I suppose because I was once a hard-core conservative Republican and am now interested in how others have journeyed from one political side to the other, a frequent contributor to this blog, King Beauregard, directed me to an enlightening article at Salon.com titled, “Why I left the GOP,” by Jeremiah Goulka.
Mr. Goulka, besides being a former Republican, worked in the Justice Department and as a policy analyst for the RAND corporation, among other interesting jobs he has held. (He also has an interesting website.)
His piece details how he discovered “the full spectrum of reality” in terms of his political and social thinking, that discovery linked to his experiences in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and his experiences as a RAND policy analyst in Iraq.
I will leave you to read about how his Iraq experiences changed his thinking on security and foreign policy issues. I want to focus on his powerful explanation of why he changed his views about society and politics here at home.
I’ll begin with an interesting observation Goulka made:
An old saw has it that no one profits from talking about politics or religion. I think I finally understand what it means. We see different realities, different worlds. If you and I take in different slices of reality, chances are that we aren’t talking about the same things. I think this explains much of modern American political dialogue.
I have often wondered why it is that people I know, a few of them I like a great deal, see the world so differently than I see it. I think Goulka is on to something with this suggestion, even though obviously I don’t think it explains every political difference.
My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. I think this shows why Republicans put so much effort into “creat[ing] our own reality,” into fostering distrust of liberals, experts, scientists, and academics, and why they won’t let a campaign “be dictated by fact-checkers” (as a Romney pollster put it). It explains why study after study shows — examples here, here, and here – that avid consumers of Republican-oriented media are more poorly informed than people who use other news sources or don’t bother to follow the news at all.
It is common to the point of nausea, for Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, to claim, either overtly or subtly, that folks pretty much get what they deserve in life. If they are poor, they somehow didn’t work hard enough or take advantage of opportunities offered to them.
The idea of there being anything like social-structural impediments to success, those impediments only experienced by select social groups, does not compute with conservatives. They simply don’t buy it. And Goulka’s explanation, that people see “different realities” because they take in “different slices of reality” and talk past each other, explains why they don’t buy it. Chances are the slice of reality they took in didn’t include things like, as Goulka listed them,
aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the “trial tax,” the “poverty tax,” and on and on.
Goulka wonders why, as a Republican, he “had never heard of any of these concepts“:
Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”? That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed. But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity. It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series. Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.
The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.
That “individualistic celebration of success,” the one constant theme running through Mitt Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s campaign, does, as Goulka suggests, implicitly divide “the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving.” That’s what makes it so easy for Republicans to cut food stamps, deny people health insurance coverage, or suppress the vote of poorer and darker folks by the onerous voter ID laws they have passed. By God, those people should try harder to provide for their families, get insurance, and climb over the bureaucratic hurdles and vote.
My friend and fellow blogger Jim Wheeler wrote a thoughtful column for the Joplin Globe today that included this paragraph:
If one believes in an ideological Randian world of smug self-reliance, it is easy to relegate beings to their own devices, but if one aspires to a country in which all people have a reasonably equal starting chance, then the government is the only option I see for doing that.
The question, for all of us who cast a vote in November or anytime, is what kind of country, state, or city do we want? What political party best reflects our values? And how can we ensure, as much as we can with our vote, that “all people have a reasonably equal starting chance“?
And speaking of voting and starting chances, I mentioned those Republican-sponsored voter ID laws. It happens that Mr. Goulka relates something relevant to those ID laws that one of his roommates told him while he was working in New Orleans:
He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account. Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all.
I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID? And no bank accounts? Who are these people? How do they vote? How do they live? Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?
If you have followed the controversy over the voter ID laws right-wingers have passed in response to an imaginary voter fraud problem, then you have no doubt heard some Republicans express astonishment that there are folks out there without the proper IDs, or who might not have the time to drive a great distance and the money to secure the documents necessary to get an ID that Republicans demand they get before they can vote.
Such Republican astonishment, in this case at least, is phony. They know good and well, most of them, that such burdens will suppress the vote of poor and minority folks. For God’s sake, that is why they created those burdens in the first place. There simply isn’t any real doubt about that.
And so we have, right before our eyes, a stunning example of how social-structural impediments are created, the same kind of social-structural impediments that conservatives say don’t exist.
Such examples should make it easy, for those of us who really want people to have that “reasonably equal starting chance” that Jim Wheeler mentioned, to cast our votes against anyone these days who wears the Republican label.
Maybe if enough people abandon the Republican Party, its leaders will get the message and begin representing “the full spectrum of reality,” which, fortunately, Jeremiah Goulka discovered and wrote about so eloquently.