How much time & effort do you spend listening to the "other side"? That would depend on who's doing the talking, right? I'm an open-minded person, I think, but there is a point when I determine that listening to dogma is a waste of time. Case in point the current Republican presidential candidates. I watched their entire debate the other day. Maybe they're just trying to appeal to their political base now, but what they're saying seems either irrational or way over the edge (often both). I mean, how many times can you listen to someone who basically says the Earth is flat?..
I don't mean to offend the many good and reasonable people who happen to be Republicans--although I think they are the exception. The Republican majority and its leaders, unfortunately, support backward views by and large. In a democracy, there is a correlation between the conservative base and the kind of politicians representing it and elected to public office.
In our country we have many people who just don't get it! I know, to say so it's a political offense of the highest degree. However, who can deny, for example, that a dangerously high number (almost half) of Americans don't accept one of the strongest and verifiable theory we have? That is, the theory of evolution. Their representatives--either equally misinformed or playing to their constituents--make public policy that reflects this uneducated view. It's no wonder that president Bush and like-minded conservatives argue that "the jury is still out" on a plethora of scientific theories/discoveries/facts. [Chris Mooney has written an interesting book, The Republican War on Science] Of course, without a doubt, there are misinformed, stubbornly close-minded people that support the Democratic party too. But, there's a huge difference: The size of such groups and the role they play in their respective political parties. The current political debates among the presidential candidates reveal a great deal about the nature and kind of the arguments presented. Check it out for yourself.
I won't get into what human nature is, but there are people who differ vastly when it comes to thinking, examining the world around them, and are able (or have the courage) to amend their views. This study about the war in Iraq and US policy is just one of many. It shows that those who have misconceptions tend to support the Republican party. Note the almost exact reverse correlation (media outlet & misconceptions) between those who get their information from Fox News and those from NPR/PBS! I don't know if it's kind like which came first, the chicken or the egg. But, watching the Faux news channel is a choice after all. Sure, if you need to hear that we're winning the war in Iraq, the economy is working great for most Americans, and want to see lots of exposed skin & gratuitous sex, turn to this media outlet. [just ignore the rantings about the falling "moral fitness of America" by the Faux preachers]
The Republican party has had a regressive direction in the last 15 years. Even Ronald Reagan would be a moderate economic Republican today. In 1986, he overhauled the tax code and (gasp) made the rich pay more taxes! [raised the effective tax rate on corporations and wealthy Americans]. This is considered treasonous by the GOP today. By 1993, when president Clinton passed his balanced budget, not a single Republican in both chambers of the Congress voted for it! The centrists had been replaced by the extremists (ala Grover Norquist) in the GOP. Their leaders, their think tanks and friendly media/commentators all pushed for a new "gilded age" of unbridled capitalism.
This regression went far beyond the economic sphere and into all aspects of our society. George H. Bush (41) was deemed a "traitor" and his son W. Bush (43) the ..savior of conservative politics. Of course we know where he's led the country, but these conservatives never question their ideology and their methods; the problem always lies with individuals--they fail, not their principles!
Where in the world an enlightened, smart electorate would we have leaders like the current crop of Republican candidates? Leaders who question the best tool we have for understanding the world: the scientific method. Where would those leaders would say that when two cells meet, it's called a human life, and all abortions are "murder", and that women & their doctors should be punished as criminals? [Yes, even Mr. Giuliani said it'd be OK for states to enact criminal laws for abortion, and that he'd appoint justices to SCOTUS who'd overturn Roe v. Wade] Let's not forget about the future of the Supreme Court, a future that hinges on the next election!
Advanced countries [with lots less of a religious attitude to guide their true compassion] health care and education are considered rights and not privileges, but, in the US, Republicans disagree! Instead the latter prefer to sell fear and ignorance! Fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear of modernity, fear of progress, fear of homosexuals, the immigrants, and the godless hedonists! They prefer the emotional responses not rational thinking. One example is their response to the question posed by that retired general--whether the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of military conduct should be repealed. All emphatically said, no! That's right. They're afraid of having homosexuals around them. They want to perpetuate divisions, like the one of the rather recent past--all white regiments, because having blacks among white men would demoralize the troops!
Fortunately, their political base is shrinking, America's attitudes are changing, but the GOP seems to be trapped in the "southern strategy" which favors divisions, polarization, and irrational fears. Oh, yes, ignorance too. It may take a few elections of stunning defeats to change course, although this won't happen unless the moderate Republicans regain control of their party. This, however, is not certain. Sometimes, the reaction of extremists is to blame the decline on individuals and not its core ideology and practices. Same thing is happening with the Islamists*--who blame their society's problems not on their reactionary beliefs, methods and the ruthless but incompetent rulers, but on anything & anybody else.
It also seems that the racial prejudice directed at the blacks in the past is now shifting to the immigrants. America is transcending its racial attitudes [hence the Southern strategy is already failing], but the GOP wants to use divisive politics against the immigrants. Most Americans want a sensible immigration policy that's smarter, humane, and efficient. The Latino groups are breaking about 65% for the Democrats. If this new largest minority group solidifies behind the Dems [as the Italians, Jews, Irish, et al. did in the past], then we're talking about a huge re-alignment with long-term political implications.
We do need a new direction, as far as possible from the one in the last several years. Getting a new president is a good start. But, don't forget the local races. We have to elect progressive people who understand the needs of America and the world in general. This would be a good point to end this post, but to avoid gloating by Democrats I have to remind them the following.
The Republicans have been incompetent, corrupt, and out of touch. The disastrous war in Iraq has also played a big role in political fortune reversal. This whole situation has been a gift to the Democrats. Such a collapse doesn't happen often though. The Democrats have to take this opportunity to govern with courage, with clear politics that benefit most Americans, and with a vision for the future--a new America, a progressive country that enhances the culture of life, empowers and protects its citizens. Being anti-something won't get you far. Being Republican-lite is a recipe for failure.
*I use the term Islamists to describe the people who want a theocracy, are against modernity, human rights, and violence is just another means to their ends. I do not equate them with the Republicans in the US. However, I think the analogy about reacting to their problems remains.
Addendum: This just came to my attention. The very conservative National Review has come out with an article about the impending doom for the Republican party, an outcome that will be like FDR's election in 1932. The authors of this article may lament about the declining fortunes of the GOP, but they're grappling with the truth. The Dems have a tremendous opportunity to produce a political re-alignment for a generation or more, and, more importantly, to finally turn this country into a solidly progressive course. This opportunity will only be meaningful if the Dems do the right thing.
Much of the debate centers around the role of the state. An enlightened country can use the government's power not to baby-sit its citizens but to protect and empower them! That's an ideal of a liberal democracy. The more people see the benefits of good public policy the less likely to go back to divisive conservative politics. Hopefully in the future we won't have to waste time debating false choices and the politics of fear, but instead select the most able leaders to get the job done.