How Did Politics Get So Personal?

By Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times,  JAN. 28, 2015

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity… Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” … partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history… liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles…liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures… Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension…the depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”…However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

Long excerpt

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity…. Partisans now discriminate against their adversaries “to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.” The authors find that this discrimination pervades decision making of all kinds, from hiring to marriage choices…From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who said that members of their own party were more intelligent than those in the opposition party grew from 6 percent to 48 percent; the percentage describing members of the opposition party as “selfish” rose from 21 percent to 47 percent…by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” …a new line of inquiry into the causes and nature of polarization… that partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history… Do liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles…liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures. These researchers argue that liberals share a propensity for analytic thinking and have a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.

Analytic thinking, in this view, “emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context — much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts….The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.”

Conversely, these researchers define holistic thinking – which they consider more typical of conservatives — as “seeing scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm described this style of thought as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic.”…Collectivism is not generalized sharing with “other people.” Collectivism is a system of tight social ties and responsibilities, but less trust and weaker ties toward strangers — a stronger in-group/out-group distinction. Conservatives care deeply about close others, but they may dislike welfare programs because those programs serve strangers or even people from out-groups.

Liberal individualism focuses on the self and personal fulfillment. As Talhelm put it:

If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”… Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension. Now almost every issue from foreign policy to taxes to lifestyle issues has been drawn into the left vs. right alignment…political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majoritythe depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”

This is not an easy problem for politicians to solve. Republican and Democratic leaders are struggling to moderate their parties’ most extreme ideological positioning. But if polarization reflects primal aspects of the human condition, particularly when we are under stress, it isn’t going anywhere. However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

Full text

Political hostility in the United States is more and more becoming personal hostility. New findings suggest that the sources of dispute in contemporary life go far beyond ideological differences or mere polarization. They have become elemental, almost tribal, tapping into in-group loyalty and out-group enmity.

“Hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds,” Shanto Iyengar, a political scientist at Stanford, and Sean Westwood, a post-doctoral researcher at Princeton, wrote in a July 2014 paper “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines.” Partisans now discriminate against their adversaries “to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race.” The authors find that this discrimination pervades decision making of all kinds, from hiring to marriage choices.

In a separate 2012 study, “Affect, Not Ideology,” Iyengar and two other colleagues used a polling method known as a “thermometer rating” to measure how Democrats and Republicans feel about each other. The temperature scale goes from 1 to 100. One means the respondent feels cold toward the group; 100 implies that the respondent has warm feelings. Iyengar and his colleagues found in 2008 that Democrat and Republican ratings of the opposition party had dropped to just below 32 degrees. In comparison, Protestants gave Catholics a 66 rating, Democrats gave “big business” a 51, and Republicans rated “people on welfare” at 50.

One of the most striking findings of Iyengar’s 2012 paper is the dramatic increase in the percentages of members of both parties who would be upset if their children married someone in the opposition party (shown in figure 1).

From 1960 to 2010, the percentage of Democrats and Republicans who said that members of their own party were more intelligent than those in the opposition party grew from 6 percent to 48 percent; the percentage describing members of the opposition party as “selfish” rose from 21 percent to 47 percent.

Iyengar and Westwood contend that the conflict between Democrats and Republicans is based more on deeply rooted “in group” versus “out group” sensibilities than on ideology.

Not in Our Family

Percent of Democrats and Republicans who would be unhappy if their children married someone of the opposing party.

In an email exchange, Iyengar speculated on a number of reasons for the increase in polarization: Residential neighborhoods are politically homogeneous as are social media networks. I suspect this is one of the principal reasons for the significantly increased rate of same-party marriages. In 1965, a national survey of married couples showed around sixty-five percent agreement among couples. By 2010, the agreement rate was near 90 percent.

The result, according to Iyengar, is that “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters.”

Iyengar’s findings are backed up by a 2014 Pew Research Center study that revealed that “the level of antipathy that members of each party feel toward the opposing party has surged over the past two decades.” Fully 36 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats believe the opposition party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being,” Pew found.

More recently, a group of four scholars working with Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, and Thomas Talhelm, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Virginia, have developed a new line of inquiry into the causes and nature of polarization. Their paper, “Liberals Think More Analytically Than Conservatives,” was published online in December. It argues that

partisans on both sides believe different facts, use different economic theories, and hold differing views of history. But might the differences run even deeper? Do liberals and conservatives process the same set of facts with different cultural thought styles?

The answer, according to Talhelm, Haidt and their colleagues: “liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures.”

These researchers argue that liberals share a propensity for analytic thinking and have a stronger preference for deep thought and a rejection of simple solutions. Liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty, and they have less of a need for order, structure and closure.

Analytic thinking, in this view, “emphasizes slicing up the world and analyzing objects individually, divorced from context — much like scientific analysis requires thinkers to separate complex phenomena into separate parts.” Talhelm elaborated in a phone conversation: The analytic thinking typical of liberals is “more conscious, more focused on the rules of logic.”

Conversely, these researchers define holistic thinking – which they consider more typical of conservatives — as “seeing scenes as a whole and seeing people as a product of situations.” Talhelm described this style of thought as “more automatic, caught up in emotions, and in some ways less adherent to the rules of logic.”

Talhelm wrote me in an email that “analytic thinkers tend to do better in engineering, and they hold more patents for inventions. But holistic/intuitive thinkers tend to do better in more social fields, such as early childhood education and marketing.” One study in the 1960s, he said, “found that analytic thinkers were more likely to have long hair (for men) and short skirts (women).”

In their 2014 paper, Talhelm and his co-authorshypothesize that liberals think more analytically because liberal culture is more individualistic, with looser social bonds, more emphasis on self-expression, and a priority on individual identities over group identities.

Conservatives, in this analysis, are more dedicated to their communities and to the idea of community than liberals. Conservatism, they write, is often associated with rural areas, where people are enmeshed in tight-knit communities and are more likely to know the people they see walking on the street. Conservatism is also associated with interconnected groups, such as churches, fraternities, and the military.

