The truth is I’m not easily defined politically. My friends belong to a broad range of political persuasions that extend across the spectrum. If I were to categorize them into conservative versus liberal camps, I’m sure the breakout would be evenly split. On most topics—especially those that foster controversy—I disagree with the prevailing views of both groups, because it almost always occurs to me that there are better out-of-the-box approaches to problems than those proposed by the major parties. Yet, despite our differences of opinion, I get along well with all my friends, and for the most part, I appreciate their reasoned political arguments. On the many occasions when we don’t see eye-to-eye, I don’t call them stupid (I don’t even think the word). Neither do I believe they have ulterior motives to deceive me or to steal something of value from me.
To the extent that I’m successful at this, it’s because I do a couple of simple things. I try to remember that if I don’t see both sides to an argument, I don’t understand the argument, AT ALL. More importantly, I attempt to define the argument in terms of personal worldviews. No matter how hard we try to make tough decisions based upon facts, in the end, logic and available evidence leads us to judgments rooted in individual values and beliefs. Two people can possess the same evidence, IQ and ability to reason, but come up with differing conclusions when their values are not shared.
In this context, I believe the conservative-liberal gulf can be described as a metaphorical interaction akin to the following.
- The Conservative says: Get off my porch or I’ll shoot. This is my property. All I want is to be left alone.
- The Liberal says: Don’t be like that. Some of us are getting together to sing Kum Bah Ya. Let’s share in building a better world.
This may be an oversimplification, but as a model of the world it explains a lot. It describes, for example, the conservative distrust in government, not to mention the desire for a strong defense, love of guns and insistence upon strict property rights that translate into an appreciation for capitalist principals. This also describes the liberal reaction to problem solving, which is to organize centrally in order to accomplish notions of a common good.
The points I hope to make here are two-fold. First, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be left alone to enjoy the fruits of one’s own labor, just like there is nothing wrong with striving to work with others to promote a better world. In fact it can be argued that both are legitimate human claims central to ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence. Second, because they are both legitimate claims, we should never demean people just because they espouse one of the worldviews over another. Calling one group Pollyanna and the other Scrooge misses the central idea upon which each political platform is based. It’s even worse—no, it should be deemed unacceptable—to impugn people’s intelligence and honesty because of a legitimate value they hold dear. If we can’t get beyond the name calling and histrionics, and understand the basis for each others’ hopes for the nation, the gulfs that separate us will ever widen.
For this reason, there are groups of people I do despise passionately. They are those, on both sides of the political spectrum, who shout epithets, invent conspiracies, and question the sincerity, compassion and intelligence of individuals for the sole purpose of disparaging personal philosophies. It bothered me when our previous president was called a liar for his role in invading Iraq. It bothers me just as much that the same word is being used to describe our president today for his efforts to grant greater access to healthcare. Having a different worldview, in and of itself, doesn’t make one a liar (or a fascist, warmonger, socialist, moron, dictator, baby-killer, or any of the number of epithets being slung about like so much crap). The people who claim otherwise cry wolf on the camera and laugh all the way to their private jets. They don’t deserve a platform, nor do they warrant our attention. They relish in our hate. They seek to divide us.
Let's hope they don't.