The Motivational Reasoning That is Killing Our Democracy

Who stands to gain from the public’s fear and hate-based myopia in U.S. political affairs?

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My friend Chuq over at In Saner Thought raised a topic recently that will be in play this election year, perhaps more so than in previous elections.  Pure, unadulterated hate for Obama and his signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, (aka Obamacare) will be the primary motivation to vote Republican for about a third of likely voters in 2014.  A hate that is managed and funded by wealthy special interests through misinformation and cultural intolerances.

What tends to get lost with this kind of motivation is a candidate’s qualifications and any real effective policies necessary to address the serious issues we face in the next decade or throughout this century for that matter.

This “motivated reasoning” has been studied by Geoffrey Cohen, a professor of psychology at Stanford.

[Cohen] has shown how motivated reasoning can drive even the opinions of engaged partisans. In 2003, when he was an assistant professor at Yale, Cohen asked a group of undergraduates, who had previously described their political views as either very liberal or very conservative, to participate in a test to study, they were told, their “memory of everyday current events.”

The results showed that, “for both liberal and conservative participants, the effect of reference group information overrode that of policy content. If their party endorsed it, liberals supported even a harsh welfare program, and conservatives supported even a lavish one.”   SOURCE

partisanship  It seems that no matter how much the issue of partisanship is discussed and its paralyzing effects on our ability to govern as a republic, little has actually changed to rid us of this epidemic.  Without rational give and take in political discourse and acceptance of the need to compromise, our government at the national level at least can be held hostage by extremists thanks to archaic practices institutionalized in both the House and Senate.

This happens often and early, developing partisan loyalties at the grass-roots levels.  Finding viable candidates is becoming more difficult because many do not want to get into the grimy trenches of political warfare where discussion of sensible polices is displaced by character assassination.  What the electorate too often wounds up with then are poorly qualified people but who seem to have a knack and a certain fondness for disparaging their opponents.  Their lack of any in-depth knowledge about critical issues becomes apparent in some of the earliest debates or news interviews.  Who can forget how Sarah Palin wilted  when Katie Couric challenged her sources of information regarding McCain’s stand on fighting Wall Street?

The art of skillfully negotiating with political opponents in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress has disappeared and what we wound up with too often is an in-your-face, my way or the highway Republican Party and a wishy-washy Democratic Party that lacks the courage to fight the status quo.
Voters who allow themselves to get caught up in this political miasma are usually the first to scream about the ineffectiveness and corruption going on in politics without realizing that their ideological choices have created this monster.  They vote for candidates based on the shallowest of reasons.  Is he or she a Christian?  Are they wearing a flag lapel pin?  Are they appealing to a sense of American exceptionalism?  Do they support the troops?  Do they support family values?  Will they defend the working class?

These are pontifications that push emotional buttons with us as voters but offer almost nothing in matters of policy and how they will go about representing us on a fairly equal basis.  They also serve as smoke screens by the candidates to conceal traits that such shallow-minded supporters might find unattractive or even insulting.  Todd Aiken of Missouri comes to mind when he revealed a bizarre standard for opposing abortion for women who have been raped.

What we wound up with largely however is a class of people representing us who reflect  more the interests for a very small select class in this country and who demonstrate over and over again their loyalty to this small group of people rather than the majority of us who helped them gain elective office with our votes.

WASHINGTON — Millionaires occupy the majority of seats in Congress for the first time since ethics laws mandated personal financial disclosures, according to a new Center for Responsive Politics report.
Out of 534 members of Congress — there was one vacant seat — 268 have an average net worth of more than $1 million.   SOURCE

Wealthy special interests are no longer just sending their lobbyists to Washington.  They have actually been affective in getting some of their elite forces into the seats of power.  This isn’t just the result of the apparent strong ties the GOP has with the very wealthy.   The neo-liberalism of many Democrats today has also thrown their lot in with corporate special interests that often are at odds with the social welfare of many people who have lost good incomes and jobs along with their homes and the ability to save enough for college tuition for their kids or a retirement fund for themselves.

Despite this reality however it appears we continue to be led by the nose and allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by those who want only our votes, not our ideas or our need to share in the wealth we all help produce.

“Despite the fact that polls show how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress overall, there’s been no change in our appetite to elect affluent politicians to represent our concerns in Washington,” Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director, said in a statement.
It’s true that Congress has long been filled with the wealthy, but this millionaire milestone comes as the country faces a growing income inequality gap not seen since the Gilded Age. In the past few decades, and particularly during and after the Great Recession, the super rich have seen their incomes and net worth climb as both the poor and middle classes have seen stagnation or regression.
The over-representation of the rich in Congress may influence whose interests legislators are really protecting as they seek to address questions of inequality and need, according to J. Mijin Cha, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos.
“This coming out now when you see Congress refusing to extend unemployment insurance is so telling,” Cha said.   SOURCE

It’s not just the glad-handing many of these millionaires and their lesser devotees in Congress and state legislatures do when cutting unemployment benefits but their reluctance to go after the rich who hide most of their income in foreign offshore accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  It’s their eager efforts to reduce Social Security benefits through accounting tricks and making eligibility more difficult as they raise the age requirement.  It’s their lack of compassion to extend Food Stamps for low-income families even in light of the fact that kids who suffer nutritionally are less productive and incur higher incidences of poor health.

