The Republican Brain, Part III: Changing Minds, a Q&A with Chris Mooney

Monday, June 4th, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

Over the past couple of posts, I have been looking at Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality. First, I considered some of the false beliefs held by Republicans, and whether Democrats are equally committed to false beliefs.  Next, I explored the research on why the two parties are not mirror-images, each stubbornly clinging to opposing false beliefs. In this post, I conclude with a brief interview with Mooney, and his proposals for bridging the partisan gap.

Chris Mooney is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor for Science Progress. In 2009, he was a visiting associate at Princeton University’s Center for Collaborative History. In 2009–10, he was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chris Mooney is traveling this week and was unable to join our discussion in the comments. However, he graciously agreed to answer several questions by email:

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How much did researching and writing the book require you to “change your mind,” and how difficult was that process for you?

There have actually been several mind changing moments for me here. And in each case, the process is somewhat difficult, but I feel that you have to follow the evidence over time because, well, you respect science too much not to.

First, and like many journalists and many liberals, I was initially resistant to the fundamental idea that liberals and conservatives are just different people. For instance, if you read my Mother Jones article about motivated reasoning that preceded the book, I basically argue there that both sides are biased, end of story, no reason to go any further.

However, the more I read the research being produced by people like NYU’s John Jost and his colleagues, the more I became convinced that they had compiled a body of evidence too compelling to ignore. The evidence came from multiple researchers and disciplines, and it supported the idea of liberal-conservative differences in interlocking ways. This is what we expect to see in serious science, of the sort that points to reliable conclusions. So that was one mind-changer.

The second one is that I initially thought that in terms of how they process information, the key difference between liberals and conservatives would indeed be a difference in a specific mechanism called motivated reasoning. And that’s what the study at the end of the book is designed to test.

Note: Mooney helped Dr. Everett Young design and conduct a study at Louisiana State University to test whether conservatives are more likely to engage in motivated reasoning on any issue – political or non-political – and their initial data do not support that hypothesis. While conservative subjects were more likely to resist new information that related to political issues, there was no statistical difference between conservatives’ and liberals’ resistance to new information on non-political issues such as a favorite athlete, musician, or university. However, Mooney and Young found a difference they had not predicted: conservative subjects spent much less time reading the new information they were presented, regardless of the issue.

But the study didn’t really show this – though it contained some fascinating hints. So as of now, I cannot say that motivated reasoning is the key source of the difference that we’re seeing, between left and right, in terms of how they respond to inconvenient realities.

And in fact, it turns out that isn’t really necessary to postulate that the left and right, on average, differ in a tendency towards motivated reasoning in order account for the results we’re seeing. There are many ways in which they do differ, such as personality and openness to new information (with conservatives less open), or tribal and in-group commitment (with conservatives more group-oriented), that could produce a “reality gap” between left and right of the sort that we actually see in the world today.

So that was another mind changer.

You offer research showing that Republicans find it harder to “change their minds,” at least in terms of new information that challenges conservative orthodoxy and identity. Have progressives’ and conservatives’ responses to your book been consistent with that hypothesis?

Oh yes, absolutely. Note that in the new study reported in the book, we found that conservatives were spending a lot less time reading the essay materials we gave them – and indeed, the conservatives who are angriest about my book show little evidence of having read it.

So, yes: The conservative response to the book, perhaps epitomized by Jonah Goldberg of the National Review, but also Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, smacks of closed-mindedness. The irony is here is sort of staggering. These people are willing to dismiss an entire scientific field – and it just happens to be an entire field which suggests that they’re willing to dismiss entire fields.

In The Republican Brain you focus on the importance of respectful conversations that identify and build on shared values – what we at BPI call Fred Whispering – and on using evocative and true stories rather than reams of facts. What advice would you offer for advocating progressive ideas to conservatives?

In general what we find is that it is possible, to an extent, to get conservatives to change their views in controlled psychology experiments, depending on how you frame information for them. The real word is not a controlled experiment, though, so whether this actually works very often there is another matter. But based on the experiments, these are the sorts of things you want to do if you want to open a conservative mind about ideas like global warming.

First, have an exchange in person. Interpersonal exchanges always work better and force people to listen to one another, rather than demonize one another.

