Back in February, shortly after Dick Cheney's hunting accident, Jeff Greenfield wrote an article for CNN titled A political Rorschach test. It's a short piece, centered around this thesis:
What's so striking, I think, is how a story like this becomes an instant Rorschach test, with political predispositions substituting for inkblots. We know the meaning of this incident because we know how we feel about the vice president, or the administration, or the war in Iraq, or the press -- and therefore, we know how to judge the event.
I felt that his statement was true about the majority of responses I read to the Cheney incident, so I saved it. I feel it is also true about a great deal of the political dialog that goes on in our country today. Should Rumsfeld be run out of office, or are the retired generals trying to usurp the authority of the civilian leader of our military? Is Halliburton a run-of-the-mill government contractor, or a way for Bush and Cheney to pay back their big-oil-money backers with under-the-table kickbacks? Are high gas prices the result of standard market processes, or mismanagement on the part of the administration? What kind of pull did Abramoff have... was he able to get broad legislation in his favor using large amount of money to buy politicians? If so, is the problem primarily on one side of the political aisle? Did the federal/state/local government do a relatively good job handling the Katrina situation, or a terrible job? For that matter, did the federal/state/local government cause the Katrina situation?
More and more, it seems to me that we tend to judge these issues based on our preconceptions, what we already think.
Why? I'm not sure, but I think a lot of it has to do with our level of understanding. I don't understand the science behind hurricanes, for instance. Is it plausible that over-development along the Gulf coast or a rise in temperature of the ocean or both is what caused this huge catastrophic scenario? For that matter, was Katrina out of the ordinary pattern of hurricanes along the Gulf coast? I don't know. Depending on which commentator or analyst I read, I get different statistics and opinions that point me in different directions. I could either spend a great deal of time researching it, until I was able to parse the wheat from the chaff... or I could go with my gut feeling, and let my preconceptions rule my determination.
Much of it also has to do with information that we can't have, but that we'd like to have. This opens us up to unconfirmed (unconfirmable) gossip. Was Cheney drunk when he was hunting? Even a little bit? No charges have been brought against him, or will be. All official reports have said that alcohol played no part. But rumor still circulates, speculation and hearsay still echo. I can never go back in time to run a blood test on Cheney as he's out on his hunt, so I can never know definitively, scientifically, whether he had had alcohol or not. I also can't reasonably take his denials at face value, because any sane politician would deny that alcohol was present in that situation if they possibly could. So, I'm left with filtering the inconclusive data through my preconceptions of Cheney, and coming up with a result that fits my preconceptions.
Do you see this trend as well? Are there other reasons for it than the ones I've suggested? Is there anything that can be done to change these tendencies?