August 07, 2004

Dialoguing with Republicans

Frustrated by the seeming obstinacy of my otherwise clear-thinking Republican friends, I have set out to engage them in dialogue. Perhaps if I can understand why they continue to support the Party responsible for the many serious flaws in our government, I can learn how to influence their vote in November. Wish me luck. I share with you their arguments in an on-going attempt to listen to what motivates their vote and to gather counter-arguments from you. This latter I will hopefully turn into cogent, irrefutable logic, to awaken the sleeping liberal at the heart of people everywhere. :-)

Here are some arguments I have heard people give for voting Republican. Please respond with facts and counter-arguments, to each point mentioned below, and bring up new points that you hear other Republicans make. I will compile the growing list and place a link to it so we can keep the dialog alive.

A) Environment: In response to talk about clean air and clean water, global warming, over-logging, strip mining Ö
1) ďNature will heal whatever damage is done. Itís inconceivable that Nature will ever stop supporting human life. It always has and always will.Ē
2) We need to strike a balance between the needs of people and that of the environment. The sacrifice of a species here and there (like the spotted owl) is worth it to maintain jobs, etc. The environmentalists need to compromise.
3) The Alaska Pipeline is a good example of how progress and nature can mix well. The animals can travel under the pipeline, no habitat was damaged. Likewise, drilling in the Arctic Wilderness will have a minimal impact on the environment.

B) Media Bias:
1) The mainstream media has a liberal bias, everyone knows that.

C) Capital Punishment:
1) Itís better to kill dangerous criminals than to pay to keep them locked up for a lifetime.
2) Of course, I donít want innocent people to die, but that doesnít happen anymore.

D) Health Care:
1) Other developed countries have comprehensive universal coverage, but they pay 70% in income taxes (which is an abomination to me).
2) But the U.S. has much better quality of health care, as evidenced by all the Canadians who are disgruntled with not being able to get care in Canada and come over the border for operations in the U.S. 3) The pharmaceutical companies deserve the money they charge for drugs because of all the money they have to spend on research. They also donít get the same patent protections that non-drug patents afford.

E) Politics:
1) Both sides are equally corrupt, they both break promises, so you canít trust any of them. Iíll keep voting R.
2) Iím an independent, I make up my mind in the booth (right!).
3) My vote doesnít count, or my vote just cancels Auntie Maeís.

I've just scratched the surface. Please add your categories, questions and responses. Thanks in advance!

Posted by Norman at August 7, 2004 10:31 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |
Comments

1) Itís better to kill dangerous criminals than to pay to keep them locked up for a lifetime.

a) An execution costs several times as much as life imprisonment - the magrinal cost of a single execution is in the 2-3 million range, whereas 40 years in prison cost only 1 million. In California, Gray Davis spent 220 million on upgrading death row, in a state where on average there is one execution every year (i.e. 22 million per execution over 10 years).

b) The death penalty correlates with more murders, not fewer. The brutalization effect outweighs deterrence, as seen in studies of crime immediately following an execution, and as seen in comparisons between states that are very similar except that one has the death penalty and the other does not (the best example is Massachusetts vs. Connecticut - CT's murder rate is higher than MA's although MA has a big urban center whereas CT does not).


2) But the U.S. has much better quality of health care, as evidenced by all the Canadians who are disgruntled with not being able to get care in Canada and come over the border for operations in the U.S.

The evidence with Canadians is anecdotal. In reality, the countries with the best health care in the world are Sweden and France, and Canada is a lot better than the USA. When Canadians come to the USA, it's because they need rare, complicated operations that Canadian health care doesn't have, but then again some rich Americans go to Switzerland for the same reason.


1) Both sides are equally corrupt, they both break promises, so you canít trust any of them. Iíll keep voting R.

If both sides are corrupt, then what's the point of voting? It's a waste of time to vote, and registered people run the risk of getting jury duty, which is an even bigger waste of time. If you vote then you need a better excuse than "Both sides are equally corrupt but I'm used to voting GOP."


3) The Alaska Pipeline is a good example of how progress and nature can mix well. The animals can travel under the pipeline, no habitat was damaged. Likewise, drilling in the Arctic Wilderness will have a minimal impact on the environment.

On the contrary, drilling in ANWR is likely to cause the entire ecosystem of the region to collapse. This means not just extinctions, but also adverse effects on the people who live in northern Alaska. All this is while by the time production will enable the USA to be energy independent, the terrorist threat will have subsided, especially if American foreign policy becomes more sensible.

