I listened and studied. While Obama seemed eloquent, intelligent, and bursting with potential, I was not as enamored as my husband. "I don't know," I said, "He doesn't seem that progressive, and I really think we're going to require a ton of progress when we get Bush out of the White House. The next person is going to have to be a rolling stone."
Then again, I've always leaned slightly more liberal than my husband, who, when I met him, thought the Libertarians had a pretty decent point. At the end of the day, though, we're both well-anchored realists who recognize that our nation needs government and both parties were highly invested in Big Government.
Note: I strongly believe that if we must have Big Government -- and since it seems we will regardless of which party rules -- it better be For The People. In other words, I advocate heavily for social policy. I want any legislation that restricts personal rights and freedom ousted and never again mentioned (Don't Ask Don't Tell, No Same Sex Marriage, to name a couple) and require that any social policy strictly benefit the good of us, the citizens, and ultimately of our society (improved education, consumer protections, infrastructure and security, to name a few).
By the time the 2008 Democratic field narrowed to Barack Obama, I had extensively researched him and found him all right.
"His rhetoric is excellent, his charisma is amazing," I told my husband, "But his narrative is dreadful. His policies and positions are really middle of the road. I don't see a big changing of the horse in our future."
My husband just shook his head.
Everyone was touting "change we can believe in" and I did my best, but never quite caught the fervor. I did, however, get solidly behind Obama-the-candidate and have remained behind Obama-the-president. As it happens, I preferred his grounded in law and Constitution approach, his moderate positions, and his realistic balancing of necessary evils and good alike.
I do recall being absolutely shocked that the Democrats let the GOP define Obama as a raging liberal, near socialist. Until I saw that it was simply free press for Obama's campaign -- an unintended endorsement for the entire Democratic base from center all the way to the fringe left.
"That's going to come back to bite him," I said. And it did. Once he let his true colors flag fly -- beige and grey -- the left of center base went wild. Within months of him taking office, his once fervent supporters went rabid, attacking him wildly.
Not reading the contract closely doesn't void your signature
I wrote what I hoped would be a cooling jet of water in my post series, "Obama hasn't flip flopped or shifted---he's holding true to his positions; a factual breakdown of what those positions are."
Should you really be blaming Obama because you mistook his positive message of "yes we can" and "change" to mean "tack the US radically left?"
I don't think so, and frankly I'm tired of the uninformed and so-called "betrayed" crying out in melodramatic anger that "Obama has abandoned the cause and is shifting to the middle."
Have you possibly been throwing in your own interpretation of what he means by change? Have you maybe been assuming where he stands on issues, perhaps based on what you believe and because he reached out to the super liberal progressives at the grassroots?
Despite our wishes, the common connection on liberal issues, and labels, Senator Barack Obama is not a radical extreme left man. The only people who think so are the opposition, the angry people at the grassroots level, and the lazy mainstream media who isn't really bothering to check any kind of facts or history and go for the biggest bang headline they can find.
I then went on to break down the actual policy positions that Barack Obama had consistently touted and held, which, had anyone paid enough attention, would have easily and readily revealed him for the moderate that he is. [Part 1: Obama and the Death Penalty, Part 2: Obama and Guns, Part 3: Obama and FISA, Part 4: In conclusion: Obama's no switch hitter, and I still believe that Yes We Can (and Should)]
Someone once joked to me that in Vermont, someone that moderate would be considered a Republican.
When I tracked his history of issues and voting, and read his position papers, I saw a pretty moderate Democrat who is remarkably consistent, especially compared to his opponent.
So I am stymied about why people continue to freak out -- on both sides of the party division, which I lovingly refer to as the Great Wall of Ideology -- every time Obama stays the course and sticks to a moderate agenda. I am doubly stymied when progressives are shocked and demand angrily, "Where is our Big Uber Liberal Change Agent? Oh woe! woe! woe!" I am triply stymied when conservatives perceive that he is right there, "Look in the White House! We are being ruled by an Uber Liberal Change Agent, ack! ack! ack!"
How can two groups perceive something so vastly differently?
Slave to love makes for better song lyrics, but we're really slaves to what we think versus what we know
As it happens, both sides are bearing out and proving true research and theses from Brendan Nyhan (RWJ Scholar in Health Policy Research, School of Public Health University of Michigan). In his paper, "When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions," Nyhan explores whether false or unsubstantiated beliefs about politics can be corrected. His study with Jason Reifler (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Georgia State University) uncovered three answers to that question:
1. We adhere to an ideology and evaluate information against that. I think we all knew or suspected this; it's not the real news. The subsequent points, however, are crucial to consider in any damage control, correction, or crisis communication.
