Tag Archives: politics

Political perspective: Liberals and Conservatives really ARE different (but maybe not how you thought)

Most people don’t want to talk, or even think about politics. It’s too divisive, and rarely pleasant. Unfortunately, politics is a part of our lives whether we like it or not, and we’re better served to not stick our heads in the sand and hope everything just works out.

That said, I found an article recently that finally seems to bring some clarity to the age-old Liberal vs Conservative debate. I’ve been really into the idea of emotional intelligence lately – understanding someone else’s situation, point of view, why they feel the way they feel. In doing this, it’s easier to relate, empathize, and maybe even work together (compromise), rather than just saying “I don’t agree with you, you’re stupid, I’m going to make your life harder”.

From Vox.com comes “Why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other”, and I think it does a good job of explaining some key differences that we hear about, and we perceive ourselves, but they’re finally presented in a more “tangible” way.


Democrats are more focused on making policy to appease their various interest groups and Republicans are more focused on proving their commitment to the small-government philosophy that unites their base.

As Speaker John Boehner put it when he was asked about the slow pace of lawmaking in his House, “we should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal.”

As one example I can think of (though I’m sure there are better ones), I watched a documentary years ago about Ralph Nader called “An Unreasonable Man”. The title is derived from the quote “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself, thus all progress depends on the unreasonable man”. In this documentary, it chronicled how Nader initiated several organizations and committees to protect various groups – workers, consumers, families… and he was making quite a bit of headway, until the next Replublican president was elected and quickly squashed and stagnated his efforts.

This next bit speaks to a point that Chris Rock made in one of his stand up specials, about being liberal on some issues, and conservative on others:

On its face, this presents a puzzle: how can conservatism be the more popular ideology even as the Democrats are the more popular party?

Grossmann and Hopkins disagree. They see this not as a puzzle about American politics but as an explanation for why it works the way it does. They note that 73 percent of Republican voters say they’re conservative but only 42 percent of Democratic voters say they’re liberal. And they note that while voters tend to agree with Republicans on the philosophical questions in American politics (should government be smaller?) they tend to agree with Democrats on the policy questions in American politics (like should Social Security be smaller?).

The Republican Party, in other words, has a very good reason to base itself around philosophical conservatism, while the Democratic Party has a very good reason to base itself around policy deliverables.

This next part is pretty interesting, and gives you an idea of the broader, longer-term implications of this:

The chart above shows the results: Democrats consistently prefer politicians who compromise and Republicans consistently prefer politicians who stick to their principles.

What’s remarkable is that held true even when Republicans controlled the White House. “Though they voiced strong disapproval of Bush, Democrats still expressed a preference for compromise in government — a tendency that has carried over to the Obama era,” write Grossmann and Hopkins. “Republicans have been consistent in their elevation of principle over moderation, regardless of which party is in power.”

That is…extraordinary. Even when a Republican president was facing a Democratic Congress, Republicans did not choose the answer that would have helped their president get more done. And even when a Republican president was facing a Democratic Congress, Democrats did not choose the answer that would have stiffened their party’s spine against passing Bush’s bills. I would have bet money against surveys showing this kind of stability between Democratic and Republican administrations. This is a difference between the two parties that runs deep.

This is something I do tend to find frustrating about more pure conservatives, some might call it “stubbornness”, and it’s important to be able to tell the difference between stubbornness (refusing to budge no matter what) and sticking to principles because you don’t feel you’ve been giving satisfactory reasoning for a change.

“Democrats and liberals are more likely to focus on policymaking because any change that occurs is much more likely to be liberal than conservative. New policies usually expand the scope of government responsibility, funding, or regulation. There are occasional conservative policy successes as well, but they are less frequent and are usually accompanied by expansion of government responsibility in other areas.”

The cleanest way to shrink the size of government is to repeal laws and regulations. But it doesn’t happen very often. In the American political system, Grossmann says, “it’s hard to pass anything, but it’s particularly hard to repeal a law that already exists.” Systematic analyses show it’s rare for laws to be repealed wholesale. “That creates perpetual disappointment among the Republican base,” Grossmann continues. “They correctly perceive that their party does not succeed in enacting their professed ideology.”

But they’re a reminder that American politics is fundamentally rational. Republicans are uncompromising because compromise tends to expand the scope of government. Democrats are willing to make deep concessions because policy moves in a generally liberal direction. Republicans have a clearer message about government because their message about government is fundamentally popular. Democrats talk more about policy because what they have to say about policy is fundamentally popular.

