The “Let Me Have a Little Peace” Phenomenon

After tonight’s Presidential debate I called up my friend Thinking Man to get his take. Thinking Man is my E.F. Hutton, and given his extremely prescient advice to me in June, I am more inclined than ever to listen.

He didn’t make any predictions about the outcome of the election and tonight said only: “McCain missed some chances. He said a couple times he didn’t want to raise anyone’s taxes, but he didn’t emphasize he would not raise taxes on small business, and he didn’t tie it together with the worsening economy.

“Then again, maybe he didn’t want to talk about the market.”

Seeing the candidates again tonight, I was struck by McCain’s straightforwardness, and Obama’s beautiful delivery. No surprises there, and coming down the home stretch it’s Obama’s to lose. But I still think there’s a chance that might happen. After the debate on CNN, Soledad O’Brien was interviewing their assembled group of undecided voters. At the end of all the informal polling (whom do you trust more on this or that), she quizzed the group of 24 people as to whom they would vote for, if they were voting today. A majority went for McCain. Both she and Anderson Cooper, who was back in studio, seemed a tad surprised; each sputtered a bit and, in Cooper’s case, blinked as if someone had just spritzed him in the face with overly strong perfume.

I was a little surprised, too, actually. It bears remembering that some polls gave Kerry a slight lead in the days before the 2004 election, and the early exit polls showed him winning. I have a theory as to what happened there—one that I think could apply this time around, too. I’ll call it the “Let Me Have a Little Peace” Phenomenon. It’s inspired by the account of an older Jewish woman I know who lives in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in a mid-sized American city. This friend tells me she purposely avoids political discussions with people in her circle because, holding generally more conservative views than her friends, she finds herself shouted down and dismissed with eye rolls and indignation if she ventures an opinion that contradicts liberal orthodoxy.

“You should have heard them on the subject of Sarah Palin,” she told me recently. “’She’s stupid, she’s a moron, Golly Gee shucks!’ Making fun of her, and when I tried to say this woman has boosted Alaska’s economy and stood up to oil giants and, agree with her or not, how could she do all that and be a moron, they just kept at me. Finally I just shut up because I wanted a little peace.’”

So she stays in the closet, but expresses her views in the privacy of the voting booth.

Essentially, conservatives, moderates, and independents in liberal social circles often keep our opinions to ourselves, because most liberals do not handle dissent well. They also, in my experience, tend to answer logical arguments with anger, and sometimes personal attack.

I’ll save for another post a theory as to why this may be. But the upshot is, people are often surprised when a conservative garners more votes than were projected. I postulate the reason for the disparity is the “Let Me Have a Little Peace” phenomenon, in which people who are not truly sold on the liberal position simply “yes” the liberals in social situations and even when polled, because they don’t want to deal with the abuse many liberals dish out to those who disagree with them.

In the case of this race, I think it’s possible the phenomenon will manifest again. On the other hand, most polls had Bush and Kerry neck-in-neck, whereas Obama currently enjoys a several point lead. Yet I would submit that the theory could be especially applicable in that, this time around, people who do not feel Obama is the better candidate fear being labeled racist for saying so. Nothing like the threat of that stigma, however unfair and untrue it may be in most cases, to stifle honest discussion.

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