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WHAT ABOUT BOB? Opposing views aren’t signs of evil or stupidity

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A balance act of views from the left and the right.

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At dinner the night after the Iowa caucuses, a win-win for Democrats, one thoughtful son asked, “How can one presidential candidate suggest we ban Muslims yet shoot somebody on 5th Avenue and still be taken seriously? And another one threaten to carpet bomb ISIS and actually win? Shouldn’t they be history?”

The rest of the table nodded assent. The other thoughtful son observed, “Trump is a clown and Cruz is an idiot.”

“They’ll get theirs in the end,” I chuckled. “Like the bankers, financiers and CEOs all got theirs after nearly tanking the economy in 2008. They’re doing hard time, and the rules of the financial game were completely rewritten, right?”

“Pass the corn, please,” my wife asked. “I don’t know what people were thinking, letting the big fish off the hook.”

“‘Something is wrong with America. I wonder what people are thinking about or if they’re thinking at all,’ Bob Dole once said.” I glanced at my wife and observed, “I miss Bob Dole. I miss Gerald Ford even more, but I miss Bob Dole.”

“He’s not dead, yet,” she reminded.

“That’s right!” I said. “He’s only 92! And he’s from Kansas, not Canada.”

“Dad!” interrupted a lad. “We can Google Bob Dole. Cruz and Trump are still idiots.”

I miss Bob Dole and Gerald Ford, but that’s not exactly the point. I’m just not sure it’s helping by calling candidates “idiots” and “clowns”—whether at dinner, in the office, or online. During the rest of the meal (where most of us were either happy for Hillary or burning for Bernie), we kept coming back to different versions of Bob Dole’s observation of wondering what people were thinking—particularly people who come to different conclusions about things than we do.

Are people who disagree with us just stupid … or what?

I silently ate my veggies, pondering one of the biggest challenges at the dinner table or in any election cycle: acknowledging people holding opposing views aren’t completely stupid—or even necessarily illogical. The answer to Bob Dole’s question is we’re all thinking, just about different things. And our thinking, our logic, is more dependent on where we start our thinking than we would like to believe. Equally intelligent people starting different premises and aiming at different goals might use quite logical means to reach different conclusions.

I’m not likely to join the RNC anytime soon, but it’s not because my more conservative cousins are stupid. If I started from the premise that economic inequality is an integral part of a capitalist economic system that’s benefitted humanity far more than it has harmed it—and part of some divine plan—I’d more likely be “cruising with Cruz” than “burning for Bernie.”

The two biggest mistakes we can make about a person we disagree with are: to believe they are stupid or they are evil. We lock down, look for evidence to confirm our beliefs, and become increasingly blind to anything disconfirming assumptions about the dreaded, stupid, evil other.

Donald Trump’s not the brightest bulb in the box, but he’s not stupid. He has somehow managed to stay reasonably rich and in the limelight for most of my adult lifetime. That must count for something, if we consider he’s not officially a member of the Kardashian family (yet). 

And I’m not concerned if Ted Cruz’s daughter doesn’t want him to kiss her, or he denies climate science, or he has no qualms about calls to carpet bomb ISIS without having a clear understanding of what carpet bombing actually is. I’m not worried neither Bob Dole nor Ted’s Princeton roommate, a “B” movie screenplay writer, can stand him. I’m concerned he was an elite debate society competitor, Princeton’s Speaker of the Year in 1992, edited the Harvard Law Review, and won international debates while at Harvard. It concerns me he has successfully argued significant cases at the Supreme Court, including cases limiting the ability of local governments to reasonably restrict firearms, and cases permitting religious monuments on state government grounds. Even though I disagree with him on most issues, his intellectual gifts are formidable and to dismiss him foolhardy…

My wife interrupted my musing, “Well, what do you think?”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “What about Bob?” 

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