Schmidt: Politically speaking, it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time | Lynn Schmidt

Lynn Schmidt St. Louis after the expedition

Democratic President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said that then-Republican Representative Gerald Ford “is so stupid he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.” The media sanitized the word Johnson originally used and changed it on the fly. The origins of this idiom may have more to do with performing simultaneous motor activities, but has been generalized to characterize the inability to perform two tasks simultaneously as a sign of limited intelligence.

It wasn’t the first time politicians had engaged in negative partisanship and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Negative partisanship is the tendency to support a political party or candidate primarily because of a dislike of the opposition and increasingly negative feelings toward the opposing party and its candidates. Negative partisanship is not only bad for our country, but just like LBJ did with Ford, it insults our intelligence.

People who reject negative partisanship reject the concept that you can’t have two competing ideas at once. They know they can engage in critical and nuanced thinking. This group, of which I consider myself a member, is then attacked with whataboutisms or from both sides. Whataboutism is the tactic of defending your tribe by bringing to light a similar accusation against an opponent. Both siderism and whataboutism are based on an unfair moral equivalence.

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Last week’s news and partisan spin is dripping with whataboutisms. I made up a partial list of how I walk and chew gum at the same time.

I denounce any public official, Democrat or Republican, who incites disorder or violence. This applies to former President or Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, or anyone in between.

I condemn anyone involved in an assassination attempt, whether against a vice president, governor, circuit court judge or Supreme Court justice. These people must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I recognize that riots or violent demonstrations are harmful. I understand that the one aimed at overthrowing a free and fair election is categorically worse.

I realize that members of Congress who seek presidential clemency know they have acted illegally.

I can believe climate change is real and yet not buy into the Green New Deal.

I can be a responsible gun owner and support red flag laws, raising the minimum age to buy certain guns, and universal background checks.

I can be both disturbed by what I heard and saw during the January 6 committee hearings and think that inflation hurts all Americans. I also know that while he will most likely be punished in the 2022 midterm elections, inflation is not President Joe Biden’s fault.

I hate paying $5.00 per gallon for gas, but know that gas pricing is complicated. It’s not as easy as the “I did this” stickers you see on some gas pumps suggest.

I believe in equality and inclusion. While at the same time, I think the terms ‘birthing person’, ‘nursing people’, ‘breastfeeding people’ or ‘pregnant people’ are nonsense. I gave birth and breastfed. I know how it works.

I’m comfortable saying that Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan has been abysmal. I also think he is doing an outstanding job with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

America should promote democracy at home and abroad.

I want Biden to address the issue of immigration. Both by securing our border against illegal immigration and by making it easier for legal immigrants to find a path to citizenship and join the workforce.

I have Republican and Democrat friends. I know they are good people and I refuse to demonize either group.

Alas, there is hope in the catastrophic loop of negative partisanship. Over the past decade there has been a general national trend towards an increasing share of political independents. The percentage of Americans who no longer identify with either political party is increasing. Political scientists are quick to point out that those who identify as independents are always followed by the question of which party you lean towards. My focus here is not on voting behavior rather than the desire of Americans not to align themselves with either political party.

Johnson was wrong to insult Ford’s intelligence then, and it’s wrong to insult people’s intelligence now. I believe most Americans can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Lynn Schmidt is a Post-Dispatch columnist and member of the editorial board. [email protected] On Twitter: @lynnschmidtrn

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