Red/Blue? Nope: Head/Heart

Along with many other Americans this morning, I am pondering what it all means that, after four years of intense labor things have changed very little. Only about three million votes appear to have moved over the last presidential term, in the face of unprecedented amounts spent trying to move voters this way and that, by both parties.

In this election, few fell down on the job. The tactical aspects of both campaigns were well-handled. There were larger issues at work, ones that the Republicans appear to be better-poised to take advantage of for the moment. But, that is only because, in my view, the Democratic leadership has not admitted to itself that it is misreading the nation.

What is this factor? What is being missed? It’s this: the nation is indeed divided, but not between Red and Blue states. The nation is divided between the Head and the Heart. And this division does not need to exist.

I wrote a column on this a short time back. It seems relevant still. Here are the key passages:

On the one side are the Heads, living in the realm of policy and intellectual rigor. The Heads look at outcomes, perform stakeholder analyses, and think hard about what the smartest public choice is on any one of a host of issues. More important, they support the choices they make through appeals to the intellect: “Our ideas are smart,” go the arguments. “On balance, these are the best policies because they result in the best outcomes.”

But arrayed against the Heads are the Hearts. This is the team of sentiment. The Hearts look at each possibility and ask, “Does it feel right? Will I be morally comfortable taking this action?” The Heart partisans think about what their gut tells them, what their role models might do, and what “message” they will be sending to children. And, they support their choices with arguments that tug at the heartstrings: “These choices are the right ones because they are inherently moral and bespeak the aspirations of America,” they say.

In today’s political constellation, the Democrats are the Heads, and the Republicans are the Hearts. While obviously Democrats do not lack hearts (nor do Republicans lack heads), their key arguments are appeals to intellect on the one hand, and to sentiment on the other. President Bush evokes an idealized America, the sort portrayed in popular country music, in which right is right and wrong is wrong, and those who oppose right are unwaveringly vanquished. This was the refrain in his White House press conference on Iraq a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry seeks nuance in his positions, the sort of nuance found in so-called “alternative” music in which good is never all good and bad is never all bad — in the end, it depends on context. This is what he must explain when he says he voted in favor of the Iraq war, but that he only intended that vote to authorize going to war if the U.S. could gain more international backing for such a move.

Where does this leave most of America? Behind, that’s where. . . .

See the full article for more.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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