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.