I make no bones about being on Team Liberal. I’m in favor of a high estate tax, robust social welfare programs, vigorous anti-trust actions, carbon taxes and all the rest of it, not to mention a whole slew of left-wing social issues. But there’s one liberal notion that I absolutely have to call bullshit on, and that’s the idea that Republican voters are being gulled into voting “against their self-interest.”
The “against self-interest” argument is deeply patronizing. The basic premise is that Fox News / the GOP / the American plutocracy have fooled or brainwashed an enormous portion of the electorate into voting for things that are objectively bad for them. It’s an argument that allows liberals to feel enlightened and superior to heartland rubes while ignoring the ways in which liberal arguments can be legitimately unpersuasive to people.
Let’s get one thing straight: there is absolutely nothing wrong with voting against your self-interest, economic or otherwise. Voting against your own interests is also known as “voting on principle.” You wouldn’t call rich Democrats fools for supporting higher taxes on the wealthy, you’d say they were voting for the common good above their self-interest. You wouldn’t look down on childless people for wanting to improve the education system. And part of the big liberal complaint on climate change is that both voters and politicians have been voting for their economic self-interest instead of trying to prevent catastrophe.
So let’s say you have a voter who truly believes that personhood (and not just life) begins at conception. Are you telling me that this person ought to prioritize economic issues above the murder of children? It’s easy for those of us who don’t think a zygote is more of a person than, say, my arm is, to see this voter as obsessive, as fanatical, as an agent of patriarchal oppression. But if you start from their premise that a zygote is a person, their stance is the only moral one. Given the choice between saving innocent lives and saving money, how many of us would choose money?
And it’s not just single-issue voters we need to consider. Voters are constantly being asked to prioritize some issues over others. I for one think it’s massively important to prevent government agencies from spying on American citizens without probable cause. But the only candidate whose political identity is inextricably tied to curtailing these abuses is Rand Paul. I am not a Rand Paul voter, because this one massively important issue still isn’t at the very top of my list, and I hate practically everything else Paul stands for.
I’m not denying that there’s a terrifying amount of misinformation on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Yeah, lots of people are voting for Republicans for really silly reasons. But lots of people vote for Democrats for silly reasons too. And due to partisan tribalism, people on both sides often spout talking points that they haven’t fully considered just because it’s the argument they’ve heard their side make. On our side, the economic self-interest thing is one of the dumbest talking points I’ve ever heard.
N.S. Dolkart is the author of Silent Hall, available for pre-order at any bookstore in the US, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand. It’s coming out in June, and it’s really good. You should buy it.