Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Column

My latest offering in our local newspaper begins with some esoteric references, but goes on to the obvious point: today's Republicans are averse to factual input, demand 100% agreement, and close their minds to sources of information that make them reconsider their preferred beliefs.

Lots of letters lately complaining about The Herald’s “liberalism.” Was it something I said? 
The Herald, which endorsed Rob McKenna for governor. The Herald, without whose reporting Aaron Reardon would probably still be in office. The Herald, who recently lavished praise on John Koster, and which lauded the switch of two Democratic state senators to the Republican side, in hopes it might catalyze legislative effectiveness. The Herald, that publishes Charles Krauthammer, at the very appearance of whose column baby sparrows die in their nests, oxygen levels drop in every blue state, and ten liberal writers are neutralized, past and future. 
I rise not to defend this newspaper, but to make a point: in the words of Stephen Colbert, our country’s wisest commentator, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And that’s the thing. There’s a reason Fox “news” is the number one “information” source for “conservatives.” It’s the flip side of why MSNBC has such pitiful ratings: today’s Republicans don’t seem to want to hear (or read) anything that contradicts their preferred beliefs, no matter the truth of it. Flock, is what they do, to sources that don’t challenge them. Cancel, is what they do, to those that do. Liberals, on the other hand, apparently more inquisitive and open to new ideas, don’t gravitate only to where there’s affirmation. I stopped watching MSNBC years ago, as it became Fox lite for lefties. The differences between today’s conservatives and liberals are observable, and fatidical. 
I assume there are Republicans who have open minds, especially when compared to their own kind. Conversely, there exist pig-headed Democrats. (In Congress, though, Rs pretty much have the pig’s head in a full Gohmert.) But – maybe I missed it – I don’t recall letters from Everett politicos, or liberals in general, announcing their cancelation after the takedown of our County Executive. Or because of Krauthammer and Debra Saunders. There are differences between conservatives and liberals beyond their preferred news sources. It’s inborn, part of the neural circuitry, like boys and girls. We gave up our hippie attempt to raise our kid gender-neutral when he chomped his toast into the shape of a pistol and went “Pew, pew.” 
In previous columns I’ve cited studies showing different parts of the liberal and conservative brain lighting up when presented with scary stuff. Other research demonstrates that, when shown facts that disprove assumptions, conservatives tend to hold even harder to those mistaken beliefs. Liberals don’t. Who knows why? Maybe it was a good thing to assume there were tigers behind every tree at some point in our evolution. But it’s hard to see the value today, when half the country demands to be shielded from discordant input. Brains work best when not rubber-stamped. In times like these, such denialism, political or scientific, is undeniably harmful. 
Here’s a recent example of modern-day right-wing thinking: of late, many Republican-controlled state legislatures are passing laws aimed at preventing voting by groups that traditionally vote Democratic. With the innocence of a child caught cookie-handed, they insist it’s to prevent illegal voting, which would be more believable were there numerically significant examples of it. So the Republican Secretary of State in Colorado sends a list of seventeen suspected illicit voters to the Democratic D.A. of Boulder County. Who finds, easily, that each one is lawful, and so reports. The response from the R sender? The D.A. is “trying to score partisan points.” 
Think about that: pointing out facts is called an attempt to score “partisan” points. If truth is “partisan,” it’s only to the extent that there’s opposing political effort to distort or deny it. I get, and admire, true conservatism; but it barely exists any more. To call yourself a Republican nowadays is to hold up a sign that says “I’d rather not know.” Time and again, whether it’s the wild claims of right-wing radio, or the trotting out of the latest conspiracy theorist or dishonestly edited video by Fox “news,” we see who’s interested in fact and who isn’t. Those letter writers confirm the obvious: today’s Republicans demand 100% agreement; especially the ones who consider Fox “news” either fair or balanced. They prefer limiting their world-view to sources which reinforce their pre-formed opinions, complaining when they can’t. They opt to live in a pleasant Foxobeckian bubble, where men are men and facts are frowned upon. Science is wrong. Reportage, and education, are liberal brainwashing. 
That may be Republican bliss, but our system depends on well-informed citizens. It’s time to face the muse: Colbert was right.
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