Posted by: Joe Taylor at August 7, 2004 10:55 PM

(A.1) Sure, nature will heal all sorts of damage, but nature tends to
right imbalances with processes like mass extinction. As humans, we
have to believe that we can use our intellect to anticipate these
"market corrections", and find less violent alternatives.

(B.1) You want left-leaning bias? Take a look at the blogosphere. ;)
Seriously: (1) Find an example of "nonpartisan" coverage without
referencing Fox news; and (2) Find an example of "liberal bias"
in the NY Times' news coverage -- not its editorial page. Remember
that the editorial and news sections are remarkably separate in our
major papers.

(C.2) See recent DNA testing errors in Houston. The problem is that
the death penalty is hard to undo -- what probability of wrongful
conviction would you be willing to accept? (note RE C.1: I would
personally choose death over life in prison, as I believe a life of
hard time has negative value, but I believe that it should be the
convict's choice.)

(E.1) First, even if politicians are corrupt regularly and dishonest,
what they say does matter in the sense that they have to expend time
and money to spin the media into ignoring their lies. Given that a
politician has a limited supply of political capital, you should vote
for the one whose stated goals more closely match your interests even
if he will lie, because his deviation from these interests will cost
him more. Second, even if there is only a rhetorical difference
between the two sides, their rhetoric will affect what gets covered in
the news, what people talk about around the dinner table, what they
think about, and ultimately what becomes a national priority. For
example, Howard Dean's primary run was significant even if he lost,
and even if he were lying about everything he said on the stump,
because he brought the issue of local political involvement into the
national dialogue, and even got a few people to run for local office.

(E.3) If you don't live in a swing state, you may be right -- the odds
of your non-voting affecting the results in e.g. California are
vanishingly small. Ask yourself if the expected harm of a Bush
victory, multiplied by this probability, is greater than the harm to
you of taking an hour out of your banal corporate existence to go vote.

Posted by: sean at August 7, 2004 11:09 PM

Don't assume that all people are willing to engage in and respond to a dialectical pursuit of truth. I'm finding that several right-wing adherents I correspond with are exhibiting a more faith-based, a priori mental activity these days, and are utterly immune to a logical conversion of their position. The pattern seems to be: 1) I believe proposition x; 2) you purport to show me evidence disputing proposition x; 3) this evidence contradicts what I know of proposition x; 4) I therefore know you are fabricating or distorting what you are showing me.

Everybody reverts to empirical learning when adverse results become overwhelmingly painful, but I fear that the susceptibility of many in our less-well-educated culture to cognitive dissonance has placed the pain threshhold dangerously high.

This being said, there are still many who think in a more logical fashion, and who are able to change their minds. It's just that I've never seen so much of the a priori camp in our nation in my nearly fifty years, and it worries me.

Posted by: Patrick at August 8, 2004 06:44 AM

I ran across a brief passage in Clinton's memoirs, where he decries "southern conservatism" and its dark side. (I can't find the passage to quote it now, of course) What I remember is the the insight that southern conservatism spins out a narrative in which white men are never at fault for anything in the society or the world.

Kerry critizes Bush's policies, or points to their disastrous consequences, and Kerry is a "pessimist." It is only going to get worse, after Kerry is elected. Kerry will be blamed for every problem, which Bush created, which Kerry will try to address responsibly.

The American failure in Iraq will be laid at Kerry's feet. The whole Bush policy in Iraq, at this point, appears to be aimed at delaying the final debacle to after January 20.

I have just watched George S. on ABC ask a Democratic General, representing Kerry, why Kerry doesn't come out with a detailed plan for Iraq. In the conservative narrative, it is Kerry, who doesn't have a plan! (Hello? What's Bush's plan?) The unspoken implication is that Kerry is taking advantage of Bush, who is faced with a very difficult problem, for which there may not be a good solution.

The Democrat largely falls for this tactic, because the Democrat is earnest and open to factual evidence and logical analysis. And, consequently, the Democrat is squirming, as a variety of undesirable alternatives are considered -- withdrawal, followed by chaos; additional U.S. troops; etc. All of these bad feelings are associated with the Democrat for bringing up reality.

