How to Debate a Conservative?

My neighbor has a son I discuss politics with from time to time.  He’s conservative and I’m liberal.  He’s anxious for Obama to leave, I’m anxious for him to stay.  My friend, who is my age, is good guy and he doesn’t push his agenda and I try not to push mine.  Conservatives are mighty arguers, and debating them can be difficult because conservatives are often as passionate about their politics as they are about their faith.  One problem with debating conservatives is they often feel the solution to the issue at hand is all too obvious and the facts are all on their side.  And that’s the first quandary with debating conservatives – liberals have to argue against the status quo.  We’re fighting an uphill assault against a well entrenched position.

Today my friend claimed Obama was making a huge political mistake by not siding with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline.  To ordinary folk, the pipeline sounds like a no-brainer.  It promises jobs for Americans and more oil for America’s long term security, and during an election year where gasoline prices are climbing daily and politicians want to get every vote they can get, it would appear insane for Obama to reject the pipeline.  Why wouldn’t liberals want more jobs?  Why wouldn’t liberals want cheaper gasoline and securer oil supplies?

Obama recent decision to reject the current claim puts the decision off, probably until after the election.  Obama claims he wants a better environmental impact report.

If you aren’t familiar with the Keystone pipeline controversy you’ll need to do some background reading because I don’t want to summarize what is already so well-written elsewhere.

Keystone-pipeline-map-KWD2

I think it’s pretty easy to restate the conservative position.  The pipeline means jobs during times of high unemployment.  The pipeline will be another source of oil that doesn’t come from the Middle East, promising more security against future oil shortages.  It offers hope for lower gasoline prices.  It could be a great economic stimulus, especially for the state of Texas.  Finally, it’s a way to help our friends the Canadians.

How can liberals argue against all of those benefits?  We already have zillions of pipelines crisscrossing the country, why not another one?

If you read the articles you’ll see there are many people fighting the pipeline.  Why?  I don’t mean their specific reasons, but why are some people for something and other people against?  Any project benefits some people and hurts others.  It’s always that way.  A hot issue like the Keystone XL Pipeline is political.  The prime motivation for any big scheme is to make some people wealthy.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  The Canadian company and its American allies are trying to put over a big project and they are doing everything they can to convince America its in their best interests to let them go ahead.  So why stop them?

Like every wish from an Aladdin’s Lamp, something unexpected comes with our wishes.  To some, Obama’s delay is merely one for letting us think harder about what we’re wishing for – to try to foresee the possible unexpected consequences.

There’s been a boom in natural gas production in America and many landowners and towns rushed to embrace drilling and pipelines in their communities only to regret it later.  That’s the first layer of protests against the proposed pipeline.  There are individuals that don’t want it in their backyards.  Eminent domain has always been controversial in our country – it’s always the little guys versus the big guys and the benefits of the many against the sacrifice of the few.  But this is not the major consideration in the Keystone Pipeline now, but it’s growing.

The next level up is the local environmental impact of the project.  President Obama and the EPA and other agencies want to take a longer look at the problem.  What’s the worst thing that could happen?  Could Keystone shell out the billions like BP if there was a major spill?  What if there was an accident that impacted millions of citizens?  I tend to think the current delay by Obama is really about this level of opposition, and sooner or later the pipeline will be built.

But there’s two more layers, that I think are the real issues.  These two issues are at the heart of liberal opposition to the Keystone Project.  The first is oil addiction and the second is global warming.  They are related, and even interconnected, but they are still two separate issues.

Oil is a finite resource that the human race is using up at an exponential rate of consumption.  Americans are oil junkies and the Canadian tar sands offer billions of barrels we greedily want to consume.  We don’t want to give up our SUV and wasteful lifestyles, and the Keystone Pipeline is another drug dealer to rely on for our addiction.  Among our citizens are people that are saying, “Hey, this is enough, we’ve got to get off this drug.”  These people know that through conservation and energy efficiency we could easily live with much less oil.  They know oil is vital to our whole economy and wasting it is huge danger to our long-term survival.  Instead of using all the oil up in the next 50 years, maybe we should make it last 300 years or longer.

To these people, some of who are environmentalists, and others just economists, they know we don’t need more sources of oil, but a lifestyle to live with less.  And they believe we need to change now.  This would be true even if global warming didn’t exist.

Of course global warming does exist, and the Canadian tar sands are a particularly nasty way to get oil.  Conservatives refuse to believe that global warming is happening, or they refuse to believe it’s man-made.  Throughout the history of mankind people have refuse to accept anything that threatened their personal wealth and wellbeing.  Accepting that the pipeline is a bad idea means accepting that our way of life is wrong, and most people can’t go there.  But what if it’s true?

Now this brings me to the title of the essay, “How to Debate a Conservative?”  How do you convince people their way of thinking is wrong?  I’m not sure we can.  That’s why conservatives don’t like liberals.  We’re asking them to make radical changes in their lives.  What gives us the right to ask so many to give up so much?  Of course we know we can substitute an energy efficient lifestyle that would give them everything they have now and more, but it would be disruptive and costly in the transformation.

We can also tell them their children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences of their wastefulness, but that’s never worked in the past.  How effective is that Bible verse about the sins of the father visiting the later generations?  If God couldn’t change the Israelites, why think the liberals can change the conservatives?

We could try and convince them to read hundreds of history and science books, but we spend billions on education and get few to read.

