How to Talk to a Republican

Aug 02 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

In my last article, I urged that we should explicitly hold people who vote Republican responsible for who they elected and what their elected representatives have done.  You told me that Republicans won’t listen to you, won’t listen to facts, and can be very dangerous when provoked.  By all means, don’t provoke the dangerous ones.

Let me be more specific. There will always be a small deluded fringe on both left and right. They will not listen to what you say because you are sent by [Satan/revenuers/Martians/a secret government department/a secret government department of Martians/Oprah]. We used to call them crackpots; don’t waste your time on them.  You’re scattering good seeds on rock, so to speak.

There are those who can function in society but who have completely surrendered to Fox/Dominionist brainwashing. Because they have abandoned the responsibility for thinking, you won’t be able to reason with them, either, especially in groups. And depending on why they have abandoned thinking, they could be dangerous if their cozy fantasy world is threatened.  You might call this scattering good seeds on barren dirt—it looks like good soil, but there are no nutrients.

The ones you want to talk to don’t belong in either of these two categories. Republicans didn’t win 2010 with just the deluded fringe and the brainwashed.

  • They won because when they cripple the government, left-leaning voters drift rightward.
  • They won because moderate Republicans dislike Obama, but they don’t recognize that the other choice is Christofascism.

We can do something about that.

Closet Democrats

This article by Stanley Greenberg confirms that some people who vote Republican are not nuts, In fact, you may be pleased to see how much they do understand: corruption, wealth inequality, lobbyists, unfair elections, it’s all there. The disconnect is what they do about it.

Surveys bear out over and over that some people who vote Republican (and a majority of people overall) support Democratic policies. The key, says Greenberg, is that they don’t trust Democrats to execute. How does this translate into a Republican vote?

I suspect some vote Republican or don’t vote at all as a protest. “That’ll show ‘em!”  No, it really won’t. No one will know or care why you did or didn’t vote. All that matters in the end is who wins, whether 45% or 25% of eligible citizens vote.

Others argue that the parties are all alike, all corrupt, all beholden to big business, so which way you vote doesn’t matter. This is lazy thinking. Yes, Democrats take lobbyist money too, but it’s the Republicans who fought again and again to keep the rich from being taxed.  If you want to show the parties in stark contrast, compare the priorities reflected by, which lists some accomplishments of the Democratic 111th Congress, with the recently revealed ALEC legislative slate promoted by Republicans. No overlap there.

There is a similar disconnect in England, where surveys show that voters prefer the policies of the Lib Dems but don’t vote for Lib Dems. There was even a media campaign to tell people that if everyone voted in elections the way they voted in surveys, Lib Dems would win. Instead they got David Cameron, Rupert Murdoch cronies, austerity measures, and riots.

Here in the U.S., we got Koch crony Scott Walker, should-be felon Rick Scott, nationwide cuts to education sent directly to corporations, and an entire Fox party dedicated to reversing progress and wrecking the economy. Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin voters went to Madison to show support for the unions that their newly-elected red legislature set out to disempower. Then they set up recall elections. Voters in other states protested as well.

Left-leaning Republican voters need to understand that by voting Republican, they are contributing to the very problems that have them so angry and discouraged.  You can’t empower blue by voting red. Those two things don’t connect up in any known universe.

Moderate Republicans

What about moderate Republicans, those who are still sane but have never cared for liberal or progressive ideas? They will probably like the extreme conservative agenda even less once they fully understand it. Even if they don’t right away, you will give them a lot to think about.

Some moderates cling to the image of Republicans they remember from the past: Eisenhower, Nixon, and even Reagan, who might seem moderate in hindsight. This Republican image feels safe. Traditionally, conservative means keeping the status quo; the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

Those who think of Republicans as comfort politics need to understand that today’s conservatives are all about The Shock Doctrine and radical changes. Show them the wake of damage Republicans have done and challenge them to research it themselves.

