Progressives pride themselves on their ability to understand the “Other,” by which they mean people they consider to be at the bottom: blacks, women, gays and lesbians, and people of the Third World. But apparently they have a devil of a time understanding people right in their midst: the conservatives. This was the subject of a study recently, and it was highlighted in a Nicholas Kristof column (here). Conservatives are better at understanding how progressives think than vice versa. This is now a huge matter of concern since progressives had utterly dismissed the possibility that any part of ObamaCare might be considered unconstitutional, but now it is a very real possibility. How could they have gotten this so wrong? (See here.)
Having spent the last fifteen years reading conservative and libertarian newspapers, magazines, and blogs, I can offer progressives some advice.
1. Their perceptions of things aren’t the same as yours. For example, while everyone on the left believes that Nazis were on the right, people on the right believe they were on the left. Another example is that of corporations: leftists see corporations as hand-in-glove with conservatives, while conservatives see them as somewhat to the left of themselves. A third example is that of the Democrats, which they see not as the party of the poor, but as a party of rich elites who think they speak for the poor.
2. They are cynical about your motives. What you see as something benign and wonderful, they see as a way for you to get control of people’s lives. For example, rich liberals and leftists who complain about the need for higher taxes on rich people, but who don’t want to contribute voluntarily raise suspicions among conservatives. Another example is that of high-profile environmentalists who are always jetting off to some conference somewhere, thus producing a huge carbon footprint while complaining about the minuscule carbon footprints of the rest of us.
3. They think you have a narrative that encourages you to raise a ruckus about any crime fitting that narrative and ignoring any crime that doesn’t. For examples, take the current near-lynch-mob atmosphere surrounding Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and the Duke lacrosse team rape case. The result is that they don’t trust your media.
4. Why not treat them like the foreigners that you are always trying to “understand?” You often make excuses for foreigners who act in atrocious ways by insisting that if people were to understand (and be sympathetic to) their background, they would understand why they act that way. So, why not treat conservatives the same way? This means doing what I have been doing: reading their articles and books sympathetically.
This is the advice that I have off the top of my head. I might think of more later.