Several interesting political discussions ensued with friends over the last few days. There were a few more around because two people some of us knew passed away. One in a plane wreck, the other from cancer. Some friends like to talk politics with a real live blogger, and some of them are informed enough and intellectually honest enough to be worth talking about it with. But not all.
There’s a somewhat simple, almost elegant algorithm for separating the novices and part-timers and hard-core partisan warriors from the more experienced and frank. The latter might lean or reside entirely on one side of the great left-right divide that has come to define modern US politics like North vs South did decades ago. But they’re able to exert some objectivism; there’s a lot of fancy ways we could say this, they live in a reality-based world, they resist cognitive dissonance. But what it boils down to is they know a fact when they see one, plus they value facts as building blocks in effective policy solutions.
It’s not infallible, but below is a fast-food approach to separate the more purely ideological from the more purely rational.
If the person leans left, and assuming you have good rapport, mutual respect, i.e., that they won’t see you as trying to trick them. Ask them 1) did President Bush win the 2004 election? 2) Did he run on remaining in Iraq or leaving it?
You’d be surprised how hard it is for a progressive, someone who plays politics for sport or a living, to just answer those questions. They are compelled to avoid, twist away, or stand in denial of the answers. Which is pointless, we all know what the answers are. Yes, Bush won in 2004. He won by a comfortable enough popular and electoral vote margin that any irregularities in voting or touch screen machines or whatever you want to pick don’t matter. If the progressive goes into a convoluted, “it was rigged but done so well there’s not much evidence for it,” that’s basically political Last Thursday-ism. A conjured cover story, an illusion so perfect it is indistinguishable from reality, calling into question the meaning of either word.
Remember, we’re not asking for a moral judgement on that question — did he win? — we’re not asking if it was good or bad. Only the result. The result is George Bush won against John Kerry in 2004 fair and square by number of votes — whoever gets the most wins — and part of the winning campaign was the US staying in Iraq. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we stayed for the rest of Bush’s term.
Up to now right-leaning readers might be smiling, ‘those dang liberals can’t face reality, George Bush whipped your ass!’ OK, two questions: 1) did Obama win the 2008 election? 2) Did he run in staying in Iraq or leaving? Hey now, no evading, no twisting, did Obama win or not? Did he run on leaving Iraq? You’ll see some members of the left exchange scripts with members of the right here, ahh it must have been cooked by ACORN or the Blank Panthers or some conspiracy nonsense, because Obama couldn’t have actually won. Except of course, he did.
We all know the answer to the Bush and Obama questions. In Obama’s iteration, it’s shouldn’t be surprising that we left Iraq. That’s what he ran on and won on, that’s what he raon and won on in the Democratic primary. That’s why Clinton lost against Obama.
Whenever a friend wants to talk to me personally about politics, I find simple, symmetrical questions like those good way to pre-gauge if the discussion is likely to be productive in any way. Because with no respect for facts, it’s tough to have a discussion that includes them. Which means there’s a whole bunch of other fun, non-political things we can talk about or do.