Saturday, August 22, 2015

What makes conservatives tick?

Did you join the 24 million watching the FOX News Republican presidential debate? I did and found myself focused on the live-audience reactions as much as what candidates had to say.

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, the audience, to the extent it represented the conservative base, made me think liberals are from entirely different galaxies, as far apart from conservatives as A to Z, with liberals perhaps from Andromeda and conservatives from Zwicky’s Triplet Galaxy.

At times I was reminded of a familiar African proverb. “When elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.” A Cambodian saying may apply to the GOP front-runner.  The elephant that is stuck in the mud will tear down the tree with it.

I disagreed with much that the candidates had to say, but it was the reaction of the clearly partisan live audience that left me wondering if they represented mainstream Republican thinking. For example, moderator Megyn Kelly reminded viewers of Donald Trump’s statements about women. “You have called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs’, ‘dogs’, ‘slobs’, and ‘disgusting animals.” Trump’s dishonest reply was, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” The audience broke into sustained laughter, giving us a revealing glimpse at what they mean when they object to what they disdainfully call “political correctness.”  

They cheered loudly when Dr. Ben Carson said he supported torture. Marco Rubio got a favorable audience response, saying it didn’t matter if pregnancies were the result of a rape or incest or threatened the life of the mother, abortion should be banned in all cases.

Seemingly inconsistent with the stereotype, Kelly’s question to Ohio Governor John Kasich rejected fundamental Christian values in favor of a humanist, conservative position on healthcare reform. She posed this question to Kasich, “You defended your Medicaid expansion by invoking God, saying to skeptics that when they arrive in heaven, Saint Peter isn't going to ask them how small they've kept government, but what they have done for the poor.”

She drew a distinction between what Christians espouse and what the Republicans in this audience seemed to believe. “Why should Republican voters, who generally want to shrink government, believe that you won't use your Saint Peter rationale to expand every government program?”

Really? “Your Saint Peter rationale”? The FOX News translation of the Gospel received a shockingly warm response from the audience. In the Fox version, apparently it’s Judgment Day and Ayn Rand rather than Jesus divides the people, placing those Rand called “the makers” on the right and “the takers” on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I needed clothes, I was sick, I was in prison and you, thankfully, reduced the size of government.”

You might have thought conservative Christians, who chide liberals about “traditional Biblical values,” might choose to side with the King James Version of the story rather than the FOX News translation. You’d be wrong. This audience didn’t hesitate a moment to cheer Kelly’s confrontation with a Governor who, in contrast to anyone else on that elongated stage, thought it more important to heal the sick.

Back to the original question. Why do liberals and the conservatives in the Cleveland audience see the world so differently? There are a number of less-than-charitable explanations on each side. However,, a nonprofit public charity, attempts to be objective, providing resources for critical thinking without a bias. They surveyed 16 peer-reviewed studies showing liberals and conservatives are physiologically different. It’s not simply opinion and experience but a part of who we are inherently.

Is it simply a contest between concrete thinking and sentimentality? Those studies show people politically right-of-center spend more time looking at unpleasant images, and people left-of-center spend more time looking at pleasant images.

The study may explain the cheers from this audience for Trump.

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