04/22/2012 11:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Both Sides Now : Reagan/Matalin on Their Biases, Ryan-Buffett, Polls, Tattoos

Continuing a conversation begun last week with Arianna and Kellyanne Conway, Ron Reagan and Mary Matalin this week own up to where their premises/instincts come from and then apply their thinking to the big issue of Ryan Budget vs. The Buffett Rule. Based on slew of general election polls, should Romney be relieved or panicked? Depends on whether Fox or MSNBC is interpreting the data.

*On Skins-Shirts again... can reason ever convince emotion? Since it examines the very premise of Both Sides Now, we again tackle The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. In his boyhood, when Ron saw rich businessmen condescending to less wealthy people, it hardened his Democratic leanings; Mary confides that once she saw wasteful government programs through the eyes of her data-driven engineer father, she reversed her initial liberal, non-religious views.

The issue of "confirmation bias" is raised by Haidt and the Host. Do they ever just jump to a pre-conception and then Google one example to justify their gut? Mary asserts that she thinks through her pre-wired presumptions and rejects studies showing that conservatives are more prone to simple slogans based on nation and faith -- "that's not ignorance, only short-hand."
How about Haidt's conclusion that the only way Left-Right can agree is if each trusts the other as sincere and then hears other arguments. Have either done that with famous family members of the other persuasion? Mary says that she "knows James's liberal heart" and listens to him but not most liberals who just want "to smash you in the face." Ron, doing a pretty fair Ronald Reagan imitation, recalls his father often saying to him "well, all I know is... " and the son thinking "yes, that's precisely the problem" of knowing untrue things and not wanting to hear more. [Host: hey, that was exactly the premise of my 1986 book and sequel, Reagan's Reign of Error, that the former president had conclusions that created facts, not the opposite.]


Ron takes issue with Haidt in one fundamental way: he thinks that the care and empathy that liberals better display are more innate traits -- "which even animals display" -- while the hierarchy and sanctity of conservatives are learned emotions. So the right is not more in touch with nature and intuition. And he uses a current example to show the difference between camps. Both liberal and conservative heterosexuals may feel emotional "disgust" (Haidt's word) at same sex relationships, but liberals then use their reason to realize that, since no one is harmed, it should be legalized; conservatives, however, just allow their emotions to push for laws banning it.

*On Ryan vs. Buffett. This week the House passed the Ryan-Romney budget and a majority of the Senate voted for the Buffet Rule. We hear Obama attack Ryan's plan as "social Darwinism" that merely protects the rich and hurts the poor. Ryan calls Obama a liar.

What should the cuts and rates be? Ron thinks Ryan is "dishonest" in trying to decimate only the 12 percent of the budget that's social spending as the answer to the deficits that Republicans caused when in power. As for rates -- Ike's top marginal rate was 91 percent, Kennedy 70 percent, Reagan 50 percent, Clinton 39 percent, Bush 35 percent -- "why not the 50 percent of the Reagan years?" says his namesake. Mary responds by saying that Medicare will be destroyed unless its costs are brought down and adds that programs like school lunches and food stamps are more "hammocks than safety nets." Ok, is it good or bad that food stamp spending goes up in a recession to feed hungry children, as happened under both Bush43 and Obama? "My philosophy is to help people who can't help themselves and not create a culture of dependence," she replies.

*On Polls Apart. A slew of opening polls added together conclude that Romney can't win since he's behind 2-1 on key characteristics like likability, honesty, cares for people like you (Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC) -- or Obama can't win since he's only a few points ahead in head-to-head matchups and undecideds will break against him (Dick Morris on Fox... who years back confidently predicted that Herman Badillio would beat Mike Bloomberg in the GOP primary for mayor... and months back predicted that Romney couldn't possibly be the nominee this year).

Mary discounts polls eight months out noting that Romney indeed has been solidifying the party base since he became the de facto nominee and what'll matter is not personality but policy. "He should stop pretending to be a 'severe conservative'" and embrace the fact that he's a "dorky problem-solver." On the other hand, the son of Ronald Reagan understandably thinks that having a personality edge could be a big deal since neither 2012 standard-bearer has natural appeal to white working class non-college-educated swing voters in the four or five states that will decide the election.

*Quick Takes: Secret Service. John Edwards. Tattoos. There's consensus on these non-political issues. Each panelist has had lots of experiences with the Secret Service -- Mary notes that these guys in Columbia were bad apples not characteristic of its general culture; Ron recalls one agent from his years in the White House who had an affair with a 16 year old dancer in his troupe.

There's no personal sympathy for John Edwards whose criminal trial is now beginning but... it's more a scandal than a crime that a pal spent a million bucks to cover up an affair and out-of-wedlock child. Since when is that regarded as a reportable campaign expenditure? And while neither has a tattoo, Mary says that she'd like a small one and that they're body art; Ron demurs, noting that long ago he decided not to use his body as decorative art. But a small tat would be ok so long as it's not "a full-face Tyson and doesn't say 'Wannona Forever!'"

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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