Talhelm and his colleagues suggest a different interpretation for the words “individualism,” which traditionally is associated with conservatism, and “collectivism,” which is often linked to liberalism:

Collectivism is not generalized sharing with “other people.” Collectivism is a system of tight social ties and responsibilities, but less trust and weaker ties toward strangers — a stronger in-group/out-group distinction. Conservatives care deeply about close others, but they may dislike welfare programs because those programs serve strangers or even people from out-groups.

Liberal individualism focuses on the self and personal fulfillment. As Talhelm put it:

If you see the world as all individuals, then welfare recipients are individuals too, just like you. Indeed analytic thinkers are more likely to agree with statements about universalism — “all people are equal”; “an African life is worth as much as an American life.”

Looking at the issue of partisan conflict in historical terms, Keith T. Poole, a political scientist at the University of Georgia, explained via email that polarization was very high before the Civil War, and again in the 1880s and 1890s “at the height of industrial capitalism” when the parties split over “gold vs. silver, taxes, tariffs, labor organization and inflation.” Starting in the 1960s, when race came to the forefront, Poole wrote, other issues involving nothing to do with economics — gun control, gay rights, sexual issues — began to be drawn into the “liberal” vs. “conservative” dimension. Now almost every issue from foreign policy to taxes to lifestyle issues has been drawn into the left vs. right alignment.

The work of Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt adds a new layer to the study of polarization. In seminal work, scholars like Nolan McCarty, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, political scientists at Princeton, Yale and Berkeley, respectively, have stressed the key role of external factors in deepening our political schism, including inequality, the nationalization of politics, immigration and the fast approaching moment when whites will no longer be in the majority.

David Leege, political scientist emeritus at Notre Dame, provided further insight into the economic forces exacerbating polarization: the pool of under-employed and unemployed semi-skilled labor and their former managers, accountants, etc. have been ripped from the productive (assembly-line) and social institutions (organized labor, health care, ethnic and industrial bars) that ordered their lives and assured a meaningful place in their communities. For the persons who worked hard and more or less lived by the rules, there is no longer the pride of breadwinning and self-sufficiency brought to home or church or neighborhood interactions. These people are setups for polarizing political appeals.

Iyengar, Talhelm and Haidt do not reject the importance of these external factors. But they do argue that the depth of our polarization reflects ingrained personal, cognitive and psychosocial traits — traits that are, in Iyengar’s word, “primal.”

This is not an easy problem for politicians to solve. Republican and Democratic leaders are struggling to moderate their parties’ most extreme ideological positioning. But if polarization reflects primal aspects of the human condition, particularly when we are under stress, it isn’t going anywhere. However much they might want to pitch themselves toward the center, politicians will feel the need to tap into the energy, not to mention the primary votes, that ideological purity provides. It is this contradiction between purity and pragmatism that will shape the political landscape for the foreseeable future.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/opinion/how-did-politics-get-so-personal.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

GOP, Thomas Hobbes Rig Elections

By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, Tuesday, 22 January 2013 , The Daily Take, truth-out.org

Excerpt

… [election rigging] efforts around the country aren’t just to secure Republicans political victories over the next two to four years and beyond. They’re also to, in the opinion of Conservatives, save the nation from the “evil-natured masses.” They actually believe that by rigging elections to give them power, they’re saving America from the unwashed masses. This mistrust of voters reveals the heart of the difference in worldviews between Conservatives and Liberals.

The Conservative line of thinking comes from Thomas Hobbes’ [17th century philosopher] worldview that man is inherently evil….we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. Instead, we must be governed by a strong central authority like a King or Pope…Calvinist thinking…claimed that there’s a small group of individuals who have been pre-chosen by God to rule the rest of us. They’re known as “The Elect.”… they were the ones who were rich and powerful, because God made them so…this view that man is best governed by a small, wealthy elite remains alive. It’s the core assumption of the Conservative ideology…

This is why Liberalism is so important.

It was John Locke in the 18th Century who…argued that man is not motivated by malice, but instead by reason. And through reason, “we the people” can actually govern ourselves through laws based on reason.

To Locke, any sort of government that operates without the consent of the people – and without reason – should be overthrown…

To this day, this issue of how much power voters should have, compared to billionaires, churches, and corporations, remains the fundamental point of cleavage between Conservatives and Liberals.

For the last thirty years, the Conservative worldview has prevailed in America… [President Obama is] trying to put Hobbes and his Conservative ideology back into the dustbin of history. And it’s time that we as a nation ask ourselves a fundamental question: Are we capable of governing ourselves as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson believed? Or should we simply let the modern-day kings, the billionaires, run things, as today’s Conservatives believe? Our Founding Fathers answered that questioned with the Declaration of Independence. We must answer it anew today.

Full text

While the nation was hypnotized by the Second Inaugural of Barack Obama on Tuesday, Republicans in Virginia moved America closer to the place envisioned by the 17th century dystopic philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

What they did is jam a new redistricting plan through the state senate that created more safe seats for Republicans, virtually assuring Republican domination of the state Senate come the next election in two years. It was blatant election rigging.

In an interview with TPM, Democratic state Senator Creigh Deeds blasted the surprise redistricting plan. “It goes against every tradition,” he said. “It was a dirty trick.”

And get this, the only reason why the measure passed a split state Senate with twenty Republicans and twenty Democrats is because one of those Democrats – civil rights leader Senator Harry Marsh – was in Washington, DC attending the inauguration. So, with a single vote advantage for a single day, Republicans pounced.

Just like Republicans in Pennsylvania pounced last week when they introduced legislation to change how their state allocates Electoral College votes. Rather than a winner-take-all system, which granted President Obama all of the state’s twenty Electoral College votes last November, Republicans want votes handed out based on which Congressional districts were won by each candidate. Why? Because they gerrymandered the congressional districts in 2010. Under this scheme, Mitt Romney would have actually won 13 of 20 Electoral College votes in Pennsylvania despite losing the statewide popular vote by four points. Again, it’s blatant election rigging.

