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What do liberals and conservatives hear when they argue?

On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

What do liberals and conservatives hear when they argue?

Stephen H. Provost

My father taught me a good debater is able to argue both sides of a point, and I discovered on my own that it’s a lot more fun to do it with a little (or a lot) of sarcasm throw in.

So, I’m going to be tweaking both liberals and conservatives with this post, but there’s a serious point behind it: We don’t tend to realize how we come across to other people, especially in political conversations. While you’re making those deeply considered arguments for your deeply held beliefs on social media, it’s quite likely that those on the other side of the issue are hearing something entirely different.

What are they hearing?

Maybe something a little like this:

What conservatives might hear when liberals get on their soapbox ... 

  1. Men are bad – They’re a bunch of clueless oafs who use their entrenched gender-based privilege to push people around. Besides they’re only interested in sex and beer and football. (What about women who like those things, too? Shhhh. We’re conveniently ignoring that).
  2. Pro athletes are bad – We should be paying teachers that much! Screw supply and demand. Besides, the fine arts are the only acceptable form of entertainment. NASCAR? UFC? Boxing? They all gotta go!
  3. Faith is bad – Unless it’s faith in myself. (Hey, stop reminding me of how many times I’ve screwed things up, OK? It takes a village, don’t ya know!)
  4. Other liberals are bad – Unless they agree with everything on the accepted liberal “Litmus Test Checklist of Acceptable Knee-Jerk Responses.” What’s that? You say liberalism is about thinking for yourself? Puleeez! That’s so 1960s.
  5. This chemical is bad – There’s a 0.03 percent greater chance of contracting (insert fatal condition here) if one consumes 200 gallons of it a day. This must be stopped at all costs!
  6. Humans are bad – We’re destroying the environment! (But please give us free health care so we can live longer and make it worse.)
  7. Success is bad – If you have too much money, it either means you cheated to get it, inherited it from someone who did, or that you’re hoarding it and not giving it to the less fortunate people who deserve it more than a cheapskate like you!
  8. White people are bad – Because skin color defines us, don’t ya know. Wait a minute ...
  9. Cars are bad – Unless they’re electric. Everyone should ride a bike to work, even if your office is sixty miles away! Or telecommute, even if you work loading goods onto containers in a warehouse. Don’t you know you’re part of the problem? That diesel truck you’re loading is destroying us all!
  10. The Electoral College is bad – Because it’s unfair? Get real. No one cares about that. Because we lost! Twice!

What liberals might hear when conservatives get on their high horse... 

  1. Immigrants are bad – They take all those dirt-cheap jobs that should go to Americans so the corporate honchos can keep all the money!
  2. Government is bad – But elect us anyway! Because it's good for us (we want those speaking engagement fees, do-nothing corporate board seats and seven-figure deal for our memoir)!
  3. Taxes are bad – Unless they’re used for the military. Who needs roads, health care, education? You’re on your own with that shit.
  4. The arts are bad – Most of that shit was either made by people on LSD, about to commit suicide or trying to brainwash you to give to the DNC. Ever notice how LSD and DNC kinda rhyme? You can’t tell me that’s a coincidence!
  5. Science is bad – Especially if it disagrees with my interpretation of my scripture, which just happens to support my financial agenda. Isn’t it nice how that works out?
  6. Universities are bad – They fill our young people’s heads with all sorts of perverse ideas about evolution and equality (communism!) and diversity. Egads! There’s a reason they call it liberal arts. (Makes the sign of the cross).
  7. Gun control is bad – Because the NRA said so. The gun manufacturers need to sell more guns, and we’re in their pockets (but we can’t admit that).
  8. The media are bad – Biased! Fake! Trust only Fox News and Drudge and Rush and Hannity. They’re not biased! No, not at all!
  9. Same-sex marriage is bad – Don’t get us wrong. We still believe government should stay out of everything, but sex is different. It’s only in the most private, intimate setting that government has a place! You have to admit that makes sense!
  10. Poverty is bad – It means you didn’t try hard enough! It’s all your fault! You want a living wage? So sorry. You want to survive, you gotta play the game, baby. You’re the one who worships Darwin, right? Well, maybe you oughta take a page out of his book. It’s all about survival of the fattest … er… fittest.

And the one they both agree on: a distaste for the First Amendment:

Free speech is bad (conservative version) – We can’t let J.K. Rowling, Mark Twain and John Stewart corrupt our youth now, can we? “Harry Potter” almost ended civilization as we know it: They used that witchcraft to elect that guy from Kenya! We can’t let that happen again!

Free speech is bad (liberal version) – We can’t let anyone offend our delicate sensibilities, now, can we? We need safe spaces to protect our little ears from your bad, bad words.

Now I’m sure there will be some people on both sides who don’t like that I’ve said any of this – which just reinforces my last point about free speech.

Besides, you’re not supposed to like it.

Are debaters these days still able to argue both sides of an issue? Or have we become so addicted to political defensiveness that our debate preparations consist solely of buttressing our own POV – with both reasonable points and kitchen-sink-dumping fallacies?

People on both sides of such “dialogues” are at fault, whether they’re arrogantly pushing their views on others or refusing to listen when presentations are calm and rational. We need to start talking to each other again, rather than spouting talking points and then raising objections before we’ve even heard what the other side has to say.

We might just learn something … if we’re not too busy coming off as such know-it-alls!