Second, frame the science in a way that supports this conservative’s core values. So show that climate science is consistent with religious values, free market values, entrepreneurial values.

Third – and this is where liberals inevitably fall short – it would help to, er, be a credible conservative messenger. A religious leader, for instance, or an industry leader. But liberals have far too few of those in their ranks.

Clearly, speaking as an authority that conservatives respect will help change their minds.

You also call on progressives to be ‘more conservative,’ not in policy but becoming better organized and self-disciplined. Do you worry that may prove as difficult as convincing conservatives to be more open to science and/or that practicing greater organization and self-discipline might nudge progressives’ policy ideas toward greater conservatism?

Not really. I think this is unnatural to progressives, just as circling the wagons to defend the team or tribe is natural to conservatives. But the big difference is that by definition, progressives are open to change and trying out new things. That’s the mark of who they are. So they should, by definition, be more adaptable. They should be better able to come up with different strategies when the ones they’re using aren’t working.

I think progressive movements have, for too long, splintered into disloyal factions or rambled a disorganized fashion. In terms of disorganization, I think Occupy Wall Street epitomizes this problem.

But I know that progressives want to do better and are deeply intellectually interested in why they so often do not. To me, over time, that means they are going to embrace this knowledge, look in the mirror, and organize themselves better.

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Changing minds: ours and others’

I agree with Mooney that we progressives must become better organized and more self-disciplined in our advocacy. We discussed one example last week: why words like “marriage equality” matter in political dialogue. Too often we adopt the language of Conservative rather than rigorously speaking the language of Progressive. Ironically, in resisting pressure to “repeat the party line,” we often end up repeating the other party’s lines.

However, while the Occupy Movement have not (yet) shown the organization or discipline of the Tea Party – who found and supported Republican candidates for federal, state, and local elections in 2010 and 2012 – they did introduce the phrases “Top One Percent” and “99 Percent” into the Progressive language. Those have been stickier and more effective in pushing the issue of income inequality than President Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s “Wall Street/Main Street” frame.

I was delighted to see Mooney emphasize the face-to-face political conversations that we at BPI call Fred Whispering. It’s not enough to talk among ourselves, online or in progressive and Democratic offline groups. We must also talk with our friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors in our communities, and focus more on forming relationships than on ‘winning’ arguments. We can’t all be religious or industry leader Authorities, but we can often become another, equally convincing kind of Authority … trusted friends.

Finally, Mooney also reminds us to become better storytellers. As we discussed in January, stories are ‘stickier’ than facts and logic. And as Chip and Dan Heath emphasize in Made to Stick, stories better embed nuance and – more important – work as “flight simulators” that better prepare us to take action.

Research suggests conservatism may be the ‘default’ attitude, but history shows that progressives can overcome that if we work together, reach out to people we meet, and tell our stories.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

 

The Republican Brain, Part II: Politics, Psychology, and Biology

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

This week I’ve been looking at Chris Mooney’s The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality. In the first post, I considered some of the false beliefs held by Republicans, and whether Democrats are equally committed to false beliefs. Today I explore the research on why the two parties are not mirror-images, each stubbornly clinging to opposing false beliefs. Tomorrow I’ll conclude with a brief interview with Mooney, and his proposals for bridging the partisan gap.

Chris Mooney is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect and a contributing editor for Science Progress. In 2009, he was a visiting associate at Princeton University’s Center for Collaborative History. In 2009–10, he was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Both parties are (not!) the same.”

We often hear that “both parties are the same,” comprised of extremists who ignore inconvenient facts and stubbornly cling to false beliefs. Indeed the Americans Elect project was based on The Myth of the Missing Center, where both main parties are equally wrong and the truth lies somewhere between them. And as we saw yesterday, both Republicans and Democrats get facts wrong.

However, Mooney cites studies that show Republicans and Democrats get facts wrong for different reasons. As we saw in reviewing Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, progressives respond most strongly to stories about Harm and Fairness, a bit less to stories about Liberty, and much less to stories about Loyalty, Authority, and Purity. Conservatives respond about equally to stories about all six moral foundations, though “extreme conservatives” respond slightly more to stories about Loyalty, Authority, or Purity than to stories about Harm, Fairness, or Liberty.

