The Real Political Impasse

I had lunch yesterday with my colleague Sara Cobb and one of the things we talked about was how to theorize what happens when people with radically different worldviews begin to fathom the other.  She and I are both familiar with successful processes that bring about this change, but we wondered aloud about how to understand theoretically what is happening. I ventured that one thing that seems to happen is that one or more parties will begin to see something amiss in their previous perceptions. The other, who at first seemed to be, for example, someone with alien values and beliefs, suddenly comes into focus as someone with understandable motivations and aspirations. Another thing that seems to happen is that one party will begin to realize that there is a differend at work in the conversation, that a term is being used in totally different ways by the different parties. Part of the task of working through an impasse is to recognize the impasse.  In both examples, parties need not get to agreement on solutions; change begins to happen when they start to see the flaws in their initial perceptions.

In the midst of this election, there’s no shortage of impasses between worldviews. As a holder of a blue worldview, the red one looks foreign.  I can’t help but think that a supporter of the McCain-Palin ticket is either a creationist or willing to look the other way for the sake of other conservative values, perhaps faith, a free market, apple pie?  (The free market part isn’t flying well this week when the Republican executive branch is nationalizing industries!) I know several McCain-Palin supporters who oppose Palin’s extreme views, but have McCain placards in their yard anyway, including two of my gay neighbors.  What are they thinking?  I don’t want to ask, because I want to stay friendly with these neighbors.  (The other 98% of my neighborhood has Obama placards, so the McCain supporters are being plenty brave.) But I really want to know.  I’d like to talk about it.

I have had one real conversation with a conservative, Catholic friend.  She says she doesn’t like Republicans these days, but she just doesn’t trust Obama either.  She’ll vote for McCain, because he’s “her people.” She cares about faith, and she cares about science. She’s pro-life, but she also supports choice. Obama’s not “her people”; she just doesn’t trust him.

I want to ask, but I let the conversation end, what makes someone “your people”?  What are the values you care about? Who best embodies them?  One conservative blogger has come around and decided that McCain’s no conservative, so he’s going for Obama.  Check out his blog here.

The labels get in the way.  The issues, the things we care about, need to come to the fore. And we need to find ways to talk across all these differences about the things that matter to us. We need to talk first about what kind of country we want to have, and only after that can we have a real conversation about this election.

Palin Right and Wrong

There’s plenty to complain about Sarah Palin and her views on politics and campaigning.  Yesterday I mentioned her insulting views about community organizing.  The blogger Brendan Skwire relates a couple of terrific and hilarious anecdotes about calling McCain campaign headquarters to inquire about Palin’s views on community organizers such as the founding fathers and contemporary American volunteers.  This criticism is right on.

But another kind of criticism is circulating, and it is totally wrongheaded: that’s the one that says she’s the mother of five, including a child with special needs, so she shouldn’t be running for office.  She should be tending her flock.  Sally Quinn was mouthing that criticism this morning on CNN: since women often end up with more parenting tasks than men, Palin should be ready to do so.  This line of argument is offensive to women, and it is ridden with terrible logic. It may be so that women  find themselves taking on more than their share. But this does not mean that they should continue to do so.  I would have thought that by now no self-respecting political commentator — and especially no woman — would trot out an argument like that.

Let’s stick to the real issues.  There are plenty of them.

Fighting Words

I could barely stand listening to Sarah Palin last night.  After a week of high ideas, we get a week of snide mockery.  As an antidote, I just listened to one of the speeches I missed during the Democratic Convention, Michelle Obama’s, where she talks at length about her husband’s distinction between the world as it is and the world as it should be.  Too often we settle for the difference between the two, but as Barack said, and Michelle remembers, we shouldn’t.  We should fight to make the world the way it should be.

I like this kind of fighting.  It’s what is otherwise known as ethics, what we in philosophy teach as moral philosophy.  In my own work I take ethics to be a performative practice aimed at bringing about a better world.  What we take to be “better” isn’t based on moral foundations but on our real, lived aspirations; what we hope would be a more decent and humane world, a world we’d like to bring about and belong to. It’s always to easy to settle for and try to make the best of the world that is.  If everyone is out to make a buck, why shouldn’t I.  If people have low ideals, why not do the same.  To hold out for the world as it ought to be is to fight what is.  Let’s fight what be and work for what ought to be. This is the same impetus that Christine Korsgaard noted in Kant’s moral philosophy, the same that motivates Levinas, the same that seems to motivate Barack Obama.  It’s not about fighting the power — power is good when we can put it to good use — it’s about fighting the status quo.

Sarah Palin’s speech was also filled with fighting words; but her enemy wasn’t injustice but “their opponents.”  All her vitriol was aimed at belittling everything that happened at the Democratic Convention, including the insulting claim that elected officials do more to create change than community organizers do. There was precious little in her speech that explained what she thought would be a better world, what she was ready to have a servant’s heart for.  She didn’t mention the specifics, but note that they include teaching creationism, banning a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, and exploiting Alaska’s natural resources, even more than McCain has been willing to do.

As for her jab at community organizers, excuse me.  When was the last time that officials did anything without either (1) thinking about how it would play with the public or (2) acting because of public pressure?  I wouldn’t mind elected officials who acted independently for the public good.  I’d just like to see some.

The Republicans are coming on strong accusing the Democratic nominee’s camp of all the usual democratic sins (taxes, spending, big gov) never mind that none of this is part of the Dem’s platform.  I wish Obama and company would fight back stronger.  So far their language is that the Republicans are disparaging the American people.  No, they’re disparaging Obama. It’s time to come back at that.