Conservatives and Liberals look at the world differently.  Because of the conservative need for alignment between their beliefs and the world around them (cognitive closure), they are much more likely to hold beliefs that are out of sync with the facts.  That is at first a counter intuitive claim.  But the reality is that when conservatives encounter facts that call their beliefs into question, they will deny or warp the facts rather than re-examine the beliefs.   That’s called Moral Intuitionism.

The result in the current political scene is a series of political positions that have no basis in fact, but continue to drive the conservative movement.

We’ve looked at a few.

The claim, starting with Ronald Reagan, that the government is the problem.  That caused conservative Republicans, among other things, to oppose Hurricane Sandy relief.  It also was behind the debt ceiling debate and the claim that government doesn’t create jobs.

Government is not the problem, because in a democracy we the voters choose the government, and surveys have shown that voters generally like the government services that they receive.  What conservatives are really saying when they say government is the problem is that liberal government policies are the problem – and that is certainly something the liberals are going to dispute.

The claim, starting again with Ronald Reagan, that lower tax rates will increase tax revenues.  That was refined some under GWB, that lower tax rates on the rich will stimulate the economy.  We’ve already seen that this is not an effective standalone economic strategy.

Some others that are well known include opposition to climate change, insistence that creationism is a science, and opposition to abortion, immigration, and gay rights.

Roots of Gridlock

Another aspect of how this behavior influences politics that we haven’t looked at is regional distribution of liberals and conservatives.  Where did that come from?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that at least one historian, David Hackett Fisher, traces it back to colonial times.

The north was settled mainly by English farmers, the south by Scots-Irish herders.  They each brought their centuries of mutual distrust with them.  Herders have an honor culture which is important to being able to be a successful nomad.  Their wealth can literally walk away, so they have to respond quickly and forcefully to any real or perceived threat.  When those threats have been identified, they depend on eye-for-eye retaliation to protect themselves.  Farmers, on the other hand, are more secure because it is much more difficult to steal land.  They develop a culture of interdependence, government, and the rule of law.

The farmers in the northeast had come from a Europe where monarchs imposed civilization on their subjects.  The subjects eventually overthrew the monarchs and demanded self-determination, but retained the concept that a strong democratically elected central government was the best way to prevent the country from falling back into anarchy.

The herder culture followed settlers west.  Initially it was a male dominated anarchy with few laws and many honor killings.  As women moved west to help their husbands work the farms and ranches that they had created; churches, laws, and government followed.  But the west didn’t go through the monarch phase where a strong central government essentially disarmed the populace and imposed the rule of law by force.  Instead women imposed the rule of law by compromise and allowed men to continue support the honor culture.

The political distributions we see today are a direct result of these two cultures mixing.  That mix now, however, goes all the way down to neighborhood.  Conservatives prefer to live in neighborhoods and towns with conservatives.  Liberals prefer to live in neighborhoods and towns with liberals.  Toss in a dose of gerrymandering and you have congressional districts where extremism is rewarded and compromise punished.

In North Carolina, congressional districts are either so red or blue that they trend well above the national average in that regard, said David Wasserman, House of Representatives editor at the Cook Political Report.

There are “diametrically opposed viewpoints just across the highway median from each other,” Wasserman said. As a result, in votes like the fiscal cliff showdown, members of Congress “are simply responding to what their districts want.”

“The dirty little secret is that redistricting only explains part of polarization,” Wasserman said. “Congressional districts are polarized partly because Americans have polarized with their feet. It makes it easier for partisan line drawers to draw those lines.”

The result is what we see playing out in Congress today.


The 112th House was roughly 50% more polarized in terms of makeup than that of the 102nd, which convened from 1991 to 1993.

The 112th’s Senate was more polarized than the 46th Senate, which was in office from 1879-1881, just after the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War.


Liberals and Conservatives do not effectively communicate with each other.  That’s because these are emotional discussions about beliefs for Conservatives rather than discussions about fact which is the liberal preference.

