And We Keep Expecting Them to Be Rational

By: Bob Minor

It's an important point that right-wing propagandists get, but again and again I hear so many of us miss. As a result, our words and actions often fall ineffectively on deaf ears and closed minds.

We keep trying to understand how those opposed to human rights, and other progressive positions can logically think, talk, and respond the way they do. And the answer is, it's not rational.

A logical argument is a beautiful thing to observe, but it's not what wins the day when dealing with obstructionists who prefer that the US return to a pre-New Deal era. And the expectation that logic will convince them, coupled with constantly acting surprised that "they're not thinking rationally," misunderstands how the dominant voices in our society control things.

We could have the smartest President that ever lived on the planet. We could rehearse ad nauseam and as clearly as possible the facts, the data, the studies, and the logic of it all. We could wish, hope, and believe that people were different.

But again and again we will run up against the reality that the responses of the powers and believers in the religious, political, military and economic right-wing are neither moved by rationality nor "the facts." The question for those who expect otherwise is how long will it be before they get this point and act accordingly.

There are a number of reasons for this. The first is the political one that seems to confound the Democratic Party and its leaders.

Yet it's a calculated tactic by Republican consultants. And their leaders -- from Congress to FOX -- practice it well.

When the President essentially gives the political right-wing what it wants while getting in return a few things it doesn't really care about, the response is not an appreciative "thank you." It's a response that looks toward the next battle to get even more.

In the 2010 Democratic lame duck Congress, the economic and political right-wing couldn't care less about LGBT issues except their ability to inspire the religious right-wing. They knew how to play the game.

Giving up "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was easy for them as long as they could keep the Bush tax cuts, lower the estate tax, and attack programs such as Social Security. These would solidify their long-term economic goals.

They were delighted to have that payroll tax cut, since that would deprive income from the Social Security Trust fund. In the long run, they'll use that to enforce their fear-inducing claim that Social Security is in trouble.

The Democrats obliged them. Now we can predict that attempts to return the payroll tax to what it was, will be portrayed by right-wingers as a tax increase on working people.

While many on the left ask, "How can they be this way? Don't they see they've got what they want?" the right-wing goes on strategically doing three things, none related to the logic of the situation:

First, keep its believers scared and riled up. No matter what the reality, it will accuse "liberals" of getting everything they want because the fear of a "liberal" take-over is one of their successful boogey men.

Second, keep control of the framing of the public and media debate by firing the next shot first in their economic class war before anyone else frames the next move. Don't let a "liberal" way of putting things affect the framing. Always sound like outsiders to big, bad government.

Third, leave the other side in the dust trying to figure out the logic of what you are saying, and looking for further arguments about facts and logic that Democrats think work no matter how they've failed in the past.

For the religious right-wing, the facts don't matter either. What matters is their identification with the beliefs of the speaker.

It's also fear driven, but in this case it's the fear that someone will threaten what has become their cozy ideology.

The ability to dismiss an argument because the person who gives it is not a "Christian" (as they understand it), protects them from doubt. To have a list of key doctrines is security.

Thus, they must know where someone stands on women's choice regarding abortion, the rights of LGBT people, gun control, the Bible, or prayer in the public schools. Their position on any one of these isn't based in logic or facts, and having these hot button issues provides them with a quick, simplistic litmus test.

Knowing where someone stands on one or more of these concerns provides relief from the threat and effort of further thought. It replaces the need for any struggle to sort through all the nuances that could otherwise threaten their dogma.

And all this fits with the current anti-intellectualism in the right-wing debate. Professors, scientists, and other thinkers are vilified because they're not right-wing partisan enough. Their facts appear, well, liberal.

Does this mean we should give up logical argument and sighting of the facts? Of course not. Those will both move those people who still listen to such things.

But it means that while we use them, we cannot rely on them alone. We must appeal to basic values that define a more liberal agenda because values appeal to the emotions that are often the censors of logic.

President Obama is at his best when he speaks out of his values. But, the proof that these really are someone's values is in the follow-up.

Do we believe them enough to stand up for them? Do we lead so that they are obviously ours? Do we propose to do what we do out of these values?

Do we give them a good run for their money? Or do we compromise them before a good fight for personal or political gain if we feel we might lose?

Do we show that we really embody them by standing up for them even at our own expense? Are we willing even to lose temporarily because they are that important?

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction, and Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.fairnessproject.org.

Copyright by the author All Rights Reserved

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