November 24, 2021

Questions Answered

Many thanks to the hundreds of readers who responded to our survey with thoughtful questions, and those who took the time to write detailed feedback to us over the last two days! We’re delightfully overwhelmed. This is our last Q&A; today we’ll answer one question for each side, and then dive into some questions we thought were best answered as a team.

We’ll return to our normal format next week. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Family Leave and Race

Ask a Conservative:

“Why was paid family leave such a contentious issue? It seems like it would be a no brainer for both sides - family values for the right and workplace accessibility for the left.” - Christa, Austria

Many conservatives support paid family leave in theory, but don’t want to increase taxes or debt to fund it. In addition, a one-size-fits-all federal program could hurt some workers by replacing their (more generous) current benefits. If employers are required to fund the leave, they may simply hire fewer women of childbearing age. While such discrimination is illegal, it is also quite hard to police.

In an attempt to mitigate these concerns, the Independent Women’s Forum has developed a plan which would provide paid leave in return for slightly delayed Social Security benefits. Specifically, new parents could collect 12 weeks of Social Security benefits, but delay their eventual retirement by 6 weeks. Crucially, the proposal would not require additional taxes or funding from employers. This plan has bipartisan support but has failed to gain traction in Congress.

Ask a Liberal:

“Why do liberals deny violent and destructive ANTIFA and BLM riots by pretending they are ‘mostly peaceful’ demonstrations?” - John, Virginia
“Does supporting BLM mean you don’t support police?” - Anna, Georgia

The data shows that the vast majority of Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. Moreover, liberals have repeatedly condemned protests that turned violent. Biden has made statements like this numerous times: “There’s no place for violence, no place for looting or destroying property or burning churches or destroying businesses […] we need to distinguish between legitimate peaceful protest and opportunistic violent destruction.” Other prominent Democrats have also repeatedly condemned the violence, including (but not limited to) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.

While a vocal minority on the left advocates for defunding or even abolishing the police, this has never been a mainstream position among Democrats. President Biden, House Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer all oppose defunding the police. Polling shows that only 15 percent of voters, including only 25 percent of Democrats, want to reduce police funding; 34 percent of Democrats in fact want to spend more on police.

Most Black Lives Matter supporters want to reform the police to eliminate racial disparities and unnecessary deaths, not abolish them. Potential reforms include eliminating qualified immunity, national standards for training and de-escalation techniques, increased use of body cameras, and accountability for police misbehavior. Even those who espouse “defunding” the police generally advocate for redirecting that funding to mental health and social workers. Portland, for example, has enacted a program where they send health workers and paramedics rather than police to respond to mental health incidents in order to reduce the potential for violent encounters. Here’s our prior coverage of the ‘Defund the Police’ movement.

Ask The Flip Side

We received several questions regarding critical race theory. This is an especially complicated issue as the two sides are often talking past each other. Rather than answer specific questions, we’re going to provide a brief explanation of what critical race theory means to each side.

Critical Race Theory (CRT) began as an academic framework which posits that racist practices are embedded in legal structures and policies. According to this framework, even seemingly color-blind policies can end up discriminating based on race. For example, until 2010 those arrested for offenses involving crack cocaine faced much higher sentences than those involving powder cocaine. Specifically, there was a 100:1 ratio: distribution of one gram of crack cocaine carried the same penalty as 100 grams of powder cocaine. This policy is technically race-neutral. However, crack cocaine, perhaps due to the fact that it’s cheaper, is disproportionately used (and sold) by African Americans, while powder cocaine is more common among white Americans. Thus the end result is a system in which African Americans committing similar offenses (but involving crack rather than powder cocaine) faced significantly longer prison sentences than white Americans.

CRT as an academic discipline, however, is quite different from what is taught in public K-12 schools. High schoolers are not reading treatises on legal theory. Instead, CRT has come to be used to describe a wide range of ideas involving race.

