Asymmetrical deafness

More support for Jonathan Haidt's thesis that conservatives have a clue what progressives think, but progressives cannot return the favor.  Frank Luntz managed to get the WaPo editorial page to print a short piece exposing five major myths that the left believes about the right:
  1. Conservatives want to smother government in its crib.  Luntz believes polls are beginning to show that conservatives are less concerned about "large government, small citizens" theory than about practical measures to ensure increased accountability, so that whatever is spent on government will give demonstrable bang for the buck.
  2. Conservatives want to drive all illegal immigrants to the border and dump them in the desert. Polling suggests widespread Republican support for "tall fences and wide gates," and for some kind of path to citizenship for immigrants who have demonstrated good citizenship in various ways, including military service.
  3. Conservatives believe Wall Street can do no wrong. Liberals are confusing Wall Street with Main Street.  Conservatives are more enamored of the free market than of abstract "capitalism," and would happily see some of the miscreants in the housing market scandal strung up by their thumbs (though they may disagree about who the miscreants are).
  4. Conservatives want to smother Social Security and Medicare in their cribs. In fact, most conservatives want to preserve them, but believe they'll collapse altogether without reform.  Conservatives are also much more likely to believe that reforms based on individual choice and market competition will be broadly benign in their results.
  5. Conservatives don't care about inequality. Actually, conservatives differ from liberals in their beliefs about the best way to combat inequality, and are much more focused on opportunity than result.
Luntz might as well have held his breath, as far as the WaPo readership goes.  The comments are a hoot.  Luntz is a liar.  Luntz is a paid Rethuglican hack.  Conservatives don't really believe any of these things, but have been trained to say they do in order to mask their nefarious spot.  Conservatives hate charity because it's paid to black people and hate President Obama for the same reason.  All conservatives want to do is take reproductive choice away from women and steal tuition money from poor students.  They do it just because they're mean.  A few, milder readers report that they know some conservatives personally, and can confirm that they're not the spawn of Satan, but they are gullible children who are being misled by their evil leaders' secret agenda and Fox News.  Most commenters, however, dismiss all the information Luntz tries to give them about their opponents and express considerable resentment for having been exposed to it in the first place, especially at their beloved WaPo, where they are not accustomed to having to encounter such things.

Update:  It's occurred to me that a point about asymmetry depends on showing that the same thing doesn't happen all the time in reverse.  I've been hunting for some "Top 10 Stupid Things Conservatives Believe About Liberals" articles, published in conservative venues, that elicited purely conservative backlashes along the lines of:  "We don't believe you espouse any such benign motives behind your revolting slogans.  Our caricatures were actually quite accurate.  Everyone knows the root of your insane liberal beliefs is that you're paid Communist operatives.  The author of this piece is a smelly hippie."  I haven't been able to find any, but maybe some of you can link to them in the comments.  I did find some "Top 10 Dumb Conservative Beliefs" posts, but no comparable reader response.  Mostly they were explanations that liberals don't really hate America or the troops or family values, and don't intend to encourage personal irresponsibility, etc., with reader responses that were mild or mixed.  I admit that I have participated in more than one argument among conservatives that degenerated into the blanket explanation that all liberal initiatives were Alinsky-style tactics intended to destroy the country.  I just haven't seen that approach adopted unanimously in the comments section of a major newspaper in response to an "olive branch" style of op-ed piece.


E Hines said...

Luntz might as well have held his breath, as far as the WaPo readership goes.

I disagree. The WaPo readers are empirical proof of Luntz' thesis. If they'd listen.

Eric Hines

bthun said...

I wonder, if they listened, would they continue to be WaPo readers?

E Hines said...

...if they listened, would they continue to be WaPo readers?

Maybe. Apparently, T99 and I read WaPo. Or are we closet Lib'ruls, fixing to stop reading?

Eric Hines

bthun said...

"Or are we closet Lib'ruls, fixing to stop reading?"


Grim said...

Hm. I suppose we can test whether he's right about what "we" believe.

1) I want government not merely to be 'efficient' or 'effective' but -- at least as importantly -- 'properly constrained.' That means Federalism, and it means the 10th Amendment; it doesn't necessarily mean smaller government, though. If liberal states want to build a pretty socialist government in their states, I have no problem with that so long as the socialism doesn't get so strong as to undermine basic Constitutional protections like freedom of speech -- e.g., religious freedom not to fund abortion, no Canadian-style hate speech laws; or second amendment rights; etc.

2) I really have no animosity at all against illegal immigrants. I do have some concern that a nation that does not defend its borders is in a very real sense ceding its claim to sovereignty. I spend exactly no time worrying about being overrun by illegals; it doesn't register compared to the concerns I have about cultural collapse.

3) I am no friend to Wall Street at all. Southerners in general aren't; there's enough cultural memory of what the South was like when we were effectively a colony of New York City banks. That period, from 1866-1928 (when the boll wevil begain to destroy the investment potential of the cotton crop, and thus both impoverished and liberated the South) was the most miserable in our history. Anyone tied to Wall Street is deeply suspect, to be distrusted and dealt with only from a position of the utmost wariness.