I think that’s a good distinction, and I think if more people were aware of it, it could help grease the gears a bit better and perhaps lead to a little more getting done. I think it suggest that partisanship is at least partially misconceived. Yes some people are truly stubborn and unwavering for personal and/or selfish reasons, but I’m sure that’s actually a minority.

This next bit feels a bit like the whole “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” idea, but applied to politics:

The data also explains why Democratic and Republicans have so much trouble understanding each other. Democrats tend to project their preference for policymaking onto the Republican Party — and then respond with anger and confusion when Republicans don’t seem interested in making a deal. Republicans tend to assume the Democratic Party is more ideological than it is, and so see various policy initiatives as part of an ideological effort to remake America along more socialistic lines.

This is really why effective communication is so important. If you make assumptions that are wrong, you obviously won’t get the results you expect. As frustrating and broken as the 2 party system often seems, perhaps there is a healthy balance hidden in there.

I’ve been “liberal” and “socialist” for a long time, and used to be much more ideological than I am now. If I was given political power in my 20s, I probably would have made a bunch of laws which were well-meaning, but not fully or properly considered/researched. Now I feel like I would think longer and more carefully before setting a policy for something.

Things are bad in the Ukraine right now, you should know why

I just stumbled across this video (from here):

Which sadly seems very similar to several other videos I have seen made when terrible things are going down. It’s never the same country, which means the same bad things keep happening, in different countries each time. That’s not good. That means it will probably happen again, somewhere else, and it shouldn’t be happening at all.

Please share the video.

I recently read “This is the one map you need to understand Ukraine’s crisis” on the Wall Street Journal, and I was going to post about it, but couldn’t figure out how to set it up in a satisfactory way. Just straight up posting political stuff without context or a lesson to be learned doesn’t fit my motive, but now I have 2 pieces that tie together, so here it is.

ukraine protest mapThe article explains how the protests got started and why they are happening. I highly recommend reading it. It is a significant cultural conflict.

Basically, the government in power is trying to make Ukraine more like Russia, and at least half of the country is not on board with that plan.

Rare video footage of the infamous Helen Keller speaking

I don’t remember where I found this, but it is pretty interesting.

Helen Keller is famous for being blind, deaf and mute, but still managing to lead quite a life:

Helen Adams Keller (June 27, 1880 – June 1, 1968) was an American author, political activist, and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.[1][2] The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. Her birthday on June 27 is commemorated as Helen Keller Day in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and was authorized at the federal level by presidential proclamation by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, the 100th anniversary of her birth.

A prolific author, Keller was well-travelled and outspoken in her convictions. A member of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World, she campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and other radical left causes. She was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 1971.

She was lucky enough to meet someone who was able to help her learn:

Pretty amazing, and humbling. I don’t mean to sound ableist, but it’s examples like this that tell me “if you want something bad enough, you will find a way”. Obviously that’s not true in every case, but for many of us, it is.

Clothing chemicals and choose who you support carefully

Speaking of activism, I have some comments from the other side (sort of).

Recently I came across this video about the chemicals used to make the clothes some (many?) of us wear, and what a toll they are supposedly wreaking on the environment.

I was watching the video, trying to remain skeptical. At the end, it turned out the video was made by GreenPeace (I was watching it on another site so this wasn’t obvious).

If the video is true – and I believe it’s probably at least somewhat true, though also possibly exaggerated and sensationalized – then it’s certainly worth taking heed of.

But what I want to say separate from the video, and on the topic of activism and activist groups, I have noticed a trend (which also happens to exist in the news world). Whoever is first to the microphone tends to end up leading any given cause. Similarly – the first reporter to cover a news story and get mass media coverage, whatever they report – or don’t report – is what most people remember. No matter how many corrections or retractions come after.

Let me explain the idea I’m getting at:

1. GreenPeace – I don’t know if they were first, but they’re definitely one of the most well known. I’m very pro-environment. I sold my last car 4 years ago and have been biking and taking public transit since. I recycle and compost. I’d get a solar panel for my apartment if that was a possibility at the building I live in. I feel guilty every time I’m forced to buy bottled water. That all said, I don’t fully support GreenPeace. Why? Well, partly because of their tactics. Same reason I like religious people who don’t preach or chase you around with pamphlets. You shouldn’t have to do that if you have a legitimate message. Yes, public demonstrations and public activism is necessary, but publicity stunts and PR campaigns can be done wrong. And being sensationalist about a legitimate message will turn a lot of people off who would have otherwise agreed with you and taken heed of your idea. If you have to make a big deal, you may have a less legitimate message. The person who screams loudest gets the most attention, regardless of what they are saying.

