Right and Wrong

I was both intrigued and repulsed by this Salon.com interview with Alexandra Pelosi, filmmaker and also the daughter of Nancy Pelosi. Her recently HBO-aired documentary about the Republican diehards during the 2008 election, Right America: Feeling Wronged, looks like an attempt to mend the red/blue cultural rift by showing Left America the true ways of Right America. I haven’t seen it yet, but it seems from Pelosi’s interview here that she has interestingly not attempted to hide her own political identity. This is a documentary by a leftist about her political Other;  it is a glance over the abyss.

However, based on Pelosi’s interview, I don’t have much hope for a nuanced sociological study of right-wingers.

She hits the mark a couple of times, saying,

There was this guy in Fort Wayne, Ind., Fred Boise, who says, “The media paints us to be fanatics. They treat us like hicks and we just go to Wal-Mart and we’re rednecks. And they don’t come to get to know us, and they go on stereotypes.” I think all of that is true.

Interesting point.

But then she reveals her true colors, saying,

I live in Manhattan, so I think I’m on a blue island. I mean it’s not like people don’t vote for McCain in Manhattan, but a majority of my friends, I have to say respectfully, are just drinking the Kool-Aid. And they were in the cult from early on. They’d say, “You went to Pennsylvania. Ooh. Freaky.” Well, actually there are some really nice people there, and they’re serving their term of duty in Iraq.

In your face, stupid New York liberals! Oh wait, now I’ve just stereotyped lefty New Yorkers! Oh, woe is me.

That is what Alexandra Pelosi should have been thinking. Invoking the idea of red state conservatives as “nice people” who man the war effort in Iraq is a quaint, innocuous vision of the right wing through the eyes of a born-and-bred ‘liberal elite’ like Pelosi. I know it’s taboo to use the right wing terminology for us liberals, but for real, if Pelosi’s daughter isn’t liberal elite, who is?

But granted, talking about right wingers is a thorny thing. With King of Bipartisanship at the helm of our country, New America seems to believe that frequent negotiation with the political abyss between left and right is a good idea. Barack Obama lends credibility to both left and right by attempting to court all parties and acting like everyone has something to bring to the table. Indira and I have long thought this was bullshit. Bipartisanship, or a belief that both parties have something to say, may be decent legislative policy, as it allows you (policy-maker Obama) the framework for broad agreement on policy proposals. (Or, that was Obama’s plan, until he saw bipartisanship in action with the House Republicans on that stimulus bill…) But as somebody (John Stuart Mill? Indira, do you know?) said, democracy is “tyranny of the majority,” which he meant in a bad way, but I will subvert to mean a good thing. Guess what? The left was voiceless for the last 8 years. I just don’t care that Pelosi’s film “gives a voice to these voters, once labeled “the silent majority.” (This is according to the HBO website.) SILENT? Let me take a moment. SILENT?!?! Their spokesman has only been out of office for a few weeks!

What I am trying to say is, one must admit that many right wing beliefs are objectively wrong. Bipartisanship says there is right and left, but I say there is just right and wrong. Therefore it should not be required to have a fair and balanced view of that which is wrong. We need not give credibility, or sympathy, to views which are patently false and harmful.

On the other hand, everyone, regardless of their political leanings, should be treated as more than a quaint stereotype. I am not sure what Pelosi intended to show in her documentary: the similarities between right wingers and the people in her “blue island,” or the differences between them. I have a feeling the abyss was too large for her to cross alone.

Observe:

SALON: The one moment where you sounded even the tiniest bit irked was when you were talking to a guy in a truck and you say, “Obama wants to take from the 1 percent and give to a guy like you.”

Pelosi: Those are the kinds of conversations I found hard to stomach. That gentleman was screaming, “Wake up America!” and on the side of his truck it said, “Obama is a socialist idiot,” and I just didn’t understand how he could be so misinformed. He was an electrician. He made less than $150,000 a year. And he was toeing the party line of a party that was not helping him.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. Economists are surprised that people don’t always act in our best interests and we often act in an irrational manner. What kind of world is this, where poor people vote to keep rich people in power? It’s a world where ideology reigns, where ideology becomes embedded in culture. This is true of politics of both the left and right. Though I despise the culture wars, there is truth to left-wingyness accompanying Volvo and machiotto, and right wingyness accompanying John Deere and Miller Lite. To make a documentary about politics and to not know this is kind of a scandal. Pelosi, by her own admittance, has spent her entire life nestled in her coastal world of highly educated, left-leaning people. But she does not rise above it. How very 19th century, how very earnest, how very enlightenment to find ‘misinformation’ so bewildering.

What I would like to see in a documentary about the right wing is not a portrait of the Other. Fair and balanced be damned– just treat the Other as though they are people. Trace the cultural patterns and figure out why they are there. Don’t feel sorry for them, don’t marvel at their difference, don’t put them in our harsh, judgmental gaze. If America is truly divided, then we must find our common ground, and putting one half or the other in a zoo isn’t going to help matters.

To sum up: On the one hand, we need not take the wrong views seriously. On the other hand, we do need to take people with the wrong views seriously. Condescension and bewilderment are not options. I’ll let you know one of these years when I get HBO, but in the mean time, I’m going to have to believe that Alexandra Pelosi doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

-Anna

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