I have an apology to make to my Republican/conservative friends, and, no, this is not a facetious apology. I often state that my politics are to the left of moderate and that I approach opposing views with an open mind, but, sometimes I’ll express a very negative attitude toward many of the things they believe. When I do, it’s because some issues truly aggravate me to the point of angry frustration, but that expression probably defeats my purpose, which is ultimately to find solutions.
In that light…I would like to begin a new discussion. What is it that separates political ideologies? What kind of America do Liberals and Conservatives envision?
There are essentially two agendas at stake; a social and an economic one. However, I believe that they follow the same reasoning; the economic model lends itself to the social agenda and vice versa.
With that in mind, I met three conservative/Republican friends for drinks and asked 4 basic questions and then did the same with two Liberal friends. I’m not so foolish as to believe that a small group of conservatives or liberals speak for the majority, but I do think that in the local trenches we can illuminate some consistencies.
The names have been changed (except mine).
Gary: What is your vision of the best America?
Dave: One where the American dream lives. Where you can be anybody with a new idea—
Kathy: Or where anyone who works hard and never gives up can realize their dreams-
Dave: Right. Where the entrepreneurial spirit is alive. That creates competition and is best for the consumer. Products improve, jobs are created from more industry, taxes are less and everyone has more opportunity. It feeds the system without handouts at the expense of people who work hard.
Gary: What do you think is the best economic model for the United States?
Jack: The free market is what was intended and is what supports capitalism. When industry is privatized, incentives are increased and competition leads to improvements and lower prices. The market should be allowed to ebb and flow as a free market dictates. It’s when government interferes and manipulates the economy that we have problems.
Dave: De-regulation. Government places controls on business and they have to raise their prices or cut jobs to stay solvent.
Gary: So what is the function of government?
Kathy: To support the infrastructure of our country. To build the national defense and to support the infrastructure, build roads, schools, etc. And I’m fine with social security—
Jack: Not me! Privatize social security. Let us keep our money and invest for ourselves. Trust me- I’ll do a lot better with 500 a month than the government can do!
Dave: Entitlements are killing us. Not only do they take money out of the hands of people who’ve earned it who can then contribute it back into the system, entitlements propagate the problem of people who are not taking care of themselves. Give a man a fish—-
Gary: I know, I know…he eats for a day…
(I was talking to serious and informed people and they didn’t appreciate my dismissive reduction of a wise proverb)
Gary: Finally, what is the social responsibility of America? How are we to contribute to the world- but more relevant, how do we take care of one another?
Jack: What responsibility?
Gary: (Smiling) Jack, please don’t dismiss this one. You know that I’m on the other side of the fence and I’m already of the mind that the conservative agenda does not address the realities of poverty, and moral responsibility, please give me something better.
Kathy: Okay. You didn’t want to hear the Biblical saying, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” but that’s what we’re talking about here. If we allow people to take care of themselves, by providing more business opportunities, more income, and let them keep what they earn we can stop the cycle.
Gary: It’s a Chinese proverb.
Kathy: What is?
Gary: The “give a man a fish” thing.
Dave: Kathy is correct, though. “Giving” without “teaching” only creates a spiral downward into more handouts and ultimately more poverty. The liberals have created a welfare state.
Jack: Look, there are people who need to be taken care of. I’ve got a niece that can’t live alone and her family needs assistance, but believe me, if I could keep more of my check, I could give more to the great organizations out there who provide those services. Everything works better when you keep assistance out of the hands of government and keep it in the hands of people. That’s what we’re all here for, to help each other.
I thanked them and told them that I’d have answers from the other side for them. Now, I won’t lie and say that I don’t already have a bias here, but I will say that I thought the answers they gave were consistent to what I believe to be the general conservative Republican point of view and I have respect for what I believe was a sincere desire to do what’s best for our country.
Gary: What is your vision for the best America?
Sara: An America that stands as a shining example to the rest of the world for how people can care for one another and care for the environment at the same time.
Gary: I know. I’m just teasing so that I appear impartial.
Dan: It starts with economics. Conservatives believe that investment capital creates wealth, whereas, the liberal philosophy is that labor and public investment also have a role in creating wealth.
Gary: I love that- “Labor and public investment play a role in creating wealth.” That is actually my next question- What is the best economic model for the United States?
Dan: Why should the majority support a system that only benefits a few? By the logic of the Republicans, society should be most interested in facilitating the interests of the investment class because that’s where wealth is created, but most of the country is not the investment class and never will be and so we need to counter those interests with laws to ensure that wealth creation results in social benefits. That’s our piece of the American pie! That’s not redistribution; it’s a more fair allocation of shared resources.
Gary: So what is the function of government?
Dan: I see government as a democratically elected body that provides “good governance.” Specifically, the creation of institutions to manage public resources to guarantee the realization of human rights.
Sara: I once Googled “government” and the first Wiki Answer came from a guy who said, “As a businessman my job is to create a monopoly. The function of government is to stop me.” Interesting, although perhaps too simple, but in a sense that’s it. Government is here to protect our common interests from our selfish intuitions.
Gary: So finally, what is our social responsibility?
Sara: Let me start by saying that I consider it our privilege to care for one another. Taxes are the rent we pay to live in a great country.
Gary: Nice job, getting “taxes” into the mix! I would like to answer this one myself, however….
Some people speak of an American dream where “if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything” and it is a wonderful idea but its mythology. The subtext is “if you fail, it’s because you haven’t worked hard enough (or worse, you’re lazy).”
That’s why Republicans hate welfare; they feel that it’s a feeding trough built from their sweat. The truth that shatters the myth, though, is that 35 million Americans are dreadfully poor and many of them are from a legacy of poverty through no fault of their own except birth. Millions of Americans have mental or physical illnesses and cannot work. Over half a million people will sleep outside tonight in a box or under a bridge. What do you do with them? Say, “It sucks to be you”? The private sector cannot handle all of that and organize with the services that government can provide.
2000 babies were born today into poverty and some may never be given the hope that we were born into; that allowed us to succeed. The answer is simple– We help them, as best we can, and we believe, as Dan said, in good governance, of, by and for the people, to protect and manage public interests. That’s the America I believe in.
Dan: Me too.
Sara: Me three.
Okay…I was prepared to give my answer but that summarizes why I am a liberal. I showed the responses to each side, and each side respected the civil tone of the other, but, not surprisingly, no one conceded any particular point. These modest interviews are too simple a way to conclude anything as far reaching as the ideological platforms of two political parties, but it does provide some insight, from which, I think, we can begin to create new dialogues. I welcome responses from other points of view because I’m not looking to “win”, my goal is to understand and to “solve.”
Maybe it’s on this local and personal level that understanding, compromise and compassion can take root and real change can begin to take place in Washington.