Mom & Dad: Embrace the Gray

I was a small child when Bill Clinton was POTUS, so I remember next to nothing about either his election or re-election campaigns. But by the time Bush Jr’s re-election came around, I was old enough to follow it. What I remember most vividly was the vitriol flung against the President by those sour-faced Democrats. My parents were very disapproving.

“You may not like the man’s policies, but you have to respect the office.”

And I felt like my family actually believed that sentiment…until Obama ran for office. The Republicans quickly proved they could be just as nasty and launch just as many personal attacks as their “opposites”. When Obama won, things got even worse. People started to question the President’s citizenship, accused him of being a “sleeper agent”, called him a Communist. All this hatred- at least as much as President Bush received- got no condemnation from my Right-Wing relatives. The fact that Obama was a bad leader (in their eyes) meant that he deserved every bit of anger directed towards him.

The double-standard is, of course, a well-established fact of political life. When the enemy starts slinging shit, it’s something to get riled up about. When your own team does it? Well that’s just leveling the playing field.

All I remember from the time of President Clinton’s impeachment was how very angry the whole situation made my mother.

“This is the leader of the free world and he lied to all of us in a court of law.”

Looking back on it, that seems rather silly to me now. I’ve come to expect any elected official to lie to me constantly. But I can see how the pettiness and selfishness of that lie could have soured my parents on an otherwise fine and effective leader. What I can’t see, is where their outrage went when Mitt Romney started lying on official government documents before he even had a chance to win the White House.

Just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock or avoiding any news critical of the Republican frontrunner, here’s a summary of the whole mess: Mitt Romney claimed on an SEC filing that he had entirely severed his relationship with Bain Capital by 1999. This was contradicted by the fact that Romney remained the CEO and sole stockholder until 2002. And the fact that he personally signed documents relating to at least one acquisition- a company named Stericycle.

So what does this mean? Either Mitt lied to his stockholders, who presumably felt comforted to know his name and attention were attached to business deals representing so much of their money…or he lied to the SEC. The former lie makes him a bad businessman, and liable for civil damages. The latter lie would make him a felon. Lying on an SEC form is the same as lying on any government form or in court.

And yet, I see no outrage from the conservatives in my life. My dad even tried to deflect this issue by bringing up Obama’s college records and intimating that, if Obama wants more transparency from his opponent than he should be more transparent. Which ignores the fact that Obama’s college records aren’t required to be released and that withholding them isn’t the same as lying on a government document.

Orwell had a wonderful word for this: doublethink. It’s the only way to keep two conflicting ideas- or two conflicting sources of rage, squared simultaneously in your head. Thus, John Kerry’s wealth made him out of touch while Romney’s fortune is just proof of his business acumen. George Bush didn’t need congressional approval to invade and occupy two nations but when Obama sends troops into Libya on his own it’s time to get pissed off. Eurasia has always been at war with Eastasia, and the Constitution is our most important document until a sitting Republican gets spooked by terrorists.

Can We Call Our Conservatives on Their Double Standards?

So here’s the sober, agonizing, God’s-honest truth: every single one of us is guilty of hypocrisy. Right this second you have beliefs that conflict with reality, and probably several of your other beliefs. That is part of being human. Our minds are gigantic, labyrinthine constructs and so very much of their thinking is localized to specific moments. We’ve all “voted for the war, before we voted against it”.

The key- the bit that is 100% critical to our success as a nation and continued survival as a people- is that we can never buy all the way into our own bullshit. And if you were to take your most ardent conservative kin aside, one on one, and make a statement to that effect, they’d probably agree with you. Only delusional narcissists believe they are always right. And delusional narcissism is a disorder that effects people on both sides of the political spectrum.

So why does arguing with conservatives feel so damned pointless? Why do they laugh in the face of hard evidence, stacks of data, preposterous contradictions? Because they are human beings, and that’s just what we do. Backing me up in this is my good friend, Science.

David Gal and Derek Rucker conducted three experiments involving pet, dietary and technology preferences among their subjects. They found that the best way to strengthen someone’s belief in something was to challenge it. When you hobble a person’s confidence in something they care about, their natural reaction is to defend that thing with more vigor than ever before. It isn’t sheer cussedness, but a natural human defensive reaction.

So on one hand, every Facebook screed and email rant from your conservative loved ones is really just a beautiful monument to the ineffable Lady Doubt. And on the other hand, the same is true for you and me. This blog, the Huffington Post, National Review, your Twitter feed- they’re all symbols of the inherent insecurity that comes from being intelligent enough to see your own living contradictions.

If there is only one point I can impress upon you with today’s column, let it be this. The greatest sin we need to fight against in our political system has nothing to do with the beliefs of either side. It has everything to do with the denial of doubt. When I first rebelled against the beliefs of my parents it was because I felt sickened at the certainty they displayed towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the right way to fix the economy, the proper way to deal with social unrest. When the people you respect are constantly on the wrong end of issues they claim are black and white, it makes the whole world look gray.

Once upon a time I was angry at my parents for that. But now I’m grateful. I only hope that one day I can help them embrace the gray.

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4 Responses to Mom & Dad: Embrace the Gray

  1. Impybat says:

    I think we have the same parents.

  2. Dirty Dan says:

    I was really happy when I saw this today.Great entry

  3. Jerkface says:

    Brilliant post. Like you, I am a liberal in a long line of conservative stock and I often find myself arguing with my family, my in-laws, my friends, and so forth. However, rather than try to convince them that I’m right, I have found more success and more fun in simply convincing them that they might be wrong.

  4. greybuscat says:

    I never read this last one, which logically leads me to believe that you stopped writing these because I stopped reading them. I’m sorry, man, I really am. Please don’t quit. The world has so few advocates for sanity and rational discourse.

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