4) I'm guilty on this one. These programs look like a death trap for America to me; we need to replace them with something that keeps the elderly who cannot change course from dying in the street, but it is very important to our future that these programs cease to exist.

5) I do care about inequality, although mostly in the political sense. Poorer people are in some peril of losing their actual equality, especially during economic spasms like these. If you lose everything -- job, followed by savings, followed possibly by your home -- you are going to be thrust outside of any possibility of living what we in America have defined as a moral life. That life requires paying for things: paying your taxes, paying your way, paying your rent (or your mortgage), paying for your own food and clothing, and so forth.

So I do think we need to take poverty seriously, and I'm not opposed to government programs that address it by providing work, or training, or -- given a good argument, and a properly constitutional structure -- in other reasonable ways. Inequality beyond the poverty that can undermine political equality, though, doesn't concern me very much.

bthun said...

Apparently I was mistaken in assuming that it would be understood from the post Tex put up along with the comments that preceded mine, that the WaPo readers being discussed, my comment included, were the same as those commenting on Luntz article at the WaPo.

I had no idea that my comment could possibly be construed to include you or Tex.

I must have been fixin to misunderstand my partners in conversation. I'll not make that mistake again.

Grim said...

Nah, I wasn't "reading" anything into your comment, old son. I was just having the fun of responding to the poll by giving my own opinions. Feel free to do the same. I doubt we all agree, which is the real point I wanted to raise -- there's a range of opinion among "conservatives," not some norm like the pollster reports.

bthun said...

I intended to address my last comment to Mr. Hines but I see the evenings distractions resulted in the absence of an opening greetings/salutations.

As to everything else you say from

"I was just having the fun of responding to the poll by giving my own opinions."

on, I'll say Amen brother Grim.

I think I'll just call it an evening. =8^}

Texan99 said...

I didn't think for a minute that you were referring to us! Never even occurred to me.

E Hines said...

Nor was my remark anything other than poor humor, since some of us WaPo readers do listen. And comment.


Eric Hines

E Hines said...

Hmm.... Overran my character allotment, again.

Part I:

As to Grim's take at 8:07PM yesterday, here's my take.

First, in general, it's interesting to hear the Progressives decry the "disunity" in the Republican Party as the latter argues--in public, yet--over the correct path forward (albeit centered on a more conservative approach than the Left's), while the Progressives work everything out in private (which is to say, secret) and then present a monolithic view. Sort of indicates which group believes in democracy and trusts the public and which group less so.

Point by point:

1) I want government not merely to be 'efficient' or 'effective' but -- at least as importantly -- 'properly constrained.'

Absolutely. But the best way to achieve this, IMNSHO, is to keep the Federal government small. This makes it easier to keep it focused on the things we created it to do and not straying into other areas where it's simply not competent to act. As to socialist state governments, while I disagree with such a form, I do buy into the premise that state governments are closer to the people than is the Federal government, so that, if a state's citizens [sic] want such a thing, they can have it. Since states cannot close their borders--one of the things the Fed gov't was set up to prevent--those who prefer a different form of government can vote with their feet. And the failure of socialism will quickly become manifest. As California and Illinois are demonstrating today.

2) I really have no animosity at all against illegal immigrants.

Nor do I. However, I think the matter of immigration is a three-legged stool. We must be Draconian about controlling our borders and who we let in. But we must make it far easier to let immigrants in legally. Border crossing stations every mile, for instance, would be useful, and they would cut seriously into coyotes' business. Get rid of the visa quotas and delays in issuing them. We need these folks, demographically and economically. If they're willing to make the sacrifices they do (some of them literally betting everything they have and then some to get here), we need to make it easier for them to stay. We also need to do something about the currently present illegals, but I don't have a good idea here. We tried the Gordian Knot solution some years ago, and it didn't work. It is impractical to root out 11 (or 14) million people and send them home. Congressman Gutierrez (D, IL) has a good start on an idea, but it doesn't go far enough.

3) I am no friend to Wall Street at all.

"Wall Street" is simply what small businesses grow up to be, of those that wish to grow to that size at all. The problem is in the rearing, not in the result. We need a better handle on that--but more government regulation isn't the answer. Less, better targeted, is needed.

As an aside, I wonder how much of the ills of the period cited wasn't a more general carpet-bagging abuse, of which Wall Street was merely a symbol.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

Part II:

4) These [Social Security and Medicare] programs look like a death trap for America to me....

I'll add Medicaid to the list--which still is only partial (unemployment insurance is another entitlement desperately wanting reform). They need to be privatized entirely, and the upper bounds on contributions to private retirement programs (IRAs, 401(k)s, and so on) utterly eliminated. Also lose both the lower and upper bounds on contributions to HSAs. Continue the payment streams (and trying to pay for the payment streams) of SS and Medicare (and block grant Fed Medicaid to the states) for those 55 (or some such) and older, as these have been Dragooned into these programs all their lives, and it's likely too late to take them off without catastrophe. You bet "Medicare as we know it" has to change.

