Leaving the tribe

First things first: Make sure that you come to the big public meeting at the City Auditorium at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, May 21.

The purpose of the meeting is simple: to preserve and protect this wonderful treasure. The meeting will be both short and to the point -- the main message will be delivered by our numbers alone. If enough of us show up to protest, Council will most likely give up the idea of selling or leasing the building to private interests. So take half an hour at the end of the day, and join us.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that you read reporter Terje Langeland's thoughtful, well-researched, and profoundly unsettling story about our city-owned utility company in last week's Indy, didn't you? No? Just didn't have the time -- it was really long, and you had a breakfast meeting ... We're all busy. And you probably didn't read Sunday's Gazette follow-up editorial on the same subject, either, did you? Let me tell you, it was carefully written, closely reasoned, even a tiny bit persuasive. But I know what you mean -- Sunday was Mother's Day, there was a lot to do, and somehow the G got recycled before you even looked at the editorial page.

So what's the point? It's the simplest political truth of all; that important issues are complex, that very important issues are extremely complex, and understanding them takes work. Does the city-owned utility system -- your utility -- subsidize developers? And if so, is it a good idea? How can we find out?

Ideally, we'd all sit down and study the matter, and make up our minds accordingly. But since learning enough about this particular issue to come to an informed opinion would take more work and time than most of us have, we're not gonna do it. Instead, we'll play Adopt an Expert -- we'll simply choose someone to agree with. You can choose UCCS professor Daphne Greenwood or Rocky Scott, or Utility gadfly Dave Gardner, smart folks one and all.

So how do you choose your expert? If you're like me, you use tribal, not intellectual, norms. I think Rush Limbaugh is a pill-poppin' blowhard, while I admire the brilliant comedy of Al Franken. I'm a big fan of Gov. Schwarzenegger, and no fan at all of Gov. Owens. I love Molly Ivins; I scorn Robert Novak. I know who I agree with; why should I bother with anyone else?

In a previous life selling newspaper advertising, I became aware that each of us is exposed to about 1,200 advertising impressions every day. To survive, we unconsciously filter out unwanted impressions. That's because, as we age, we've made our brand choices. Bud, Coors, Miller; I don't even notice their ads, 'cause I'm a Laughing Lab guy.

And that's what I've done, and what most of us have done, in politics. I've chosen my brand; call it pants-down Republicanism, or quasi-Democratic cynical liberalism. I can't analyze every issue, so I just go with my fellow tribe members. And for most of us there are just two tribes: blue states and red states, coastal and interior, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican. So once we've made our brand choice, we stop thinking about issues; we just look to our tribal mentors.

As a kid growing up in the North End in the '50s, I asked a friend of my father's, a prominent Republican, whom he planned to vote for: Dwight Eisenhower or Adlai Stevenson?

"Well, Johnny," he replied seriously, "we have an important choice. Gen. Eisenhower was a brilliant soldier and has served his country with great distinction. Gov. Stevenson has been an able governor and a dedicated public servant. I will vote for Gen. Eisenhower, but I believe that Gov. Stevenson would make a good president. We are fortunate to have such a choice; whoever is elected will have the help and support of all Americans."

In today's neo-tribal America, you'll never hear those words. More and more, we cast our lot with one tribe or another. Twenty years ago, Colorado College president Dick Celeste, a liberal Democrat, was elected governor of Ohio with 60 percent of the vote. On the same day, Ronald Reagan, running for president, received 60 percent of the Ohio vote. Then, swing voters composed nearly 20 percent of the electorate; today, around 3 percent.

So what do we do? Don't know about you, but I'm leaving my tribe, ditching my favorite experts, and trying to become a thoughtful moderate. Just don't make me listen to Limbaugh, or read Gazette editorials, and as for Bush ... don't get me started!

It ain't easy to leave the tribe.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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