Sometimes, one idea can haunt you. Michael Shermer's Jonestown: You can believe at all costs introduced me to "confirmation bias." Here I am, wanting to believe that I am impartial and rational, and that I can make decisions with some intellectual rigor. Shermer's piece skewered my assumptions.
- "This is when we look for and find evidence to support what we already believe and ignore or rationalize away evidence that does not. And because we are so tribal by nature, we employ confirmation bias with extra vigor when it comes to defending the groups we belong to... It is for this reason that we need to look for disconfirmatory evidence. to listen to the arguments of those with whom we disagree, [and] to ask for constructive criticism of our beliefs."
However, I found myself pulled between that truth, and other, older, personal, inviolable touchstones for any candidate who wanted my vote - biases I have developed over decades by reading and listening to the members of my lefty tribe. For example:
- I never will vote for anyone who favors capital punishment.
- I believe that the Democratic and Republican parties are, essentially, one bird with two right wings. (Thank you, Mr. Vidal.)
- I believe in redistribiution of wealth to prevent spectacles like auto industry executives taking separate private jets to Washington in order to beg for bail-out money. I believe in redistribution of wealth to ensure that workers do not lose their jobs or benefits while management earns enough money to finance a flight of the space shuttle.
- I believe in universal health care, period. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are impossible if you do not have access to health care. Period.
If you have radical left views, can you listen to moderate voices on the right? Really? They're still blaming Hillary Clinton for the death of Vince Foster. They never told each other to cut out the accusations that Obama is Muslim (or said, as Colin Powell finally did, so what?). They never stopped saying that Obama hangs around with bomb-throwing radicals. They still think we have brought democracy to that most tribal of nations, Iraq.
How do I know? I listened (as much as I could stand) to right-wing voices on radio and television. It got to the point where I was beginning to consider Pat Buchanan moderate.
I also tried very hard to maintain my respect for John McCain. But once he hired the people who had been used in 2000 to destroy him with rumours about his children, how could I?
I ended up supporting Barack Obama. He represents something very new: an unashamedly intellectual approach to problem-solving. (Maybe "new" is the wrong word. Maybe "retro" would be better. We once had politicians like Patrick Moynihan and Jacob Javits, who thought issues through without being tethered to party lines.)
Given the way the campaign went - the selection of Sarah "go ahead and interview me, just ignore the dying turkeys back there" Palin as a VP candidate, the "he's a Muslim/he's not a citizen/he's a Communist" rhetoric from the GOP, the implicit racism by one candidate's husband who dismissed Jesse Jackson's historic victories, the scary prospect of candidates who didn't believe in evolution - I'm glad that we will have an Obama presidency.
Of course, I violated all of my touchstones by voting for him. And you know something? I feel as if I violated my own tribal taboos in the process. Not even my husband can talk me back up from that feeling of failure. I voted against my own basic principles in the name of Change You Can Believe In.
Chapter 2: This is Change You Can Believe In?
Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? WHAT?
I don't f-ing believe this. Make it stop.
Chapter 3: In which teabird realizes she swallowed the Kool-aid.
I'm not more disillusioned with the process than I was before. I'm not disillusioned about Obama. (Yet.) I am disillusioned with myself. I live in a state that would have elected Rin Tin Tin as the Democratic candidate, and yet I threw away my vote by not making a choice I could believe in. Is there such a thing as winner's remorse?