Mooney and Haidt also agree that progressives and conservatives tend to evaluate Fairness differently, with the left more likely to favor equality and the right more likely to justify inequality in terms of unequal virtue or contribution. When an issue pushes our moral-emotional buttons, we are more likely to engage in motivated reasoning, constructing an argument to bolster intuitive emotional judgments rather than the Enlightenment model of weighing facts through dispassionate logic.

The studies Mooney cites also show Republicans and Democrats respond to new information differently. Progressives are more likely to change our beliefs when offered new evidence and highly-educated progressives are even more prone to do so. Conversely, the studies show conservatives more likely to defend their beliefs against new evidence and highly-educated conservatives are even more prone to do so. Mooney calls the latter “smart idiots” who use their intelligence and education to construct sophisticated arguments that dismiss contrary evidence and maintain false beliefs.

Drops in an OCEAN

If these studies are reliable, what explains the differences? The key, Mooney argues, may lie in the Big Five model. This proposes five broad personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism – thus the acronym OCEAN. While there is no definitive model of human psychology, the Big Five model has been refined over several decades and researchers have devised several tests that reliably measure the five traits.

Mooney cites studies that show Democrats score higher than Republicans on Openness, which corresponds to an appreciation for and tendency toward innovation, creativity, curiosity, complexity, and ambiguity. Conversely, Republicans score higher than Democrats on Conscientiousness, which corresponds to an appreciation for and tendency toward efficiency, discipline, duty, loyalty, and stability. Indeed Openness/Conscientiousness scores correlate to political ideology and voting patterns more reliably than income or religiosity.

Personality is biological, but …

They do it because they were born that way.

That is the essence of conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg’s withering criticism of Mooney’s book. Other critics like Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell follow the same path, criticizing Mooney for claiming that “Republicans are genetically inferior.” In fact, Mooney makes no such claim. While there is evidence that personality traits are heritable, Mooney repeatedly emphasizes that “the brain is highly plastic” and that our personalities are strongly influenced by our family and cultural experiences. Still, Mooney is correct that our personalities are biological. As he writes:

We’ve inherited an Enlightenment tradition of thinking of beliefs as if they’re somehow disembodied, suspended above us in the ether, and all you have to do is float up the right bit of correct information and wrong beliefs will dispel, like bursting a soap bubble. Nothing could be further from the truth. Beliefs are physical. To attack them is like attacking one part of a person’s anatomy, almost like pricking his or her skin (or worse). And motivated reasoning might perhaps best be thought of as a defensive mechanism that is triggered by a direct attack upon a belief system, physically embodied in a brain.

Our beliefs, moral values, preferences, attitudes, and knowledge exist as networks of neurons in our brains. We reinforce those networks when we repeat familiar tasks, or repeat familiar arguments. We rewire those networks when we learn new tasks, or adapt to new information and new ideas. As cognitive scientist George Lakoff writes, to “change our minds” is to literally “change our brains.”

Mooney’s thesis is that more Open people are more comfortable with changing their minds, while less Open people find that more threatening. Conversely, more Conscientious people are more comfortable with stability, while less Conscientious people find that more stifling. Combine the two traits and it makes sense that Democrats would lean somewhat more toward science and Republicans would lean somewhat more toward tradition.

… Personality is also situational.

These general tendencies are not fixed at birth. We can change our minds through study and reflection, and our minds can change depending on the situation. Indeed, research suggests that conservatism may be our ‘default’ ideology:

A research team led by University of Arkansas psychologist Scott Eidelman argues that conservatism – which the researchers identify as “an emphasis on personal responsibility, acceptance of hierarchy, and a preference for the status quo” – may be our default ideology. If we don’t have the time or energy to give a matter sufficient thought, we tend to accept the conservative argument.

“When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient,” the researchers write in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “These conditions promote conservative ideology.”

That study involved interviewing subjects on moral-political questions as they emerged from a bar. Subjects who were more intoxicated were more likely to give conservative answers, even if they self-identified as liberals and voted for Democrats. Dr. Eidelman and his colleagues emphasized this does not mean conservatism is either ‘natural’ or ‘stupid.’

We do not assert that conservatives fail to engage in effortful, deliberate thought,” they insist. “We find that when effortful thought is disengaged, the first step people take tends to be in a conservative direction.

