On my last post, I said something about how insulting I find it when someone says that my opinions would be different if my personal circumstances were different. Such as when people say, “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged,” or “if your daughter were pregnant, you wouldn’t be opposed to abortion,” or whatever.
I was insufficiently clear, as I learned when one commenter thought I mean people shouldn’t change their minds. I’m all for mind-changing based upon new information. (And indeed, sometimes that new information is conveyed by changed personal circumstances.) What I object to is the suggestion that, if it were in your self-interest to change your mind, you would.
Part of the reason why I find this so offensive is the puritanism of the journalist. News journalists aren’t even supposed to have opinions, which I’ve always understood to be absurd, of course. But when journos are allowed to have opinions, and even paid to express them publicly, as I was for more than 15 years of my career, it’s such a special gift that the responsibility is huge to formulate political opinions according to the greater good of the community, limited only by your ability to discern the greater good. Anything that smacks of abusing that privilege for self-interest is appalling to me.
I’m a bit more wordly today than I was in the early stages of my journalism career, but the ideals are intact.
This led me to share an anecdote from the days when I realized that not everyone, not even all journalists, looked at the world as I did…
In 1976, I was pretty excited about Jimmy Carter’s candidacy. I saw him as what the country needed after Watergate, etc. One day close to the election, I had a conversation with another editor in the newsroom. She said she favored Gerald Ford. That sounded fine to me; I liked Ford, too — I just preferred Carter.
What floored me, flabbergasted me, shocked me, was that she said the REASON she supported Ford was that she and her husband had sat down and looked at the candidates’ proposals, and had computed (who knows how, given the variables) that if Carter were elected, their taxes would go up by $1,000 a year.
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it, because of the following:
- I couldn’t believe that ANYONE would actually make a decision based on who should lead the free world based on their personal finances. (I really couldn’t; I was that innocent.)
- I thought that if there WERE such greedy jerks in the world, you would not find them among the ranks of newspaper journalists, who had deliberately chosen careers that would guarantee them lower salaries than their peers from college. If you care that much about money, this would be about the last line of work a college graduate would choose.
- If there WERE a journalist whose priorities were so seriously out of whack, surely, surely, she’d never admit it to another journalist.
But I was wrong on all counts.
For a time I regarded her as an outlier, as an exception that proved the rule. But that delusion wore off, too, as I had more such conversations with many, many other people. (Although she still stands out as the must unabashedly selfish journalist I think I’ve ever met. Others may be as self-interested, but they’re more circumspect.)
Today, I have a much more realistic notion of how many people vote on the basis of self-interest. But I have never come to accept it as excusable.