We do judge books by their covers

Text and link copied from Instapundit:

Poll: Majority Back Republican Ideas Until They Hear that the Ideas Came From Republicans

When I clicked through the story, I was disappointed to find that it was narrowly limited to the budget plans, because I experience this often with many topics.

If you just talk issues, I find that quite a few people side more with the conservative/right-side. But, when you put names — be they parties or candidates — to the positions, things change.

On a couple of rare occasions I’ve had issue discussions with folks who I was sure going to tell me they were Democrat, but when party came up they were strong conservative.

It’s unfortunate, but brands work. Wrappers matter. I do recall, it was a tough transition for me as well. It’s been even tougher to throw my vote away.

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10 thoughts on “We do judge books by their covers

  1. The “habit” of labeling things developed because it’s beneficial. Which would you find more helpful – someone advising you that there’s a snake in the room or someone advising you that here’s an Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake in the room?

    • I’d probably react the same in either case. But, I agree, labeling can be beneficial. It can also be economical. And, just about everybody uses them whether they realize it or not.

      But, things can be mislabeled, also. I wish we were more careful about that.

      • Wrappers, brands and labels become much more relevant and powerful when advertising becomes involved.

        If we want branding to matter less in politics, what can we do?

        • That’s the million dollar question. The only way I know is to discuss the issues that get people to recognize their own inconsistencies. But, that takes time, effort and a willingness on their part that’s not often there.

          One of the first steps, though, may be an idea I had a while ago. To counter the ‘get out and vote campaign’, we should encourage people to think before they vote. (http://ourdinnertable.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/think-before-you-vote/)

        • First, you’ve got to convince me that “we” want branding to matter less in politics. It seems to me that there has been a deliberate effort by liberals to (1) relabel various liberal policies, etc. in order to make them more palatable, and (2) push this idea of doing away with labels.

          Liberals have rebranded themselves as “progressives”, but as Shakespeare noted, “a rose by any other name…..”. As “affirmative action” fell out of favor with the majority, the left kept the same policies of reverse discrimination alive by calling it “diversity”.

          The “no labels” group views themselves as centrists or moderates and everyone else as extremists. In other words, they start from the assumption that their position is the correct one and declare themselves the sole arbiters of reasonableness. It’s simply political correctness by a different name. The no labels crowd claims that it wants to make it easier to solve problems by removing politics from the problem solving process , but what they really want is to make it more difficult for the people it dislikes to engage in the process. At a societal level problem solving is politics.

          This fetish on the part of some for the “center” partly stems from the fact that Americans have a habit of equating the label “centrist” with “reasonable” and the label “independent” with “thoughtful” or “free thinking.” But these are labels themselves. What it often reflects is what some have referred to as “low information” voters – people fail to take a firm stand on an issue because they don’t rally understand the issue. Like they say, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

          Partisan labels aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing. In general, they are clarifying, not confusing. Despite the claims of the no label crowd, they are meaningful. “We need to set partisanship aside” really means, “Shut up and get with MY program.”

          Politics is the art of problem-solving. People aiming to take the politics out of government invariably end up removing the democracy instead.

          • “First, you’ve got to convince me that “we” want branding to matter less in politics.”

            Point taken. Let me try again. “I” want branding to matter less in politics. I think it creates a us versus them atmosphere. If (according to the article that Seth posted) people agree with Republican ideas before they realize they are ideas put forth by Republicans then I suspect that labels are muddying the waters of reason.

            I agree that politics is about problem solving. I don’t think the us versus them atmosphere is particularly useful for problem solving.

            “Partisan labels aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing.”

            Agreed. Labels are unavoidable in the same way that language is unavoidable. In order to communicate we must necessarily generalize and abstract. The sticking point, I think, is when the labels get in the way of people seeing the actual content of the argument (again, I’m thinking of the article Seth linked to).

            I don’t think it’s a matter of getting rid of labels. It’s a matter of reducing the emotional reaction that people have when they hear them. I’m not sure if I’m stating that clearly but basically if I hear a political idea and it makes sense to me on a rational level and then hear that it is associated with the “liberals” or the “conservatives” it shouldn’t change my mind about the fact that it is a solid and rational idea. (It might surprise me on an emotional level but I should be able to say “oh how cool that the guys I usually disagree with have a good idea.”)

          • Mike – Not sure I’d do away with labels. I’d just like people to pay more attention to whats wrapped in them. You provide good examples where the labels misrepresent — I’d like more people to recognize that. But, as long as a misrepresenting label is accepted as a true representation, it will be tough to make headway.

  2. Wally – thanks for the reply.

    Your statement -

    “I don’t think it’s a matter of getting rid of labels. It’s a matter of reducing the emotional reaction that people have when they hear them.”

    – indicates that your objection is not to labels per se or even to their meaning, but to their mindless use as an insult or to the knee jerk reaction that because someone of “X” group (that we generally have a difference of opinion with) made a proclamation, we disagree with it without giving it appropriate consideration.

    I agree!

    The problem then isn’t really the labels or their meaning, but that when faced with an issue/problem, rather than actually examining and debating the issue, many people (politicians included) look at what their “leaders” position is and blindly adopt it.

    Indeed, the “no labels” group (yep, there’s actually a group that LABELS themselves as such) is as guilty of such knee jerk reactions as any other partisan group. If we actually look at individual so-called centrists and moderates and independents, we find that none of these are homogenous just as all Republicans and all Democrats aren’t identical. But the labels do benefit our discussions – if I refer to my “conservative” ideas, one generally assumes I support limited government, lower taxes, etc.. This is much simpler than reciting a litany of beliefs.

    Now, there’s another issue which I think is the crux of the discussion at hand and that’s that if I label myself as belonging to “X” group and sharing the ideology of that group, I should be able to give you a rational argument for those beliefs – other than, “that’s what all X’s believe.”

    I think the knee jerk problem of objecting to someone because of their label (rather than disagreeing with their argument for supporting a certain solution to a problem) largely stems from the fact that most people that label themselves as members of group X (or to no group at all) are unable to rationally defend either the policies that their party upholds (if they even know them) or their own positions on various issues. Removing labels won’t magically turn these low information voters into informed citizens – instead of saying they support solution A to problem X (because their leaders tell them to), now they’ll just take a guess at solution A versus B. That doesn’t help. (Mathematically, an equal number of low info voters on the other side, whose leaders tell them to support solution B, will similarly guess between B and A). All it does is make it more difficult for the informed electorate to hold conversations.

    • “I think the knee jerk problem of objecting to someone because of their label (rather than disagreeing with their argument for supporting a certain solution to a problem) largely stems from the fact that most people that label themselves as members of group X (or to no group at all) are unable to rationally defend either the policies that their party upholds (if they even know them) or their own positions on various issues.”

      Agreed. It’s always paramount to understand the policies and beliefs of a group you belong to and/or support.

      “Removing labels won’t magically turn these low information voters into informed citizens – instead of saying they support solution A to problem X (because their leaders tell them to), now they’ll just take a guess at solution A versus B.”

      That makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to get rid of labels for political groups. The language describes something that is real. There is some consensus of belief among those who identify themselves as “conservative” and the same is true of those who identify themselves as “liberal”.

      My hope, as a “high information voter” is (time permitting) to examine each issue that comes before me independently, no matter which group or person comes up with it. I suppose that’s about the best I can do.

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