To make matters worse, Republicans state lawmakers in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are all considering similar changes that will make it virtually impossible for a Democrat to win the White House in the future.

As Joe Biden would say, “This is a BFD.”

But these efforts around the country aren’t just to secure Republicans political victories over the next two to four years and beyond. They’re also to, in the opinion of Conservatives, save the nation from the “evil-natured masses.” They actually believe that by rigging elections to give them power, they’re saving America from the unwashed masses.

This mistrust of voters reveals the heart of the difference in worldviews between Conservatives and Liberals.

The Conservative line of thinking comes from Thomas Hobbes’ worldview that man is inherently evil. As Hobbes describes the natural state of man, our “state of nature” is a place where, “there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

As such, we cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. Instead, we must be governed by a strong central authority like a King or Pope.

There’s also a strain of Calvinist thinking to this Conservative fear of voters. While Calvinists in centuries past also concluded that the masses are, for the most part, wicked, they also claimed that there’s a small group of individuals who have been pre-chosen by God to rule the rest of us. They’re known as “The Elect.”

How did we know who these special individuals were? Well, they were the ones who were rich and powerful, because God made them so.

This is a very convenient ideology for the rich and powerful to convince us all to buy into. And it stuck for centuries, as people were reduced to mere serfs or servants, ruled by a “benevolent” King or an “enlightened” religious leader.

Today, Kings and Theocrats have been largely pushed aside. But this view that man is best governed by a small, wealthy elite remains alive. It’s the core assumption of the Conservative ideology that is each and every day eroding the power of the electorate in states across America. It’s why people like Grover Norquist would call for drowning American democracy in the bathtubs of oligarchs like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson – after all, you just can’t trust a government that offers “free stuff” like Social Security or universal healthcare to the rabble.

This is why Liberalism is so important.

It was John Locke in the 18th Century who first pushed back against Hobbes’ “state of nature” and argued that man is not motivated by malice, but instead by reason. And through reason, “we the people” can actually govern ourselves through laws based on reason.

To Locke, any sort of government that operates without the consent of the people – and without reason – should be overthrown. Needless to say, Hobbes’ absolute Kings and Oligarchs, who derived their consent from God or their riches, and not reason, shouldn’t exist in Locke’s world.

Ultimately, as the Enlightenment moved along, Locke’s idea prevailed over Hobbes. And it was in the tradition of Locke that our Founding Fathers became revolutionaries and overthrew the King of England. And it was in the tradition of Locke that Thomas Jefferson fought with the early royalists to spread democracy to more and more people.

To this day, this issue of how much power voters should have, compared to billionaires, churches, and corporations, remains the fundamental point of cleavage between Conservatives and Liberals.

For the last thirty years, the Conservative worldview has prevailed in America. It says we cannot trust the people to govern themselves, and so we must trust the wealthy elite and the market to organize society. And with recent democracy-suppressing efforts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Conservatives use this worldview to rationalize their behavior.

But now, with President Obama saying “we the people” five times in his Second Inaugural, it’s clear he’s trying to put Hobbes and his Conservative ideology back into the dustbin of history. 

And it’s time that we as a nation ask ourselves a fundamental question: Are we capable of governing ourselves as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson believed? Or should we simply let the modern-day kings, the billionaires, run things, as today’s Conservatives believe?

Our Founding Fathers answered that questioned with the Declaration of Independence. We must answer it anew today.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission of the author.

 

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/14069-gop-thomas-hobbes-rig-elections

 

How to Read in 2013

By ROSS DOUTHAT, New York Times, December 29, 2012

COME what may in the next 12 months, 2013 has this much going for it: It’s a year without a midterm election, and a year that’s as far removed as possible from the next presidential race. This means that for a blessed 365 days you can be a well-informed and responsible American citizen without reading every single article on Politico, without hitting refresh every 30 seconds on your polling-average site of choice, without channel-hopping between Chris Matthews’s hyperventilating and Dick Morris’s promises of an inevitable Republican landslide.

So use the year wisely, faithful reader. For a little while, at least, let gridlock take care of itself, shake yourself free of the toils of partisanship, and let your mind rove more widely and freely than the onslaught of 2014 and 2016 coverage will allow.

Here are three steps that might make such roving particularly fruitful. First, consider taking out a subscription to a magazine whose politics you don’t share. I’m using the word “subscription” advisedly: it may sound fusty in the age of blogs and tweets and online hopscotching, but reading the entirety of a magazine, whether in print or on your tablet, is a better way to reckon with the ideas that its contributors espouse than just reading the most-read or most-e-mailed articles on its Web site, or the occasional inflammatory column that all your ideological compatriots happen to be attacking.

So if you love National Review’s political coverage, add The New Republic or The Nation to your regular rotation as well. If you think that The New Yorker’s long-form journalism is the last word on current affairs, take out a Weekly Standard subscription and supplement Jeffrey Toobin with Andy Ferguson, Adam Gopnik with Christopher Caldwell. If you’re a policy obsessive who looks forward every quarter to the liberal-tilting journal Democracy, consider a subscription to the similarly excellent, right-of-center National Affairs. And whenever you’re tempted to hurl away an article in disgust, that’s exactly when you should turn the page or swipe the screen and keep on reading, to see what else the other side might have to say.

Second, expand your reading geographically as well as ideologically. Even in our supposedly globalized world, place still shapes perspective, and the fact that most American political writers live in just two metropolitan areas tends to cramp our ability to see the world entire.

So the would-be cosmopolitan who currently gets a dose of British-accented sophistication from The Economist — a magazine whose editorial line varies only a little from the Manhattan-and-D.C. conventional wisdom — might do well to read the London Review of Books and The Spectator instead. (The multilingual, of course, can roam even more widely.) The conservative who turns to Manhattan-based publications for defenses of the “Real America” should cast a bigger net — embracing the Californian academics who preside over the Claremont Review of Books, the heartland sans-culottes at RedState, the far-flung traditionalists who write for Front Porch Republic. And the discerning reader should always have an eye out for talented writers — like the Montanan Walter Kirn, the deserving winner of one of my colleague David Brooks’s Sidney Awards — who cover American politics from outside D.C. and N.Y.C.