Separately, some Republican moderates vote for specific policies that have become myths of Republicanism:

  • Fiscal responsibility: Republican presidents jacked up the deficit far more than Democrats. Clinton balanced the budget. Bush 43 blew it apart giving out money with both hands. Send those who love charts and graphs to, a terrific nonpartisan site with some real mythbusting economic data.
  • Small/unintrusive government: Red states have passed all kinds of measures that will add to the cost and intrusiveness of government, especially in the service of preventing women from getting abortions. True libertarians don’t want government involved in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, let alone force doctors to read a medically inaccurate script to patients. Nor do they want religion anywhere near government.  The radical right position is to rebrand the U.S. as a Christian nation, and we the taxpayers are already giving state education money to parochial schools (in 12 states). That will get their attention.
  • Support local government:  You mean like appointed Emergency Financial Managers tossing out elected officials in Michigan?
  • Reduced taxes: only if you are rich. Red states have increased taxes on the poor while sending more money to the wealthy. President Obama has actually reduced federal taxes for the rest of us.
  • Free market: I love this one. Never mind that there is no such thing as a free market. Elected Republicans have done so much to tip the playing field toward multinational corporations and away from local and small businesses, and most moderate Republicans have no idea. Add Republican-sponsored payments to corporations, both direct and through the tax code, incentives to take jobs overseas, and protectionism through patent law to President Obama’s fight for small business and innovation incentives, and you may get a jaw-dropping moment. Pretty much anything to do with promoting true competition right now is only on the Democratic side.
  • Self-discipline, delayed gratification, and long-term planning: Republican financial deregulation policies have ushered in a new era of manipulated markets and short-term shakedowns of the economy. They want to sell off public assets and resources, not build. It is the Democrats who want to save our infrastructure, develop industries for the future, and promote the education that is itself a form of delayed gratification and that increases a person’s lifetime self-sufficiency.

What Persuasion Looks Like

Talking to a closet Democrat can be a fairly short discussion, possibly ending in “I don’t know what I was thinking.” You already agree on policy. Once people have admitted to being disgusted Democrats who voted Republican, go ahead and unfurl the laundry list of Republican offenses until they promise never to help Republicans again.

Talking to moderate Republicans is more delicate because a) you have fundamental disagreement on some things, and b) you don’t know where you agree and where you don’t. Your ultimate goal is to educate where you find misinformation, not debate conflicts that can’t be resolved (though some debate might happen during education). Show respect by asking their opinions in a low-key, chatty (not inquisitorial) way. In my experience, the answers will surprise you. Once you understand where they are coming from, you can give back information that is relevant to them.  For example:

What do you think is the biggest political problem today? What other issues are you most concerned about? What do you want to see happen with [issues of concern].

At this point, you might discuss issue prioritization or the disconnect between what the person wants to see happen and what Republicans are doing. Another “why” and you can also discuss whether the person’s preferred means and ends to resolve a political issue match up.  Another example:

Which [Congressional or Governor] candidate did you vote for in the last election? Which of that person’s positions did you like best? [if elected…] What has [the Governor or Congressional Republicans] done recently that you supported?  Why do you support that policy (i.e. where do you see that policy taking us)?  [if not obvious] Why do you think that is a good idea?

Now you might discuss campaign promises vs. voting records as well as an ends-means discussion.

If both of you already know you are left and the other is right, you can simply say that you are interested in hearing his/her opinion on unions or the economy or another issue you know well.  Listen and ask questions before you start giving back information. When you give information back, try to include an external source and include a question. I like questions phrased as “I wonder why they are doing x when they say they want to achieve y.” Conservatismland looks plausible because it’s a mix of facts and fallacy. Use the same facts in your argument but put them in the right context.

“You know, lots of people think the debt is the biggest problem, but I read that the current high unemployment is actually much worse for the economy. That is the biggest obstacle to economic recovery. Businesses don’t have enough customers [they have heard this elsewhere] because too many people don’t have jobs or are worried about losing the jobs they have. I wonder why Congress is all worried about the debt but hasn’t done anything to help unemployment. In fact, this year they eliminated a lot of jobs.”

I have learned a lot about the mindset of conservatives just by following a line of questions, especially “why.” I’m not looking for ammunition or waiting to pounce on them, I am genuinely interested in their opinions. We all like to talk about our opinions, and if both parties are willing to listen, we can both learn something. However, if they answer your opening questions with a lecture or diatribe, then they are not respecting you, and they don’t deserve your time. Likewise, if they repeat talking points like a Stepford voter, there’s no point in continuing. They aren’t listening, at least not to you.

Changing people’s mindset is not a 15-minute discussion. It’s probably not even a discussion for one day. It happens over time, when people realize that reality has multiple conflicts with what they’ve been told. This is when you can start applying pressure on them to own the conclusions they have already reached. Remind them of what they found in their own research. Maybe their consciences are bothering them. The extreme conservative agenda is far too extreme, even kind of scary. Whatever you might disagree on, you can all agree on that. And you can all agree that voting Republican now is a bad idea.

The majority of people already support Democratic policy. We need to translate their hearts into minds into voting action on election day.


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