Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Enlightening Conversations With Random People

One of the shortcomings of my current situation in life is that, to a large degree, I live in a liberal echo chamber. My friends and acquaintances are mostly liberalish, so my exposure to other segments of the political landscape is mediated by the MSM. I have very little opportunity to engage in direct discussion on politics with people of a more conservative bent.

So I had quite a time of it this afternoon talking to the gentleman who drove me to the airport. He asked me what I did for a living and we got to talking about my brief stint in Iraq, and which point he launched off into a monologue about the current state of things in the Mideast, interrupted only by an occasional question on my part. I didn't particularly mind the one-sided nature of things because it was the first time in I don't know how long I'd spoken with someone who seemed to wholeheartedly support everything that we've been doing over there.

I immediately noticed, in listening to this gentleman speak, how much he sounded like Dubya. Not only that he tended to hit the same points that the President might hit, but also that his speaking style and the course of his monologue sounded a lot like the President answering questions at a news conference. He tended to drift from topic to topic, sweeping it all up ("related and not"?) and synthesizing it into a grand narrative of good against evil. Rather than following one train of thought to its logical conclusion he'd stop somewhere short of that and segue to some other, tenuously related topic. Some of what he said was totally incorrect, and some of it was dubious, but he said it with convincing assurance and certainty. To me it seemed like he was trying to present a fascimile of persuasive argument but lacked all of the pieces he needed to actually make the argument coherent.

Also interesting was his assessment of why we were in Iraq in the first place. It was all about oil... not for the money, but for national security. I asked him if the WMDs were just a pretext and he said that was exactly the case. He didn't attempt to equivocate, or justify the invasion on some noble ground. Rather he seemed to be pretty happy with the whole "national security" thing, saying that if other countries had the capability to pursue their interests as vigorously as the US had pursued its own they'd be doing the same thing.

I've often, in the recent past, found myself wondering how anybody can still support the President, and now I think I have a better idea. I got the feeling, talking to this gentleman, that many of the arguments I could make against the war and in favor of withdrawal would be regarded as totally irrelevant. In a world where there are malevolent forces are invariably lining up against us, be they terrorists or rogue states, we've no choice but to protect ourselves. Invading Iraq was the best way to accomplish that; the alternative was leaving all that oil for all the baddies in the Middle East.

That sort of either/or thinking seemed to permeate everything he said. At one point he stated that the Democrats hoped that everyone would get along if we just withdrew from Iraq. There was no recognition of alternatives apart from staying the course or complete capitulation. I wouldn't find it the least bit surprising if many of the President's remaining supporters also exhibited that sort of binary mindset.

The take home lesson for me, and this is probably a good one for progressives as a whole to remember, is that people who believe things that are totally at odds with our perception of reality may be playing by a different set of rules. In my mind the violation of another nation's sovereignty is on the short list of things that a President must not do, but in my driver's world that's OK as long as its done for the right reasons. Which raises an interesting question: How do you persuade someone of the correctness of your position if you can't even agree on what makes any given idea "correct"? But that's a discussion for another day.

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