Tommy Franks, the Republican spokesman for Bush, and one of the people responsible for the decision to commit too few troops to secure Iraq, in the first place, gets away with repeating nonsense like, "the choice is between fighting them (sic) over there or fighting them over there."

My recommendation is not to try to persuade likely conservative voters to share your point of view or assessment of reality. Such a course is futile. If these people were open to logical argument, they probably would not be conservative voters in the first place. The Republican Party circa 2004 is a coalition of the greedy rich with the stupid or ignorant. If you are talking to one of the greedy rich, their interest governs; if you are talking to the stupid and ignorant, your only real hope is to discourage them from voting.

My recommendation: helpfully, get them an absentee ballot, then offer to mail it for them. (After that, you will know what to do.)

Posted by: Brian Wilder at August 8, 2004 09:15 AM

Standing by the administration on whose watch the Geneva Conventions were broken is criminal.

A vote for Bush is a vote for not doing anything about tortures, rapes and murders committed in prisons that were under our control. This will cause more long-term damage than any other thing. At the moment, most of the world still separates the people of the US from the administration, much like the Iraquis were seen as separate from Saddam.

If the country gives Bush the vote, the people become guilty -- and really, if you want to vote for torture, you go right ahead.

This speech usually makes people back up a step and say "I didn't say I was going to vote for him!"

Posted by: Scorpio at August 8, 2004 09:33 AM

If these people were open to logical argument, they probably would not be conservative voters in the first place.

It's sort of ironic that this comes right after Patrick's complaint about closed-mindedness. About the worst way to promote political discourse is to assume that everybody who opposes you is stupid and/or ignorant.

Ask yourself if the expected harm of a Bush
victory, multiplied by this probability, is greater than the harm to
you of taking an hour out of your banal corporate existence to go vote.

Suppose you live in a state that's expected to go to Kerry by a margin of 12% with a margin of error of 3%. That's 8 standard deviations. I checked on MSExcel; the probability of deviating 8 s.d. from the expected value is 10 to the power of -15 - in other words, if there's an election every second, then your vote will make a difference once every 30 million years on average.

Posted by: Joe Taylor at August 8, 2004 10:50 AM

Correction to the above: every 30 million years in my exampel the said state will go to Bush. There's no guarantee it'll go by a margin of 1 vote. Even if you're part of a block of 3% of the voters that votes the same way, then voting will make a difference one time out of a billion (i.e. at the current rate of elections, your group will make a difference once every 4 billion years).

Posted by: Joe Taylor at August 8, 2004 10:53 AM

A1.

It is true that nature can heal itself much in the same way the body can heal itself. Nature, like the human body, is a complex self-repairing system. It is not, however, infinite in capacity and that is the crux of the argument for sustainability.

There are two important things to consider here. The amount of repair that nature can do in a period of time and the cumulative effects of some poisons.

Our bodies can repair minor damage (cuts, infections, viruses, breaks etc) as long as the ability to self-repair is not overwhelmed. We may succumb to a pneumonia because of an immune system impaired by another illness or we can sustain numerous internal injuries over a period of years but may die if they happen simultaneously. We may walk away from a single blow by a thug in an alley but spend a week in intensive care if we received 10 such blow in a night. The rate of repair is not infinite - it takes time to heal.

Today, the rate of species extinction is greater than the rate when the dinosaurs became extinct. Today, 90% of the ocean's large fish are gone. Today, the rate at which we add greenhouse gasses to the environment exceeds the ability of the natural carbon sinks to absorb it and the earth is warming faster than at any time in the last couple hundred thousand years.

Some environmental hurts cannot be healed. Like smoking or long term exposure to other carcinogens, some effects are cumulative. Each exposure or each exhaust of pollutants may not be catastrophic in itself but will cause catastrophic results over time. The acummulation of DDT, dioxins, heavy metals etc. in the food chain concentrate in higher preditors - already many large preditors (whales, tuna, raptors) have concentrations of poisons in their bodies that make them unsafe to eat.

So, yes, nature can heal itself. But, we can easily overwhelm natures ability to self-repair. In fact, we have been doing this for decades already.

E1.

Yes, both sides break promises and they will keep doing so until we hold them to account. Your vote is one tool you can use.

If you think the current administration has made errors then stop the partisan vote pattern and take a close look at the issues.

Where do you stand? Where does the candidate stand. If you take a critical honest look at the current administration's performance and still want to vote R, great. All we're asking is for some honest, open, rhetoric free discussion of issues that are vitally important to this country.

