Monday, March 12, 2007

Let them have Fox News

How do people come about their political positions and how does this affect the evolution of political movements? My personal belief is that the politically involved tend to pick a political world-view around ages 20-25 and stick with it for life. This view is entirely based on personal experience.

I'm a politically involved person. So is everyone who writes for this site and so are you, probably. My personal world view consists of things like:
  • The Christian right is crazier than anything on the left.
  • America has the power to invade a country and drive out a specific bad leader and stop specific atrocities, but we don't have the power to bring democracy or stability if the country is inhospitable to it.
  • Quote: "about zero percent of the electorate is primarily motivated by a principled opposition to state coercion"
  • Liberals should not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
I didn't come upon these beliefs through careful consideration of all available evidence. Instead I happened upon them through personal experience. I personally knew several fundamentalists and evangelicals. I read their anti-evolution literature. I saw the rush to war in Iraq. I saw many major libertarians arguing that we should trust the state with vastly expanded powers (with notable exceptions). This is how I decided what to believe.

I fully admit to not being as open-minded as I would like to be. In high school, I was pro-life and vaguely anti-gay and even flirted with opposing contraception (it's an easy position for a Catholic who had never kissed a girl). All of these beliefs were reconsidered during the late 90'. Then I kind of stopped dramatically changing my positions on things. I tell myself that the facts on the ground don't warrant changing my position on X or Y, but that's just what I would think, isn't it? Now that I've identified with one side (liberal wonkosphere) there's a whole set of primal group dynamics encouraging me to stick with the others who've made the same decision.

So let's say that people form their opinions early in adulthood, group up, and then stick with those groups even if the case for those political ideas weakens. What you'd expect to see over the lifetime of a political movement is something like this:
  1. A set of problems mold the world-view of people with certain values. They group up and recommend certain policies.
  2. If they come to power, those policies gets enacted.
  3. The reality changes and the world-view is no longer accurate (either because the problem is solved or because their polices have proven ineffective).
  4. The group stops taking on new members as fewer people adopt the world-view.
  5. The groups fades away as members die out or find themselves unable to form political coalitions with other groups.
When I look at the modern Republican movement, I see an organization that just doesn't understand America anymore. Over-regulation, pacifism, and urban race riots are not major problems. Similarly, when Mickey Kaus suggests that card-checks for unions will "cripple American capitalism in a fit of leftish nostalgia" I can't help but wonder what planet he lives on*.

Kevin says conservatives would do well to ignore Fox News because it makes them complacent. I ask: Is Fox News making conservatives complacent and closed-minded or is conservative closed-mindedness and complacency making them seek out things like Fox news? Shouldn't we expect that a movement built in the 60's and 70's and which applied it's polices throughout the 80's and 90s would find it's world-view no longer appealing in the 00's? And do we really expect Republicans will change their world-view if only they stopped watching Fox News?

Granted, political movements as vast as conservatism should have some flexibility to adopt new understandings, but I suspect that those new world-views come from new recruits, not grizzled veterans. Basically, if you're the type of person who want to cocoon him/herself with Fox News, getting rid of Fox News isn't going to help you.

*The answer: earth, 1972

1 comment:

Fred Fnord said...

Well, then there's the argument that says that anything that makes our citizens more ignorant and less well-informed is a negative force in society. And, given that Fox News viewers tend to be less well-informed than just about anyone else (80% of them were misinformed about major issues in a poll whereas only 23% of NPR/PBS viewers were).

Bubble or no, I'd have to say that the more people we have who are well-informed, the better off we are.

-fred