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January 2014

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The other day, I heard an interesting snippet of an interview on Fresh Air with P.J. O'Rourke, a conservative journalist and satirist working for the Atlantic Monthly.

O'Rourke brought up a point that I've been aware of for many years - that is, that a vast majority of the political commentary coming from the American media is so blindly polarized that it has no chance of convincing anybody of anything. O'Rourke's primary examples of this effect are Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken, who he argues are essentially two sides of the same coin.

I might take some issue with that comparison - I find Franken to be substantially more humorous and a bit more concerned with facts than Limbaugh - but O'Rourke's main point, that neither man is likely to convince anybody who doesn't already agree with him of anything, is spot-on.

I've concluded that there are, essentially, two types of politically concerned citizens in this country - let's call them type A and type B. The type A voter establishes a strong set of beliefs, latches onto a party, and refuses to examine its failings - he sticks with that party unflaggingly, voraciously consuming every piece of criticism against his "enemies," and blindly lauding his chosen allies. A type B voter may hold equally strong beliefs, but he is very much interested in objectively examining the reality of the process instead of strictly alligning with one party or ideology.

It could be argued that the incendiary and highly polarized rhetoric produced by the likes of Michael Moore, Al Franken, Bill O'Rielly, and Rush Limbaugh serves to validate the former behavior. Among these individuals there really are no shades of grey - they all paint unabashedly negative pictures of their opponents, frequently characterizing them as at least incompetent and at worst pure evil.

Now, consider this for a second - if you're a relatively moderate person, who holds many views in line with the Republican party, who is currently leaning towards voting for Bush, how would you likely react when people such as Michael Moore paint Bush as completely incompetent and borderline evil? Would you suddenly "see the light" and vote for a Democrat? Would you become an instant fan of Moore, believing everything he presents?

Probably not. The pundits don't realize (or don't care?) that their rhetoric makes the citizens who identify with the politicians being criticized idiots by association - if a person likes Bush, and somebody calls Bush an idiot, that person will probably take that personally and will stop paying attention to whatever that pundit is saying.

These media polarizers love nothing more than to preach to the people who already agree with them. Moore's films are made for people he agrees with - he makes only token attempts to present both sides of an argument, so somebody holding different views going into such a film will see it only as propoganda, disregarding whatever actual truth it contains. The same holds true for O'Rielly, Limbaugh, you name it.

All of this plays right into the hands of the Type A voter. Type A voters already believe that politician X is bad, so when pundits kick it up a notch and tell us how absolutely evil politician X really is, the type A voter eats it up. Yes, politician X is evil. Politician X couldn't possibly have any good ideas. Any viewpoint that Politician X espouses must obviously be wrong, and anybody who agrees with Politican X must also be wrong.

These talking heads drive a wedge squarely through the voting population. They also reinforce the 2-party system - when the opposition is portrayed as evil incarnate, type A voters feel obligated to prevent a doom and gloom scenario by voting for whichever of the strong established parties could stop the horrible alternative from destroying the country. The real issues that are rotting both parties from the core (primarilly corporate ownership of the political process) lay hidden, and are neatly ignored by a vast majority of voters.

Type B voters, on the other hand, like to have our viewpoints challenged. They like to hear why people think they're wrong, so they have an opportunity to consider their own positions and strengthen them - or, if presented with a good enough argument to the contrary, abandon them. They allow for the possibility that what they believe may not be right, and they like to know why people agree or disagree with them so they can be sure they're making the right decision.

The old expression "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" comes to mind. If you actually want to convince somebody of something, you can't just go around telling them how wrong they are - you have to present both viewpoints as reasonable, but clearly explain using facts why you believe a particular option is preferable. If you just tell a person he's wrong, without taking the time to understand why he believes as he does, you only look like a zealot who will never convince anybody of anything.


Bad Mojo @ Sun Jun 27 20:29:43 -0400 2004

It takes so much effort to be Type B that few bother. So, what do you do when the majority of people voting in an election would rather not care to actually make an educated vote? What do you do when the majority decides to ruin something?

Edward @ Tue Jul 20 01:45:40 -0400 2004

You don't vote.. It only encourages them. Given most options I feel like I'm wasting my time trying even thinking about voting for either of the only two options. Jeremy seems dead on to me.. but what's the solution? I had the libertarian and green party on campus trying to get petition signatures just to get ON the ballot in the state. If they get that far, how can they possibly win any position?

Jeremy @ Wed Apr 16 11:52:36 -0400 2008

This is a test.

Yes, a test.

Jeremy @ Wed Apr 16 11:53:13 -0400 2008

This is an example.

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