Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Gulf Between the Parties

I wanted to share an illuminating discussion with a friend of mine. Mostly to the left of center, he manages to get along with me because I don't insist on having my way in our various political discussions. He expresses himself in a jovial and logical way, and thus I can engage in conversation with him without things getting too heated. Anyhow, he said that the difference between himself, as a liberal, and most conservatives was that he had no problem with a) the government providing "free" healthcare or b) paying more taxes.

Well, my thought after the fact (and I know he reads this blog occasionally, so of course I'll be diplomatic) was, "If you want to pay more taxes, be my guest. You have an opportunity every April 15. But don't presume that I share your willingness to let the government take more of my money."


As near as I can tell, the difference in attitude between left and right lies in the perception of the individual and their relationship to society.

The American liberal mindset says, "The primary social entity is the state, and it is the responsibility of the state to see that right is done to the greatest number. Individuals cannot be trusted to do what is right unless required to by human authority. It falls to an enlightened few to exercise that authority."

The American conservative mindset says, "Individuals are the most important social entities; they each know best how to pursue their own ends, and they will support themselves or provide charity to others in accordance with their personal conscience. Everyone has the opportunity to be in government, but everyone is also subject to the same flawed human nature, so no one should act like they're better than anyone else."

Now imagine these two viewpoints trying to figure out how to "fix" this mortgage mess. One side believes in government pledging support for those in need in some sort of latter-day noblesse oblige; the other side emphasizes individual responsibility in a sort of Darwinian "put up or shut up" scenario. Is it any wonder Congress is at an impasse? (Though I must point out that the Democrats, with control of both houses, could pass a bailout bill today, if they really wanted to.)


Another political behavior that's become of great concern to me of late, not with my friends, but within the blogosphere and various social networking pages is the utter dismissiveness of one side toward the other. This dismissiveness can take many forms, the most obvious of which is snobbery: if someone isn't Ivy-League-educated, of the right social class, associating with the right groups, or on the "correct" side of certain issues, they are beneath contempt. If they're not from Blue State America or agreeing with the ideas prevalent in those places, then they're gun-toting, Bible-thumping, inbred hicks.

Sarah Palin is simply the latest Republican target because she represents all of this, as did George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Dwight D. Eisenhower before her. And why is it that Republicans are always cast by the nation's major newspapers or television news outlets as fools and idiots while the Democrat candidates are always depicted as superior, nuanced, or possessed of higher, better knowledge? Could it be that the individuals working in those news outlets share that snobbery and contempt for the people and beliefs Republicans represent? Perish the thought!

Occasionally, I hear, "Oh, but you're different, Bart. You're pretty nice, for a Republican/conservative." Good grief, is that supposed to be a compliment? I want to respond, "Well, gosh, thanks. And you're not too condescending, for a Democrat." I mean, really! What would you say?

The Romans had this problem, once upon a time. Cicero, perhaps Rome's greatest Senator and orator, was a provincial, and so was subject to mockery of this sort. And no doubt it has happened in every large society humankind has ever built. But d@mmit, this is America. We're supposed to be better than that. We're supposed to believe that "All men are created equal." Perhaps it's time we took a step back and asked ourselves whether we really believe that still and if so, what do we mean when we say it.


Unknown said...

I stop by merely to throw out there the idea that Palin's current treatment isn't really some conspiracy by the "liberal media." If you don't have the intellectual and rhetorical chops to go toe-to-toe with *Katie Couric*, you deserve all the mockery you get.

On the "pay more if you want to" stance, I respect it, but at the end of the day, we're all going to pay it anyway, and if it's not entrenched in a fairly codified system, you get cash grabs like the current bailout scenario, with every man/woman/child for themselves and the Wall Street millionaires the only winners.

Bart said...

I haven't watched it yet, only the SNL takeoff. I'll review before commenting. You may be right.

The problem with your explanation re: taxes is what you mean by "fairly constituted." Opinions vary. In my world, everyone above the poverty line would pay the same percentage (the Flat Tax) or a consumption tax (the Fair Tax), but I tend toward windmill tilting anyway.