Friday, July 28, 2006
Last weekend, I heard a wonderful interview on the radio where a professor of political science was discussing the results of his research.
It would appear that in the United States, "conservative" is a more popular and desirable label than "liberal". This has been true for "as far back as [is] capable of tracing with the data." So we live in a country where people aspire to conservatism and values commonly associated with conservatism. This is not surprising, but what was really fascinating is what happened when the researchers asked their subjects what positions they hold on a range of issues. For people who identify themselves as "liberal", 3% of them held issue/policy positions that were mostly conservative. However, for people who identify themselves as "conservative", nearly a quarter of them held mostly liberal policy positions. This would suggest that, because the conservative label is more desirable and is what more people associate with "American values", people will label themselves as "conservative" without any clue as to what this actually translates to in policy. Whereas people who are liberal are going against the grain in terms of labeling and thus have would be more likely to have actually thought out their positions before labeling themselves as such.
The interviewee then goes deeper with his analysis. The other side of this issue is how the Republicans have been exploiting this tendency to associate "American values" with "conservative". They have tried--successfully--to claim certain values as their own and to associate such values, such as "patriotism" and "hard work" with "conservative". This creates a false dichotomy as it is certainly not the case that all Republicans are patriots and that all Democrats are not (if anything, flaunting the Constitution Bush-style is quite unpatriotic) and it is certainly not the case that conservatives are all hard workers while liberals are not (think of Bush and his long, lazy vacations and of the rich who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth). This is also why the Republicans tend to focus on broad strokes and labels in their rhetoric. They talk about "freedom", "patriotism", and "family values" because they have been able to associate these labels with themselves and with "conservatism", and as such, they are able to avoid substance and rely on such sweeping and lofty labels to prop up their positions. This may explain why the Democrats often talk wonkishly about policy while the Republicans often fire back with broad-stroked attacks involving "too liberal", "patriotism", or "hard-working Americans".
Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved easily. Average Americans are not very bright and have little understanding of government and politics. The problem is as much Republicans distorting politics as it is Joe Sixpack--who is more concerned about voting for trash shows like American Idol than voting for government--having no idea what is going on, and thus allowing a quarter of "conservatives" to confuse themselves. And of course, the group that really gets screwed by this are the libertarians; how many Joe Sixpacks will label themselves as "libertarian" (how many even know what the word means?). It is times like this that I question of wisdom of allowing the masses vote for President; I know this is blasphemous, but the Electoral College, in its original form, might not have been that bad of an idea after all...
And speaking of Electoral College, I'm going to finish this post off by going off-topic and pointing out this article, which proposes a fix for the Electoral College. Instead of the electors from each state informally agreeing to toss in their vote for whoever won the state, they'll just agree to toss in their vote to whoever won the national popular vote. And thus, through an informal agreement not too unlike the existing agreement, we can essentially eliminate the Electoral College without revising the Constitution or doing anything Draconian. Not only will this eliminate anomalies such as where Gore loses the election that he won, but it will also give Massachusetts Republicans and Kansas Democrats a voice that they haven't had. I think it's a marvelous idea; if the President is going to be elected by popular vote, then we might as well do it right by implementing a system like this!
This entry was edited on 2006/07/28 at 14:43:39 GMT -0400.