That's all I have time for right now but I've bookmarked this post. It's a brilliant idea. One I might borrow.

Posted by: KevinG at August 8, 2004 12:01 PM


Don't commit the mistake you are condemning by assuming that liberals are right about everything. Conservatives have lots of good points, even if liberal arguments on those points do ultimately turn out to be stronger.

Don't forget:

(I) Conservatives have been more likely to stress the importance of self-reliance and the deleterious effects of the welfare state. Even if they are wrong about many particulars here, liberals seem to underestimate those effects.

(II) The *in principle* arguments against the death penalty are extremely weak, probably weaker than the *in principle* arguments in favor of it. The strong anti-death penalty case is the *in practice* case stressing flaws in the current legal system.

(III) Conservatives have a good point that there are reasons to fear big govenment. Maybe not the reasons they usually give, but there ARE reasons. For one thing, sometimes conservatives take control of the government...

It's silly to pretend that they're all silly over on the other side. In all likelihood, they're right and we're wrong about lots of things. The trick is to figure out which things...

Posted by: Winston Smith at August 8, 2004 02:10 PM

Joe --

I'm not actually sure what conclusion I hoped people would draw from what I said above. As a (temporary) Californian and a Democrat, I happen to believe that my vote doesn't matter, but only so long as the same portion of Democrats as Republicans believe theirs _does_ count. So I have some obligation to vote simply because doing so conveys the impression that it matters, keeping enough people at the polls to make sure CA stays in the "D" column.

To do something that actually matters, I need to (1) influence the few hundreds of thousands of swing voters in swing states that actually decide our elections, and (2) try to get proportional representation on the ballot. But since both of thse things are hard, I'll just pretend voting matters... ;)

Posted by: sean at August 8, 2004 02:24 PM

Wow, outstanding response! Where can I publish these ideas and their responses, in a moderated form, so people can add to and comment on them as they grow and mature?

Another whole category or R responses are of the vein: "Kerry didn't really win his purple hearts and silver stars" or in defense of Bush "the president doesn't really have much power, it's the Congress that appropriates money, declares war, etc."

Posted by: Norman at August 8, 2004 11:33 PM

The only good thing about you liberals is that eventually you will abort yourselves into extinction. That's why we're finding an upsurge in young Republican registration. The Dem's have murdered their constituency in the womb.

Posted by: Wonderboy at August 9, 2004 10:16 AM

A1 ďNature will heal whatever damage is done. Itís inconceivable that Nature will ever stop supporting human life. It always has and always will.Ē

One of the worst things about that argument as presented is the 'always has and always will' statement. The earth has not always been amenable to human life. It certainly didn't start that way, and it's gone through periods where it wasn't even amenable to multicellular ocean life.

The biosphere as it exists today, with breathable air, moderate temperatures, and food to eat, is the result of a living system. This planet used to be pretty much like Venus, except for the big water oceans, with an atmosphere that was mostly CO2. CO2 being very heavy, and transparent to solar radiation, the earth's surface was under a great deal of pressure and continually irradiated.

The onset of photosynthesis in single-celled organisms produced an atmosphere containing lighter oxygen gas and inert, flame-retardant nitrogen gas. Produced. After enough atmospheric oxygen converted to radiation-blocking ozone, life on land became possible, and land plants accelerated the photosynthetic process that maintains our atmosphere.

Our soil, as I mentioned in a previous post on agriculture, is similarly alive. An accumulation of decayed organics and the byproducts of a multitude of microorganisms, not just powdered rock and silica. It takes a long time to accumulate productive soil, much less than to strip it bare to be blown or washed away.

The plants and animals we live with and depend on are valuable to us in more indirect ways than we know. They depend on each other so much that the death of one species can topple an entire food chain. A major problem at present is that our practices are killing fungal, microbial, and ocean-living species of life that are generally invisible to us but have a major impact on our food supply and quality of life.

So in summary, this is the important thing to understand about our biosphere: It is both a living process and the result of billions of years of activity by countless living organisms. It took billions of years to build our atmosphere, our soil, the ecologies that provide us with water filtration, and to evolve plants and animals sufficient to feed us.

