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11/6/12

With Orthodox Conservative Values, I Vote Left

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The outcome of this election may prove to be a total surprise, but I doubt it. I say that while not allowing for voter fraud or statistical bias. Regarding bias, the photo for this piece has Truman gloating over the Chicago Daily Tribune's failed scoop. Its editors believed the data. The Tribune's expectations in the 1948 election were based on faulty Gallup polls. The problem was that Gallup had surveyed a specific sector of citizens—such as those who read Literary Digest, an upscale magazine of the era—rather than a cross section, and now in 2012 Gallup's lop-sided current data again shows it out of step with other polls.

With confidence I say that Barack Obama won this election, although the final results won't appear until after we wake up tomorrow morning. I base that on consistent poll averages in the swing states and not media hype. ("It's a tight race.")

I voted for Obama because I believe in him and because I don't know who is behind the many faces Romney wears.  Despite my vote for Obama, I am not a progressive, not a liberal. I share my values with an orthodox conservative. By that, I mean my values are more balanced, extending beyond those of the left, which heavily weights fairness and care for the needy without due regard for values such as social cohesion and the sanctity of religion for believers. (Yes, fairness is also important to me as is care for the needy.)

Social cohesion. Many on the left endorse individualism and pay less attention to values holding society together. While supporting issues such as Gay marriage and the right to die with dignity by taking one’s own life, I highly value the importance of social cohesion as distinct from the left's rationalist embrace of doing what you want if you only hurt yourself.  Social cohesion depends on moral intuitions, which we take for granted.

Suppose a brother and sister have contraceptive sex and nobody else knows.  Is it wrong?  A liberal may dislike the idea but, after straining it through a rational filter, decides it is not wrong. True conservatives do not hesitate and reflexively answer that it is wrong. They understand that society becomes unglued if moral intuitions are politically deconstructed. The liberal bases moral judgement on reason, the orthodox conservative understands that society depends on feelings as well as reason.

An anecdote illustrates what I mean about social cohesion. Today magazines reveal that a general core interest has disappeared.  When a boy, I saw racks with magazines for general audiences.  Colliers. Saturday Evening Post. Look. Life. Now I find none of them but instead special-interest periodicals and they are very eclectic.  Guns. Sports. Extreme sports. Muscle-building. Cars. Motorcycles.  Feminism. Child-rearing. Fashion. Health and fitness. I recall a common public venue, now gone, that was once visited and read by people from every corner of America.  

While I support diversity, I see the factionalist break-down of modern society as due to an excess emphasis on individual freedom. The left has become extremist in the cause of individualism and lacks respect for those who fear its growing consequences.

The irony, of course, is that while an orthodox conservative expresses this concern for social cohesion, Republican practice is wholly different.  Paul Ryan says Ayn Rand changed his life with her survival-of-the-fittest view of society.  In Ryan's world a few heroic businessmen are responsible for civilization while the rest of us are just along for the ride.  He is a blatant example but he is typical. Conservative columnist David Brooks noted of the 2012 Republican national convention, "Speaker after speaker celebrated the solitary and heroic individual."  Brooks added, "There was certainly no conservatism as Edmund Burke understood it, in which individuals are embedded in webs of customs, traditions, habits and governing institutions."

I mentioned the sanctity of religion. New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Bill Maher vilifiy religion for its history of bigotry and intolerance. They are correct in that regard, but I respect religion for sustaining the needy from despair and binding people to good causes. This, although I scorn Bible-thumpers who preach their congregations should vote for religious causes while their churches remain tax-exempt because they are supposed to be outside politics.

I say I share the values of an orthodox conservative but I see no time in the near future when I can vote Republican. The difference lies between orthodox conservatives and practicing Republicans, between honesty with integrity and lies with hypocrisy. (I don’t claim Democrats dazzle the eyes in the limelight of shining virtue but today they are up-staged by Republican chicanery.) Since Newt Gingrich's leadership of the House, Republicans have squared-off against Democrats as the enemy. Despite what Fox News or Rush Limbaugh declare, the fault clearly lies more with the right than the left. Mitch McConnell vowed to oppose Obama at every step and publicly stated he did so to prevent the man’s re-election. On his side of the aisle McConnell and his fellow senators served power and the party, not the people.

Through right-wing media working people are manipulated against their own economic interests.  The manipulation serves the interests of moguls such as Rupert Murdoch, who does his best to keep Republicans in control.  The right has been wildly successful in this with its media.  Often noted is the success of Fox News and right-wing radio.  They rake in money, unlike television or radio on the left.  As has also been noted, this is partly because the right speaks with a unified voice while members of the left argue among themselves without reaching a central appeal to voters. 

