Shouting Across the Chasm   1 comment

Americans tend to live in their own bubble worlds and exclusively entertain those commentators who agree with their own point of view. This is true of people from both ends of the political spectrum. My huband’s coworkers in the IBEW insist that Bill O’Reilly wants to destroy unions in the United States, despite the fact that many of them have never watched the O’Reilly Factor or tuned into Fox News. On the other hand, I know staunch GOP members who have never logged onto the Huffington Post, but insist they know all about what’s reported there. This self-imposed narrowing of information sources occurs throughout America, in all walks of life and at all education levels. It leads to a mind-set where only your point of view is the correct view and those on the other end of the political spectrum are wackos, thieves and idiots. It’s comfortable to think that your side is the only reasonable side and that everyone else is misguided at best and evil at worst. Let’s step back from that for a moment, look across the American sociopolitical chasm and try to see what our opponents might be thinking.

A lot of rancor could be set aside if we would just talk with one another and find out what our neighbor or coworker actually believes rather than what our favored sources of information say they believe.

In this hypothetical conversation, there is a conservative and a progressive (sometimes inaccurately called a liberal). Neither is a Democrat or a Republican because those terms are meaningless. Party platforms change. Right now the GOP is trying very hard to figure out how to transform itself into the Democratic Party in order to win some elections. If the election had gone another way, the Democrats might be looking for values within the GOP that they could embrace. Political party is a false premise. Values, however, are where people truly live.

There are a variety of issues in the United States that divide people based upon what they value, but if we would listen to one another, we might find less acrimony.

Most Americans today believe there should be a safety net for the less fortunate in the country. We differ on what that would look like. The progressive believes there are people who need help, who struggle to put food on the table, a roof over their heads or who can’t afford medical care. A civilized society, they insist, would help them instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. They suggest that anyone who disagrees with government welfare programs (those dastardly conservatives) lacks compassion because they’ve never experienced deprivation and that a serious illness or a job layoff would convince conservatives to change their minds. Conservatives believe that people are responsible for themselves and, given the opportunity, are capable to supporting themselves and their family. If government provides support for people, they become dependent on that support and lose their will to work. This is destructive to the health of our society. Charitable organizations are much more equipped than government to deal with the truly needy by virtue of one-on-one contact and addressing the underlying causes of need and also because they are able to time-limit charity to prevent dependence. If government must be involved in charity, it should be barebones, local and time-limited. Conservatives also recognize that government aid comes with large government salaries, while charitable assistance is often provided by volunteers, thereby leaving more charity to go to the needy rather than salaries.

Progressives believe government exists to solve problems, reduce poverty, protect civil rights and civil liberties, keep us safe from preventable harm, and, as much as possible, ensure that all Americans have an equal chance to succeed. Progressives do not see society as individuals, but as a large group or village. The health of the group is far more important than the desires of the individual. They seek “fairness” in society. Because they see society as a group, they cannot tolerate the idea that some would benefit more from the freedoms of American society while others would struggle to pay for food or medicine. The richest people in America are doing just fine while poorer Americans have made only modest gains. This is not fair and therefore, it should not stand. Large corporations, if unregulated, will do whatever they can to maximize profits, even if it wreaks havoc on the environment or the welfare of ordinary citizens. Individuals cannot stand up to corporations. Only the government has that sort of power. If government can help create job opportunities during a period of high unemployment, that’s a perfect use of tax dollars.

Conservatives believe that the government should serve the people, but they also believe that the government usually gets in the way of the people’s best interests. Governments tend to grow like snowballs rolling downhill. If the trend is allowed to continue, government will expand and intrude in the lives of citizens even more than it does now. Conservatives believe that “a rising tide lifts all boats”. When our society allows the most dynamic, successful members of society to do what they do best, they create jobs and increase prosperity. Lowering taxes benefits everyone because it allows people to pursue their own goals and reduces the bureaucratic obstacles that hinder success. The legitimate functions of our federal government are to provide security through a strong defense and protect freedom for individuals, so that people can pursue their own goals. No one has an obligation to help a stranger involuntarily. Charity should be a personal decision. Encouraging voluntary giving would be better for America’s soul than seizing our money against our will. When the government confiscates property – whether personal, real or earnings – that is tyranny.

These two distinct views of the world result in different reactions to the country’s debt and political crisis. Progressives see that most of the world’s most successful and prosperous nations are liberal democracies that provide their citizens with strong safety nets. This represents the natural progression of civilization. The United States is behind the times and it is the government’s responsibility to bring us into the 21st century. Conservatives look to history and see that what made America great is the vastness of opportunity here. Freedom of opportunity requires freedom from government interference. The United States of America are not Europe. In fact, our citizens are the descendants of people who left Europe for American opportunity. We would be wrong to follow in Europe’s footsteps. We can do better by going our own way.

The fact is that conservatives and progressives have different values. Conservatives value honesty, hard work, self-sacrifice, loyalty, equality of opportunity and self-restraint. Conservatives trust individuals to do what is right for themselves and to be willing to help others as they are able in a voluntary fashion. Progressives value justice, compassion, and equality of outcome and see no conflict with forcing all of society to support their wonderful values.

There are merits to both sides of the ideological split in our country. There was a time when we could talk to one another and each present ideas of worth to address our nation’s problems. I grew up in a house divided – Mom was a conservative and Dad was a progressive. They taught me to value both of their views. Unfortunately, 30 years after their deaths, partisan politics has distorted the values of each group and made it impossible to hear one another. Perhaps we could start by recognizing that we’re talking about deeply held values and not political party.

Is it too much to ask that we stop shouting across the chasm, meeting for coffee at Barnes and Noble and just talk about what separates us?

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Posted November 28, 2012 by aurorawatcherak in politics

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