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The Problem with Republican Voters

The problem with Republican voters, you ask? Without trying to issue a blanket condemnation since obviously every Republican voter isn’t the same, the problem seems to be, in a word, that they are ill-informed. Worse, this ignorance seems to be a self-imposed state. Republicans, after all, have the same access to information possessed by liberals but they apparently make little or no use of it.

They satisfy themselves instead with their talking points, taking their cues from pundits like Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, or any one of a myriad of FOX News personalities, or, more and more frequently, one of the near-ubiquitous leaders on the Christian Right. The conservative knowledge base seems to be defined by sound-bites, neat little 140-character answers to every issue and problem. Since these are conveniently issued from on high in the manner of user’s manuals, there is no need for voters to look anything up themselves.

Nor do they seem to be inclined to question what they hear, see, or read. Interview Republicans and you will get the same general answers and from the same sources. You will hear the above-mentioned names, or the Drudge Report or some similar source. You will see a lot of scare-mails going around as well, either making up new lies to scare the base or retreading old ones, some of which we have covered here. No matter how many times a Democrat fails to take the guns from the good old boys, you can count on it being repeated each campaign and the base being duly riled.

Einstein said the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result and the GOP knows what works and sticks to it. This isn’t Karl Rove’s first rodeo, after all. Give the man credit: he knows how to dumb it down to the level of the audience.

I wanted to share with you a representative conversation I had with a Republican the other day, which went on for about three hours and covered a wide range of topics. I have chosen three topics out of all those discussed:

The Mythical Fiscal Conservatism of Sarah Palin. GOPer: “I like Sarah Palin. I liked the things she said; she had a lot of good ideas. At least she wouldn’t take all that government money. She stopped that Bridge to Nowhere.”

Me: No, she did not have a lot of good ideas. Yes she did take that government money you say she refused, hand over fist. And no, she did not really stop the Bridge to Nowhere, she is simply the one who accepted its defeat. Look at the facts, if you will:

  • With regards to federal money, no governor liked it more than Sarah Palin, and that’s indisputable fact. The Washington Post points out that “According to the latest 2008 ranking, every Alaskan received $555 in pork over the last year, compared to $25 for every inhabitant of Illinois and $15 for every Arizonan.” Put another way, “records cited by the Associated Press show that she has requested $750 million in federal subsidies during her two years as governor, the largest per-capita request in the nation.”
  • Sarah Palin only abandoned the “Bridge to Nowhere” when it was obvious from Congressional attitudes toward the project that it was effectively dead. She did not champion killing the project or cause it to be killed. As the Washington Post says, she supported the project in 2006 before signing its “death warrant” in 2007: “In answers to a written questionnaire from the Anchorage Daily News, she said that the time to build the bridge was ‘now–while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.’”

Sharron Angle’s “Rape Lemonade”. “Sharron Angle had a lot of good ideas. GOPer: “And her comments about rape were right on. Most of these women who get raped had it coming to them. They get all dressed up and come on to the guy. A woman who gets drunk and goes back to his place has to expect to get raped.”

Me: There is obviously a great deal more wrong with this sentiment than getting the facts wrong about Sharron Angle but where even to begin? First of all, most women who are raped are not women who are out partying and getting drunk and putting themselves in harm’s way (which still does not excuse rape, by the way). Again, let’s look at some facts about rape:

  • According to the Census Bureau there were 81,280 total reported rapes in 2009 (U.S. Department of Justice statistics say that in 2009, “victims ages 12 or older experienced a total of 125,910 rapes or sexual assaults”) and it’s important to remember that little detail, “reported” but most rapes go unreported (anywhere from 40-60 percent of the victims don’t tell anybody). According to these official statistics, that’s 52 rape out of every 100,000 females. The terrible reality of rape is that somewhere in America a woman is raped every two minutes. Every two minutes.
  • Far from 52 rapes out of every 100,000 females, one out of every four women are victims of rape or attempted rape and a staggering 84 percent of those women knew their attackers and over half of them happened while on a date.  With regards to date rapes, just over half the women had been drinking or taking drugs before the attack. Three-quarters of the men, on the other hand, had been drinking or using drugs. Yet you won’t hear that statistic from the woefully uninformed Republican.
  • You will not be told by Republicans that 38 percent of those sexual assault victims are between the ages of 14 and 17, or that some 15 percent of rape victims are actually under 12, or that a staggering 34 percent (one-third!) of the attackers are family members. According to the National Crime and Victimization Survey, 6.1 percent of children and youth from birth to 17 years of age experienced a sexual victimization. During 2008, 9 percent were sexually abused were sexually abused, including rape and according to the same survey, “Ten percent of children have experienced some form of sexual violence (sexual assault, rape, harassment, or lashing) during their lifetime.” Hard to imagine those kids were drunk. But they should make their rape lemonade, yessir.
  • Here are some detailed statisticswith regards rape on college campuses:
    • An estimated 12 percent of women attending American colleges have been raped, and 12 percent of rapes of college women were reported to law enforcement.
    • Fourteen percent of undergraduate women were victims of at least one completed sexual assault since entering college; five percent were victims of forced sexual assault, and eight percent were sexually assaulted while they were incapacitated due to voluntary use of alcohol or drugs.
    • Only eight percent incapacities due to voluntary use of alcohol or drugs – pretty far from “most” and being drunk does not excuse rape.
    • And we haven’t even begun to dress the rapes committed by husbands and boyfriends. According to Pandora’s Project, a 1985 study shows 10 to 14 percent of married women “have been or will be raped by their spouses.”

When I corrected him with regards to Angle’s rape comment, that it was directed not only at women who he claimed “had it coming” but all women who are raped, he said, “Oh, I don’t know nothin’ about that.” The only possible answer to this is, “No, you don’t, do you? Nothing at all. And that’s the problem.”

Sean Hannity.  GOPer: “Sean Hannity is the best source of information on what’s going on in politics.”

Me: It’s difficult to not simply laugh in response to statements like this. We have covered the hyper-hypocritical Hannity in these pages many times. The one thing you can count on Hannity doing is accusing Democrats of something Republicans are doing or have already done, in most cases, many times. The other think you can count on is that he is just plain dishonest.  As a source of information, it is difficult to think of anyone who has less value. But the claim encapsulates in a nutshell the basic problem with the Republican knowledge base.

There was also a comment that religion is “dead” to both parties, to which I could only answer with a blink. I was speechless. And you can only wonder how a voter manages to stay so ill-informed as to not see the linkage between the Christian Right and the Republican Party. But sadly, there was no time to get into this, because I would love to have had his reaction to things like Newt Gingrich’s plan to begin his administration with the creation, through Executive Order, of a Presidential Commission on Religious Freedom in the United States.

What is surprising is that the conversation began like this: “I suppose since you’re a liberal you don’t pay much attention to what’s going on with Republican Party.” The implication is, of course, that the speaker does. And clearly, my hopes in that regard were dashed to the ground within minutes.

You have to wonder how much of what they say and how they vote is based on ignorance, and how much of a difference actual facts would make. Perhaps I’m being overly optimistic but based on conversations I’ve had with more reasonable Republicans (even Evangelicals), it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if at least some Republicans would just think enough about what they were hearing to investigate it, they would not support the policies they so currently so violently defend. But here the old biblical “pearls before swine” thing comes into play – you can’t force-feed people information they do not want. You can put it before them, but you can’t make them read, listen, look, or think. And the information is already out there, making relevant the question, “Just how much actual use is education?” in general terms. It is often presented as the thing most needed to correct injustices, but as I have tried to argue here, there is good reason to think most of it is falling on deaf ears.

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