Sunday, November 22, 2015

Getting real about the Reality Gap: Why civil conversations between Republicans and Democrats are impossible

We Democrats need to get real. We keep hoping to reach out to "moderate" Republicans and sway them with our calm, rational, fact-based arguments. The problem is that Republicans have their own version of reality and thus their own facts. If we cannot agree on the basic facts, how can there ever be a meaningful conversation about how to best interpret those facts?

The decline of the unemployment rate on Obama's watch is but one example of how there is a "reality gap" in American politics. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports on this instance (and others).

Whether or not the unemployment rate has improved is not a matter of opinion. No matter how one sees the world, a 7.8% rate is higher than a 5% rate. That’s equally true for Democrats and Republicans.

But most Republican voters don’t believe it. The "reality gap" persists, and it’s a problem.

If GOP voters want to make the case that Obama’s policies don’t deserve credit, fine. If they want to argue that there are other, more important metrics, no problem. If they want to suggest the rate would have fallen faster with a right-wing economic agenda, we can at least have the conversation.

But the polling suggests Republicans prefer to pretend reality isn’t true. It’s as if a form of cognitive dissonance is kicking in: the president is bad, falling unemployment is good, ergo unemployment must be higher, not lower.

Benen cites the polling numbers. Only 38% of the Republicans agree that unemployment has fallen since Obama took offijce; 53% think (erroneously) that it has risen. In contrast, 56% of the overall public think (accurately) that unemployment has fallen; only 34% think it has risen.

Maybe the bubble of conservative media has shielded many Republican voters from details the party’s voters don’t want to hear. Maybe Republican voters have a tribal reflex that gets in the way.

Whatever the cause, this "reality gap" makes conversations awfully difficult.

And that is why attempts at "civil discourse" between Democrats and Republicans are bound to fail. We need to get real.

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