Saturday, February 1, 2014

What You Wish Your Liberal Friends Knew

If you are like me, you have friends and family on the “other side of the aisle.”  Some of these may have been surprised to learn, in the wake of the Obama re-election, that I lean very differently from how they do.   From the tone of the last 5 years, I wouldn’t be surprised that some would wonder why any decent and rational person could oppose such a paragon of political virtue as Obama.   To rephrase Richard Dawkins’ famous quip, to be against Obama is to be ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked.  Of course, that tetrachotomy is how some of my conservative friends view those who support Obama.  But I don’t think the very people that loudly bemoaned Republican victories were prepared for my demoralization and frustration over the bizarre, nasty, ridiculous circus that the Obama campaign appeared to be.  While I wondered how those dear left-leaning friends could be not the least bit sheepish and embarrassed over that “victory,” at best they probably chalked it up to sour grapes, assuming they weren't thinking “But he seemed like such a nice person.”

Politics has become much more incendiary than religion, if it ever was the other way around, and inter-religious marriages have become more tenable and numerous than inter-political marriages.  The holidays in recent years have seen more than one confrontation over politics, and all I can say is what you already know: that people on one side see the people on the other side as bringing down America (or the world).  It is false humility to say that both sides must be wrong since they both can’t be right.  America survived Bush, and so far has survived Obama, but that doesn’t say anything about there being no long-term negative consequences to either one. 

I imagine that left-leaners wonder how conservatives could not vehemently prefer an upright Democrat over the reviled Bush administration that so many seem to view as much more criminal than either the Clinton or Obama regimes.  But I think left-leaners would always vote for a corrupt progressive to a honest conservative.  And not simply because the “ends justifies the means” (it is a much broader topic what place utilitarianism occupies in left-wing morality), but because they believe that left-leaning policies are more “right” and “good” for all concerned.  But by the same token, left-leaners shouldn’t expect right-leaners to throw in with a candidate who may hold to destructive policies “for all the right reasons” instead of a hypocrite who supports constructive policies for all the wrong ones.  Is it any surprise that left-leaners still support Obama in spite of the kill lists, the civilian casualties of war, radical undermining of our Bill of Rights for homeland security?  At least he’s not one of those awful conservatives. 

It's a bit of a stalemate.  I’m might well vote for the more conservative candidate even if he cheated on his marriage or his tax returns, and if you lean left you probably will vote for your candidate even if he's a womanizer or if he says during the campaign that he completely supports traditional marriage.  In fact, there’s an excellent chance that the progressive values for healthcare and foreign policy will win even against a libertarian and socially liberal Republican in the progressive mind.  

I for one see the Democratic coalition as an even more motley crew than the “big tent” that left-leaners see covering both the "sensible" (that is, liberal) Republicans and “Radical Tea Partiers.”   The Democratic Party forms its big tent by promising a multitude of radical agenda.  If one is Hispanic, then being offered the rights (and funds) of citizens may well trump the progressive hostility toward Catholic values.  If one is black, then stances on affirmative action may well trump the “homophobia” that is widespread in that demographic.  If one is feminist, then “Abortion-palooza” may be reason enough to be a Democrat despite the disastrous fiscal policies.  The well-rounded progressive who holds an extreme position doesn’t need the majority to agree with him or her; he or she just needs to have the Democrat party offer the right deals to the right voting blocks.  And many people will fall into line for the right amount of food stamps, cellphones, and "free" meds (these campaign promises all graciously paid for by the rest of us). 

Of course, the left-leaning people seem to have a somewhat similar view of the Right.  They see the GOP as offering a slice of racism to this group, a slice of corporate favoritism to that group, a slice of anti-g#y hostility to those others, and offering hopes of a Christian theocracy to “fundamentalists.” (And by “fundamentalists” I mean religious people who believe anything they see as “ignorant.”)  As a right-leaning, fundamentally conservative person (it’s not clear to me what “conservative” means to left-leaning people other than just “generally bad” -- I’ve yet to hear a left-leaning voice that doesn’t assume the absurdly simple yet rhetorically impressive view that George Bush was a “radical right” conservative), everything that has come out loud and proud from the leftist camp in the last ten years is that they see conservatives as simply peddling hatred and poverty under with the euphemisms  “values” and “freedom.” 

