Political Psychology Comes to Television

It’s nice to see cognitive and social psychology receive twenty minutes of intelligent discussion on TV. I don’t agree with everything said here–especially Jonathan Haidt’s rather self-satisfied embrace of centrism. The discussion still seems important and interesting. Our psychological lives and group affiliations alter our ability to process new information. That’s obvious at some 50,000 foot level. Yet the resulting implications are often ignored. Moreover, economics dominates the other social sciences in policy discourse. it’s nice to see other disciplines getting some equal time. It’s even nicer to see an extended discussion, with a minimum of schtick, with no one spouting simplistic slogans. It’s amazing to think this appears on cable TV.

One point that went unmentioned. In my view, mainstream Republicans have retreated from an essential kind of technocratic policy discourse during the Obama years. There is no high-quality, avowedly conservative counterpart to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for example. Republican policy experts often move away from market-based proposals to solve social problems once liberals show interest. Cap-and-trade approaches to regulate carbon emissions are one obvious example. Otherwise respectable conservatives such as George Will even express skepticism regarding global climate change.

This consequence of ideological polarization and internal GOP politics reduces the quality of policy discourse on both sides of the aisle. It hinders efforts by liberals to question our own assumptions and the quality of our own arguments. We need a more respectable and reasoned opposition, so we can actually learn from each other across the ideological divide. And on some issues, such as public employee pensions, we need a respectable and reasoned set of interlocutors to find reasonable bipartisan compromises neither side could accomplish on its own.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.