The Arrow of Logic
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The Arrow of Logic

I don't know about you, but I have never actually won a political argument. No one has ever said to me, "You know what? Now that you put it so clearly, I see I was wrong." Not once. Not ever. Not when I marshal facts, not when I quote Jefferson, not by Socratic inquiry or blunt force of will. Even though, you know, I am often right.

It's because politics aren't about logic, they're about things like emotion and trust. I know, because every time I fire an arrow of inescapable logic, the other guy changes the subject. I'm ready to nail him on deficits and he switches to Freddie Mac. I'm closing in on Iraq and he slips to Iran. In the end, he says, "Well, that's just the way I feel."

Still like most people, I keep trying. I hope that months later, my arrow of logic will still be lodged in my opponent's world view. I imagine that someday at 3 a.m., he'll wake up and think, "Hey, maybe that guy had a point."

This morning, for example, I tried to change Ted's mind on the healthcare issue. Ted sits on the right-leaning side of my local Starbucks. He's 72, retired, and often wears a t-shirt with a big smiley face that reads "IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT LIBERALS."

Again today, he's holding forth with some angry white males. The words "Pelosi," "ACORN," and "Dodd" cut through the buzz of a pleasantly caffeinated a.m. But this time, when the subject shifts to "Obamacare," I put my laptop in neutral and stroll over in my trilby hat. "We've never met," I say, "but I feel I know you well."

Naturally, he's shocked to learn that even though I broadcast on an NPR station, I consider myself a liberal.

In fact, right off, he tries to throw me by saying that he used to be liberal. That he voted for Johnson and Carter...until something snapped. Even more cunningly, he smiles exactly like my late father, who after working his whole life in government, switched to the right during the Reagan years. Immediately I think, "Let me change this man's heart with a fusillade of pure logic."

I say, "Can you explain to me why conservatives trust insurance companies more than they trust government? Don't we at least have some control over government?"

"I don't trust insurance companies either," he says pleasantly. "I think they're the lesser of two evils. And no, I don't feel like I have any control over government. They're under the thumb of special interests and big money." And then he tries to divert the subject with yes, Freddie Mac and Tim Geitner. "Look at the SEC. They sat down with Bernie Madoff and gave him a clean bill of health. Why should I trust them?"

But I fire again: "So you admit that many of our problems stem from a failure of government to regulate!"

"That's because they're incompetent."

"Don't you see the inconsistency?" I cry in frustration. "You can't get mad at them for not using their power, but then not give them power!"

Ted chews on this, and I think, "Surely that one hit the mark. Maybe this is the first political argument I will ever actually win. Surely Ted will say, "Now that you put it so clearly, I see I was wrong."

In fact, he says: "You're right. It's illogical. But at least with industry, I have a choice. I can buy their product or not. That makes me feel like I have some power. I probably don't, but I feel I do. It's emotional, not intellectual. It's how I feel"

He smiles and we seem to reach some curious agreement; some understanding that arrows of logic will henceforth clatter uselessly to the ground.

And then, as I was never able to do with my father, this man and I amiably spend the next 40 minutes tossing softballs of history and emotion, trust and distrust, Reagan and Carter, Clinton and Bush, Hillary and Barack, until at last we shake hands and the Urban Man returns to his side of the coffee house, strangely content.

Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.

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