The often vituperative rhetoric of public American discourse is counterproductive. It is unfair, however, to place the blame on only one party. I keep coming across references on blogs to the Democratic Party as out of touch with the mainstream, as elitist and condescending. Many of these references sound like (and are sometimes paired with) descriptions of academics like myself. And yet, when faced with millions of people who believe in a reality for which there is no evidence, what should the proper response be?
In recent months the American public has been presented reports by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the heads of the Iraq survey group David Kay and Charles Duelfer (chosen by the president), concluding that before the war Iraq had neither weapons of mass destruction nor even a significant program for developing them. Nonetheless, 72% of Bush supporters continued to hold to the view that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Only 26% of Kerry supporters hold such beliefs.
Despite the report of the 9/11 Commission saying there is no evidence Iraq was providing significant support to al Qaeda, 75% of Bush supporters believe Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda (30% of Kerry supporters), with 20% believing that Iraq was directly involved in 9/11. 1 Sixty-three percent of Bush supporters even believe that clear evidence of this support has been found, while 85% of Kerry supporters believe the opposite.
[Quotes taken from “The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters” (PDF), the report on a recent poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks.]
The goal for all of us should be communication and understanding.
Do Bush supporters believe these things because they are unaware of the facts? If so, then the proper response by those of us who opposed four more years of Bush should be to work on getting those facts out there. Or do Bush supporters instead believe those things because they want to believe them, regardless of what new information might come their way? Is this a result of cognitive dissonance, as L suggests? If so, then it doesn’t matter how hard we work to get the facts out there. What then?