How long has it taken to convince white people that people of color are equal?  How long has it taken to convince men that women are also equal?  Right, the liberals are still hard at work on those issues.  Change comes slowly.  We can take some satisfaction that even the most conservative people today are flaming liberals compared to people of the past.  But is that any consolation?

And how many liberals are driving SUVs and living in 6,000 square foot houses?  I’m afraid all too many.  As long as liberals consume as much oil and live equally energy inefficient lives, we can’t argue well.

Does it come down to which side has the most lawyers, super-PACs and Congressmen in their pockets?  It certainly would help if Obama had the balls to take an environmental stand and marshal the Democrats into action.  I like Obama, and I think he’s a very eloquent guy, but he’s not a visionary leader.  We live in times that needs another Lincoln but all we got was another Kennedy, a charming man with style, beautiful wife and kids, but who is only better than average politically.

Liberals need to organize and become more successful politically.  They need to fight as hard as the conservatives do, but hopefully without the dirty tricks.  Lucky for us, the best the conservatives can find to lead them are greedy buffoons that only think about one thing:  eliminating taxes.  If liberals were as aggressive as conservatives at seeking tax breaks we’d have one healthy environment, but sadly Democrats seem to be just as corrupted by money and power, but they feel just enough guilt to help the poor.

I’m not sure how to debate a conservative.

I tend to think our addiction to oil will not be broken and the Keystone XL Pipeline will be built.

I tend to think the concerns of the little landowners, farmers and ranchers will be pushed aside when the pipeline is built.

I tend to think there will be small and large oil spills and we’ll live with the consequences.

I tend to think we will consume all the oil before we learn to live without it.

And I’m quite confident global warming will destroy our current way of life, and our generation will be cursed for centuries.

JWH – 2/26/12

4 thoughts on “How to Debate a Conservative?

  1. “If God couldn’t change the Israelites, why think the the liberals can change the conservatives?” Oh I think that is priceless and so true! I commented on the Pipeline deal in my post “Pipeline Propaganda.” But you nail the point that, to quote another proverb of the Bible. Every man is right in his own eyes, and lastly, only a fool argues with a fool! (My folly with my teenager.)

  2. It is hard to discuss issues with someone who thinks the only real facts are the ones that support their position. Any fact or idea that doesn’t support their contention is part of the liberal media conspiracy. Which is part of the Great Conspiracy where all scientists, reporters, and teachers are part of a vast conspiracy to kill them and their way of life. It is exactly how the Hutu leadership convinced the Hutu people to slaughter their Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda. Anyone opposed to you is either the devil or controlled by the devil. You can’t kill people, even Jesus says that, but you can kill the devil.

    It is sad that so many right of center people are completely divorced from reality, facts and simple honesty.

    The biggest lie about the XL keystone pipeline is that the oil will lower gas prices in the US. The Canadian oil sands output is currently going to refineries in the Midwest. This Canadian oil is low priced today because there is only one place it can be sent, the US. Either we buy it or it goes unused. The whole point of piping the oil to the gulf coast is to ship it for export to Europe and South America. The actual proposal from the company behind the pipeline says this will raise the price of gasoline in America and will earn the company greater revenue by exporting the oil outside of the US. How can such a basic fact not penetrate the right-wing hive-mind?

  3. The Keystone Pipeline is a big, big issue here in Nebraska, especially as it was originally proposed. The Ogallala Aquifer is critical here, and if it’s contaminated, no amount of money would clean it up.

    Now, Nebraska is solidly Republican, and many Nebraskans – and pretty much all of our politicians – wouldn’t give two hoots about pollution somewhere else. And “environment” is a curse word. But this is different, so even the GOP has been treading lightly.

    Of course, in the Republican Party these days, you’re either with them 100% or you’re a traitor – or, even worse, a “moderate.” And this has become a new tactic to use against Barack Obama, so Nebraska Republicans pretty well have to go along with that. It’s kind of funny to see them thread that needle.

    Re. that “lifestyle to live with less,” that’s definitely a losing proposition politically, and I’d be against it, myself. I don’t want to live with less! I don’t want any of us to live with less! Of course, we WILL live with less if we keep going the way we are. Even before the oil runs out, we’re going to be in a world of hurt unless we do something. Global warming alone is probably going to be disastrous.

    Ideally, I’d like fewer people on the planet so that each of us can live well. But it’s a bit late for that. It’s late for alternative energy, too. We had our wake-up call in 1973, but we weren’t smart enough to heed it. And it’s late for global warming, which is already happening and will continue to get worse, no matter what.

    Well, we can’t wish for a time machine. We have to take things as they are and do the best we can from here.

    How do we convince the right-wing? (Note that I’m not sure these people are actually “conservative,” anymore.) For the most part, we don’t. You can’t reason people out of a stance they didn’t reason themselves into.

    But they won’t live forever. We need to teach the young about evidence-based thinking. With evidence-based thinking, people are able to come to a consensus. And with evidence-based thinking, we can compromise without offending “God.” We have to teach children HOW to think, not just what to think.

    1. I actually don’t have any hope people will change. We’re all lemmings on this bus and we’re driving as fast as we can towards the cliff. Evidently logic doesn’t convince people to change. We won’t try to change until we’re between a rock and a hard place. It’s actually very depressing. Being the smartest animal on the planet won’t mean much, because we just wasn’t smart enough. We’ll probably pump all the aquifers dry before our pollution gets down to the water anyway.

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