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story.lead_photo.caption Brenda Looper

No one who knows me could mistake me for caring what this or that political party says about itself or the other party. That is, unless it's a talking point that's an outright lie or at the very least misleading. More than a few Facebook friends have probably cursed me when I've fact-checked them.

Hey, it's not my fault they listened to their confirmation bias!

Both major parties are guilty of this, though to be fair, one has a greater tendency to retreat to talking points when challenged. And right now, there are people from both those parties saying, "Yep, they sure do!"

Again, this is why I don't belong to a party. I prefer reality, even when it's no fun.

Let's look at the covid-19 pandemic to illustrate the partisan divide. According to Pew Research, wrote Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux of FiveThirtyEight in late July, "Republicans have consistently been less likely than Democrats to say that they fear being hospitalized because of covid-19 or that they might unknowingly spread the virus to others. ... [T]hat partisan gap has widened significantly between April and June.

"It's hard to find a more extreme test of our tribal political attachments than the current pandemic, where Trump continues to downplay the risks of the virus in the face of near-universal opposition from medical experts. It also raises a thorny issue: In the midst of a pandemic, partisanship appears to be shaping people's perceptions of their risk and personal behaviors--to the point that our divided politics actually affects our health. For Americans, that might mean that questions of whether to stay home, wear a mask or to see friends and family without social distancing are filtered through a partisan lens."

If challenged on mask-wearing, for example, the usual talking points issue forth: Oxygen levels are adversely affected. (If you're wearing an N95 mask all day, there might be some difference, but most people wear cloth masks. If you're worried, you can always buy a bracket insert to allow more space between your face and the mask.) Waste buildup in the mask leads to hypercapnia from breathing too much carbon dioxide. (The CDC says the level in the mask is unlikely to cause this condition; you might get a headache if you're sensitive to it, but that's about it.)

According to the talking points I regularly see on Facebook and elsewhere, Democrats advocate infanticide and abortion up to just minutes before birth, are atheists if not Satanists, want to take away all guns, and want free everything because they don't work. Republicans want every pregnant woman to give birth regardless of health or personal circumstance, are Bible-thumping religious lunatics, have a full arsenal in a secret bunker, and believe that the government shouldn't require you to pay taxes.

Sure, maybe there are a few people who actually believe those things but, as I've said before, more Americans identify as independent than Democrat or Republican. Some are fully center in their beliefs, and some lean left or right depending on the issue.

I know of no person, Democrat or Republican, who advocates infanticide (for those memes that say it should be illegal ... it already is) or abortions up to the moment of birth. The majority of Americans believe abortions, with some limits, should remain legal, and that it should be a decision made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians or other people with no medical knowledge.

There are Republican atheists, just as there are Democratic Christians. If Democrats want to take all the guns, they've done a pretty lousy job of it, maybe because more than Republicans buy guns. And while free would be great, most people understand that government must have revenue to provide the services it does, so we pay taxes and, if we live long enough, we are to receive benefits that we paid into throughout our working lives.

We're more alike than some would like to think. Pamela B. Paresky wrote in Psychology Today, "Partisans on both sides of the aisle significantly overestimate the extent of extremism in the opposing party. The more partisan the thinker, the more distorted the other side appears. And when we see the opposition as extremists, we fear them. Our tribal thinking prepares us for battle."

And we do battle, it seems, with talking points, which further the idea that people can be easily divided and categorized, and that usually put forth misinformation. This is why I say just say no to talking points, don't get your news from Facebook and memes, and think for yourself.

You'd think this wouldn't be a hard thing to do, but ...

Unfortunately, some people rely on those talking points for or against their party whenever they write a letter. That means I get a lot of letters that have to be tossed because inaccurate talking points form the basis of the rationale. Sometimes it may be something they thought they heard but wasn't actually said, or something a party leader said that has little basis in reality.

That's the thing about talking points. They might be red meat to hyperpartisans, but they're really just empty calories.

If I'm gonna waste calories, it's gonna be on chocolate.

--ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“vā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“--

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com.

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