Finally, make a special effort to read outside existing partisan categories entirely. Crucially, this doesn’t just mean reading reasonable-seeming types who split the left-right difference. It means seeking out more marginal and idiosyncratic voices, whose views are often worth pondering precisely because they have no real purchase on our political debates.

Start on the non-Republican right, maybe, with the libertarians at Reason magazine, the social conservatives at First Things and Public Discourse, the eclectic dissidents who staff The American Conservative. Then head for the neo-Marxist reaches of the Internet, where publications like Jacobin and The New Inquiry offer a constant reminder of how much room there is to the left of the current Democratic Party.

And don’t be afraid to lend an ear to voices that seem monomaniacal or self-marginalizing, offensive or extreme. There are plenty of writers on the Internet who are too naïve or radical or bigoted to entrust with any kind of power, but who nonetheless might offer an insight that you wouldn’t find in the more respectable quarters of the press.

If these exercises work, they’ll make 2013 a year that unsettles your mind a little — subjecting the views you take for granted to real scrutiny, changing the filters through which you view the battles between Team R and Team D, reminding you that more things are possible in heaven and earth than are dreamed of by John Boehner and Harry Reid.

Then, and only then, will you be ready to start counting the days till the 2016 Iowa caucuses arrive.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/DouthatNYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/opinion/sunday/douthat-how-to-read-in-2013.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121230

A vote for the future or for the past?

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, October 30, 2012

Excerpt

The 2012 presidential election is fundamentally a contest between our future and our past. Barack Obama’s America is the America that will be; Mitt Romney’s is the America that was. And the distance between the two is greater, perhaps, than in any election we’ve had since the Civil War.

The demographic bases of the rival coalitions couldn’t be more different.…On a host of issues, as diverse as gay and lesbian rights and skepticism about the merits of capitalism, polls have shown that younger voters are consistently more tolerant and well to the left of their elders.

Nor is age the only metric through which we can differentiate our future from our past. The other is race, as the nation grows more racially diverse (or, more bluntly, less white) each year. …

Republicans seek a majority through winning an ever-higher share of white voters…The problem for Republicans, of course, is that the minority vote is a far larger share of the total vote today than it was 24 years ago…

the base is rabidly anti-immigrant and its antipathy is reinforced daily by talk radio hosts and Fox News chatterers who depict an America under siege by alien forces…

Accommodation with diversity and modernity, however, is simply not part of the Republican DNA. Today’s Republican Party has largely cornered the market on religious fundamentalists, even as the number of GOP scientists has dwindled (a 2009 Pew poll of scientists found that just 6 percent self-identified as Republicans, while 55 percent said they were Democrats)…

Two Americas are facing off in next week’s election. By their makeup, the Democrats are bound to move, if haltingly, into the future, while the Republicans parade proudly into the pre-New Deal past — some of it mythic, lots of it ugly. The differences could not be clearer.

Full text

The 2012 presidential election is fundamentally a contest between our future and our past. Barack Obama’s America is the Americathat will be; Mitt Romney’s is the America that was. And the distance between the two is greater, perhaps, than in any election we’ve had since the Civil War.

The demographic bases of the rival coalitions couldn’t be more different. Monday’s poll from the Pew Research Center is just the latest to show Obama with a decisive lead (in this case, 21 percentage points) among voters younger than 30. Obama’s margin declines to six points among voters ages 30 through 44, and he breaks even with Romney among voters ages 45 through 64. Romney’s home turf is voters 65 and older; among those, he leads Obama by 19 points.

Age polarization is not specific to the presidential election. On a host of issues, as diverse as gay and lesbian rights and skepticism about the merits of capitalism, polls have shown that younger voters are consistently more tolerant and well to the left of their elders.

Nor is age the only metric through which we can differentiate our future from our past. The other is race, as the nation grows more racially diverse (or, more bluntly, less white) each year. While the 2000 Census put whites’ share of the U.S. population at 69.1 percent, that share had declined to 63.7 percent in the 2010 Census, while the proportion of Hispanics rose from 12.5 percent to 16.3 percent. In raw numbers, total white population increased by just 1.2 percent during the decade, while the African American segment grew by 12.3 percent and the Hispanic share by 43 percent. Demographers predict that the white share of theU.S. population will fall beneath 50 percent in the 2050 Census.

Rather than trying to establish a foothold among America’s growing minorities, however, Romney and the Republicans have decided to forgo an appeal to Hispanic voters by opposing legislation that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants brought here as children and by backing legislation that effectively requires Hispanics to carry documentation papers in certain states. Republicans seek a majority through winning an ever-higher share of white voters. The Washington Post reported last week that its polling showed the greatest racial gap between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates since the 1988 election, with Romney favored by 60 percent of white voters and Obama by 80 percent of minority voters (a figure that may prove low, if three-quarters of the Hispanic vote goes to Obama, as some other polls suggest it will). The problem for Republicans, of course, is that the minority vote is a far larger share of the total vote today than it was 24 years ago.

By repeatedly estranging minorities and opposing social policies favored by the young, the Republicans have opted for a King Canute strategy: standing on the shore and commanding the tide to stop. Republicans with an eye toward the future, most notably George W. Bush and Karl Rove, have urged the party to embrace immigration reform, but the base is rabidly anti-immigrant and its antipathy is reinforced daily by talk radio hosts and Fox News chatterers who depict anAmerica under siege by alien forces.

Should Republicans prevail in this election and seek to build a more-than-one-term plurality, they will confront a stark choice: Either Romney must persuade his party to reverse its stance on immigration, or the party must seek to extend the scope of its voter-suppression efforts. Put another way, they must try to either accommodate the future or suppress it.