By focusing too much on a diminishing dream of striking it rich and achieving our fortune in “the land of opportunity”, we fail to see the reality that sends good paying jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas and real wages at home being slashed.   Along with these are the loss of health care and retirement benefits that were achieved through hard fought battles many of our parents and grandparents participated in during the early and mid-20th century.

USofparanoia  Are we becoming the Divisive States of America?

The notion that we need a third Party to work around the controls that the two major Parties today have fallen victim too sounds good on the surface but could simply lead to yet another Party that over time allows powerful wealthy interests to gain a foothold and promote their candidates.   We need to break this cycle of political abuse and begin to realize that we are all – conservative and liberal, colored and non-colored, male and female, blue-collar and white-collar – being manipulated by a very wealthy select group of people to vote in ways that are against our best interests.

Breaking this cycle will entail compromise and it will necessitate the need to balance free-market principles with responsible government oversight.   We can no longer insist that one is totally evil and presume the other has no flaws.

This is the straw man choice we are given by people who now sit atop of the income pyramid.  They are neither conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican.  They are plutocrats and they want you to ignore the fact that their actions do not reflect their words that attempt to assure you that they “only want what’s best for America”.  They use hate to subdue your critical thinking skills because once you realize that life really isn’t getting better for most people you just might come to the conclusion that a paradigm shift is required that takes away their control.  And THAT is not part of what they see  being what’s best for America.

16 responses to “The Motivational Reasoning That is Killing Our Democracy

  1. An excellent post, my friend. As always I see propaganda 2.0 in most everything they say and do…..2014 will to interesting but I think 2016 will be the last hurray for some of this BS……

  2. being a member of the far left, I plead some guilt in the zone of “if the left says its good, I’m probably for it.” Not completely thank goodness, but too much I fear. The great middle just goes back to playing chess and changing diapers and wishes we would all go away, left and right…I agree with whoever said that a major change might be occurring following 2016 if it is a definitive slap down of the crazy right….the crazy left has always been manageable and generally calms down when the poking stick disappears –the stick being the tea bagger nuts in this case.

    • I think what we all need to come to grips with Sherry, myself included, is moving away more from the classifications we align ourselves with and look at policies more broadly and definitely from the perspective where our actions benefit “the general welfare” more than the plutocracy. We must rebuild a strong middle class and we can do this without becoming a socialist state but it can’t be done solely with capitalist free markets either.

  3. “They are neither conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. They are plutocrats”

    The sooner people realise this, the better we “might” be in the future.

    Good lord, reading that $arah transcript made me cringe. How on earth Caribou Barby and McCain garnered 47% (or was it 46%?) of the vote on 08 is beyond me. In the early 80’s French President, François Mitterrand, was in Brazil and when asked about the country told reporters (with a straight face, mind you): “This is not a serious country.” He was right, but it seems his statement applies just as well to almost half of the United States.

    • “How on earth Caribou Barby and McCain garnered 47% (or was it 46%?) of the vote on 08 is beyond me.”

      Had it not been for Bush/Cheney’s complete mishandling of Iraq/Afghanistan and the Great Recession of 2008 I fear the margin would have been even closer John, with even a likelihood of Obama/Biden losing to the batty duo.

      Voters in America are predisposed to ideological renderings rather than rational thought because to invest time in the latter would take them away from their consumption habits.

      • You took the words right out of my mouth and shortened them by about 987 words (nearly half of which were of the 4 letter variety)!

  4. That map should read “Heartland Where Hard-working Americans Benefit from the Federal Rural Electrification Act.” And I probably just tipped my hand about my political views right there.

    For a long time I didn’t want to join a political party because I didn’t want create that sense of identification and get exactly that effect of having my opinion subconsciously swayed.

  5. Even if the 3rd party gets just as corrupted, I still prefer a 3 party system.

    1) It’s what we have up here in Canuckistan. In fact, during the 90’s we actually had 5 parties with elected representation. Currently, we have 3 parties and second place is…wait for it…an actual socialist party!

    Unfortunately #1 is a Conservative party led by a Republican wannabe. His election is the result of vote splitting on the Left, the biggest shortcoming of a First-Past-The-Post system.

    2) The increased competition. No longer can you win merely by being “Not The Other Guy”. You have to be less worse than 2 other guys. Huzzah!

    • “No longer can you win merely by being “Not The Other Guy”. You have to be less worse than 2 other guys. Huzzah!”

      That’s a lot of what most of these campaigns are about down here below in the land of the less frozen SM.

  6. Those of us who declare ourselves “independents” in an effort to look at what is, rather than what things are painted to be by the parties, are called fence sitters and wobbly, and wimpy for “not taking a stand.”

    • I’m in that camp Joan. I have sworn off my allegiance to both major Parties. Nationally however, they are all we have to work with. I vote Progressive and that usually puts me in the Democrats camp but I refuse to go along with them on all issues and fight for many more they tend to ignore or are not responsive enough toward.

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