A late middle-aged man in a lime green corduroy suit and a yellow bow tie walked into the unlighted room and stood at a lectern at the front of the room. He coughed once, unfurled a raft of papers, turned on the lectern light, and began to read: "The only things worth thinking about, in rank order, are God, Sex, Power, and Money. Almost every thing we think about falls into one of those categories."
He kept reading for 55 minutes; he never looked up from his paper.
I'm thinking about this man, who became a good friend, 43 years after hearing his lecture; his name was Norman Moen, a teacher of philosophy and logic at the University of Minnesota. At the time of his inopportune sartorial display he was younger then than I am now--but I can still hear his high, tinny voice saying, "In conclusion, these four ideas are always interesting until politicians talk about them. That's because politicians are almost always careless thinkers and almost always reorder the rank order."
This old lecture comes to mind today because I have watched the Sunday news programs, and read the 2nd worst newspaper in the world. Even distracted TV viewing and a cursory reading of the political news--local to national--pretty much confirms Dr. Moen's conclusion. These politicians are a careless bunch, and they must think we are idiots.
A case in point is how Liberals refer to John Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration to argue, in the cases of contraception and gay marriage, that civil magistrates ought to provide for the material needs of a society--by protecting private property, enforcing laws, and other measures--while it is the responsibility of the church to care for souls. Here, curiously, Liberals become Libertarians and treat religious liberty as a moral absolute, as though the content of religious teachings are beside the point.
Meanwhile, Conservatives--who love to bind themselves to the Founding Fathers while simultaneously hating how the Father's thought and ignore what they actually said--argue that sexual activity is at once private and idiosyncratic (the HHS ruling on contraception) and the foundation of civilization (in opposition to President Obama's opinion on gay marriage).
The Pew Research Center reports what we all know: we are a deeply divided nation with a population of citizens who grow increasingly unable to talk to one another. Twenty-two percent (22%) of likely voters wouldn't vote for Barack Obama if he walked on water and brought sight to the blind. The feelings against this candidate, frankly, go way beyond dislike and mistrust and wander into some very dark territory.
Among these voters are people who believed, during the Republican primaries at least, that Mormonism is not a Christian religion but rather a cult of some kind. After Romney cleared away more legitimate--in the eyes of these voters--Christian opponents, Mormonism was then declared okay, or at least more acceptable than being the "wrong" kind of Christian of the sort that Obama is, if he isn't in fact a Muslim.
On the flip side is an almost identical percentage (21%) of voters who wouldn't vote for Mitt Romney if he gave everybody lake view lots on the Big Rock Candy Mountain, ended Communism, and saved the ivory billed woodpecker. Romney is, according to this group, slipperier than an eel in a barrel of snot and was born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple. Mitt appears and the 21% see Eddie Haskell.
These voters hold the view that Romney is a sort of Conan the Barbarian single handedly bent on destroying small American Companies and banking his ill-gotten gains in off shore accounts to avoid paying taxes. They believe that equity finance is a silver spoon used to gouge the eyes out of worker pensions and health care plans. They ignore the fact that the current principals at Bain Capital are large contributors to the President's re-election campaign.
The 22% who hate Barack Obama are joined by self-identified traditional Republicans and right leaning independents who might be persuaded to vote for a water walking, sight restoring Obama--but only maybe. These likely voters--about 20%--also think that the President's engagement of the manifest problems inherited from The Name No Republican Dares Speak (TNNRDS) has been predictably leftist, ineffectively calculating, and divorced from any moral core, particularly with regard to foreign policy. Together, this group totals about 42% of likely voters
Romney haters, those 21% who believe that TNNRDS stole an election from Al Gore and that Republicans plan to deregulate everything except vaginas, are joined by roughly 20% of likely voters who are self-identified traditional Democrats and left leaning independents. This group, probably urban elitist snobs, finds the President personally likeable and is willing to give him some credit for stopping the economic freefall caused by TNNRDS. They believe that Obama has pulled the country out of a massive hole. Together, the Romney haters and the urban snobs total 41%.
This means that Obama and Romney can probably let the True Believers carry on the God and Sex argument by themselves, and concentrate on what really matters to them, Money and Power. I think most voters know that the cut taxes mantra of Republicans is gibberish, at least in terms of creating jobs, but most people are also sure that government spending has got to be reduced.
When I say "most voters" of course, I'm talking about half of all voters roughly distributed equally between the two parties who are liberated enough from ideology to have mature conversations about who gets cut, and by how much. If we're lucky Romney and Obama will participate in that conversation and have some ideas.