If this is true, it is no wonder that they are blind to the fact that their President isn't all he was cracked up to be--or even close to being as advertised.  In the wake of Reagan, people can look back on Reagan’s era and admit that he left a good legacy even for those who disagreed with him; otherwise liberal pundits wouldn’t have tried to compare Obama to Reagan.  From our viewpoint, Obama’s talk about reaching across the aisle and there being no red or blue states was just empty talk. From the start he was a radical progressive with an extreme agenda, an agenda that has been much more important than almost any of his campaign promises.  The “punish your enemies” Obama is the real Obama.   

On the right-leaning side, we see the Democratic Party as the ultimate corruption of the democratic process.  While Democrats deride super-PACs at their celebrity fundraisers, their party leaders have unlimited funds to buy the election:  How many future dollars I earn can be promised to the right special interest groups?  And the future dollars earned by our children?  It takes a lot of private funds to counter the fumes coming from the public honeypot (a.k.a. the “secret stash”) that the Democratic Party holds up to everyone’s nose.  And the promise of that “unlimited” supply alone draws enormous funds to convince all of the middle class that somebody else is going to be footing the bill, or that “green energy” is a magic green-printing machine. Or at least that's how conservatives tend to look at it.

I sometimes imagine my left-leaning friends wonder whether we really believe that Obama faked his birth certificate.  I, on the other hand, wonder whether they really think that Tea Party rallies are Klan parties and whether they know about that the edited picture of the gun-toting Tea Party "racist" was actually a black man.  (Why weren't the Tea Partiers scared of the gun-toting black man?)  I suppose I could ask but in this elevated political climate it sounds too much like picking a fight.   

I've encountered a lot of, what seems to me, disrespect over my views, and I truly don't want to reciprocate it.  But it's difficult.  And it seems unnecessary to me because I know several people who are smart, think about things, have personal integrity and take their progressive stands because they believe it is right and good.  (And I know some people who agree with me more on policy who by comparison seem a lot more ignorant and unthinking.)  While I think I detect a hint of "how can you agree with those people?" with regard to my views, perhaps they think that I think "gee, and I thought they were smart," when in fact I accepted a long time ago that smart people come to radically different conclusions.

And why wouldn't we?  We mostly read the articles and sources that confirm our point of view, and when we read a different view it is probably something that gets our goat rather than makes us more understanding.  I personally don't need the Dawkins ignorant/stupid/insane/wicked tetrachotomy to explain left-leaning thinking, because I think on the surface it seems compassionate and heroic, and I think it seems too right to those of compassionate and heroic nature to not be true.  As the old Biblical saying goes, "there is a way that seems right unto man."  Because of its obvious rightness, it is a sexy and immediately satisfying belief.

Like the alchemical field of economics, politics is much easier to navigate when you follow your heart, because how could you go astray?  I personally think that there is some things that most people, even those with many years of education, have neither heard nor known nor thought, without which is almost impossible to understand the conservative mindset.  I'm not naive enough to assume that just because one gets a bit of that knowledge that they will suddenly convert to conservatism unless they are just dishonest.  Belief systems are more complicated than that.  Even knowing that, my frustration has gotten the better of me at times, because I do see it all , and sometimes the ignorance that supports it seems like laziness.  But how many left-leaning people think that I would be informed if I read HuffPost (or just use some common sense for cryin' out loud!)?

This may not be a generous enough point of view to satisfy anyone, but I can't help feeling that they think that I would be a liberal if I weren't so

  • compassionless
  • wacko
  • ignorant
  • paranoid
  • backward
  • religious
  • mean-spirited
  • uneducated
  • dogmatic
  • narrow-minded
  • racist
  • homophobic
  • enslaved to my upbringing

Et cetera.

I could be wrong.  Maybe they've never thought any of those things.

Regardless, I believe the dear left-leaning folk in our lives can’t look to the Democratic Party for leadership on how to not demonize.  They will have to look to themselves to find their better natures.  It would be great if politics didn't have to be so desperately avoided between people of opposing beliefs.  But I think we are a lot further away from that than we were four years ago.   

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