We Should Sometimes Hope to be Wrong
How Badly do We Want to be Right?
Rush Limbaugh famously said at the beginning of our current president’s term that he hoped that Obama would fail. But since I am not an avid listener of Rush or of any other radio host spewing ideological political opinions, I am not quite sure what he meant. If he was merely expressing the hope that President Obama would fail to implement his “liberal” political agenda, then I have a certain amount of respect for Rush’s point of view. Obviously, if you think that policies would be damaging to the country, then you should be hoping that they are never implemented.
I suspect, however, that Mr. Limbaugh, and the many other devoted conservatives who shared (and still share) his point of view, felt more than a desire to see the legislative agenda fail. Instead, it was a more generalized desire to see Obama fail as a leader. Given the fact that the President started his term with a strong Democratic majority in Congress, Limbaugh and his kind had to know that at least some of the Obama agenda would be passed. So in saying that they hoped he would fail, they were wishing that his actions would fail to improve the country and might even make things worse. Then, when the voters realized what an abject failure he was, they would reject Obama in 2012 and turn to a wiser, more conservative leader.
I can understand the feelings of conservatives over these past few years. When I see politicians or anyone else make decisions that I think are bad ideas, a part of me wants to see those decisions blow up in their face so that I can say, either out loud or internally, that “I told you so.” When the Iraq war began over eight years ago, I thought that it was a bad idea. So when the situation quickly began to deteriorate after that initial apparent success, a part of me felt vindicated. But even as I felt the satisfaction of being right, I recognized what a twisted emotion that this was. If I really cared about my country, our nation’s soldiers, and even the people of Iraq, I should have been hoping for a quick and relatively painless victory in which Saddam Hussein had his weapons of mass destruction confiscated and Iraq created a model for democracy. Of course, if that happened, then my fragile ego would be bruised as I was forced to confront the disturbing fact that I was wrong. And that President who I did not like very much would see his approval ratings soar.
All of us humans are, to a certain degree, self-centered, egotistical creatures programmed to find order and meaning in the world. So if everything in our being tells us that someone else’s decisions are fundamentally flawed, it can be difficult to face up to a situation in which that person seems to be proven right. The human brain, which craves order, does not respond well when the fundamentals of its carefully cultivated worldview are challenged. It is easier to try and force the facts to fit our worldview. (This is why so many people say that it is pointless to argue about religion and politics.) But since it is inevitable that at one point or another there will be smart people with whom we disagree, shouldn’t there be times when we hope that we are wrong? Would we rather be right, or would we rather have the country prosper under the rule of a leader whom we dislike?
I would like to think that I am selfless and adaptable enough to say that I want what is best for my country. I know in my thoroughly flawed gut, however, that this is often not the case. I would often rather win an argument then come to a closer realization of truth. I often want what is best for me instead of what is best for my country and the world. But if we stay wedded to our worldview no matter what, and we hope that our ideological opponents fail, we may, either consciously or unconsciously, contribute to the failure that we are hoping to see. For a relatively powerless, average citizen like me, my attempts at sabotage may be insignificant. But when you have people in power hoping for the failure of their ideological opponents, the results can be disastrous.
One of the biggest problems with the constant partisan spin game that we call politics is that people would rather be proven right and achieve electoral success than do what is best for the long-term interests of the country. Good leaders, like good citizens, must be open to the possibility that they might be wrong, and when in the minority, there are times when they must hope that they are. If not, we may be doomed to have a permanent political minority – whether Republican or Democrat - interested more in sabotage and political spin than in public service. A true American would never root for America’s failure.