5) I do care about inequality, although mostly in the political sense.

The most powerful, and insidious, way to destroy equality is to force equal outcomes, thereby denying every one of us our right to our equal opportunity, our right to "show the best that is in" us.

The most effective way to fight poverty is to get the Federal government out of the way of the fight. Begin with family, then local community help, then charity and church (actually with these three not in any hard order), then state. After that, there will still be some 14, or so, people who need help. The Feds can legitimately help these--using the tools of the state and below.

Eric Hines

Cass said...

There are a number of very unpleasant realities that follow from abolishing Social Security that I don't think a lot of conservatives really want to face squarely.

Not all conservatives, but a great number of them. First and foremost among these is that if SocSec and Medicare went away entirely, our standard of living would go down considerably, the elderly would die one or two decades sooner than they presently do, and a LOT of older folks would spend their last years in penury.

I don't think any of these outcomes is a slam dunk argument against abolishing SS and Medicare, but I do think they should be openly acknowledged.

Neither my husband's nor my parents would be destitute without SS, but they'd be a lot worse off. Perhaps not unacceptably so (to them or to us). On the other hand, they'd almost certainly all be dead by now as they couldn't afford the kind of medical care they've gotten because of Medicare and Medicare Advantage. That's just a fact.

I am really not sure whether I believe these programs should be abolished. I do think that if they continue to exist, they should be a vastly reduced, true safety net.

Grim said...

Turning SS into a safety net for the genuinely impoverished elderly is workable; it's the system of general payments to everyone who reaches a certain age that can't work.

I don't know that SS, Medicare or the whole business together can really be credited with extending lifespans by 'one or two decades.' Given that they are mandatory programs that affect people who are quite well enough off that the benefits are marginal, I'd have to say that -- aside from the poverty relief aspect -- it's not clear how much of a positive effect the programs have.

As for lowering our standard of living, the opposite is surely true for most Americans. If you cut the FICA tax -- which is the other side of eliminating these programs as they exist today -- people would have a huge percentage of every paycheck restored to them. If the government wants to mandate that this "return" be invested in some way, so be it -- although I'm not sure what the constitutional authority for that would be, it's not obviously worse than mandating that I invest my money in a government program that is slated to go bankrupt before I am eligible to draw anything out of it! For Americans who will be retiring later than 2020 -- which is most Americans -- the current investment program could be renamed "The Great American Set Your Money On Fire Act."

Grim said...

Mr. Hines:

...a more general carpet-bagging abuse...

The problems of the period weren't really the abuses, but the uses. The system itself, working exactly as intended, produces misery.

Farming requires a certain amount of credit, because you get paid only after you sell the harvest but you have expenses all year (including unpredictable expenses). The Wall Street banks, which opened offices in the South following the war, were the source of credit in the postwar South; everything else had been destroyed by the war. In return for extending credit, they would ask for security: and the security they would accept was that a certain amount of your crop would be cotton, since that was the cash crop with a reliable price.

As a result, the amount of cotton produced in the South continued to rise every year; and the value of each bale continued to drop. Thus the security would not quite cover the loan, as it turned out, meaning that some debt had to roll over to next year. No problem: just grow a little more cotton next year. Etc.

What seemed like easy credit at first led to the loss of ownership of farms; free, small landowners (both black and white) ended up as tenant farmers working farms they used to own, but that were now owned by the banks; or as sharecroppers on bank-owned farms, whose reward was a fixed percentage of a crop that would be worth less every year.

That's the system working as designed. It's not an abuse; it's the problem with putting the market first, and just accepting whatever kind of society you get out of it. It's the opposite of the Jeffersonian approach, where you think about the kind of society you want first -- a free society of independent citizens under no one's thumb, say -- and do what it takes to make that society obtainable.

Grim said...

I say that's use and not abuse, by the way, because the banker was doing just what he was supposed to do: he was increasing the value of his stock. The bank went from making a small profit on farm loans in the first year, to within a few years taking ownership of the farm; and rather cleverly only accepting actual cash in payment when the farmer owned the land, but paying out only "percentages of the profit" once the land transferred to them.

The banks got rich doing this, which is just what investment banks are supposed to do. They structured legal agreements to protect their shareholders' values, which is their job. Everything was done properly, according to how the system is supposed to work -- and it reliably produced wealth for the banks, and misery for the people.

That's a reality about the Wall Street model we have to keep in mind. It serves a useful function within the market, but it can't be allowed to become an end in itself. The end of our society isn't profit, but the protection of human liberty.

bthun said...

Ah! Well it is a relief to know that my comments of late, delivered hastily between honey-do tasks, did not come across as trying to tie either Mr. Hines or Tex into the same category as the folks commenting at the WaPo/Luntz article.

If I can get my tiller reassembled and the plowing of our vegetable garden completed shortly, I'll take a bit of time and a few beers for inspiration (and strength! Salute Lex!) to try to piece together some carefully considered thoughts on items 1-5. If for no other reason than to further gum up the conservative stereotype.