Richard Hoover: Is political orientation genetic?

Richard W. Hoover

Forty years ago I witnessed a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Iolanthe,” put on by a group of British ex-patriots. From it all, the lone Sentry’s marvelously rancor-free political rumination stuck in my head:

“Every little boy or gal,
That’s born into this world a-live
Is either a little liberal
Or else a little con-serv-a-tive.”

This election season, conservative-liberal rancor appears record-high. Each party struggles to convert the other to its own world view and, failing that, tears the other, and the country, to pieces in a gasconade of name-calling. I think of “Iolanthe” and the Sentry’s simple premise that little folks are politically stamped at birth. Could it be (as has been seriously hypothesized) that political preferences are genetic, that some little folks naturally sprout into conservers of what they know and (as liberals might put it uncharitably) are afraid to let go of the detritus of the past, afraid to realize their potential by pitching in to create a new world order based on justice and equality, free of class and ethnic exploitation?

Same coin, other side: are liberals born to innovate, to throw yesterday to the dogs and (as conservatives might put it uncharitably) take us into Godlessness, bankruptcy, promiscuity, addiction, cultural decline and early graves?

Indeed, if political preferences are beyond free choice — as for example are race and, some would say, homosexuality — it would go far to explain why the political beliefs of those on the left and on the right prove immutable, why they rarely succumb to all the efforts put into changing them. To draw a conclusion: if we are to be stuck forever with one another just as we now are, hadn’t we better learn to make the best of things in order to preserve our nation and our families, if not peace and quiet?

Going way off the deep end: if political beliefs are as immutable as race, why not prosecute excessive campaign rhetoric as “hate speech?” Listening to C-Span this past Sunday while driving to the Chantilly Gun Show, I heard a member of the radical left “Young Turks” refer to Sen. Ted Cruz as a “maniac!” At the very same moment, I saw a bumper sticker: “If guns are responsible for killing people, spoons are responsible for making Rosie O’Donnell fat!” So, let’s lock them all up, charge them with “political prejudice!” Short of imprisonment, we might also keep the calm by adopting the condescending terminology fashionably used when referring to sensitive and heretofore marginalized groups: This is my friend Sen. Ted Cruz. He “just happens to be” a conservative.

Seriously: much of “political hate speech,” today’s hyperbolic campaign rhetoric, is literally composed of “fighting words.” It portends actual violence and tears at our national fabric. I think it entirely possible to express one’s political views, if not one’s strong opposition, in a civil manner, without crude and demeaning speech. If we love our country, we must try to behave. Self-admittedly, that’s not always easy!

The truth is that we have much to be thankful for, whether as political moderates or extremists out on the wings. Whichever group runs America, it won’t be forever. No American domestic political revolution is permanent; partisan governments rise and crash, usefully, in order to meet ever-shifting realities. Even if conservatives realize their highest electoral hopes in 2016, the turn of the political left will come again, whether in four years or more. In other words, America gives hope to each of its political communities that its time will come again. Should this not be an encouragement to patience, civility and even-temperament?

By contrast, gloom and hostility fall on millions who, unlike Americans, live in lands where the revolution is permanent, where there is no hope. My first brush with it came abroad, years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Ceausescu regime. I called on my Romanian embassy counterpart, recently arrived after serving four years in a Romanian consulate here at home. Overcome, he told me how much he had loved the United States. In particular, he had been struck by the flea markets and farmers’ road-side stands, where anyone could sell, could become an entrepreneur. “You can’t do that in my country,” he said. Recalling the lone Sentry’s dictum, it appeared to me that this Romanian diplomat had been stamped politically at birth, that even years of Communist indoctrination could not change him!

So, let’s all buck-up, be the politically engaged creatures we are but, in sallying forth, treat each other civilly, if not kindly, realizing that the obnoxious views and orientations of our adversaries may be baked in from birth, beyond all human fault! And, let’s understand the potentially disastrous consequences for our country of using vulgarity and fighting words instead of conducting our political discourse on higher planes.

Richard Hoover is a retired Foreign Service officer who resides in southern Warren County.