Arguably not that well, perhaps because most Americans aren’t mean. Even a study headlined to suggest the opposite shows we prefer the milk of human kindness. (More)
Sacred Cow Tipping, Part III – The Milk of Kindness (Non-Cynical Saturday)
This week Morning Feature considers sacred cows offered by the Tea Party GOP, wedge issues they use to arouse their base and demonize their opponents. Thursday we reviewed Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision overturning California’s Proposition 8, which had banned LGBT marriage since 2008. Yesterday we looked at Tea Party GOP leaders’ statements against birthright citizenship, a position so absurd even Lou Dobbs disagrees. Today we conclude by asking if their sacred cows are running out of political milk.
Disclaimer: I do not endorse or approve of actual cow tipping, which is an urban (well, rural) legend. Neither do I endorse or criticize the Hindu reverence for cows. I’m using “sacred cow” as a metaphor. (Trans: “So there!”)
An empathy deficit?
Ahh, headlines. Conflict attracts more attention than cooperation, so it’s hardly surprising that both Dr. Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan and the New York Times focused on data suggesting today’s college students show less empathy than in the past. Dr. Konrath’s study of 14,000 college students – try the questions yourself – found empathy declining among college students over the past 40 years, and most precipitously over the past 10 years. Dr. Konrath and other researchers interviewed by the Times, and readers, offered widely varying reasons for the “empathy deficit.”
But the study found a median empathy score of 51 from a possible 70, and 90% of participants scored over half (35/70) on Dr. Konrath’s empathy scale. As she and others noted, the difference between her findings and previous studies may lie in an actual decline in empathy, or in different methodologies for studying empathy over the past four decades. Regardless, the actual data showed more empathy than the headline and article suggested.
A recent Arizona Republic poll on the SB 1070 immigration bill showed similar findings. Nearly half (48%) of the respondents said discrimination against Latinos was more likely since the bill’s passage, and almost as many (46%) believe the debate “exposed a deeper sense of racism in our community.” Large majorities of Hispanics, women, and Democrats were concerned about the racism revealed in and stoked by the immigration debate.
CNN reported anecdotal evidence of voting line behavior in 2008 that also suggests our tendency toward kindness, even among voters from different parties in a hotly-contested election. Voters helped each other find parking places, shared umbrellas, and even took food orders for each other while waiting in long lines at polling places. Arizona State University professor Robert Cialdini, who studies group behavior, described voting as a civic act that “created a sense of ‘we,’ not ‘me.'” UCal-Irvine professor Shawn Rosenberg amplified:
Voting is a realization of their social position of a citizen, as a person in a larger community. They’re performing a citizen role and a line isn’t an obstruction. It symbolizes their commitment to a larger role. It orients people in another way. They’re less selfish about it, and they’re taking more pleasure in being part of a larger group.
“Americans are selfish.”
Thus opined a conservative pundit during one of the endless MSNBC debates on health care last summer. (I don’t remember which pundit or which show. Sorry.) He stated it as if it were fact, then proceeded to explain why that meant most Americans really opposed health care reform, or would once they learned about it, despite polls showing broad support. That view of Americans as selfish and uninterested in others’ needs was and still is an article of faith in among Tea Party Republicans.
Believing us to be selfish, they offer sacred cows of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and disgust for the poor – “red meat,” in punditspeak – thinking a majority of us will snap it up. They seem shocked when most of us recoil after Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) wants us “scraping and clawing” for jobs, or are outraged when they vote to stop unemployment benefits but extend tax cuts for the wealthy, or laugh in disgust when they offer as scientific evidence a “thought experiment” where think tank members are asked “imagine to the consequences” of LGBT marriage (see p.48 of Judge Walker’s ruling).
Going into the 2010 midterms, Tea Party Republicans are betting on voters buying their milk of human meanness. But like Sen. Mitch McConnell this week, some have begun to slip away from their own positions. Look for their slip-sliding to continue as primaries end and they realize winning the fringe of their own party is not the same as winning Fred, our archetypal median voter.
We aren’t as mean as Tea Party Republicans wish, and we’re tired of their sour milk.
Nite nite, sacred cow.