The country reflects these differences geographically because of our history.

The current government reflects this differences because of how our representative government is structured.

So is this the doom of democracy or is there a way forward from gridlock to a functioning government?

We’ll take that up in another post.

10 Responses to “Gridlock”

  1. Keith says:

    No where else to put this one so I choose here.

    He ran in 2008 against same sex marrige…

    From the article below here´s a statement I FIND FASINATING.

    *In a footnote, the brief mentions California’s Proposition 8 and similar measures in other states as evidence that anti-gay discrimination remains a major problem*

    You have said several times recently ¨thank God the voting public saw through this and voted against the republicans Zombie politics.¨ In light of that comment how is it that the will of the people, Prop * mentioned in the article, as concerning? Clearly biased yes?


    US asks Supreme Court to strike down law denying benefits to same-sex couples

    By M. Alex Johnson, staff writer, NBC News

    The Obama administration urged the Supreme Court on Friday to throw out a section of a 1996 federal law that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriage.

    The brief was filed Friday in United States v. Windsor, a case challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the law that legally declares marriage to be only between a man and a woman. That section allows state and federal authorities to deny benefits to same-sex couples that are commonplace for heterosexual couples, like insurance for government workers and Social Security survivors’ benefits.

    In its brief (.pdf), the U.S. bluntly declares: “Section 3 of DOMA violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection.

    “The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples,” said the brief, which was signed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, the government’s chief trial lawyer. “Because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.”

    In a footnote, the brief mentions California’s Proposition 8 and similar measures in other states as evidence that anti-gay discrimination remains a major problem.

    In effect, the U.S. is asking the court to change DOMA to set a higher bar for courts to approve laws that discriminate against gay men and lesbians, Lyle Denniston, a Supreme Court expert, wrote on the influential ScotusBlog.

    President Barack Obama announced in 2011 that the U.S. would no longer enforce DOMA, but “this is the first time the federal government has proposed that constitutional test in a gay rights case before the Supreme Court,” Denniston writes. “The court itself has never specified just what constitutional standard it will apply in such cases, but it may have to settle that this term.”

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    The will of the people in Mississippi and Alabama were to keep their schools segregated too.

    The issue here is a Constitutional one, not states rights.

    It is being decided where it should be which is in the Supreme Court.

    So tell me again what your problem is with the Supreme Court deciding this issue.

    As far as Obama’s position. I agree. He has done a full 180 on his previous positions. Here’s a link to a Politifact article with the details.

    I happen to like this change in position so I’m not going to criticize it.

  3. Keith says:

    Youre going to have to review your thoughts as in 2008 you championed Obama as a differnet kind of politician… My opposing views to your posts were never so much about the issues many times but rather OBAMA IS JUST LIKE ALL THE REST!!! To which I do not blame him….as soon as you come along and allow the right the same litatude I do the left we will have far fewer discussions. Spritual wickedness does not know right from left. The only true wickedness is not seeing it clearly, rather only through stained glasses…but then what will I do for fun then?????

    Take a look at our website of a mission I am invovled with…

    Look at the pixs from the Christmas 2012 trip…I wasn´t there. We are 5 – 6 years into this..

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I’m clearly not going to hold Obama accountable for a flop on marriage equality because it is a position that I support.

    I do hold him accountable for drone policies and have already said I would have preferred to have an alternative in the primary season so we could at least have a debate about the issue.

    I continue to believe that Obama is a trans-formative politician because he has created a new Democratic majority.

    We’ll see what balance he strikes on the environment going forward, but as I’ve already said, he is going to go down in history as an exceptional president because of what he has accomplished. That doesn’t mean that he is perfect. No President is. But he is likely going to break the back of the Tea Party, force the Republican Party to finally move away from “angry white men” politics, change the way healthcare is delivered, prevented a second great depression, changed immigration policy, strengthened gun control, got the economy going again, ushered in a new era of gay rights and gender equality, and left the democractic party as a dominant force in american politics.