Many conservatives who oppose CRT are actually opposing specific curricula. There are instances of problematic teaching at some public schools. For example, school training materials have made claims such as that perfectionism, individualism, and objectivity are problematic characteristics of white supremacy. It’s worth noting that most liberals are equally disturbed by these examples; as one notes, “From any normal standpoint, the idea that ‘requiring people to think in a linear (logical) fashion’ is racist is itself racist.”

Liberals who support CRT, meanwhile, use the term to mean much more innocuous behavior, such as teaching about the horrors of slavery. They respond to examples such as a textbook that describes slave owners as “kind and generous” and claims that “many [slaves] may not have even been terribly unhappy with their lot.” Students in Texas were asked to list both positive and negative aspects of slavery. “A class of middle-schoolers in Charlotte, North Carolina, was asked to cite ‘four reasons why Africans made good slaves.’” For most on the left, CRT simply means a curriculum that acknowledges the harms of slavery and does not brush past or make light of the experiences of slaves. It’s worth noting that 73 percent of Republicans want schools to teach about slavery, and 58 percent support teaching about racism.

All that said, debates over school curricula are not new. Just as our society is divided over race, it is also divided over how to teach about race. 82 percent of Democrats support teaching children about the ongoing effects of slavery and racism, compared to 38 percent of Republicans. Given widespread disagreements over whether institutional racism exists or how much discrimination each racial group faces, such conflicts are inevitable. If we’re going to engage in discussions about CRT productively, it’s important to be clear about what exactly each of us means when we use the term.

“Why do you only curate the more moderate, neoliberal views of the left and largely ignore the more progressive voices? Seems like you could at least occasionally let a socialist weigh in the way you do libertarians.” - Nathan, Kentucky

While we don’t have a separate section for socialists or the Green party, we do include their perspectives on the left. We routinely cite both Jacobin and The Nation. We put libertarians in a separate section because their views - which tend to be fiscally conservative and socially liberal - don’t fit well on either side.

“I showed The Flipside to my brother and he said your conservative sources weren't truly conservative or were only conservative in some aspects (e.g., he says WSJ editorial is fiscally conservative but socially liberal). How do you decide which sources to include (or exclude), and how is the process non-partisan or bipartisan?” - Kevin, Massachusetts

We do our best to present a range of views from each side. We don’t exclude sources for being “too” conservative or liberal. Our goal is to provide a representative snapshot of what each side is saying given space limitations. In addition to WSJ, we cite farther-right sources (Breitbart, RedState) along with centrist ones (The Dispatch). Conservatism and liberalism are not monolithic, and we do not try to present them as such. Sources are chosen as a collaborative effort among our bipartisan team; each edition is edited by at least one person (and often more) from each side. If your brother feels that a particular edition is biased, or has suggestions for additional sources, we’d love to hear from him!

“I keep on hearing that The US is more politically polarized than ever before. It feels true, but is it really? Are we more polarized on abortion and civil rights? Has party identification and discipline gotten stronger? Would it be better to have a multi-party system with room for smaller parties? Why do I feel that it is getting harder to reach across the aisle?” - Leland, Illinois

These are great questions! Please see here our detailed responses to similar questions from last year. Some of the data may be slightly dated, but the underlying points remain relevant.

“What are your favorite and most thoughtful sources of news, both from the Left and from the Right?” - Becky, North Carolina

According to the Pew Research Center, the Wall Street Journal’s news coverage (though not their opinion section) is the only source trusted across the political spectrum. The Economist (focused mainly on foreign policy) is also generally trusted. The Associated Press and Reuters are generally pretty balanced. Other interesting (but partisan) sources include The American Conservative and National Review from the right and Vox and The Atlantic from the left. For less traditional takes, consider Quillette or Reason.

“What can be done to bring this country together and end this extreme dividedness? - Nathan, Alabama
“How do you build trust with people you disagree with? Especially when there are moments where disagreements get heated?” - Lexi, Massachusetts

This is unfortunately one of the bigger questions of our political and civic life today. While we certainly have ideas and thoughts, we think it’s best to refer to the experts. Below, we’ve compiled some helpful resources and organizations that are working tirelessly to bridge political divides.

Conversation guides:

Additional resources:

See past issues

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