Other studies have found that subjects are more likely to offer conservative responses if they are frightened, tired, unhappy, or standing near a hand-washing station or a smelly trash can. Another study found people more likely to offer progressive responses (and better able to solve complex problems) after watching a brief comedy clip.

In short, neither Mooney nor the scientists he cites argues that Republicans are “stupid,” or that “they are born that way.” Instead, the science suggests that our political beliefs reflect our personalities, that our personalities are partly heritable but strongly influenced by experience, and that our political beliefs are also subject to situational factors such as fatigue, mood, and even scents.

Given our growing understanding of how humans actually think, it’s hardly surprising that mere facts and logic are not enough to sway voters’ minds. In the next post, we’ll hear from Chris Mooney and discuss what how we can better advocate progressive, evidence-based ideas.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

The Myth of the Disappointed Democratic Base

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

(By NCrissie B)

President Obama began losing progressive supporters when he invited evangelical pastor Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, the story goes. He lost more support when he didn’t get a big enough stimulus bill, and yet more when he didn’t put single-payer on the table for health care reform. And when he backed away from the public option, progressives abandoned him en masse. There went the 2010 midterms, and maybe even his 2012 chances. Turns out his book should have been titled “The Audacity of Nope.”

It’s a depressing story, but fortunately it’s just that: a story.

In fact President Obama’s approval ratings among progressives have stayed above 90% except for a brief period in the summer of 2011. Only during the ugly debt ceiling showdown did more than 10% of Americans say the president was “not liberal enough.” Different polls ask the question differently and get different numbers, yet Gallup found President Obama with 79% approval among self-described liberal Democrats even at his low ebb last September. And both Gallup and CNN found Democrats had closed the voter enthusiasm gap by the start of this month.

Yet the media message of disgruntled Democrats has held on, and at least some truly are disappointed with the progress President Obama and Democrats have made since 2009. The president has not been perfect, nor were the bills that survived Republican filibusters in the Senate. But we made more progress than many of us realize.

“What has President Obama accomplished in the last three years?”

That’s the title question of this handy wallet card that I got in the mail last week. Here’s what it says:

CHANGE IS … President Obama’s Commitment to American Women and Their Families

President Obama, the father of two girls, believes that women’s issues are America’s issues.

  • Equal Pay for Equal Work: Signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that ensured women get paid the same as men for the same work.
  • Improving Women’s Health: Starting in 2012, new health insurance plans will be required to cover women’s preventative services such as mammograms, domestic violence screenings and contraception, without charge.
  • Protecting Women’s Right to Choose: Reversed the Global Gag Rule which banned government from providing aid to international family planning groups. Stood up to Republicans trying to roll back a woman’s right to choose and defund Planned Parenthood.

CHANGE IS … President Obama’s Record on Health Care

On March 23, 2010, President Obama passed the landmark Affordable Care Act to restore health care as a basic cornerstone of middle class security in America.

  • Ending Insurance Company Abuses: Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions or cancelling coverage when someone gets sick.
  • Keeping Premiums Low: Insurance companies must justify rate hikes; provide rebates if they don’t spend at least 80% of consumers’ premiums on care instead of overhead, marketing and profits.
  • Expanding Access to Care: 32 million more Americans are able to afford insurance for the first time and nearly all Americans – 95% of those under the age of 65 – will have insurance.
  • Closing the Medicare Prescription Drug “Donut Hole”: Over 2.6 million seniors have saved an average of $550 each on their prescription drugs and, by 2020, the Medicare “donut hole” will be completely closed.

CHANGE IS … Putting Americans Back to Work and Rebuilding a Fair Economy for the Middle Class

From day one, President Obama took immediate action to address the crisis of middle class security slipping away for millions of families.

  • Job Creation: An economic recovery program supported as many as 3.6 million jobs by cutting taxes, investing in clean energy, roads and bridges, keeping teachers in classrooms, and protecting unemployment benefits.
  • Saved the auto industry from collapse, preventing the loss of more than 1.4 million jobs.
  • The private sector has created nearly 3 million jobs during 21 straight months of private sector job growth – but our work is not done. That’s why the President is fighting for The American Jobs Act which would put even more people back to work now and put even more money in people’s pockets.

CHANGE IS … Creating an Economy Built to Last

President Obama believes Americans should be able to earn enough to raise a family, send their kids to school, own a home, and put enough away to retire.

