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.

4 thoughts on “The Real Political Impasse

  1. Here is an interesting piece in Slate about how voting today is more like choosing a dating partner. I think the writers are on to something, considering I saw an article today in my hometown paper about which candidate seems more physically fit and what kind of things they like to snack on. Real issues seem almost secondary.

  2. the political discourse is lumbering behind real developments. And i dont think its merely a question of style or campaign rhetoric. i think once people see where these developments are taking place, and who are th important players, they can make more demands on those campaigning for their vote.

  3. “how to theorize what happens when people with radically different worldviews begin to fathom the other”

    William Isaacs has a pretty interesting account of how this happens in his Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. It revolves around the experience of listening.

  4. “…how to theorize what happens when people with radically different worldviews begin to fathom the other”

    What an exquisite sequence of words. A splash of delight to read. (Thanks Mr. Livingston for the book rec, I ordered a copy. Hope it’s got some leavening.)

    I am familiar with at least the illusion of half that experience. P.S. Are there any two people *without* radically different worldviews? Older than say eighteen months. P.P.S. I’m starving for lunches like that.

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