Thursday, November 19, 2015

Response to American Mockingbirds

(See: Just Above Sunset: American Mockingbirds)

I must confess that I like mockery, actually. In fact, I was quite proud of the last line in my very long comment on Tuesday. After a long recounting of the history of the MS St. Louis, the German ship that sailed back and forth across the Atlantic, unsuccessfully seeking a safe place to drop off 900-some Jewish refugees in Cuba and the U.S., finally got permission to deliver them to Belgium:
Researchers later determined that, of the 620 returned passengers, 254 died in the Holocaust. 
But it’s probably just as well that none of them ended up in my own state of Georgia, since for all we know, one of them might have been a Nazi.
Yes, it was snarky. I suppose I was thinking somebody who was against our taking a chance on accepting Syrian refugees would either read it and realize the errors of their ways, or else maybe would feel terribly insulted, a feeling I decided they richly deserved.

Still, Kevin Drum does have a point when he says liberals who mock conservatives are practicing bad politics:
Maybe it’s true that we’re only mocking some of the most egregious politicians. And maybe it’s true that they deserve it. But who cares? Ordinary voters won’t make the distinction -- they’ll just hear the mockery -- and it doesn’t matter what anyone deserves. What matters is what works. On issues of interest only to wingnuts, go ahead and mock. We’re not going to persuade them of anything no matter what. But on issues like this, where a quite understandable fear is shared by a broad slice of the electorate, mockery is death. We can persuade these folks, and the way to do it is to acknowledge the problem and then fight the fear with facts. 
Will it work? Maybe, maybe not – but it’s got a way better chance than mockery does.
Does my mockery work? Depending on what my goal was, probably not. But I know I was not trying to persuade my Republican governor, Nathan Deal, nor any of his fellow travelers, since my experience tells me hardcore conservatives are not open to persuasion about anything, especially once they've taken a public stand. If, after hearing all the arguments from hospitals and others in the state, he still refuses to expand Medicaid, I'm sure I won't be able to talk him into changing his mind on accepting these refugees, even with my soberly reminding him of a shameful time in our history when Americans turned away Jewish refugees escaping the Nazis, sending many of them to their deaths.

But Drum's real argument isn't about persuading politicians, it's about swing voters -- well-intentioned people who might not be keeping up on the news and haven't given this issue all that much thought, who just might not be all that invested in the anti-refugee position being adopted, one by one, by Republican governors. These people, it's believed, might just see the lampoonery as rude and insulting, and would put them off.

And therein lies a major problem behind the concept of government of the people, by the people, and for the people: How can a country be run by The People when The People aren't paying attention to what's going on?

No, I don't want to push voters away by insulting them, but what chance do any of us have of convincing them to have enough courage to trust their country, and all those American values that we learned back in grade school, to think and act like the good guys we are?

There seems to be an almost irresistible allure to the (especially right-of-center) idea that, to fight the bad guys, we have to become bad guys ourselves -- which, if you think about it, is exactly backwards. Despite our occasionally falling off the wagon, what Americans need to be proud of is a history of often being the good guys -- of appealing to, as Abe Lincoln put it, the “better angels of our nature.”

It's what we like to think of as what sets us apart, that we are somewhat handicapped in fighting our enemies because, unlike them, we refuse to chop off heads. But when given an honest and free choice, what people would freely choose to be ruled by folks who chop off people's heads?

Even in that MS St. Louis story, contrary to the popular urban legend of FDR refusing to allow the refugees to land, the real story was how hard he and his administration worked to get around our deeply-embedded xenophobic immigration laws that were leftovers from the twenties, working with other governments and with American Jewish groups to try to save the lives of those refugees, and ultimately mostly succeeding.

Where this leaves me is, while Kevin Drum is right on the politics, one can hope to sway only those independent souls who are already seeking the truth, and the few of them that there are out there should be smart enough to figure out the right path without any help from me.

Besides, as those kind of people are precious as hen's teeth these days anyway, I think that, instead of trying to proselytize amongst the unconverted, I'll just stick to trying to give comfort to those who already agree with me by assuring them that, yes, those conservatives on the other side are indeed as whacky as they seem.

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(No trolls, please! As a rule of thumb, don't get any nastier in your comments than I do in my posts. Thanks.)