Friday, July 18, 2008

NN08 My Dinner with a Dittohead

Friday evening, I took a break from the Netroots Nation 2008 conference to go out to dinner with a friend of mine from high school and his girlfriend; I'll call them Joe and Mary. Joe isn't exactly what you'd call a liberal, by most measures, but he's genu­inely open to the possi­bility that the liberal posi­tion on a speci­fic issue may be right. He's also not at all a religious sort, but neither an ardent atheist. Mary, on the other hand, is a Southern Baptist who listens to Rush Limbaugh and watches Fox News. Yes, a real live conser­vative, although she insists that she's somewhere near the center. She's not really a full-blown Dittohead, but hey, she does listen to Rush and watch Hannity & Colmes. It was quite an interesting chat.

Joe served in the U.S. Army for several years, a good chunk of that in Korea, some­where about midway between Seoul and the DMZ. When he was stationed near me in the US, at the begin­ning of the first Gulf War, he once had to cancel plans for a Satur­day because he had to stay and process deploy­ment paper­work for a group of soldiers. He never saw combat, and he's been out of the military for several years now, but he remains justi­fi­ably proud to be a veteran. All the same, he told me that he would never vote for McCain, because he would never vote for someone that old, Repub­lican or Democrat, liberal or conser­vative, war hero or not — indeed, he is offended at the way John McCain has paraded his P.O.W. record. Of course, he also still remem­bers the Keating Five, a serious banking scandal that touched McCain when he was still a new kid in the Senate. (McCain was cleared of ethics violations, but rebuked for "poor judgment.") Joe believes that we need to have sen­sible regula­tions for banks, in order to prevent another mortgage melt­down, and he sees clearly that the Bush Admini­stra­tion has been a complete disaster in shockingly many respects.

Mary, on the other hand, insists that what she admits is corrup­tion in the Bush regime is nothing out of the ordinary, since all politi­cians are corrupt, both parties. She also insists that Rush Limbaugh gives out accurate infor­ma­tion, and so does Fox News. I called her atten­tion to the PIPA/­Know­ledge Net­works October 2003 survey that correlated the respon­dent's primary source of news with three miscon­cep­tions about Iraq: (1) we found WMD in Iraq, (2) we found signi­fi­cant links between Saddam and al Qaeda, and (3) most of the world sup­ported our decision to invade. Those who got their news pri­mari­ly from Fox News were almost four times as likely (80% to 23%) to have at least one of those three false impres­sions as those who got their news from NPR, which was Mary's top example of untrust­worthy "liberal bias" in the news media.

On the subject of the mortgage crisis, I was talking about the way that the deregu­la­tion of lenders — pushed through by McCain's (former) economic advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm (D–TX turned R–TX) — had created the perfect condi­tions for a "bubble" in the housing market, and that we needed to re-regulate. Mary said something along the lines of, "Yes, but who knows what regula­tions we should pass to fix it?" I said, quite simply, "How about exactly the regula­tions we used to have?"

We also talked about health­care. I pointed out that the cost of paper­work for veri­fying eligi­bility — corporate bureau­crats' red tape, in other words — exceeds the cost of providing health­care to every uninsured American. In return, Mary, who moved from Germany to the U.S. in her teens, opined that Obama's health­care proposal (sadly, nothing even close to Dennis Kucinich's not-for-profit single-payer system, the only plan that makes any sense at all) was rampant socialism that would remove all economic incentive for hard work, just like it did in (West) Germany. I didn't press the point that she obviously doesn't know much about the country where she was born, but I did mention that if she thinks anything Obama is saying is remotely close to the socialist nanny state, she's out of her mind.

Back on the subject of sources of news, I suggested to her that yes, every TV news network in the United States is biased: speci­fi­cal­ly, they all have a pro-American bias, which, quite simply, is not always warran­ted. Some­times, the United States does not do the right thing. I sug­ges­ted that she watch Al Jazeera English, and dis­abused her of some of her stereo­typed views of a network she had never actu­ally seen. My handy laptop provided her a first glimpse at their News Hour program, although the WiFi was having prob­lems with the RealPlayer feed. As I told her, the American people need to grasp that, in an era when 19 men with a budget of $500,000 can bring America to its knees for days and draw us into two intrac­table wars, our national security depends directly on under­standing how the rest of the world sees us, because our national security depends on having an over­whel­ming majority of the world popu­la­tion view us as the good guys. Not even PBS, nor the BBC, can give us a real look at how we are per­ceived in the world, especi­ally in the Middle East.

That was about as far as we got, which I suppose is probably just as well, but I think I gave her a few things to think about — thanks in no small part to the sessions I attended here at Netroots Nation the last couple of days.

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