Friday, May 04, 2007

What is Cognitive Dissonance in Pittsburgh

Over at the Burgh Report (which I like to pronounce in a Colbert fashion, something fairly extraordinary has gone on in the last week. A post with Councilman Bodack’s name in the title (“Bodack: I'm So Excited ... I'm So Scared”, some kind of reference to “Saved by the Bell”) has had 113 comments since Tuesday, most notably (in my opinion) several by Patrick Dowd late at night. After all, you can’t knock on doors at 11:00pm, so you might as well cruise the blogs. Dr Dowd’s willingness to debate matters in this race extended itself to an exchange between him and a school crossing guard.

To back up a little, I remember there was an issue so time ago about the crossing guards, that the school board decided it couldn’t afford them. As I remember, the city picked up the tab. According to the guard on the Burgh Report, (I think) the school board still has not picked up the tab again. It is possible (and now I am speculating) the city is paying the crossing guards as 1099 contractors, meaning no health benefits and a tax nightmare. Regardless of what the situation is exactly, I am not surprised that the crossing guards would have some antipathy for a school board member running for office.

I want to talk a bit about Dr Dowd’s views on anonymous commenter’s, but I think I will save that for another time. What’s interesting to me about the crossing guard commenter was how hostile she seemed to Dr Dowd. She is not *too* hostile to other commenter’s (including myself), taking a “you believe what you believe and I believe what I believe” attitude. But she almost seemed to have a “Perry Mason” type attitude toward Dr Dowd, that if she could list her accusations to him, in a public forum, he would admit “his lies” and … I don’t know, quit the race, stop teaching children and go work in a leper colony as penance.

I don’t want to be unnecessarily snarky or mean, but our crossing guard here is engaging in what *I think* can only be described as classic cognitive dissonance. While Dr Dowd might not be totally polite (really wanting her to reveal her identity), he is at least was pretty polite. She was not rude per se, but she is willing to ascribe negative connotations to everything he says, and everything said about him. What I think she believes:
*If Dr Dowd has someone’s support, it’s because they’ve been fooled or because they are rich. Conversely those who oppose Dr Dowd do so because they support working class people. Dr Dowd’s talk about transparency is a cynical attempt to pull the wool over our eyes, to accuse Councilman Bodack of hiding things when it is Dr Dowd who has much to hide.*

You’ve got to give both of them credit for talking, but unfortunately it was more at each other than to each other. That is the thing about cognitive dissonance, it is filtered listening, a closed but active mind. The only thing that might have helped the situation a little was if Dr Dowd had talked a little about what he wants to do regarding the crossing guard situation. Maybe it was an act, but to me the crossing guard’s pain when she was talking to “Agent Ska” was fairly obvious; she is very unhappy about her job situation (and who can blame her). It is unfortuanate that she seems to want to place all the on Dr Dowd.

I don’t know how this election is going to go, how this race is going to go. Councilman Boadack won last time in a special election and a primary in a three way split, by just a few votes. But that was with a competitive mayor’s race to spark interest. Councilman Bodack has followed what is probably the best strategy for him, hunker down, no debates, don't even acknowledge the competition much, run some district events and rely on the party to get out the faithful, in a race that could have a low turnout. Every person that Dr Dowd is able to convince to vote is a plus for him, but it remains to be seen whether he knocked on enough doors.

I do think, for whatever warts he might have, whatever mis-steps he might have made on the school board, the city needs Patrick Dowd to inject some ideas (along with Bill Peduto) into council. And I say that recognizing that Len Bodack has done nothing obviously wrong as a councilman.

Hopefully there are not too many people who are looking at the race in a cognitively dissonant way.


patrick dowd said...

Ed, I appreciate the post and am happy to talk further about any and all the issues, including crossing guards. The person to whom you refer -- Xguard, if I remember correctly -- claims to have spoken with me about crossing guards. Back in late-March or early-April, I met with a number of corssing guards and talked about my record. I also talked about my views on what could be done with regard to the guards. There was a good give and take. Xguard implies that he/she was a part of that conversation and I was sort of hoping he/she might reveal the points made during that conversation. I also think that the dissonance is not real. I have knocked on almost 3,500 doors (as a campaign we have knocked a total of 12,000 doors) and find our support base across the district, across age groups across racial and religious backgrounds and across economic groups. I respectfully disagree.

EdHeath said...

Well, Pat, I will say that if you and Xguard sat down and talked face to face, I suspect she would come away with more respect for you. I believe the crossing guards really have had it bad for several years, worse than most Pittsburghers know, and if Xguard was at that group meeting, apparently you failed to convince her (not to say anything about anyone else at that meeting). But as I say, I do believe that she would gain respect for you if you happened to talk to her face to face, and on that basis I would say her cognitive dissonance with regard to the district 7 race could be changed. I *am* sure you have reached a lot of different people in the campaign, not just in Highland Park.

