Some Afterthoughts About Getting Along

May 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

Jonathan Haidt’s book continues to evoke internal conversations with myself, even though I have read the book, thought about it, written about it and returned it to the library.

For example, I now realize that, as I read the book and wrote about it, I was engaging in a fantasy:  I reacted as if the Professor was prepping me before I began negotiations with authorized representatives of the Republican Party about economic policy, equality and discrimination, labor policy and various other matters of state.  He encouraged me to eschew insults and rhetorical questions designed to expose the conservative negotiators’ immorality and gross misunderstanding of historical and scientific facts.    Instead, he demanded that I adapt my behavior to the goal of reaching a compromise that would benefit the common good, even if it failed to achieve the kind of result I would have crafted if left to do so alone.

This is a fantasy because there is no chance I will have anything to do with such negotiations.  The realistic way for me to consider Haidt’s ideas and suggestions is to allow them to affect the extent to which I will tolerate the way liberal politicians engage in that kind of negotiation.  If they make compromises in order to achieve desirable goals, should I excoriate them as feckless weaklings or should I recognize them as useful political agents?

In the past, I have not spent much time pondering this question.  My elephant, to use Haidt’s metaphor, took care of that for me and I have been generally satisfied to luxuriate in the warm glow of liberal purity, on the theory that if I, and others similarly situated and motivated, pushed as hard as we could to the left, the result might move the politically negotiated result a few millimeters in that direction.  Even after undergoing a few hours of counseling by Professor Haidt, I am still mightily inclined toward that mind-set.  He has, however, left me with a new awareness that compromise and good faith negotiation are necessary if government is to function.

I do not understand Haidt to be advocating capitulation or agreement at any cost.  His book is a statement of hope that, if the emotional atmosphere can be modified to permit civil discourse instead of rhetorical warfare, some degree of accommodation of opposing views may be attained.  He is not Dr. Pangloss.  He recognizes that meaningful negotiation with Tea Party types is unlikely and, as long as Republican negotiators feel bound by foolish pledges to single-issue fanatics like Grover Norquist, no sensible negotiation can occur.  Reason and civility must emanate from both sides if progress is to be made.

I believe that government will become functional.  What I don’t know, and what I am somewhat pessimistic about, is the degree to which economic harm must ensue before elected officials become willing to do what is necessary.   I know that cutting budgets, deregulating Wall Street and  denying health care to middle-class Americans, while continuing to transfer wealth to their richest neighbors will finally capsize the economy and recreate the kind of pain and tragedy that have followed similar policies when they were tried before.  Like Haidt, I hope that can be avoided.

§ 2 Responses to Some Afterthoughts About Getting Along

  • Jim Kubiak says:

    “He recognizes that meaningful negotiation with Tea Party types is unlikely and, as long as Republican negotiators feel bound by foolish pledges to single-issue fanatics like Grover Norquist, no sensible negotiation can occur. ”

    Bob, I think this is at the very heart of our current dilemma. Until the people can see that electing the TEA PARTY types who take pride in not compromise, nothing is going to change.

    I am saddened by this, as I currently see no way out. I listen to and read so-called conservative blogs… and the generation that came of age since St. Reagan came to office. These people have only heard “that taxes are bad,” and “that taxes are stealing,” This generation appears to have no comprehension that the Interstates, the airports, the schools, the Space program, the GPS satellites, etc. were paid for with tax money provided by their parents and grandparents.

    From what I get from them they are blissfully ignorant about how this country developed. They have no sense of “The Commons” and also there is a strong sense of racism which underlies their belief system.

    I have been reading about and studying these occurences for about 20 years now. It is all there to be read and understood and yet the so-called Liberal, Progressive, Democratic leadership seems to be oblivious to this.

    Did none of these people read the “Powell Manifesto?” Why did it take decades for the operations of ALEC to finally make it into the light? This organization was co-founded by Paul Weyrich nearly 40 years ago.

    I am just one person in the Twin Cities metro area who has figured out the extend of the TEAPublican network. It is now huge, interlocked and highly effective.

    I live in WI and we are experiencing the end game of the Recall Elections of the Koch supported Scott Walker. On Friday (two days from now) President Obama will be speaking in Minneapolis and attending a fundraiser. He will be approximately 45 minutes from where I sit writing this (inside of WI). He could have arranged a quick side trip, made a speech within the boundaries of the State of WI, providing a photo-op for the Democrats who are running in the Recall Elections.

    However, he is not doing this. It is sad.

    Though this rant drifted from TEAPublican non-compromise to Obama’s no show in WI I think it all is part of a fabric. Once upon a time Democrats supported the little guy; it supported labor, and it supported democracy. Is the soul of the Democrats that dead?

    Thanks for you writings.

    Jim Kubiak
    Hudson, WI


    • Bob Hall says:

      Jim, thank you for your comment. I hope you guys can fend off the invasion of the billionaires and defeat Scott Walker.
      Like you, I despair at the amnesia and apparent ignorance of our neighbors, who do not grasp the classic definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Powell’s published plan for the takeover of America was there for all to see, like Mein Kamph. Neither was taken seriously.
      I agree that the Democratic Party seems to have lost its way. I blame the political consultants who take polls and advise candidates. When Harry Truman ran in 1948, he did not run against Tom Dewey. He ran against the “Do nothing Republican Congress.” That is, he framed the race as a contest between two political ideologies, represented by two political parties. In today’s politics, parties no longer seem to matter. The contests are between Obama and Romney. I wish Obama would call out the Republican state legislatures and the think tanks and hate-mongering “foundations” financed by Republican money. The real significance of the present election contest has little to do with the personalities and personal histories of Obama and Romney. The important result will be the political party that takes control of the government.
      Of course, I know that what I’m proposing will not happen. It would require that Obama publicly embrace and wager his election on an identifiable set of ideas that have historically defined the Democratic Party: support of workers’ right to organize into unions; civil rights, regulation of markets; protection of the environment, support of public education.
      This might not play well in carefully crafted focus groups and might confront scary polling results.
      The Republicans have done exactly what I just described for the last thirty or forty years. The principles of their party are well known and relentlessly promoted by Fox news and talk radio, day after day after day. I don’t see, and haven’t seen for many years a similar effort by the Democratic Party.
      I date myself by this next statement, but I think that the decline of political party significance began with the replacement of party convention selection of candidates with party primaries. I know about the problems with ‘smoke filled rooms” and corrupt party bosses. I grew up with and around them. I still prefer them to our present system that lends itself to purchase by those with enough money to do so.
      I am old enough to remember the 30’s depression. We lived on a sheep ranch and could and did raise enough to feed ourselves, so I never went hungry. But, until I was eight or nine years old, I lived with parents who literally had no money. My father lost 640 acres of land because he could not pay less than $50 in taxes. A persistent sense that “there will not be enough” marked by parents and me for life, even after that was no longer true.
      I am convinced that the economic policies of the GOP will threaten the economy of our country. I believe that millions of our neighbors are now experiencing the kind of hopeless fear and despair that I remember from my childhood. I think that can and will spread to more and more families unless we react with some sanity to the economic issues that face us. I wish the Democratic Party was a more coherent and forceful advocate of sensible responses to those issues.


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