Monday, January 02, 2012

My political secret

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t actually dislike conservatives. In fact, in the specific, I get on quite well with conservative people. But when you talk about conservatives in the abstract, well, that’s when things get a little more complicated.

First complication: Are we talking USA or New Zealand? They’re very different. Similarly, voters and politicians are very different as well. This is why I try not to make blanket statements about “conservatives”, but instead try to be specific about what I’m talking about.

Take voters, for example. Conservative voters in the US confuse me. They must have huge cognitive dissonance to allow them to not only vote for politicians who will actively and openly work against their best interests, but to also think that sort of self-defeating voting is the right—even righteous—thing to do. Pretty weird, it seems to me. But, then, true conservative voters are a minority in the US—most are nearer the centre.

In New Zealand, only a handful of voters are dyed-in-the-wool (sometimes, it seems, literally…) conservative voters. Most New Zealanders who vote for conservative government are centrists simply voting for change. Then, when a conservative government goes to far—as they always do—Kiwis shift left. So, while I may disagree with their behaviour, there’s at least some level of rationality to their voting behaviour, unlike their conservative American cousins.

Conservative politicians in the two countries couldn’t be more different: Those in America are the champions of theocracy, oligarchy or both. In New Zealand, they tend mostly to champion the oligarchs, not all of whom in New Zealand are to be found among the super-rich. In NZ, the rest are just “go slow” advocates of little or no change (our only theocratic politicians are to be found outside of elective office, usually in pressure groups). I have little or no common ground with American conservative politicians, but there’s ample room for compromise with New Zealand’s elected conservative politicians. That’s probably the biggest difference of all.

So while US conservative politicians may rile me up (sometimes greatly), New Zealand’s conservatives more often than not just make me laugh at them (unless they’re really in a position of power, in which case they, too, can rile me up). What tends to make me laugh the most is the earnestness of their arrogant “born to rule” attitude—so many of them obviously truly believe that National is the “natural party of government”, the same as many Republicans in the US feel about their party. In both cases, it’s an unthinking, emotional response, largely irrational and completely uncritical (their party can never do anything wrong).

I’m fully aware that the centre-left can have politicians with the same hubris, but there’s one important difference between conservatives and liberals. Tell them they’re wrong, and they’ll both argue with you. But while the rightwinger will never back down, the true liberal will go away and think seriously about it all, wondering if, at least on some level, their critic may be right. I’ve yet to meet a partisan conservative who’s capable of that kind of introspection.

And that’s why I don’t dislike conservatives, elective or otherwise. Good liberal that I am, I always wonder if they might be right about something. So far, however, I’ve seldom found that to be the case.

But I guess that’s no secret, is it?


Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, THAT! I knew THAT!

I thought maybe you changed your party affiliation in the US so you could vote in the GOP primary!

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Actually, Illinois requires no party affiliation—people just ask for whichever party ballot they want. In the past, people have been known to vote in their non-favoured party's primary to get a weaker opponent for their preferred party. Whether this is strategic or mischievous depends on one's partisan perspective, I suppose.

However, one perverse effect of the change to the rules for overseas voters (we now need to file a new form each election cycle, not every few years) means it's easier for overseas Illinoisans to engage in this sort of voting strategy. Not me, though: I couldn't deal with the resulting months-long nausea I'd feel from voting in the Republican Primary. ;-)