But based on what she said on the Burgh Report, I feel she is classically cognitively dissonant in her outlook towards you. She is revealing about her feelings about things, which is a little surprising to me (she is relentlessly human, unlike many of the pro-Bodack commenter’s I have run into in the last few months, many or one busy guy). But she doesn’t want to talk about your proposals because she doesn’t trust you.

And I want to say I was pretty conflicted about writing about Xguard. I do think she presents a near canonical example of cognitive dissonance, and I (selfishly) wanted to comment on that (after all, title of the blog). Still, I wouldn’t particularly appreciate anyone practicing amateur psychology on *me*, and I realize I certainly leave myself open to it, especially with the title of my blog (what’s with the picture of the dead Prime Minister?). So in general and in specific with this post, if anyone disagrees with my views or my actions or thinks I go too far (or too long), I probably have to concede the point.

Could someone accuse me of cognitive dissonance? I’ve tried to research Len Bodack by looking on Google and the Post-Gazette website. I probably should stop and talk to my neighbors and maybe look up a crossing guard, but that is not where I am comfortable in being outgoing (and I work, and I worry about offending neighbors more than I probably already do). I really haven’t found much that Councilman Bodack has done, and I have been persuaded that you are the better candidate based on what you have done in this campaign. But I think I have tried to be open minded and acknowledge other points of view, some, even while I try to point out the differences in see between Councilman Bodack and yourself and proselytize a little bit myself.

It really would be good if some debate about issues could be arranged (or have been arranged). But I guess Councilman Bodack is satisfied with how he thinks the district sees him now, and sees no value in debate. It really speaks volumes about Pittsburgh politics that the local democratic setup has endorsed someone who does not want to discuss the future of Pittsburgh. They ought to be the ones arranging debates, at least before they endorse candidates. I mean, how does Councilman Bodack view the city’s financial situation? District 7 is apparently not supposed to know.

I say this not particularly to pander to you, but because I know you have been relentless in expressing your willingness to talk about issues, not only with Councilman Bodack but seemingly with any constituent you can pin down. You seem to be chasing us down even at 11:00 at night, when all other campaign opportunities are unavailable. At the risk of giving offence, I want to say it must be a teacher thing, but its also worth pointing out as another difference between yourself and Councilman Bodack.

abby wilson said...

Ed - I want to weigh in briefly for purposes of clarification to say that the City has, in fact, noted on several occasions that paying for crossing guards was its legal responsibility, not the other way around as some have suggested. Only when the city decided it couldn't pay did the school board pick up the tab. Maybe this is redundant. I wasn't up blogging last night like my boss :)

"Legally, the cost is the city's responsibility, but the district has paid half or all since fall last year to help the city during its budget crisis." from a 2004 post gazette article - the full history of this situation is linked to below.

EdHeath said...

Well, thank you for that, Abby, not surprisingly I had it entirely backwards. I did skim through all the PG stories. I think it would be a benefit to the guards to have someone like Pat on council because he does have connections to the school board.

I was right (IMO), the guards have it tough. My wife knows a guard who lost her job in the downsizing, but even the ones still employed apparently have no health insurance, despite having an outside job during the coldest months of the year and often working in physically dangerous settings.

It would be nice if they could get preference in the Pittsburgh Promise program or some other higher education benefit (like paid tuition at CCAC for dependents), but that would take people with immagination in government.

PaulBurr said...

Sorry. I would have considered voting for DrDowd but looking at his web site, reading his posts on the Blogs, I come away with an uncomfortable feeling.
There's a certain transparency evident in him and the way he allows himself to be represented. His mailings ruthlessly attack a former auto mechanic turned councilman whose education in no way equals his own.
By attacking the councilman he is attacking people who identify with Mr.Bodack.Many voters in our district had similar upbringings and have difficulty expressing themselves. Many people who know of Mr. Bodack's past know that he struggled to make a living just like they do. Attacking Mr.Bodack is like attacking the people who who elected him. It makes those people look and feel foolish. Attacking this man is like attacking the elderly, the working people, the young people looking for work who he represents.Who advised Dr.Dowd to use these tactics? Everyone knows that Dr.Dowd can easily run circles around Mr.Bodack in a debate. But the people aren't interested in displays of rhetoric.Foster Street has been re-paved, now we won't have to replace a rim or a tire. New stop signs have been placed at dangerous intersections. The 10th ward is in better shape. When people call Mr. Bodack's office a friendly staffer helps them navigate the city bureaucracy. I just don't believe Mr. Dowd cares about the things that affect everyday life here in the district.Look at the Flick r account on his web site. The elderly couple shown with him are anonymous objectified props. His photographer won't even show their faces.He is the focal point of each picture. He doesn't need an image this slick. It's manipulative stuff and transparent. Sorry, but he seems to lack what we need, maybe he mis-reads us, but I fear we would be marginalized if Dr.Dowd is elected.He doesn't seem to understand the struggle we face here in Pittsburgh Has he ever missed a payment on a water, gas or electric bill? Has he ever done physical labor for a living like most of people in the district coming home tired every night? Has he ever carried groceries home 10 blocks from the Giant Eagle on a cold and snowy night? Has he ever phoned a politician desperate for help, and received it? Reform won't make life better. Maybe calling a councilman for help is funny to people of greater intellect, to people who want "reform", but being able to do that means a lot to most voters here.

