Hold on to your tin-foil hats, people…it’s that time of year again when families gather around the holiday table to enjoy good food, fellowship and togetherness – and wind up having to listen to Cousin Larry or Uncle John pontificate on the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, speaking authoritatively about Obama being a secret Muslim and how the godless are waging a “war on Christmas,” and informing everyone that “climate change” is really part of a hoax intended to bring down the capitalist system while warning everyone that ISIS is coming to America in order to impose Sharia Law and how “brown people” are swarming in from Mexico in order to sell illegal drugs and sexually assault women…
It can go on and on…and on…and on…
Hopefully, you aren’t among those who have a relative (or more than one) such as Cousin Larry or Uncle John. However, if you are, you’ll need to understand one thing: your chances of changing their hearts and minds are virtually zero. Now, it is true that a growing number of self-identified conservatives and Republicans are starting to see the light. They realize that while they might not agree on the solutions to the problems we face, they acknowledge the existence of those problems. However, such conservatives tend to be those with greater intelligence and education. They are also part of that rare breed known as the “open minded.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Cousin Larrys and Uncle Johns in this country are low-information, easily led, and definitely not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Studies have shown that stupid people believe they’re far more intelligent than they truly are. At the same time, intelligent people frequently question what they think they know. They question the sources from which their information comes. They’re not afraid to doubt themselves. They engage in what is increasingly a lost skill in our country: critical thinking.
As William Shakespeare’s Touchstone says in the play As You Like It, “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
The bottom line, folks: when it comes to attempting to educate your right-wing relatives, the deck is stacked against you. Those people take their marching orders from Rupert Murdoch.
There is one possible way to approach the issue in a way that might have some influence on Cousin Larry’s way of thinking (Uncle John is probably so old and set in his ways that he is not going to change his mind even if the facts were staring him in the face).
As an educated liberal, you understand that corporations and financial institutions have far too much power over our government. Thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations such as Wal-Mart and Exxon Mobil, as well as individuals like Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Adelson (chances are that Cousin Larry has never heard of them, which is how they prefer it) are allowed to spend unlimited funds in order to buy lawmakers and influence legislation favoring themselves.
As an uneducated conservative, Cousin Larry believes that government doesn’t care about people and is only out to rob them every April 15th. He sees the government as intrusive and wasteful. All of his life, Cousin Larry has bought into Reagan’s old line about how government is the problem.
And Cousin Larry is absolutely correct. You should acknowledge this, but then follow it up with a question: Why is government a problem? Why isn’t it working?
This is the springboard for a discussion on the topic of money in politics, which increasingly is a point of agreement between liberals and conservatives. At this point, you might remind Cousin Larry that, last time you checked, the government was We The People – yourself and Cousin Larry included. Those people in Washington D.C. are only representatives, whose job it is to represent our will and our interests. You and Cousin Larry will likely agree that government hasn’t been doing that very well over the past several years.
Why haven’t they? By now, it’s time to steer the conversation toward the subject of who is footing the bill for political campaigns – and the implications. If someone or some institution is paying for a large part of your local representative’s campaign, who is that representative going to listen to?
It’s simply logic. As the ancient Romans would say, manus manum lavat (“one hand washes the other”). You might even offer this quote, a prediction made earlier this year of how the current election would play out: “You’re going to have money dumped in this election cycle that’s going to turn off the American people. There’s going to be a need and a movement to try to control the money in politics.”
No, that’s not Bernie Sanders talking. That’s conservative GOP presidential candidate Senator Lindsay Graham. Here’s another quote: “I think what is corrupting in this [election] potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from.” That one is from Republican governor Chris Christie. And here is an explanation that Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz offered to his six-year-old: “Running for office is real simple: you just surgically disconnect your shame sensor…you spend every day asking people for money.” Of course, Cruz wouldn’t change things; in his warped mind, limiting campaign contributions would “curtail freedom,” and he himself has been a beneficiary of SuperPAC largess, having amassed $51 million as of this past summer.
On the average, members of Congress spend as much as 12 hours a day hitting up donors. How are they supposed to do their real jobs – i.e., representing us?
Of course, it is likely that Cousin Larry doesn’t bother to vote. He’s been convinced that his vote doesn’t matter. He may even have come to the conclusion that both parties are equally bad. You might ask where he heard that his vote doesn’t count. Chances are, he heard it on FOX. You might point out that Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp has been a big donor to candidates of both parties. Tell him to do an Internet search for “Rupert Murdoch campaign contributions” and see what he comes up with.
Cousin Larry is in for a surprise. Realizing that the owner of the network from which he gets his news is playing both ends against the middle (as has Donald Trump over the years) could be a real eye-opener.
The issue of who all are buying politicians of both parties is not guaranteed to provide common ground with Cousin Larry, but it is one that both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge as a problem – and therefore, might at least get him to think about why government is so corrupt.
After all, the idea that the wealthy can buy our government should outrage everyone. Nonetheless, this Thanksgiving, it should also make us truly grateful that we still live in a democracy, that we voters outnumber those who try to buy elections – and that the issue of campaign finance may wind up being the one that unites us all.