On the surface, it seems very strange.
President Obama, Democrat, has deployed secret military assassins to “take care of business” at least three times now: Somali pirates, Osama Bin Laden, and most recently the Somali kidnappers. That’s right: a Democrat being aggressive, even violent, in foreign affairs.
Ex-Speaker Gingrich, Republican, has waxed poetic about putting bases on the moon. That’s right: a Republican talking about investing in scientific progress and discovery that has absolutely no security implications or concrete short-term business application.
What is going on? Where, oh where, have my good old reliable stereotypes gone?
But when I paused to reflect on it for a moment, I begin to realize that it’s actually inevitable.
In a Pushmi-Pullyu political system of two parties, it is no surprise that differences become amplified. Anything that one side appears to favor, the other will find ways to demonize. Any argument that one side puts forward, the other will belittle and try to show it as biased, corrupt, and filled with suspect ulterior motives. As a result, a taint of suspicion will inevitably fall on every single issue: from either one side or the other, no matter what argument is being made, there will be at least someone who says: “Well, of course he is saying that… because he’s biased that way!!”
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether the issue is correct or incorrect. The belief that taxing the rich destroys jobs? Democrats say: “Of course Republicans say that, that is their bias!” The belief that taxing the rich will help the economy? Republicans say: “Of course Democrats say that, that is their bias!” When both sides are perceived by the public as having “equal and opposite bias” (Pushmi-Pullyu), the actual facts become at best unknowable and at worst irrelevant. Whatever position you advocate, you are doing it because of bias, and therefore your opinion can be immediately dismissed.
Unless you take the opposite stance from everyone else on your side.
A Democrat can put forth the most careful, factually-based, logically valid argument for raising taxes, and it will be immediately dismissed as “Well, of course he says that, he’s a Democrat, that’s his bias!” But what if a Republican were to do the same thing?
A Republican can put forth the most careful, intelligent, and accurate argument for continuing the war in Afghanistan, and it will be immediately dismissed as “Well, of course he says that, he’s a Republican, that’s his bias!” But what if a Democrat were to do the same thing?
The only way to be taken seriously, in today’s political climate, is to be the person who breaks with the stereotype of his own party.
Imagine if President Obama had talked about a moon base in his State of the Union address. Can you even imagine the outrage? He would have appeared out of touch. He would have been seen as ignoring the problem of jobs and the economy. He would have come across as having no sense of priorities.
But since Newt did it… it somehow seems more plausible.
More than just seeming more plausible, he is relatively inoculated against attack. Why? Because Democrats really ARE pro-science, pro-research, and pro-exploration! They are going to be very hesitant to jump on the band-wagon to take the easy shots of calling Newt “out of touch” or lacking in priorities, because secretly Democrats like the idea of space exploration and they believe in the “inherent value” of it.
In today’s political climate, I believe that only a Republican could effectively get away with promoting space exploration. Just like only a Democrat could effectively get away with sending in shady special-ops troops to assassinate Osama Bin Laden. And although you see a small minority of Democrats whining about the fact that Bin Laden didn’t get a trial, that is nothing compared to the outrage they would have voiced if it had been a Republican president. On the flip side, there may be a small number of Republicans complaining about Newt’s space travel ideas, it is nothing compared to the groundswell of objection Republicans would have had if a Democrat had suggested that we invest in space travel.
My prediction is that we will see more and more of this, as our politics in this country become more and more polarized. As political parties become paralyzed by the perception of pervasive bias, the only way that individuals will be able to advocate for anything will be to cross ideological lines. So expect to see more Republicans standing up for taxing the wealthy and investing in education, and expect to see more Democrats standing up for tough immigration reform and a tough military. Once people realize the “trick” that the only way to be seen as plausible is to go against your own perceived stereotype, it will be open-season for crossing ideological lines.