the behavior we’re seeing. There are a number of churches that put out tracts ostensibly aimed at members of other faiths, but on examination one finds that most of these are really aimed at their own members, as a way of clearly delineating the boundary between “us” and “them.” In like manner, most of the heated rhetoric in politics is meant for one’s own base rather than the opposition.

    I believe that the Democrats have been particularly bad about this lately, but the Republicans are also guilty — Ann Coulter is functionally indistinguishable from the kind of fundamentalist preacher who tells his congregation that the Mormons rape virgins in the Salt Lake Temple. If there’s a difference, it’s exemplified by your recent (and commendable) repudiation of Coulter. But it’s still too easy to picture Coulter in the same place of honor at Republican events that Michael Moore seems to occupy at Democratic events.