How to Win Friends and Influence Voters

Our goal should be bringing change to the individual minds of normal people.

There is a grave danger for American democracy that the two parties not only can't agree, they can't even discuss.

Left and right live in their little ghettos of the mind, unwilling to listen to anything that doesn't reinforce their own views. If you only hear what your opponents are thinking through the warp of second-hand caricatures, then there is no chance of understanding their point of view.

Thinking gets trapped within a very narrow box - one that often bears little relation to problems in the real world. 

 - BBC News

This is certainly not true for your humble correspondent, who makes it a point to seek out the most extreme of far-left writers and viewpoints, the better to understand and dismantle them.  From time to time, they even make an odd sort of sense, which usually leads to a thought-provoking article in Scragged.

A great many people disagree: this Pew survey shows that a majority of Americans believe the Internet is driving political polarization as individuals seek out views that agree with the ones they already have and seek protection from ideas with which they disagree.  On the surface, this looks true: studies have shown that political bloggers on both sides generally link only to other blogs and sources with similar views.

Not being a blog, this isn't true of Scragged, but since we routinely reference mainstream news sources which are almost exclusively liberal, it may not mean much. After all, nobody would take us seriously if we only linked to Fox News!

What journalists and bloggers do isn't always true of normal people.  No doubt to the surprise of liberal researchers, studies suggest that people who frequently read websites they agree with also visit other websites that they don't.

For ordinary non-news-junkies who just spend a few minutes a day on current events, it seems reasonable that they'd pick a source that doesn't spit in their eye every time.  Who can afford to be throwing shoes at the TV every night?

Which raises a question: If most normal people don't tend to stray from their political views, and if, in this democracy, we need a majority, how are we going to persuade liberals away from the leftist party line promulgated by the mainstream media?

Flies, Honey, and Vinegar

If you strongly believe in something, it's human nature to defend it against attack.  In fact, one of the reasons we have no confidence in conservative leadership is that most of them don't fight for what they say they believe in.  How many times have we seen a Republican politician say something which is objectively true, only to walk it back when the media accuses him of racism/sexism/whateverism?

That's key to the appeal of Donald Trump: when pilloried for his political incorrectness, instead of pusillanimously apologizing he doubles down and condemns the questioner for bias.  We want a fighter as a leader.  We all want to be like our leaders, don't we?  So that means we need to fight!

Well... not so fast.  The left has tried this approach and it doesn't work as well as you'd think.  How much popular support was given to the filthy, stinky, obnoxious hippies, or their grandchildren the Occupy protesters?  The full-throated enthusiasm of the mainstream media wasn't enough to keep them in kibble.

How about Obama's efforts to have his minions argue about Obamacare with their relatives over Thanksgiving dinner?  This idea got the ridicule it deserved, as did a later similar attempt derisively known as "Pajama Boy."

It's not unheard of for overly-aggressive attempts at political armtwisting to backfire.  We simply must repeat one of the most hilarious stories of Election 2004:

Europeans viewed George W. Bush much as they and the Democrats do today: as a warmongering criminal.  When presented with the prospect of replacing him with an urbane, cosmopolitan, socialist elitist, their enthusiasm knew no bounds.  Alas, that the American hicks might not understand the transcendent virtues of John Forbes Kerry!

Lest this sad deficiency in the American electorate go unaddressed, the British Manchester Guardian newspaper swung into action with "Operation Clark County."  Clark County, Ohio, was one of the counties that Gore had won by a whisker in 2000; the plan was for British readers of the Guardian to post personal letters to Clark County voters (addresses thoughtfully provided on the Guardian website) extolling the virtues of their chosen candidate, in hopes of giving Kerry enough margin to carry the state.  More than 11,000 did.

In the fullness of time, the responses came wending their way back across the pond.  Slate's Andy Bowers reports what happened next:

Americans who had heard about the project (most of them not from Clark County) fired letters back at the Guardian. A few were appreciative. Many more were vicious. The paper printed some of them under the headline "Dear Limey A**holes."

The answers were scatological, medical, orthodonic, historical, surgical, genealogical, sexual, ethnological, and on and on in that infinite variety of base profundity at which Americans excel.  Suffice it to say that middle Americans do not care to be told what they ought to think by their own elites; when the losers of the American Revolution presume to do the same, the results were explosive.  The final 2004 election results showed that

Kerry won every Gore county in Ohio except Clark. He even increased Gore's winning margin in 12 of the 16. Nowhere among the Gore counties did more votes move from the blue to the red column than in Clark.

So, if we can't catch flies with vinegar, what do we use for honey?  Actually, there are a great many positive, common-ground aspects of conservative positions; they're just rarely expressed in public.

What could be more American, or more common-sensical, than the idea that everybody has the right to believe as they wish, to practice how they please, to associate or not associate with whoever they prefer to?  Yet that's illegal and getting more so, thanks to big-government leftism.

How many Americans would openly oppose the idea that we need to take care of Americans first with our money?  In fact, the Left uses this argument all the time in proposing military spending cuts.  Why won't it work just as well against illegal immigration, immigration in general, or foreign aid?

For pacifists who hate the military, well, they're probably already horrified by the various spying programs that track every American.  Surely we can find grounds for agreement that this needs to stop?

The point is, when people think you're a crazy political nut, they aren't going to listen to your argument.  When, instead, you can chat pleasantly about things you agree on, and even fume collectively about issues you both dislike, you may just be able to, ever so slowly, move them a few steps further in the direction of liberty and enlightenment.

It doesn't happen overnight.  It's not possible to "Hannitize" somebody instantly, and not at all if they aren't halfway there already.

But we don't need a nation of Rush Limbaugh clones.  After all, even with the Cuba embargo ending, where would we ever find enough cigars?  Simply moving almost everybody two steps to the right, from wherever they are right now, would make the difference.

There's a time to fight, and we need leaders who are willing to fight.  But when it comes to actual personal relationships between two ordinary citizens, a fight is not the way to win - whether it be in person, online, or round the Thanksgiving table.  You may win the fight, but you'll almost certainly lose the war for hearts and minds, which is what's really important.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...