People hang on every word of talking heads such as Rush or those from Fox.  The words reach down to the emotions where they live. Are you frustrated?   It's all because of the liberals.  Are you angry? Obama is your scapegoat.  A neuroscientist could explain it simply. The appeal is to the amygdala (emotions) not the frontal cortex (reason).  More rational, the left just doesn't get the importance of the basal ganglia in turning out the vote.

Wrapped in these tasty morsels are buzz words.  Christian nation. Family Values.  Pro-life.  Eurosocialist.  Socialism.  Humanist. Secular values.  Trickle-down economics.  Liberty or debt.  Food stamp president.  Obamacare.  Obamanation (abomination).  They are easy to swallow and confirm opinions.  Although thought-saving and without policy substance, they work in making True Believers.

These morsels show that—while moral intuition as a reflexive response can be a good—some reflexes are a double-edged sword.  They can serve both social cohesion and demagoguery. The doublespeak, the demagoguery, of right-wing media is one reason I vote Democratic. The right manipulates reflexes against the economic interests of the middle-class. I believe in an electorate enlightened by accurate information, not in masses betrayed by appeal to prejudices and deceived by buzz words with no chance to become policy.

I vote left for another reason. Big Money presents two great threats.  First, by inordinate influence in the corridors of power it threatens the people with virtual disenfranchisement. You and I would have big problems getting a private audience with a senator or representative but not a CEO or lobbyist.  You and I get to vote every four years.  With enough power and influence, they schedule appointments whenever they want.  Second, profit dictates that corporations have little economic interest in controlling emissions or filtering pollutants. Big Money threatens the planet and future generations. You and I can join environmental demonstrations on Capitol Hill but will have no influence like money has on legislation. Indeed, legislation has been written by lobbyists and rubber-stamped by legislators.

Funded by billionaires, some conservative think tanks cherry-pick facts from a few paid dissident scientists while the vast majority of scientists point to study after study showing human-caused melting of ice packs and rising parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. The corporate bottom line ignores disaster, both for the shrinking middle class and for the planet. We see wildly obscene profits for the 1% with no "trickle-down" to the rest of us.

Big money. In this Presidential election over two billion dollars have been spent by superpacs for presidential candidates, not to mention those running for Congress, which means that obligations to Big Money weigh heavily in the balance of future political considerations. In 2010, in a 5 to 4 decision, Republican justices in the Supreme Court decided that corporations are individuals with the same right to free political speech as you and I have. The net effect will be that Fat Cats influence our future, yours and mine, and it won’t be pretty.

The right has a mantra. Business isn't the problem. Big government is.  The implication is that Republicans are better for the economy. In its current dogma and doctrine the Republican party has proven worse for the economy.  As Bill Clinton pointed out, "Since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private-sector jobs. So what's the job score? Republicans 24 million, Democrats 42."  Fact-checking reveals that although his math was a bit off he got the substance.

The right beats the drum against Big Government, but it is propaganda.  I'll put it this way. The Congressional Budget Office is mandated to objectivity and partisan impartiality.  Its data reveal that if all government employees were fired, including troops in Afghanistan, the deficit would be reduced by only a third. To eliminate ALL government would not be nearly enough to make a difference.

Maybe some day the right will return to normalcy and moderation. Maybe they will once again reach across the aisle and pass bills with the left.  Maybe that day will only come after a shrinking middle-class abandons them or when it is too late to do anything about the environment. It may come but my crystal ball remains fuzzy as to when. Until then, I will vote left.

For those who scratch their heads on my statement that I am conservative while voting left, I have an answer. You, too, are probably more complicated than you think in what you value. Take a look below at the six foundations of morality as identified by psychologist Jonathan Haidt, which I borrowed from his MoralFoundations.org. If you read Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion you might be surprised to learn that your values align across the political divide rather than on one side of it.

Haidt's research indicates that liberals are strongest on the first two values while conservatives share all six almost equally. Bear in mind that his research findings for cognitive psychology are one thing. Another is the hypocritical and inflexible conservatism currently manipulating voters against their own interests. Bluntly put, I am saying that Haidt naively fails to distinguish between orthodox conservatism and current Republican practice.  He implicitly and  wrongly assumes practicing Republicans today adhere to the full spectrum of these values.

Be that as it may, here are the six moral foundations according to Haidt:

(1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

(2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals.

(3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

(4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

(5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

(6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

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