Accommodation with diversity and modernity, however, is simply not part of the Republican DNA. Today’s Republican Party has largely cornered the market on religious fundamentalists, even as the number of GOP scientists has dwindled (a 2009 Pew poll of scientists found that just 6 percent self-identified as Republicans, while 55 percent said they were Democrats). Many of the largest Republican funders come from economic sectors hardly distinguished by significant productivity increases or their contributions to mass prosperity (casino gambling, Wall Street), while Silicon Valley remains more Democratic turf. (By the way, all those messages Republican CEOs have been sending their employees , predicting layoffs should Obama be reelected? Have any of them promised raises if Romney wins? Just askin’.)

Two Americas are facing off in next week’s election. By their makeup, the Democrats are bound to move, if haltingly, into the future, while the Republicans parade proudly into the pre-New Deal past — some of it mythic, lots of it ugly. The differences could not be clearer.

meyersonh@washpost.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-electing-the-future-or-the-past/2012/10/30/7dd06708-2200-11e2-8448-81b1ce7d6978_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Obama, Tea Parties, and the Battle for Our Brains by George Lakoff

Cognitive Policy Works, February 23, 2010

Excerpt

…[right wing conservatives] are trying to chew their way into the worst parts of our psyches in order to manipulate our beliefs and values and make us worse people than we really are…After the Goldwater defeat of 1964…[conservatives] had a problem: How to get a significant number of working people to become conservative enough to vote for Nixon…They found a way to both strengthen conservative views and weaken liberal views, creating a conservative populism… They created language for all these [conservative] ideas and have been repeating it ever since…the repetition of conservative populist frames over more than 40 years has had an effect…The highest value in the conservative moral system…is the perpetuation and strengthening of the conservative moral system itself…All politics is moral…there are two opposing moral systems at work in America. What moral system you are using governs how you will see the world and reason about politics…Metaphorical thought is central to politics…how language works in the brain…words activate frames, which, in turn, activate moral systems. This mechanism is not conscious. It is automatic, and it is acquired through repetition…The proper response is to start with your own ideas, framed to fit what you really believe. Facts matter. But they have to be framed properly and their moral significance must be made manifest. .

Full text

Over the past couple of weeks, The New York Times has been reporting on results from the cognitive and brain sciences that confirm past research in those fields partly by me and partly by my community of colleagues. What makes this of general, not personal, interest is that the scientific results are especially important for understanding what has been going wrong for the Obama administration and for liberals generally, and what has been going right for conservatives. I’m going to start out with some science, and get on to the politics after brief discussions of three important New York Times’ articles and what they mean scientifically.

It’s always satisfying for a scientist to see his or her predictions proved right experimentally (which happens often), and actually discussed in the press (which happens rarely). As a cognitive scientist and linguist, it’s been a good couple of weeks for me and my colleagues, especially in The New York Times. Experiments are hard to do, and I celebrate all the experimenters cited. Experiments are also hard to report on, and I praise the journalists at the Times for a fine job.

Metaphor and Embodiment

Back in 1980, Mark Johnson and I, in “Metaphors We Live By”, demonstrated the existence of metaphorical thought and argued that metaphor and other aspects of mind were embodied. That book, and our 1987 books, my “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” and Johnson’s “The Body in the Mind,” helped to start a cottage industry in the study of embodied cognition.

The experimental results confirming our theories of embodied cognition have been coming in regularly, especially in the area of metaphorical thought. Natalie Angier, on February 1,  summarized some of the recent research very clearly:

* A Universityof Amsterdamstudy showed that subjects thinking about the future leaned forward, while those thinking about the past leaned backward. This was predicted by the 1980 analysis of common European metaphors in which the future is ahead and the past is behind. This is not just a matter of language, but of thought, as Johnson and I showed.

  • At Yale, researchers found that subjects holding warm coffee in advance were more likely to evaluate an imaginary individual as warm and friendly than those holding cold coffee. This is predicted by the conceptual metaphor that affection is warmth, as in, She gave me a warm greeting.
  • At theUniversityofToronto, subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be five degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed.
  • Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. The well-known conceptual metaphor morality is purity predicts this behavior.
  • Students told that that a particular book was important judged it to be physically heavier than a book that they were told was unimportant. The conceptual metaphor is important is heavy.
  • In a parallel study with heavy versus light clipboards, those with the heavy clipboards were more likely like to judge currency to be more valuable and their opinions and their leaders more important.
  • And in doing arithmetic, students who used their hands to group numbers together had an easier time doing problems that required conceptual grouping. This is predicted by the analysis of mathematics in “Where Mathematics Comes From” by myself and Rafael Núñez, where we show how mathematics from the simple to the advanced is based on embodied metaphorical cognition.

These results don’t happen by magic. How can these results be explained?

Johnson’s and my 1999 book, “Philosophy in the Flesh,” incorporated a neural theory of how embodied metaphorical thought works. What a child is regularly held affectionately by its parents, two distinct brain areas are activated simultaneously – one for temperature and one for affection. The synapses in both areas are strengthened and activation spreads along existing pathways until the shortest pathway between the areas is found and a circuit is formed. That circuit is the neural realization of what is called a “primary metaphor” that is embodied. Hundreds of such cases are formed unconsciously and automatically in childhood.

MyBerkeleycolleague, Srini Narayanan, has shown what computational properties such circuits must have. In still unpublished work, he has shown that the relative timing of first spikes across a synapse predicts the directionality of elementary metaphors in all known cases. The very idea that such low-level phenomena at the level of neurons can result in the vast range of metaphorical thought is truly remarkable.

A crucial part of the story of embodied cognition comes from the neuroscience of the 1990s, which showed that the same brain regions used in actually moving and perceiving are used in imagining and remembering moving and perceiving. These results led Jerome Feldman to the crucial idea that meaningful thought expressible in language is mental simulation that uses the neural structures of the sensory-motor system to imagine what is embodied, usually below the level of consciousness.

