I was in a meeting recently trying to resolve a dispute. It’s typical in these meetings for all parties to make their points using every manner of explanation and rationalization possible. At one point, one party began discussing the demographics of the area and used the electoral map of 2004 to make their point. This got under my skin a bit as it was completely irrelevant to the issue we were mediating and made several assumptions about people who voted a certain way in the election (Kerry v Bush). I questioned their connection of these particular dots and made a few remarks about the most unpopular president in the history of our nation. “Who knew John was such a Democrat?” said one gentleman. “I know, and he was a helicopter pilot too,” said another.
Ever since that meeting I’ve been troubled by this encounter. First of all I shouldn’t have let the fact that he was using the voting patterns of certain groups to prove a point bother me. But more importantly, how does my being a helicopter pilot have any indication on how I might vote politically? How did we get to be such a stereotyping society and perhaps more importantly, why is it so often accurate?
If you’re a Republican, you watch Fox News. You belong to the NRA, are opposed to gay marriage and abortion rights, believe that Climate Change is a hoax, think Reagan was our greatest president and that Obama is a Muslim, love Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. You believe in the death penalty, the War on Terror, that water boarding isn’t torture, that wiretapping Americans without a warrant is not a violation of the law, and support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. You believe Democrats will raise your taxes, try and take away your guns, and are soft on crime and terrorism. You are most likely a Christian.
If you’re a Democrat, you watch MSNBC. You support gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose, believe the government has a role in helping the poor and the sick, believe Climate Change is real and support environmental protections. You believe we should help the polar bears, that the death penalty is murder and doesn’t work as a deterrent. You believe the Bush Administration should be charged with crimes committed prosecuting the War on Terror and that the Iraq war was based on lies. You believe Republicans are only concerned with helping their wealthy cronies and that their only solution to every problem is more tax cuts. You may be associated with a religion but are likely not practicing, and may be an atheist, or at least agnostic.
As you read these stereotypical definitions of Americans in 2010, do you find yourself fitting neatly into one of these buckets? Is it really possible that individual human beings can wear these labels and that they came to all these identical positions on their own? It appears staggeringly against the odds.
Can a person support the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution while voting for a Democrat? Can someone believe Climate Change is real and that man’s activities are making matters worse, yet also be opposed to gay marriage but support abortion rights? How are these things mutually interconnected? It would appear that they are not, and that we are allowing ourselves to be influenced by something other than the actual issues.
Perhaps it’s time for each of us to remove these convenient labels that have been prepared for us. Perhaps we should think independently and not be afraid to have varying nuanced positions. Perhaps this could have a real impact on the polarized nature of our politics. Perhaps.