My thoughts on the David Brooks convocation

Last night the Centre community was treated to a visit by David Brooks, a conservative political/societal columnist for The New York Times. For the most part, he articulated some ideas and concepts from his latest book, The Social Animal. All in all, it was a fairly fascinating monologue, which he interspersed with amusing anecdotes from his experiences with various national political figures, including President Clinton and President Obama.

I can personally add my support to his argument about how our sub-conscious thoughts and feelings affect our conscious attitudes and actions. In my dissertation research, I found that our implicit, sub-conscious attitudes regarding the nature of American culture affect our attitudes toward immigration policy preferences. Understanding these implicit attitudes is essential to understanding why we think and act the way we do in the political world.

Second, I would offer an alternative perspective from the one that Mr. Brooks articulated at one point toward the end of the Q&A session. Professor Weston asked a question about political polarization among the American public. Mr. Brooks answered that, in his view, the polarization issue might be slightly overstated because, for the most part, our political attitudes are distributed more along a “bell-curve”, with most of America in the moderate center.

He’s right about that… to a point. When Americans are asked about their ideologies, most of them say that they’re “moderates”. When Americans are asked about their political policy preferences, most stake out for the middle of the road. When it comes to our party preferences, however, only about 5-10% of the American public are true “moderate” Independents. Most have a partisan attachment that they strongly adhere to when it comes time to vote. Also, when asked to give a favorability rating of the parties, or political leaders/candidates, Americans are very polarized along partisan lines. And since most of our political actions in the public sphere is made and interpreted through a partisan lens, they result in a very polarized political environment.

On the whole, though, it was a fascinating convocation and I hope that Centre continues to attract such distinguished guests in the future.

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