Dan Middleton’s Political Punditry, September 12, Changing People’s Minds


So this is a somewhat intricate affair, and, at its base, it’s what the blog is about: conversation.

This time Dan Middleton not only sparks off the discussion with a thoughtful post below about the president’s recent address about jobs, he also shares his response to a comment his friend Terrence Boylan made.

As you’ll see, Terrence draws from a NYT comment where Franine, a reader, explains the difficulty she has in getting through to her mother, an active Fox News watcher.

Dan’s comment to Terrence is that reminding people about fact is the only way to change minds.

What I like so much about this post is that it’s got many directions in which people can go.

Feel free to take on Dan’s perspective on the jobs address, Francine’s description of getting through to her mother or Dan’s assertion about how to change minds.

For myself, I disagree slightly with Dan on the last point.  Howard Gardner has an engaging book in which he tackles this very topic.  In the work, he makes the point that changing people’s minds essentially entails providing them with an alternative story, not just different facts.  The story, he says, must be similar enough to people’s original understanding that they can recognize it, yet different enough that people can make the shift.

That argument is somewhat persuasive to me, and the other part that for me is critical on this topic is the role emotion plays in opinion formation and maintenance.

And underneath that is the question/issue of whether we are indeed rational.

I’d give a qualified yes to that.

While indeed we have critical faculties that we can and do use in many different contexts, in many other situations, and, indeed, even on the big questions, there is a substantial amount of irrational underpinning onto which the rational analysis is overlaid.

As a result, in my experience, facts alone don’t do the trick, as Francine’s note so clearly demonstrates.

If they did, her mother’s position presumably would show some kind of dent.

Instead, it just seems to be an impermeable repetition of received truths.

Those are my two cents.

You know I welcome yours.

Thanks, Dan, for getting this one started.

I look forward to seeing where it goes.

DAN’S RESPONSE: This is why vigilance, knowledge, and facts are important. Keep reminding people about facts. It is the only way to change minds.


Daniel – Thanks for this – it also sent me to whitehouse.gov where I could read the fact sheet on the American Jobs Act.

I noticed on one of the NYT sites, a reader wrote in about his rabid Republican mother, and I realized, after seeing how much it reminded me of similar discussions with other Obama haters, that this is what we are up against all across America –  stubborn uninformed voters fed lies by Fox News. Check it out – it’s almost sweet how exasperated this poor kid is.




September 12th, 2011

2:48 pm

I had the most disturbing conversation with my mother. She is retired, a rabid Republican and devoted FOX viewer. An otherwise intelligent woman, she is totally irrational on politics. She is concerned that the US is turning ‘socialist’ and is worried that someone will take away her Social Security. When I point out that it is the party she supports that wants to end Social Security, she tells me Obama is a socialist. When I point out that if he were a socialist the last thing he would do is end Social Security, she tells me he’s against workers and if he had his way, everyone would lose their jobs – like the Post Office workers. When I point out that it’s the Republican politicians who are against unions and want to privatize government agencies, she says that I don’t know the truth and should watch FOX because they are the only ones who are showing the truth. She said she doesn’t want anyone taking away her Medicare and I ask her how she would pay for her health care with the Republican vouchers. Her response? It wasn’t a problem until Obama changed everything. What he changed, she can’t say. All she knows is he’s a socialist and wants to turn the US into Canada where people die waiting for doctor appointments. When I point out that we all wait for appointments but we all get service in real emergencies, she says if Obama had his way no one would get health care. 

And so it goes. She hated Roosevelt and yet she believes that Social Security is great, that the US won WWII because the US is great and none of it had anything to do with Roosevelt. She hated LBJ but loves Medicare. Basically, she hates all Democratic politicians except for their legacies. And she loves all Republican politicians and refuses to believe that they are trying to undermine the very programs she values.

There’s no talking to her. She isn’t interested in facts. She only listens to FOX. She votes and she isn’t alone. It’s sad.


I have been digging around for some good information on President Obama’s American Jobs Act. And I found it. This is an excellent article written by a small business owner who knows a hell of lot more about economics than I do. I learned a lot, principally that this is a large, smartly conceived dose of sorely needed stimulus. It evenly balances tax cuts with spending, each designed to boost consumer demand and consumer confidence.

The President’s presentation of the legislation in front of Congress last Thursday was highly effective substantively and politically. But remember that now the GOP House which must act, or, in the absence of action, will continue to look utterly devoid of not only ideas, but of common humanity. Naturally, they have not gotten off to a good start. I read stuff like this andthis and wonder aloud, “What is wrong with these people?”.

Oh well. Enough about them for now.

The President’s job is to sell, sell, sell this proposed legislation, aggressively without worrying about appearing too partisan.  Today, he got off to a very good start, and will be in Ohio and North Carolina this week speaking to large audiences. The campaign has begun, which is a good thing. Voters have to be shown what a mistake it was to give Republicans control of the House in 2010.


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