February 16, 2015

Little Nuance in Our Political Narratives

Secretary Clinton 8x10 2400 1
Hillary Clinton
Beginning with President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and extending well beyond his election, it was not difficult to find a fascinating narrative from some of his supporters. The basic idea was that anyone who did not support him was necessarily racist. This accusation was primarily aimed at those on the political left, which makes sense given the proclivity of many on the left to assume that anyone on the right is racist simply as a function of being on the right.

The reasoning behind the accusation (and I use the term "reasoning" quite loosely here) seemed to be that the only reason anyone on the left could possibly have qualms about supporting Obama was racism. Those of us who preferred other candidates were racist. Those of us who disagreed with some of Obama's positions on the issues were racist.

At the time, I remember feeling embarrassed on behalf of those who pushed this narrative. I couldn't help wonder why Obama's race seemed to be far more salient to them than anything else about him. It seemed like they were far more interested in talking about his race than about his positions on the issues. It was almost as if their accusations of racism suggested that they might be the ones having trouble getting past candidate Obama's race.

As 2016 approaches, will we see a similar narrative emerging around Hillary Clinton. I expect that we will. In fact, I've already seen some early rumblings that point in that direction. Those of us who object to her positions on the issues will almost certainly be accused of sexism. Some on the left will latch on to Clinton's gender as being her most important attribute and attempt to cajole us into supporting her. And again, we'll be left wondering why they seem determined to invalidate all of Clinton's strengths and weaknesses that have nothing to do with her gender.

We atheists love to pick on Christians for oversimplifying their world into good and evil. To be sure, we are right to criticize this tendency. But we are hardly immune to it ourselves, and politics provides a clear example of a place where it seems to thrive. We desperately need an infusion of reason into our politics.

I have trouble thinking of any modern politicians who are perfectly good, free from all flaws, who never make mistakes, and with whom I agree 100% of the time. I have an equally hard time thinking of any who are perfectly evil, have no positive qualities, who never make worthwhile contributions, and with whom I disagree 100% of the time. The reasonable person acknowledges that those on the other side may have some good ideas from time-to-time and is willing to hear them. Without nuance, we are left with little more than destructive conflict.
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