These are experimental findings and theories based on considerable evidence. Taken together, they explain the results of the experiments: Primary metaphorical thought arises when a neural circuit is formed linking two brain areas activated when experiences occur together repeatedly. Typically, one of the experiences is physical. In each experiment, each subject has the physical experience activating one of the brain regions and another experience (e.g., emotional or temporal) activating the other brain region for the given metaphor. The activation of both regions activates the metaphorical link. Thus, if the metaphor is future is ahead and past is behind, thinking about the future will activate the brain region for moving forward. If the metaphor is affection is warmth, holding warm coffee will activate the brain region for experiencing affection.

Angier did not seek out the theoretical studies that allow these explanations – and led to the performance of the experiments in the first place. That’s too much to ask of a New York Times article. But it was nice to see some of the relevant experiments reported on in The New York Times, even if the explanations were left out.

These cases don’t have any direct political implications in themselves, but they are indirectly important, as we shall see.

Words and Polls

The past week in The New York Times was also pretty good for me with respect to predictions.

There was a CBS/New York Times poll that showed support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” varied considerably depending on whether “homosexuals” or “gay men and lesbians” was used in the question. “Gay men and lesbians” got a lot more support – in the ball park of 15 percent more, which is a HUGE difference on a poll.

Those of you who’ve read my “Don’t Think of an Elephant!” and “The Political Mind” will be familiar with the basic results of frame semantics, developed by my Berkeley colleague Charles Fillmore and others within the cognitive and brain sciences.

The first basic result: The meaning of every word is characterized in terms of a brain circuit called a “frame.” Frames are often characterized in terms of the usual apparatus of mental life: metaphors, images, cultural narratives – and neural links to the emotion centers of the brain. The narrow, literal meaning of a word is only one aspect of its frame-semantic meaning.

The second basic result is that this is mostly unconscious, like 98 percent of human thought.

On the inherent link between semantic and emotion, see my discussion in “The Political Mind,” (chapter one) and the excellent books by Antonio Damasio (“Descartes’ Error”) and Drew Westen (“The Political Brain”).

“Homosexual” is simply defined via a different frame than “gay men and lesbians.” Professor Geoffrey Stone of theUniversityofChicago, writing in the Huffington Post on February 13, described the difference:

“Homosexual” conjures up dark visions of filthy bodily acts that arouse deeply-rooted feelings of disgust and ancient fears ofSodomandGomorrahand hell and damnation. “Gay men and lesbians,” on the other hand, increasingly reminds us of people we know – sons and daughters, cousins and classmates, nieces and nephews, coworkers and neighbors.

In short, there is a big difference in meaning – the framing difference between the thought of gay sex and the idea of the civil rights of people in your community. The consequences are political, as Professor Stone observed:

When we hear religious leaders or politicians referring to “homosexuals in the military,” “homosexual marriage,” or “special rights for homosexuals,” we must recognize what they are doing. Especially for the 15 percent of Americans who react so viscerally to the term “homosexual,” they are trying to chew their way into the worst parts of our psyches in order to manipulate our beliefs and values and make us worse people than we really are.

I’ve been writing for years about how effective the right wing has been at framing, and how progressives often use right-wing language, even in polls. I have had numerous discussions with well-known pollsters who did not get the point and could not distinguish commonplace language from commonplace language that activated right-wing frames.

The cognitive science matters here. The CBS/New York Times poll results were to be expected given our current understanding of how words get their meaning by being neurally linked to frame-circuits.

Blinks, Worms and Spankers

  • Nick Kristof, in his February 14 column, discussed three experiments distinguishing conservatives from liberals:
  • In one experiment, the strength of blink reflexes to unexpected noises was measured and correlated with degrees of reactions to external threats. Conservatives reacted considerably more strongly than liberals.
  • Another experiment was based on the fact that disgust reactions create glandular secretions that change skin conductance. Subjects were shown disgusting images (like some eating a handful of worms). Liberals reacted mildly, but conservative reactions went off the charts.
  • A third study showed a strong correlation between attitudes toward spanking and voting patterns: spanking states tend to go Republican. The experimenters correlated spanking preferences with what they called “cognitive styles.” As Kristof reported it, “Spankers tend to see the world in stark, black-and-white terms, perceive the social order as vulnerable and under attack, tend to make strong distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and emphasize order and muscular responses to threats. Parents favoring timeouts feel more comfortable with ambiguities, sense less threat, embrace minority groups – and are less prone to disgust when they see a man eating worms.”
  • All three results follow from a cognitive science study called “Moral Politics,” which I published in 1996 and was reprinted in 2002. There, I observed that conservatives and liberals had opposite moral worldviews structured by metaphor around two profoundly different models of the ideal family: a strict father family for conservatives and a nurturant parent family for liberals. In the ideal strict father family, the world is seen as a dangerous place and the father functions as protector from “others” and the parent who teaches children absolute right from wrong by punishing them physically (painful spanking or worse) when they do wrong. The father is the ultimate authority; children are to obey, and immoral practices are seen as disgusting.

Ideal liberal families are based on nurturance, which breaks down into empathy, responsibility – for both oneself and others, and excellence: doing as well as one can to make oneself better and one’s family and community better. Parents are to practice these things and children are to learn them by example.

Because our first experience with being governed in is our families, we all learn a basic metaphor: A governing institution is a family, where the governing institution can be a church, a school, a team or a nation. The nation-as-family version gives us the idea of founding fathers, Mother India and MotherRussia, the Fatherland, homeland security etc.

Apply these monolithically to our politics and you get extreme conservative and progressive moral systems, defining what is right and wrong to each side.

There is no moral system of the moderate or the middle. Because of a neural phenomenon called “mutual inhibition,” two opposing moral systems can live in brain circuits that inhibit each other and are active in different contexts. For a nonpolitical example, consider Saturday night and Sunday morning moral systems, which coexist in the brains of many Americans. The same is true of “moderates,” who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others, though there may be variations from person to person.

