I took my older two kids with me to vote this morning. I like to show them that voting is important, and thankfully, there weren’t any lines. We were in and out of the voting booth quickly (though I missed the opportunity to let the kids press the “done” button — as a poll worker pointed out I could have done afterwards. Whoops. Next time). I turned 18 one month too late to vote in the 1996 presidential election, so I’ve been sure not to miss any since.
I’m not entirely sure who will win. Unlike 2008, the race seems somewhat closer, at least in terms of national polls. A lot seems to hinge on swing state turnout, and it tentatively seems like the incumbent has the advantage there. But we shall see. So I was a bit surprised by the headline on Paul Krugman’s recent column (online version, as linked to by Real Clear Politics): You’re stupid if you think it’s close. Really?
Broadly, this idea of calling people stupid on issues that are less settled than, say, whether it’s OK to leave your kids locked in a hot car, bothers me. One of my biggest personal pet peeves, every election season, is the assumption (on both sides!) that no thinking, reasonable, good person could disagree with you. I used to be more on the left side of the political aisle, and I well remember walking into school back in Indiana the morning after the 1994 election when the Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in 40 years. My first period teacher let out a cheer and said something like “how about that election last night?” The rest of the class cheered back. I found it very strange. Had I missed the memo about the assumption that everyone’s sympathies lay to the right? (Even a teacher! How’s that for busting stereotypes?)
My politics have since drifted more to the center/center-right of things, but I’ve spent the last 15 years living in blue states. And so I’ve frequently seen that same assumption from people with politics pointing the opposite direction. A woman who’s just met a group of people announces something about “that horrible George W. Bush” within the first three minutes — I guess assuming that whatever 50 percent of the population that voted for him could not possibly be represented in this nice group of folks she’s having dinner with.
Maybe it came from having my rightward drift coincide with my time at college — where most people were pretty smart — but I certainly don’t think that people who have different political opinions than me are stupid. I don’t even think it’s that they don’t have all the facts. I think we are often looking at similar facts and drawing different conclusions. We assign different weights to results of certain trade-offs.
Another reason the hysterics of election season bother me is that I’ve discovered over the years that the world hasn’t ended or even changed all that much because one party has been in power. I assumed one sure result of an Obama presidency was that my taxes were going to go up. But they haven’t (yet; it seems more likely in a second term, but who knows?). In fact, with the payroll tax cut of the last two years, my tax rate under Obama has been slightly lower than it was under Bush. I was told, back in 2000, that if Bush won, Roe v. Wade would be overturned. Through 8 years of his presidency, that didn’t happen either.
I have high hopes that the tone of political arguments can be changed. But part of the result of polarization — of states drifting bluer or redder — is that we become less exposed to people who think differently, and who we can also see are good, smart, reasonable people. So elections become almost tribal. Which team are you on? For one to win, the other has to lose. There becomes less room for discussion.
That’s too bad, because many problems won’t be cleanly solved by ideology. There are interesting ideas bubbling up on all sides. Many from people who aren’t stupid.
In other news: If you’re reading this (and are in the US) and haven’t voted yet, go do so!