  5. Keith says:

    YS)We’ll see what balance he strikes on the environment going forward, but as I’ve already said, he is going to go down in history as an exceptional president because of what he has accomplished. That doesn’t mean that he is perfect. No President is.

    #1 But he is likely going to break the back of the Tea Party, force the Republican Party to finally move away from “angry white men” politics,

    #2change the way healthcare is delivered, – This will not be for the better, Companies are reducing hours so employees will not get 30 hours a week, There will be a shortage of Docs, many will be penilized financially,many will NOT get to keep their healthcre if they like it as companies will drop them. Many employees may become contrat employees to prevent a company for being responsible for them…sos many unknowns yet… don´t hold your breath with this is better. The CBO is continually raising bad news estimates by the way.

    #3prevented a second great depression, – Hahaha In comparision what did Bush prevent after 9-11? Did you give him such latitude for preventing a deprssion when the economy was about to fall off a cliff?

    #4changed immigration policy, – Bush and McCain tried…the Senate will get this done too.

    #5strengthened gun control, – Really…

    #6got the economy going again, – You said prior to the election who ever wins will get 12 million new jobs in the next for years. Any number of jobs short of this and Obama, by your own words, is failure. He better get then next two months of groth or we are offically in a recession!!!

    #7ushered in a new era of gay rights and gender equality, -Youre in a hurry to get to Sodom and Gamora t seem.

    #8and left the democractic party as a dominant force in american politics. – He´s a little known fact, in the last two election cycles, more republicans have been elected to go to DC then Dems… Is this what you are referring to? It would be interesting for you to do a comparision of which states lead by dems or repubs are emerging from the poor economy better? How has Wisc done under Scott Walkers leadership? HOW ABOUT THE FINCAILLY TROUBLED nj UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF A REPUB WHO REFUSED TO RAISE TAXES…

    I do not dislike Obama… I disagree on many things… However, he fails the reasonable test too often. If he would have asked everyone to do their fair share and ment it, i would fell better. If he would simply get the pipeline going without this drama, i would feel better…

  6. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I didn’t expect you to agree with me regarding Obama’s position in history. Fortunately you don’t get to vote. History does. You likely would have objected to the observation that Clinton is going to go down as one of our best modern President’s too. But it’s already happening.

    If you are able to step away from this for just a moment, though, as the first African American President in history, he already has a place on the list. Then you only have to look at the accomplishments (which I listed) compared to the Presidents who have gone before and it really is a pretty easy call.

  7. Keith says:

    He knocked down the color barrier which is a huge deal and he should be given all the credit in the world!! I appaulded him for this when it occured and still do. For millions of Americans to see that no door is shut to them is a huge advancement!!! I put my arm around every black employe I had the morning after and congratulated them and said this was really big day. Three of them cried. This I will never forget as long as I live…

    Bill Clinton did many things correctly after he got bombed in 1994, Obama did not learn his leassons after 2010, unfortunately. BILL Clinton also sat in the oval office at a time of relative great peace in the world, the advancement of huge technolegy gains, a run up in the stock market, and the basis from growth set in place by R Reagan. If good fortune is one a many choices I could have and I only get one choice… I would take it hands down…Bill got three choices and he took it each time!!!!

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:

    If you look at the matrix of historian ranking, Clinton is ranked as high as 13th. Obama is ranked at 15th after only one term. By comparison, GW Bush’s highest ranking is 18th. If you look at some of the more recent polls listed in the same article, Clinton is mentioned in the top 10.

    Facts again come to our rescue.

  9. Keith says:

    And opinion poll is a fact……….. Thank you for pointing this out.

  10. Jeff Beamsley says:

    An opinion poll of historians IS fact as far as how history is going to regard Presidencies.

    A public opinion poll may provide some hint at what direction historians may move in the future. That’s certainly where you get a vote, but it appears that you are in the minority.

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