  • Out-Educating the Rest of the World: Made college education affordable to hundreds of thousands more students by ending billions of dollars in subsidies to banks and using savings to double funding for Pell grants.
  • Out-Innovating the Rest of the World: Made substantial investments in clean energy manufacturing to create the jobs of the future here in America and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
  • Everyone Plays by the Same Rules: Passed Wall Street reform to protect American families from unfair lending practices, rein in excesses on Wall Street and prevent future crises.
  • Everyone Does Their Fair Share: Called for closing tax loopholes to ensure millionaires and billionaires don’t pay less in taxes than the middle class.

CHANGE IS … Ending the War in Iraq and Honoring Our Veterans

President Obama kept his word: He brought the war in Iraq to a responsible end and brought home our troops.

  • Committed to Iraq’s Security: The U.S. transitioned full security responsibility to the Iraqi people; remains committed to Iraq’s long-term security; will continue to develop a strong and enduring partnership.
  • Refocusing on Al Qaeda: Refocused our security priorities toward dismantling and defeating Al Qaeda and its affiliates. In bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice, the President showed America’s resolve and our ability to unite to face the greatest threats to our nation.
  • Honoring the Service of Veterans and Their Families: Our troops and their families get the help earned, enacting new tax credits to encourage businesses to hire unemployed and disabled veterans.

The message of his work hasn’t always pushed through the media noise, but President Obama has built an impressive list of accomplishments. It’s not complete and, as we’ll see in my next post, many of our most difficult challenges lie ahead. But when I look at what President Obama and Democrats have done … I see reason to hope.

(Crossposted from Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (BPICampus.com))

 

To Win, Progressives Must Speak Out

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

The primary goals of the Winning Progressive blog are to inform our readers on the issues of the day from a progressive perspective and to encourage our readers to make their progressive voices heard. We progressives are faced with a well-organized, well-funded conservative messaging machine, and a national media that consists primarily of conservative talking points, meaningless he-said she-said reporting, and mindless drivel about famous people and fake scandals. In order to counteract the vapidness of our media and the conservative megaphone that we face, it is up to all of us progressives to take the progressive message to the American people, the media, the White House, members of the House and Senate, and the letters to the editor pages of our local newspapers, so that voters and elected officials constantly hear a positive message about what progressive policies can do to improve our country.

The need for we progressives to make our own messaging machine is perfectly illustrated by a study of media coverage of the 2012 President Election released last fall by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Titled “The Media Primary,” the study quantified the percentage of positive, neutral, and negative media coverage President Obama and each of the GOP candidates for President received from May 2 to October 9. The results were shocking only if you somehow still believed the myth of the “liberal media”:

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the president positive in tone.
[...]
As for Barack Obama, 9% of the news coverage about him over the last five months has registered as positive while 34% has been negative and 57% has been neutral or largely straight news accounting of events. In each of the 23 weeks studied, his negative coverage exceeded his positive coverage by more than 20 percentage points. And in none of those weeks did his negative coverage fall below 30%. The tone of Obama’s coverage on blogs, while still overwhelmingly negative, was slightly better—14% positive and 36% negative.
[...]
Even the week of May 2-8, immediately after the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Obama’s coverage was overwhelmingly negative.

The results of the Pew study were even more stark when you compare the coverage of President Obama to that of every GOP Presidential candidate. Even though most of those GOP candidates were hardly qualified to be dog catchers, much less President, coverage of all of them was far more favorable than was coverage of our President:

Faced with this type of blatant media bias it is up to us to take the progressive message to the American people. A second reason we must all get involved in doing so is that you can count on the fact that our opponents are going to make their voices heard, so we better do the same if we want to win political battles.

A perfect example of this can be seen when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (“DCCC”) sent out an e-mail petition supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement. Apparently the banksters on Wall Street had their feelings hurt by the DCCC petition and they let the Democratic leaders know it:

After the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a recent email urging supporters to sign a petition backing the wave of Occupy Wall Street protests, phones at the party committee started ringing.

Banking executives personally called the offices of DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and DCCC Finance Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) last week demanding answers, three financial services lobbyists told POLITICO.

“They were livid,” said one Democratic lobbyist with banking clients.

