December 6, 2012

Another View: People can change views; it's what makes democracy possible

A politician's view that political outlooks are innate would make debates over issues futile.

By Laurie Downey

Clearly we are living through a particularly intransigent and polarized period of American politics.

The divide between Democrats and Republicans has hardened; Gov. LePage refuses to talk to Democrats, and the fiscal cliff looms.

Many theories attempt to explain this state of affairs: splintering of the media, widening income gap, etc.

In "Maine Voices" ("Is how we vote or what we think a function of our genetic makeup," Dec. 1), a new explanation emerged. Maine Rep. Bernard Ayotte makes the astonishing argument that the "immutable differences" between Republicans and Democrats are "genetically programmed" and "seem to transcend all reason, logic and discourse."

The heart of this argument is the claim that people cannot disagree passionately and profoundly without genetics being involved. Huh?

It is Ayotte's theory that transcends all reason and logic. It evokes medieval theories of "humors," where a person's personality is determined by his particular balance of bodily fluids. More disturbingly, it provides a convenient rationale for never bothering to engage in difficult discussions or arguments with those you disagree with, or to rethink your point of view.

After all, if political views are genetically programmed, why bother with the whole messy democratic enterprise at all? However, tempting as it is to blame genetics for our current gridlock, there is plenty of evidence that human beings -- even politicians -- can be adaptable and flexible.

We argue passionately with each other, hold a position with great conviction (pro or con on slavery for example, or gay marriage) and then -- we change our minds! Shift our position!

We then reach new levels of agreement and understanding through the messy give-and-take of the democratic process. This uniquely human capacity to adapt and change is, I believe, essential to our continued survival.

Ayotte's theory of fixed political types is a dead-end. I continue to hold out hope for the open and changeable mind.

Laurie Downey is a resident of West Baldwin.

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