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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, January 06, 2015

 

Thank you for not voting your best interests

by Tom Sullivan

At a party over the weekend, a couple of guests asked the question I hear time and again from friends frustrated that so many working-class people vote Republican: Why do they vote against their best interests?

It's a question that honestly perplexes and frustrates them as much as this particular verbal tic frustrates me. It's obvious to them how conservative policies hurt working people and undermine the middle class. Yet, people continue to vote Republican. But you know this.

Well, first off, people don't vote their interests. They vote their identities. This is standard Lakoff stuff. People vote for candidates they believe share their social views, not necessarily their economics. People vote for candidates they feel they can trust. People wanted to have a beer with recovering alcoholic, George W. Bush, for godssakes.

Second, step back from that question a moment and look at "voting your best interests" dispassionately. Do we really want our neighbors to go into the voting booth and vote what's best for No. 1? For their bottom lines?

Seriously. Is that who we are? Is that the kind of country we want? Does that reflect our values?

Because by posing the same question over and over, and by using it as an accusation against working-class, white voters, are we not sending the message that that is exactly how we think people should vote? Bottom line? Every man for himself?

I understand people's frustration, but that is just the Randian, social Darwinism we oppose. Counter it. Don't reinforce it. Complaints that people are voting against their best interests are not reinforcing a more progressive message, that as Americans we are all in this together and should vote with an eye for the general welfare. Maybe we should stop voicing them.

Worse, the fact that so many on the left frame the question in "best interests" terms suggests that we ourselves have unconsciously internalized our opponents' messaging.

And while we may think it a legitimate, innocent question, family members, coworkers, and conservative sparring partners hear it as arrogant and condescending — a liberal dog whistle. "You're voting against your best interests" sounds like a snooty, intellectual's way of saying, "You're stupid." If we're looking for reasons they don't vote with us, we may have found one.

It's godawful messaging. I wish we would stop it.