The execs asked the lawmakers: “What are you doing? Do you even understand some of the things that they’ve called for?” said another lobbyist with financial services clients who is a former Democratic Senate aide.

It is, of course, no surprise that our opponents make their voices heard when they are upset about something politically. It is critical, however, that we do the same both when we are upset about something our elected officials are doing and also when we are supportive of something they are doing. Because if every time our elected officials do something we like they only hear anger from our opponents, that official is less likely to take a progressive stand the next time. And if every time our elected officials do something we do not like they only hear from conservatives and do not hear our objections, our elected officials will come to believe that they can get away with selling out the progressive position at little to no political cost.

We urge our readers to not cede this ground to conservatives and, instead, to be proactive in contacting your elected officials whenever he or she does the right or wrong thing, and in spreading the progressive message to the media and our family, friends, and colleagues. In order to help you do so, we have collected links for sending letters to your local newspaper editor, and contact information for your elected officials and Democratic Party organizations. We’ve also started a list of political races and campaigns we encourage our readers to get involved in. Because, in the end, it is up to us to do what we can to ensure that our political system responds to all of us rather than to just the conservative noise machine.

They’re Back: Those Wonderful People In Wisconsin Who Will Not Give Up

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

So, did you think they had forgotten? Did you think those incredible Wisconsin citizens had disappeared once they delivered their more than one million signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker in January? Were you a tad fearful that maybe the enthusiasm had waned?

The rallies and vigils held in Madison held two weeks ago should help alleviate some of that for you.  There they were again, in the tens of thousands to rally on the anniversary of the day Scott Walker obliterated Wisconsin tradition and struck down collective bargaining for public employees. One who attended the Friday night vigil and the Saturday rally in glorious spring-like weather described the weekend activities as “hopeful, uplifting and concentrated on looking forward.”

The “forward” is June 5, the date selected for the recall election with primary elections scheduled for May 8.  Obstacles remain because of the voter suppression law passed in Wisconsin – while the voter ID portion of that law has been enjoined at least for now, other provisions of that law remain in effect. There is more out-of-state money flowing in to support Scott Walker than many can imagine. And yet, the people of Wisconsin will not be deterred.  They remain, as they were a year ago, an inspiration for all of us.

John Nichols has done his usual outstanding job of reporting on the weekend activities and Pat Nash writes a great piece in the Baraboo (Wisconsin) News Republic refuting any argument for those who still support Walker.  She concludes by saying:

… the governor continues to claim his policies are working. Anyone who does the research knows this isn’t true. Yet some still cling to the myths and distortions that Walker and his media advisors publish as facts.

There are millions of out-of-state dollars supporting Walker. Those dollars pay for, among other things, advertising that perpetuates these myths — myths that many people continue to believe.

What can we do? For a start, we can take responsibility and educate ourselves so we’re able to determine the difference between facts and press releases that are meant to deceive us. That’s not easy. But unless we make an effort, we’re destined to be governed by those who work for interests other than our own.

Forward: Wisconsin’s state motto. It’s the only way we can go. We, as a country, will remain forever indebted to those in Wisconsin for lighting the spark and starting our way out of the darkness that has prevailed for so long in this country.

 

A Comment From Winning Progressive:

John Nichols did a great job recently explaining what the organizing and recall elections have already achieved in helping to stop GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s reactionary agenda by ending the GOP’s control of the Wisconsin State Senate.  As Nichols summarizes:

What has happened is remarkable. What could happen is historic. And the people, using the recall power afforded them by progressive reformers of a century ago, are making it happen.

 

Eugene V. Debs – the Original Occupier?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

(By Joanne Boyer, cross-posted at Wisdom Voices)

“I can see the dawn of the better day for humanity. The people are awakening. In due time they will and must come to their own.”

Eugene V. Debs

 The spring of 2012 offers the hope of a new Occupy Movement ready to sweep the country. Occupy Wall Street captivated the nation last fall and was the main instrument for turning our national political conversation to the real crisis at hand: The 99 percent vs. the 1 percent. Our country stands on the brink of losing its democratic foundation.  Oligarchy (defined as a form of government in which the ruling power belongs to a few persons) seems possible. Consider the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the crack down on the Occupy Movement by the local, state and federal government, and voter suppression laws and electronic voting machine fraud that threaten the ability of “We the People” to cast our votes and have them counted properly.