Kristof doesn’t mention “Moral Politics,” though he got a copy at a Democratic Senate retreat in 2003, at which we both spoke. If “Moral Politics” is still on his bookshelf, I suggest he take a look. I also recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the difference between conservative and progressive moral systems.

Conservative Populism and Tea Partiers

After the Goldwater defeat of 1964, conservatism was a dirty word and most Americans wanted to be liberals, especially working people who were highly unionized. Lee Atwater and colleagues, working for the 1968 Nixon campaign, had a problem: How to get a significant number of working people to become conservative enough to vote for Nixon.

They intuited what I have since called “biconceptualism” (see “The Political Mind”) – the fact that many Americans have both conservative and progressive views, but in different contexts and on different issues. Mutual inhibition in brain circuitry means the strengthening of one weakens the other. They found a way to both strengthen conservative views and weaken liberal views, creating a conservative populism. Here’s how they did it.

They realized that by the late ’60s many working people were disturbed by the antiwar demonstrations; so Nixon ran on anti-communism. They noticed that many working men were upset by radical feminists; so they pushed traditional family values. And they realized that, after the civil rights legislation, many working men, especially in the South, were threatened by blacks. So, they ran Nixon on law and order. At the same time, they created the concept of “the liberal elite” – the tax-and-spend liberals, the liberal media, theHollywoodliberals, the limousine liberals and so on. They created language for all these ideas and have been repeating it ever since.

Even though liberals have worked tirelessly for the material benefit of working people, the repetition of conservative populist frames over more than 40 years has had an effect. Conservative ideas have spread in the brains of conservative populists. The current Tea Party movement is an attempt to spread conservative populism further.

Sarah Palin may not know history or economics, but she does know strict father morality and conservative populist frames. Frank Rich, in his February 14 New York Times column, denied David Broder’s description of Palin as “perfect pitch populism” and called it “deceptive faux populism” and a “populist masquerade.” What Rich is missing is that Palin has a perfect pitch for conservative populism – which is very different from liberal populism. What she can do is strengthen the conservative side of biconceptual undecided populists, helping to move them to conservative populists. She is dangerous that way.

Rich, long one of my heroes, is a perfect-pitch liberal. He assumes that nurturant values (empathy, social and personal responsibility, making yourself and the world better) are the only objective values. I think they are right values, values that define democracy, but unfortunately far from the only values. Starting with those values, Rich correctly pointed out that Palin’s views contradict liberal populism and that her conservative positions won’t materially help the poor and middle class. All true, but … that does not contradict conservative populism or conservatism in general.

This is a grand liberal mistake. The highest value in the conservative moral system (see “Moral Politics,” chapter nine) is the perpetuation and strengthening of the conservative moral system itself!! This is not liberal materialism. Liberals decry it as “ideology,” and it is. But it is real; it has the structure of moral system, and it is physically part of the brains of bothWashingtonconservatives and conservative populists. The conservative surge is not merely electoral. It is an idea surge. It is an attempt to spread conservatism via the spread of conservative populism. That is what the Tea Party movement is doing.

False Reason and Real Reason: The Obama Mistake

It was entirely predictable a year ago that the conservatives would hold firm against Obama’s attempts at “bipartisanship” – finding occasional conservatives who were biconceptual, that is, shared some views acceptable to Obama on some issues, while keeping an overall liberal agenda.

The conservatives are not fools. Because their highest value is protecting and extending the conservative moral system itself, giving Obama any victory at all would strengthen Obama and weaken the hold of their moral system. Of course, they were going to vote against every proposal and delay and filibuster as often as possible. Protecting and extending their worldview demands it.

Obama has not understood this.

We saw this when Obama attended the Republican caucus. He kept pointing out that they voted against proposals that Republicans had made and that he had incorporated, acting as if this were a contradiction. But that was to be expected, since a particular proposal that strengthens Obama and hence weakens their moral view violates their highest moral principle.

Such conservative logic explains why conservatives in Congress first proposed a bipartisan committee to study the deficit, and then voted against it.

That is why I don’t expect much from the president’s summit with Republicans on February 25. Why should they do anything to strengthen Obama’s hand, when it would violate their highest moral principle, as well as weakening themselves electorally? If Obama thinks he can shame them in front of their voters, he is mistaken, again. Conservative voters think the same way they do.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama used framing perfectly and articulated the progressive moral system (empathy, individual and social responsibility, making oneself and the world better) as well as it has ever been done.

But he changed after the election. Obama moved from real reason, how people really think, to false reason, a traditional view coming out of the enlightenment and favored by all too many liberals.

We now (finally!) come to the point of going through all those experiments in the cognitive and brain sciences. Here are the basic differences between real and false reason, and the ways in which all too many liberals, including Obama during the past year, are wed to false reason.

Real reason is embodied in two ways. It is physical, in our brain circuitry. And it is based on our bodies as the function in the everyday world, using thought that arises from embodied metaphors. And it is mostly unconscious. False reason sees reason as fully conscious, as literal, disembodied, yet, somehow fitting the world directly, and working not via frame-based, metaphorical, narrative and emotional logic, but via the logic of logicians alone.

Empathy is physical, arising from mirror neurons systems tied to emotional circuitry. Self-interest is real as well, and both play their roles in real reason. False reason is supposed to serve material self-interest alone. It’s supposed to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?,” which President Obama assumed that all populists were asking. While Frank Luntz told conservatives to frame health care in terms of the moral concepts of freedom (a “government takeover”) and life (“death panels”), Obama was talking about policy minutia that could not be understood by most people.

Real reason is inexplicably tied up with emotion; you cannot be rational without being emotional. False reason thinks that emotion is the enemy of reason, that it is unscrupulous to call on emotion. Yet, people with brain damage who cannot feel emotion cannot make rational decisions because they do not know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing. “Rational” decisions are based on a long history of emotional responses by oneself and others. Real reason requires emotion.