EdHeath said...

Well, thank you for your comment, it was quite eloquent in its way. I disagree with some of what you said, but respect your point of view. And, as I have stated in the past, I disagree with the tone of some of the accusations made by the Dowd campaign towards Councilman Bodack, I feel they reflect worse on Dr Dowd than on the Councilman. I think the substance of the Dowd campaign accusations may be accurate, but I don’t think they ever found any specifically illegal activities(so of course they can’t claim to), just spending choices that could be described as poor or questionable. I guess if you take people’s money to get elected, you have to try your best, even if it means describing a district office as a castle (just silly).

It may well be that Dr Dowd has not had to worry about paying an electric bill. He may have, switching jobs from Winchester Thurston to Ellis, or maybe not. Still, I don’t think you meant to suggest that teaching is not hard work. Even if you are teaching at a private school, you may not have to worry about your students carrying a knife, but you have to engage them at a pretty high level. After all, parents are directly paying your salary, and if their kids tell the principal “Dr Dowd let’s us slide”, that ‘s not going to go over well. Dr. Dowd has also been on the school board for several years, and whatever you think of his accomplishments there, the fact is he has been working a job and a half in service of Pittsburgh’s kids for some time. That's working pretty hard (we should let him keep on killing himself for us). It bodes well for how hard he would work for his constituents.

And I want to say that *personally* I don’t equate intelligence with educational attainment, at least not up to an undergraduate degree. I’ve known plenty of people smart as a whip who couldn’t go to college for one reason or another. I’ve know a few people (usually Pitt students) who were just going through some motions, but were in college and coasting because they were expected to be. Now, usually you can’t get an advanced degree without having something on the ball, though some MBA programs may be getting kind of diluted. I don’t know what Dr. Dowd’s or his campaign people’s experience with ordinary people has been, so you may be right in some of your accusations, though I’m betting not.

But you are hitting what turns out to be the accidental meaning of this election. There is a difference of philosophy being expressed here. Mr. Bodack is apparently mostly intent on approaching government in a traditional way, representing his district, trying to get money in, represent his district in votes in council, and respond to constituent complaints. And it sounds like he is doing at least a decent job of it, maybe a really good job. I’ve interned in federal congressional offices, and the helping constituents is something they do, and I will never say a negative thing about it. It’s tough navigating the bureaucracy, and if your councilman is willing to give you a hand, that’s great.

Dr. Dowd is approaching government in the other traditional way, using ideas to make lots of people’s lives better. You say “Reform won't make life better”, but I gotta disagree. Reform is the stuff of giving women the vote, of labor law protections and workplace safety. Pittsburgh right now is facing huge debt and finance issues. We will need to address those issues, with a population that is dying off and leaving town in equal measure (see Chris Briem’s Null Space). Maybe Dr. Dowd’s ideas are silly, but they are out there. We don’t know whether Mr. Bodack has plans or not, or I don’t, anyway.

I don’t begrudge you your choice of candidate. But seriously, if Dr. Dowd can run circles around Mr. Bodack in a debate, and city council faces a tough future, where they will have to argue with the state and the Act 47 people, shouldn’t we have a slick man there to argue our case? (I don't think Dr. Dowd would see himself as slick, perhaps he would concede "well spoken") Even just to represent District 7 in council, shouldn’t we have a persuasive councilperson?

BabelBabe said...

I happen to know Patrick, and while I am dying to repsond to a number of Paul Burr's points, I will pick the one that jumped out at me first: Patrick Dowd certainly knows about hard work. If nothing else, you should come take a look at the rehab he's done to his house, formerly a rundown rental property. In addition, he has worked what amounts to two jobs for several years (the school board one unpaid, I might point out); he and his wife (who works FT as well) are raising several terrific kids, and yes, he teaches at Ellis but his kids attend PPS. Anyone who thinks Patrick doesn't know the "common people" of Pittsburgh doesn't know Patrick.

So don't kid yourself, Patrick is not an elitist rich boy riding into office on a family name. He *is* intelligent, well-spoken, and well-educated; I fail to see why this is a negative.