As we await the start of what promises to be a new people’s movement to reclaim our country, we offer you a brief look at the life and words of one of our country’s original “occupiers.”

Eugene Victor Debs, born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1855, is a study in citizen heroism, and his life demonstrates the important role the average person plays in mobilizing a movement. His life paralleled another tumultuous time in our history, when the robber barons of the 19th century industrial revolution created a society of have and have-nots.  Debs’ first job at age 14 (no child labor laws yet to be enacted) was that of railroad worker. He quickly learned the worker’s plight first hand, which led him to become a railroad union organizer. He led a successful strike against the Great Northern Railroad in 1894. Two months later, he was jailed for his role in a strike against the Chicago Pullman Palace Car Company. In prison he honed his understanding that labor issues were really the issues of society and it is where he began to embrace socialism.

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence,” Debs told a federal court before sentencing after being convicted for violating the Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-18, laws passed by Congress to promote World War I by banning anti-war speech.

Less than 100 years ago, it was possible for the federal government to arrest, put on trial and incarcerate individuals who spoke out against President Woodrow Wilson and the country’s entry into the Great War. Debs, who had long vocalized his support of the working class, took his anti-war message to the people in Canton, Ohio, in June 1918 knowing full well he could be arrested.  It was against this backdrop when the people seemed to be governed more by fear than hope that Debs told a picnic gathering on a hot summer’s afternoon:

“They have always taught you that it is your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at command…And here let me state a fact – and it cannot be repeated too often:  the working class who fight the battles, the working class who make the sacrifices, the working class who shed the blood, the working class who furnish the corpses, the working class have never yet had a voice in declaring war.”

Journalists who covered that Canton speech were instrumental in leading the charge for Debs’ arrest and prosecution for violation of federal law. At his trail, Debs charged the government was persecuting him not for undermining the draft, but because he dared to challenge the plutocrats who ran the country and were reaping large profits from the war. Debs contended the country was not fighting a noble war to save democracy but rather, the country had joined European nations in a greedy struggle over profits.

In his trial, Debs described the Espionage Act as “a despotic enactment in flagrant conflict with the democratic principles and with the spirit of free institutions” and later said he believed the law to be unjust but that it was only one small expression of a much greater injustice which lay at the foundation of the entire social system.  He told the judge that 5 percent of Americans owned two thirds of the nation’s wealth, while nearly 65 percent who made up the working class owned only 5 percent.

“I can see them (the working class) dwarfed, diseased, stunted, their little lives broken and their hopes blasted because in the high noon of our 20th century civilization, money is still so much more important than human life.”

Debs was convicted in Ohio; he lost his appeal to the Supreme Court; and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison, serving time at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. He ran for president of the United States in 1920 on the Socialist Party ticket while behind bars.  He garnered over 900,000 votes, but finished well behind the eventual winner Republican Warren G. Harding. Harding commuted Debs’ sentence on Christmas Day 1921.

Debs’ health suffered greatly while in prison, yet he took up his speech making where he left off before his arrest. He continued to criticize Wilson and claimed the war had been fought for profit, not democracy. “60,000 American boys had died only to produce 30,000 new millionaires,” he declared.

Debs’ was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1924 on the basis of arguing that the Great War was fought mainly in the interest of capitalism. He died on October 20, 1926, at the age of 70.  The Eugene V. Debs Foundation in Terre Haute is dedicated to “keeping alive the spirit of progressivism, humanitarianism and social criticism epitomized by Debs.” He remains one of the greatest historical voices for the working class and the 99 percent. From a speech nearly 100 years ago, he said:

“Political parties are responsive to the interests of those who finance them. This is the infallible test of their character and applied to the Republican, Democratic and Progressive parties, these parties stand forth as the several political expressions of the several divisions of the capitalist class. The funds of all these parties are furnished by the capitalist class for the reason, and only for the reason, that they represent the interests of that class.”

A look back can help us see where we are today. It also offers hope that the challenges we face will eventually lead to a brighter future. Can anyone doubt Debs’ spirit and fervor lives in the Occupy Movement of today? As he told the judge before sentencing for his violation of the Sedition Act of 1918:

“I can see the dawn of the better day for humanity. The people are awakening. In due time they will and must come to their own.”