Last night after Obama tried to blockade the Romney train barreling down on him, I told my girlfriend I wasn’t sure the POTUS was going to win another four years. I explained that despite my myriad concerns about his positions (or lack of positions) on most issues, Romney is looking awfully presidential theses days. “Oh, malarkey,” my friend said. “Obama is going to win. This country couldn’t possibly elect that pro-war, anti-women, slash and burn neo-con. ”
Really? How is it despite all evidence to the contrary (the polls now have them in a dead heat), I keep hearing from my liberal friends that Obama is going to win? Don’t they understand the power of conservative politics? “Conservatives are illogical,” they argue. “It makes no sense to be anti-abortion and pro-death penalty. It makes no sense to be for reduced government spending and then to argue for increased military build up.” All true. It doesn’t. But these inconsistent policies (and many others) are at the heart of conservative voters beliefs. In the end, George Lakoff, author of, Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don’t. must be right, “Liberals don’t understand the logic of conservatism.”
He says, “Liberals don’t understand how anti-abortion “right-to-life” activists can favor the death penalty and oppose reducing infant morality through prenatal care programs. They don’t understand why budget-cutting conservatives should spare no public expense to build prison after prison to house even non-violent offenders, or why they are willing to spend extra money to take children away from their mothers and put them in orphanages — in the name of family values. They don’t understand why conservatives attack violence in the media while promoting the right to own machine guns.”
It’s true. I have no idea how this inconsistent, illogical thinking can drive someone to vote in a way that is economically (and I would argue socially) harmful to them. Lakoff says it is all in the metaphor and I love a good metaphor.
Lakoff has developed a theory of politics based on parenting: the strict father model (conservative) versus the nurturant parent model (progressive). Once we understand these guiding beliefs on how our country should be run, we can then understand how the other side thinks.
In brief, he says the strict father model is inherently paternalistic and believes life is fundamentally difficult and the world as fundamentally dangerous. It is predicated on the notion that father knows best and his job is to protect the family. Women should be in service to men and children should be obedient to the father figure until they are grown, then their job is to be fully self-reliant and independent of their parents. When you apply this family system theory to government, we can see how inconsistent policies are made.
Take abortion. Women in need of one are either wanton sluts (teenagers who were swept away with lust) or overly ambitious (career women for whom a child is inconvenient). Either way, giving these women control over their own bodies would undermine the strict father’s authority.
As Lakoff points out, “It is important to understand that conservative opposition to abortion is not just an overriding respect for all life. If it were, conservatives would not favor the death penalty. Nor is it a matter of protecting the lives of innocent children waiting to be born. If it were, conservatives would be working to lower the infant mortality rate by supporting prenatal care programs. The fact the conservatives oppose such programs means that they are not simply in favor of the right-to-life for all the unborn. Instead, there is a deep and abiding, but usually unacknowledged, reason why conservatives oppose abortion, namely, that it is inconsistent with Strict Father morality. “
Consider gun control. Because the world is dangerous, the strict father must protect us. This leads conservatives to support a strong military and criminal justice system. It also leads to an opposition to gun control. “Since it is the job of the strict father to protect his family from criminals, and since criminals have guns, he too must be able to use guns if he is to do his job of protecting the family against evil people who would harm them. Although the NRA talks lot about hunting, the conservative talk shows all talk about protecting one’s family as the main motivation for opposing gun control,” according to Lakoff.
I am beginning to get it. Conservatives want a strong daddy figure in the White House to make them feel safe. Conservatives believe in patriarchy and will make inconsistent decisions to reinforce that belief system. And who represents that better than Romney, the ultimate patriarch.
Progressives? We suffer from too much empathy. We focus on nurturance, enabling the happiness and well-being of our “children” (ie: citizens) by ensuring they have their basic needs met (can you say government entitlement programs?). We believe women are independent and co-partners with, not subservient to, the man. Abortion does not undermine the authority as women are part of the authority and therefore free to take care of their own needs and to establish their own priorities.
Feminism? Gay rights? The rights of undocumented citizens? Nurturant parents want their children to achieve their potential and would not get in the way of that. Regulation? Well, a nurturant parent must ensure there are rules set up to protect the safety of our children.
You can see where this is heading. We progressives want a government that supports us, but doesn’t constrain us. When it comes to protecting us, we don’t believe there is danger lurking everywhere and so don’t need a strong defense. We want a leader who knows how to compromise, how to use negotiations, and temperance when working with other nations. In short, we want Obama.
The funny thing is, it doesn’t surprise me that half our country wants a strict parent and the other half wants a nurturant one. In fact, I am glad we do. Much like in my own family where my husband parents differently than I do, I believe our country is actually stronger when we come from disparate points of view. By having them, we teach our children and our citizens that there is no one way to parent and no one way to govern. Checks and balances – our country is built on them, because if we only did it one way, we would no longer be a democracy, we would be a dictatorship.