2. PETA – same deal. I’m pro animals, I believe animals should be treated ethically, we shouldn’t wear them as fashion (just for the sake of it), and in an ideal world, we would eat much less meat, but not none. I would ideally follow a model like what cave men and natives did – hunt for food, for clothing, to make tools out of bones, use every part of the animal possible to pay respect to it for giving its life to sustain ours. Cave men and natives did it, we in modern society just industrialized and commercialized it.

PETA is too aggressive about their cause (and as a result, their supporters tend to be as well), and often it seems that they rely on sensationalist, polarizing, even patronizing ads. I’ve heard the argument made, and I agree, militant vegans may actually do more harm to their cause than good. Just as it’s hard to convince someone to go from not exercising at all (or being a frequent consumer of meat, to finish the metaphor), to running 7 days a week and lifting weights 7 days a week, you have to ease into a transition out of an established dietary pattern. And making people feel guilty or ashamed for their lifestyle isn’t helping anyone. Positive changes come only when people want the change, not when they’re forced or guilted into it. Offer a solution, offer simple baby step suggestions towards the desired outcome. As people if they would like to make a change, if they say yes, offer your help, if they say no, leave them alone – you’ll only waste both of your time/energy and theirs.

Again, I think the current situation with animals, factory farming, leather coats and barbequeing being practically a religion in some places, it’s not so good, I’d love to see it change, but I can’t get behind PETA because they’re just pushing too hard, using a blunt force marketing style (they could really stand to have some young creative social media type savvy). In fact, one of their ads says “Whips and chains belong in the bedroom, not in the circus”, and the internet of course comically responded with “PETA – because apparently you should respect animals, but not women”. I’m all for a healthy, liberated sex life, but come on, you can do better PETA. I look at their ads sometimes and I sigh or groan. It sometimes feels patronizing. It’s all or nothing, there’s no room for compromise. This is rarely a good strategy because it serves to create friction and people either dig in or they tune out completely because they don’t want to get dragged into the fray and not be able to get out.

3. Autism Speaks – The more I read about this organization, the more I dislike them. They started out innocently enough, wanting to help families affected by the difficulties that come with Autism. But at some point, possibly during the whole charade of the “Vaccines cause Autism!” debacle (which turned out to be bunk), their “goal” seemed to switch to finding a “cure” for Autism (arguably that would help the families, but is Autism something that needs to be cured? Myself and many others don’t think so). This organization brings in a lot of donation money, both from corporate sponsors as well as desperate families, but their mission is arguably completely misguided.

Temple Grandin, a famous “Autist” has been arguing that Autism is a matter of how the brain is actually wired on the neurological level, not a “disorder” as it has been classified for so long. Autism Speaks seems to be ignoring this, and anyone who fails to do their research will likely stumble upon Autism Speaks first, and end up supporting their cause, which I’d argue is actually to the detriment of Autism at this point. I’ve seen their email newsletters, they persisted in hammering on the fear aspect, claiming a rising Autism epidemic, making a “cure” more important than ever. But Autism doesn’t need to be cured any more than Dyslexia (a very similar neurological setup) or ADD. The people with these brains (and their families) simply need to learn how to think around the difference, learn to harness the unique power their minds possess. I have plans to do a more complete writeup of Autism later (I’ve done a lot of reading about).

Point being – just because an organization is the most well-known public face of a cause that you believe in, doesn’t mean you should automatically support them. I don’t say I’m a PETA supporter, I’m an “animal rights” supporter. I’m an “environmental advocate”. Few organizations get everything right. The same thing can also apply to politics, religion and many other issues. You want to figure things out on a case by case basis. Don’t just pick one side because it’s easy. Think about it, make an educated decision. It’s not good to blindly follow any cause, and just because one group got to the front first doesn’t mean they’re legit.

Six things Nelson Mandela believed that most people won’t talk about

From ThinkProgress “Six things Nelson Mandela believed that most people won’t talk about”:

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.
2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists without due process.
4. Mandela called out racism in America.
5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies.
6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

I found this interesting to read, so I recommend you go check out the full article and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.