Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Teaching a Pollster about Dead Words

Okay, last question. Do you consider yourself a liberal, conservative, or moderate?

These are dead words.

Beg your pardon?

They don't mean anything. They are dead words. Meaningless.

What do you mean 'meaningless?'

Okay, let's say I believe everyone should have a gun if they want one. We should all be able to buy guns and not have the state check us out. That's a very liberal attitude about gun ownership, but we call people who defend gun rights 'conservatives.' It doesn't matter what the word means -- we use them like brand names, like Coke or Pepsi.


Or trade! Some of us think capitalism should not be regulated at all, and corporations should be free to do whatever they think is in the best interests of making a profit even if it pollutes our air and water and enhances global warming. That is not a conservative attitude, if you care what they word means. Economists call that neoliberalism: a desire to extend maximum liberty to capitalist enterprise. But for some reason, anyone who is pro-business is called a conservative. Even when they aren't.

Err, okay. Would you like me to put you down as a moderate?

Moderate compared to what? Dead words!

Well --

Ask my wife. She doesn't consider me moderate about anything.

I can see that.


Nathan said...

Funny stuff! I would have loved to see the guy's face.

Algernon said...

'Twas a woman!

Adam said...

hahahaha that's awesome. I recently had "in 2008 election, did you vote for President Obama or John McCain?" to which I replied "neither". "So, you didn't vote?" "No, I just voted for someone else."

Long silence, and then on to the next question.

Algernon said...

The two parties have such a hold on popular consciousness. When you introduce the idea that you can seriously support a candidate from a different party -- or no party at all -- there is something almost like a cognitive block that falls down.

Petteri Sulonen said...

What are your thoughts about proportional representation and a multi-party system? We have one, and I like it.

Kelly said...

This is a wonderful post!! ..and oh so true.

Thing is, rather than hanging up and thinking "what great food for thought this guy gave me" he probably just thought "nut!".

Algernon said...

To Petteri's question: we have, as I think you know, a duopoly in American politics. There is this peculiar notion that only the Democratic and Republican parties are capable of governing. Almost all of the significant candidate debates, locally and nationally, are restricted to the two major parties. The two major parties are both heavily compromised to large corporate donors and support neoliberal capitalism.

We also don't have a runoff voting system, so even when an attractive independent or alternative party candidate manages to get on the ballot (circumventing laws set up to favor the two major parties), voters think twice about voting for them because of the spoiler effect. Runoff voting, in particular instant runoff voting, is a simple and rational solution to that. However, because it enhances democracy, it is greeted with suspicion at best, and usually derision.

So yes, I think -- and insist to anyone who will listen -- we very much need to open the field to more political parties. Virtually no one goes along with this. In fact, there is terror and scorn at the very notion of voting for something different.

Apparently this is because the Republican and Democratic parties have done such a good job.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Yeah, I'm pretty familiar with the US system of government.

I've argued in favor of proportional representation with Americans on lots of Internet forums, and sometimes in meatspace, and for some reason that's still rather mysterious to me, I rarely seem to make any headway. It might be that I come across as yet another condescending European, or it might be that the concept just somehow feels too alien or something.

There's also a huge resistance to the idea that the USA could learn anything by looking at other political systems, which also strikes me as strange, probably because we basically carbon-copied ours and are constantly tweaking it while comparing it to how stuff works elsewhere.

The USA is the first modern democracy, and its basic structure is still rather similar to the affair set up for a handful of sparsely-populated 18th-century colonies hanging at the edge of an unknown continent. It's really remarkable that the system has lasted so long. However, I think it'd be a miracle if others wouldn't have been able to improve on it in the meantime, and it couldn't hurt to see if some of those improvements couldn't be "back-ported," as it were. And I still haven't figured out a way to state that without immediately coming off like I'm insulting the Constitution or the people who drafted it.

Algernon said...

That resistance to learning from other nations extends to most areas of concerns. Besides this resistance to reform in itself, the room very often gets tense if you suggest solutions that other nations have implemented.

That goes for health care, education, renewable energy infrastructure, civil rights for gays, almost anything. The answer is, "We're not like other countries. We're better. We'll do it our own way."

Petteri Sulonen said...

I think Leonard Cohen says it best. I hope he's right, though.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.