The biosphere did not fall out of the sky, it is not the exclusive product of the mineral makeup of the planet. The amount of time it has been habitable for complex land animals is a small fraction of that, and the amount of time it has been habitable for humans is a mere eyeblink. It is the most valuable possession of our species, and in contrast to mere minerals, exists nowhere else in our solar system. Like everything valuable, it can be destroyed much faster than it can be replaced.

Wonderboy - The only good thing about you conservatives is that you never come up with anything new to say. Gives us a good while to come up with a response. Are you tired of posting that same comment yet, or will you come up with something else?

Posted by: natasha at August 9, 2004 03:47 PM

from a PhD candidate in biochemistry who had an entire hour's lecture on the subject from the university's R&D guy:


about patent protection: the drug companies get the same patent protection as other non-drug patents. that means 16 years after the filing of the patent to sell the product. the only difference is that drug companies file their patents before they start FDA trials, which can take up to 10 years to pass.

the bottom line is that the patent protections are the same, we just don't let the drug companies sell their product until they've proven them safe and effective.

Posted by: biochem ben at August 9, 2004 04:11 PM

Norman --

You might try putting them up in a diary at Kos. Yeah, it's not exactly "moderate", but there are at least some moderates there, as well as people who know them. Tragically, this "interweb" thing doesn't seem too conducive to either moderate or ideologically diverse discussion forums.

Posted by: sean at August 10, 2004 07:58 AM

biochem ben - They can also discover a new use for their drug, and extend the patent as if new, post-approval.

Posted by: natasha at August 10, 2004 12:02 PM

3) "Likewise, drilling in the Arctic Wilderness will have a minimal impact on the environment."

The question is wrong: you can argue about the environemntal impact of oil production in ANWR, but the reality is that there is no net benefit: ANWR will have no meaningful impact on America's dependence on imported oil.

[Numbers below are from Figures 3 and 5 in this DOE report.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/aong/pdf/sroiaf(2002)02.pdf]

In the Best Case (5% probability), at the highest prices (where more oil is recoverable), ANWR will only reduce our imports in the year 2020 from 62% to 52%. The most likely case shows only a 5% decrease, from 62% to 57%.

How does even a drop from 62-52% make us safer, make us less reliant on Middle East Oil? Should we risk environmental damage for this. Even when it has been shown that we can get this same reduction from implementation of greener technology, e.g. hybrid cars?

Likewise, ANWR oil production will have no impact on world oil prices nor on US electricity prices.

There is no bang for this buck.

Posted by: T Agosti at August 10, 2004 03:16 PM

I want to take issue with something Patrick wrote:

"Don't assume that all people are willing to engage in and respond to a dialectical pursuit of truth. I'm finding that several right-wing adherents I correspond with are exhibiting a more faith-based, a priori mental activity these days, and are utterly immune to a logical conversion of their position. "

Right wing and faith-based are not neccessarily the same; although the Religious Right would have you believe that all "Christians" agree. I fact, most of the leaders (educated people and very soundly theologically educated) are strongly opposing and disgusted with the Bush administration, myself included (see my blog, http://theoblogical.org for an example. I just can't stop ranting on about how thouroughly deceptive and destructive these leaders of this administration are. And Karl Rove is almost a carbon copy of a personality type of a guy who was largely responsible for turning Southern Baptists as a denomination into thouroughly Republican idealogues; a guy who will use practially ANY tactic in iorder to win power.

No, the disease of "brainlock" and complete gullibility in their trust of corrupt leaders is not a faith-based one, but I think it is something to do with a desire to be right.

Dale Lature

Posted by: Dale Lature at August 10, 2004 06:27 PM

Dale, Please let me clarify and apologize if I have given offense: when I characterize certain thought patterns as faith-based, I am in no way discussing the spiritual realm. I intended to comment on the material realm, on the way many people now have substituted an a priori stance for an empirical one in their evaluation of day-to-day reality. I was insufficiently clear in my original posting.

I do not impugn religious belief. I am in fact yearning for the time when that organism in our country called the Church of Christ will return to the teachings of their originator, teachings which include compassion, inclusion, forgiveness, and mercy, but which notably do not include telling others (non-believers) what they must do. I am not a good Christian; I in fact first identify myself as a Buddhist...but I miss Christians. Most of those I see now who call themselves by that name are nothing I can recognize, even after four years (and all of a religion minor but the Greek) at a Presbyterian Bible College.

Thank you for alerting me to the ambiguity in my earlier posting.

Posted by: Patrick at August 10, 2004 07:47 PM