Obama assumed that Republicans would act “rationally,” where “rationality” was defined by false reason – on the logic of material self-interest. But conservatives understood that their electoral chances matched their highest moral principle, strengthening their moral system itself without compromise.

It is a basic principle of false reason that every human being has the same reason governed by logic – and that if you just tell people the truth, they will reason to the right conclusion. The President kept saying, throughout Tea Party summer, that he would just keep telling the truth about policy details that most people could not make moral sense of. And so he did, to the detriment of all of us.

All politics is moral. Political leaders all make proposals they say are “right.” No one proposes a policy that they say is wrong. But there are two opposing moral systems at work inAmerica. What moral system you are using governs how you will see the world and reason about politics. That is the lesson of the cognitive science behind “Moral Politics” and all the experiments since then. It is the lesson of all the research on embodied metaphor. Metaphorical thought is central to politics.

Finally, there is the lesson of how language works in the brain. Every word is neurally connected to a neural circuit characterizing a frame, which, in turn, is part of a system of frames linked to a moral system. In political discourse, words activate frames, which, in turn, activate moral systems. This mechanism is not conscious. It is automatic, and it is acquired through repetition. As the language of conservative morality is repeated, frames are activated repeatedly that, in turn, activate and strengthen the conservative system of thought – unconsciously and automatically. Thus, conservative talk radio and the national conservative messaging system are powerful unconscious forces. They work via principles of real reason.

But many liberals, assuming a false view of reason, think that such a messaging system for ideas they believe in would be illegitimate – doing the things that the conservatives do that they consider underhanded. Appealing honestly to the way people really think is seen as emotional and, hence, irrational and immoral. Liberals, clinging to false reason, simply resist paying attention to real reason.

Take Paul Krugman, one of my heroes, whose economic sense I find impeccable. Here is a quote from a recent column:

Republicans who hate Medicare, tried to slash Medicare in the past, and still aim to dismantle the program over time, have been scoring political points by denouncing proposals for modest cost savings – savings that are substantially smaller than the spending cuts buried in their own proposals.

He is following traditional liberal logic, and pointing out a literal contradiction: they denounce “cuts in Medicare,” while wanting to eliminate Medicare and have proposed bigger cuts themselves.

But, from the perspective of real reason as conservatives use it, there is no contradiction. The highest conservative value is preserving and empowering their moral system itself. Medicare is anathema to their moral system – a fundamental insult. It violates free market principles and gives people things they haven’t all earned. It is a system where some people are paying – God forbid! – for the medical care of others. For them, Medicare itself is immoral on a grand scale, a fundamental moral issue far more important than any minor proposal for “modest cost savings.” I’m sorry to report it, but that is how conservatives are making use of real reason, and exploiting the fact that so many liberals think it’s contradictory.

Indeed, one of the major findings of real reason is that negating a frame activates that frame in the brain and reinforces it – like Nixon saying that he was not a crook. Dan Pfeiffer, writing on the White House blog, posted an article called “Still not a ‘Government Takeover’,” which activates the conservative idea of a government takeover and hence reinforces the idea. Every time a liberal goes over a conservative proposal giving evidence negating conservative ideas one by one, he or she is activating the conservative ideas in the brains of his audience. The proper response is to start with your own ideas, framed to fit what you really believe. Facts matter. But they have to be framed properly and their moral significance must be made manifest. That is what we learn from real reason.

The New York Times is home to a lot of traditional reason, often based on false principles of how people think. That is why the reporting of those experiments brightened my day. Perhaps the best way to The New York Times’ mind is through the science of mind.

Kudos once more to the Times’ science reporting on those experiments.

http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/blog/2010/02/23/obama-tea-parties-and-the-battle-for-our-brains/

Worldview – contrast progressive and conservative

A Tale of Two Moralities By Paul Krugman, New York Times, January 13, 2011 – President Obama called on Americans to “expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” Those were beautiful words; they spoke to our desire for reconciliation….let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice…One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate. The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty…There’s no middle ground between these views…This deep divide in American political morality — for that’s what it amounts to — is a relatively recent development. Commentators who pine for the days of civility and bipartisanship are, whether they realize it or not, pining for the days when the Republican Party accepted the legitimacy of the welfare state, and was even willing to contemplate expanding it….But that was then. Today’s G.O.P. sees much of what the modern federal government does as illegitimate; today’s Democratic Party does not…what we’re talking about here is a fundamental disagreement about the proper role of government.

The Fascinating Differences Between The Conservative and Liberal Personality

Debating our values - ProgressiveValues e-letter, October 3, 2010

Understanding the Ideological Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives: Is it Possible for Us to Get Along? By Joshua Holland, AlterNet.org, April 10, 2012

A major difference between conservatives and progressives by Glenn Greenwald,  Salon.com, March 24, 2009 – One of the linchpins of the Bush presidency, especially during the first term (and well into the second, until he became a major political liability), was the lock-step uncritical reverence – often bordering on cult-like glorification – which the “conservative” movement devoted to the “Commander-in-Chief.”…The handful of conservatives who did object were cast aside as traitors to the cause, and criticisms of the President became equated with an overt lack of patriotism…the events of the last eight years had so powerfully demonstrated and ingrained the dangers of uncritical support for political leaders that most liberals would be critical of and oppositional to a Democratic President when that President undertook actions in tension with progressive views…there is ample progressive criticism of Obama in a way that is quite healthy and that reflects a meaningful difference between the “conservative movement” and many progressives…most — of the most vocal liberal Bush critics have kept their critical faculties engaged and have been unwilling to sacrifice their political values and principles at the altar of partisan loyalty…It should be emphasized that mere criticism for its own sake is also not a virtue. A rational citizen, by definition, praises and supports political leaders only when they do the right thing (regardless of motive), and criticizes and opposes them when they don’t. It’s just that simple…Political leaders deserve support only to the extent that their actions, on a case-by-case basis, merit that support, and that has largely been the behavior of progressives towards Obama.”