I think that it is easy to say that “teachable moment” was the phrase of the day used on Wednesday by the Obama administration and the news media. I would grant the words some credence, but it seems to be a substitute for the words “we screwed up” for the president’s men. Soon it will become more popular than its old counterpart “we inherited it from the Bush administration.”
Nevertheless, with the slanderous accusations about Shirley Sherrod made by Andrew Breitbart and his merry crew with supporting cast of Rupert Murdoch’s media giant Fox News and the Obama worshippers over at the rival network MSNBC to quickly retaliate that it is all part of a vast right wing conspiracy, to borrow words from the current secretary of state herself, it is helpful to see that there is a real “teachable moment” in this media circus after all.
This lesson plan does not involve race relations, something that has been analyzed to death by, well, everyone with a television camera and a political office. No, I feel that there is a larger lesson to draw upon about our politics and social culture in the form of bridging the divide. In today’s world it is not all about the white and black divide, but the divide between the elephant and the donkey and the traditionalist versus the revolutionary.
To broaden this narrative, one can look to the voter/politician disconnect this election cycle. I live part of the year in Kansas, a very red state, so I have been witnessing many advertisements for conservative candidates. Many of which involve these political opportunists to say that they actually understand the state they represent and that they understand the plight of the “real American” as they via for their souls. The problem is that many of the policies they advocate such as cutting taxes, cutting federal spending, cutting Medicare and social security benefits, and other federal programs would hurt their constituent’s interests (especially elderly voters who rely on Medicare and normally vote in midterm elections).
New York Times columnist David Brooks summed up the fear of conservative voter this way, “There was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.”
So, why do they continue to vote for the GOP? The simple answer is they feel comfortable with them. Brook’s answer is that the progressive left appears out of touch with the average rural voter who has a family and attends church every Sunday. On the other side, the left is fearful that the right’s is anti-change. For the average single urban dweller in the Northeast who commutes to work every day returning to family values sounds quite scary. In reality, conservatives are just making sure that progress happens, but not too quickly as to be out of step with societal comfort. This is one reason why the Tea Party has formed. Besides touting conspiracy theories, they do make a good point about the general disconnect with both parties. It is Washington that both misunderstand, a common enemy it seems.
This is not only a tragedy with the political system, but it also occurs in other debates as well. In the religious versus the new atheists debate often the religious will not accept the academic arguments against faith and atheists will stereotype religious people as extreme zealots. I hardly think of a Catholic nun who visits the sick in the hospital as a zealot, but it does not fit Christopher Hitchen’s worldview. With the evolution of science and historical inquiry, old myths are being destroyed and being replaced by new ideas. Though exciting, it is also scary to know that your religious beliefs could become irrelevant tomorrow.
Even on foreign affairs, an area that I dabble in slightly, there is a disconnect with how people view events in other countries. For example, people are often not concerned with China’s currency (the remnibi) not rising in value since it could keep China more competitive or a how coup in Kyrgyzstan affects the war in Afghanistan. To most people globalization and transnationalism are just abstract concepts, but are not concrete ideas outside of internet usage.
Fortunately, the bridge does not lead to nowhere. For starters, progressives could motivate at the grassroots level using church poverty programs and to try and increase community involvement. This would prove that they are in touch with the average citizen. Conservatives could intervene in research by asking the ethical questions posed by most Americans and help with a public relations campaign to sell the ideas, making them appear less scary. In addition, conservatives could try and find way to explain social reform bills like healthcare and financial regulation so everyone understands it instead of demonizing it. Insults also should be reduced (though not dismantled). For instance, conservatives should not call liberals “elites” and liberals should not mock conservative’s traditional values. Respect is the best solution to this problem.
What I want is a dialogue. The real teachable moment here is to talk to one another. Mrs. Sherrod was able to understand her problem by overcoming her negative views of white Americans by understanding that it is not about race. Here, we must realize that it is not about partisan divides but about living together as humans. The political culture and society in general needs that dialogue. I believe this to be the race relations of our time. Let’s build the bridge together.
Further Reading and Watching:
David Brook’s Op-Ed
Shirley Sherrod Full Speech