2. We evaluate corrections to incorrect information even more strongly against our beliefs and ideology. I don't think too many of us knew or understood this. I confess I did not. I kept thinking that if we kept explaining and correcting, we'd get the truth out there. People could not, I reasoned, continue to adhere to misperceptions, especially not once the truth was out and mainstream. I was wrong, as point three demonstrated.
3. Corrections to misperceptions, especially if they are in conflict with our ideology, may actually strengthen our misperceptions and incorrect beliefs. In other words? Trying to fix it, trying to get people to see the truth rather than the error, usually backfires. We must be a truly suspicious people by nature. I can only think that we are all paranoid to think that factual corrections are someone's personal vested interest agenda in having one over on us. But, in fact, the initial study found that self-identified conservatives are actually the most likely to do this:
"Currently, all of our backfire results come from conservatives – a finding that may provide support for the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic (Greenberg and Jonas 2003; Jost et al. 2003a, 2003b). However, there is a great deal of evidence that liberals (e.g. the stem cell experiment above) and Democrats (e.g., Bartels 2002: 133-137,Bullock 2007, Gerber and Huber 2010) also interpret factual information in ways that are consistent with their political predispositions. Without conducting more studies, it is impossible to determine if liberals and conservatives react to corrections differently."
The study's authors are the first to admit that they need more empirical data and additional research. They state outright that this study in fact reveals more questions and things to learn than it does to provide all of the final and definitive answers.
But it goes a long way to explaining why people continue to believe in pundits, even as they get more audacious and extreme, why they reject facts and realism even in the face of evidence, and why the GOP continue to control the narrative that Obama and all Democrats are raving neo-Socialist liberals who want to go peace-love-and help on the US -- and why they can continue to say that as if it's a bad thing.
"Staged improvement we can believe in" doesn't fit well on yard signs or bumper stickers, but it suits expectations better
It explains why Glen Greenwald's post series about the public option continues to be his most popular, and most heated. (See the latest, "Truth about the public option momentarily emerges, quickly scampers back into hiding.") I'm not at all surprised that the public option was never a realistic option...why is Glenn? Why are you? This is negotiation 101, and bottom line, most of the health law was bi-partisan. As NPR health correspondent Julie Rovner said
"Republicans seem to want to let the new benefits stay in place, Rovner says, noting that the patients' bill of rights was mostly bipartisan.
Both parties are having problems with the insurance industry, she says. And that industry doesn't support many of these changes unless they're also accompanied by a requirement that everyone have health insurance — something that's at the top of the Republican hit list.
The chief executives of Assurant Health, Golden Rule Insurance and Wellpoint testified at a congressional hearing last year that without such a mandate, they couldn't even cope with modest changes to the health care system such as selling policies to people with pre-existing conditions.
Some of the largest companies, such as Aetna and Cigna, said this week that they intended to stop selling policies only for children rather than abide by the new law.
"Bottom line," Rovner says, "is that even doing the more popular thing is difficult in health care without doing the less popular thing."
Rovner's final point is the overall grist for this political demagogue mill: doing the more popular thing is difficult without doing the less popular thing.
It's challenging to wait, and what we all learned from DADT is that sometimes phasing in change leads to being stuck. So I understand fully the disillusionment and demands to not compromise. And yet how to get around every vital issue's need to be a bipartisan compromise in order to become action? Obama does his best, I think, to effect action, and fulfill his campaign promises.
But perhaps his slogan would have done better for us had it been "phased in reform we can believe in," or "staged improvement we can believe in." Maybe that would have better set our expectations. Maybe then at a Town Hall one of his passionate supporters wouldn't have needed to say she was tired of defending him and when would we see this change?
But it's not as pithy, thus not as catchy. And imagine how the GOP could have woven "reform" into their melodrama narrative in which Obama is the villain tying the US to the train tracks.
In short, between not knowing enough about or fully comprehending complex issues, projecting our own ideology onto issues and people, and being bedazzled by a dizzying spray of incorrect information and inadequate corrections (that have to make it through our own filter, anyway), we're in a place of that psychological experiment where we must examine whether we are all actually calling a table a table.
Or a spade a spade.
We're also not Job, and our impatience and desire for our way might be our very undoing
So for all of those on both sides shouting Take Back America and Freedom Matters, think about how you are simply leaping from perceived revolution to perceived revolution. And how will that work for you?
Take a look at the beleaguered NASA, which had its funding and direction changed with each new administration, thwarting the advance and progress that would have made "Duh, of course, look at all they've accomplished!" the answer to the question, "Should NASA keep its funding?"
If you add and take away consistently, all you're doing is swinging...there's no progress forward. And we all need to keep moving forward, regardless of ideology.
The moral to this story is to not let yourself fall victim to your own biases, and to not let those be your Achilles heel that others can use to manipulate you and your perceptions.