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September 19th, 2019

earl watt mugL&T Publisher Earl Watt


Misperceptions abound about two terms we use almost as insults to each other these days — liberal and conservative.

There are reasons for it. Today’s high-stakes approach to politics requires absolute loyalty to the party brand above all else, and anything short of that will result in expulsion from the party.

There are levels of extremity on both sides, and the center is nowhere near the same depending on which party’s view is trying to define it.

For example, because of the far left elections in a small handful of districts, many believe Nancy Pelosi is now the moderate from the Democratic point of view when just three years ago she represented the left wing of the party.

When he was elected president, Donald Trump was considered a Democratic operative having spent most of his life in the Democratic Party, and most conservatives did not support him. Today, he is considered far right, even alt right.

That causes the idea of what is center to be somewhat skewed from both points of view.

Samples of centrists are down to about one on each side with Joe Manchin from West Virginia voting with Republicans on many issues while Lindsey Graham form South Carolina will buck his party on policy from time to time.

But for the most part, partisan loyalty prevails today. The appointment of Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is an example of how extreme the process has become with his confirmation only receiving 54 votes, which was every Republican and three Democrats, and 46 Democrats voted against him.

The differences are stark, but the most dangerous position many are taking is the absolute inability to compromise on any issue.

We are exacerbating this with our misunderstanding of phrases like “liberal” and “conservative.”

Conservatives, for example, tend to be less boisterous in the public arena. You don’t see many protest marches from conservatives. Many times, conservatives don’t talk politics very much, but they do vote. This disconnect with participatory functions like polls threw many off during the 2016 election of Trump. Many either gave the answer they believe the pollster wanted or didn’t reply at all.

Liberals tend to be more active, but not in every case. Liberals will march and appear more politically engaged than their conservative counterparts because, well, that’s a liberal personality trait.

But these fog the true political issues of what liberals and conservatives used to represent.

Conservatism is portrayed by its opponents as cold-hearted, uncaring and supportive of the wealthy elites. Liberalism is viewed by its opponents as a step toward communism trying to use government as a means of punishing those who have had success by portraying those who struggle as victims of the wealthy.

Neither is true, and we only tend to believe one of them.

The true goal of liberals, or at least it used to be, was to seek equality, justice and opportunity even if that required a massive government intervention in society.

The true goal of conservatives, or at least it used to be, was to seek equality, justice and opportunity with as little government intervention as possible.

And that was it.

Liberals tend to see the Constitution as a fluid document that can be flexible while conservatives tend to see the Constitution as concrete and unyielding in its guarantees.

We see these two different approaches on gun control issues, and courts have taken the moderate approach over the years, stating that gun rights do not mean a person can have a tank in their front yard, but it can’t prevent someone who has no criminal history from owning a gun, either.

Again, moderation has always been the centering force in American politics.

While we each want to see our own perspective of government hold the majority, we have seen an intolerable level of rejection of everything from the opposing side.

Recently, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg  admitted she has suffered insomnia since Trump was elected.

And Mitch McConnell, upon taking the majority of the Senate, said he would oppose anything proposed by Barack Obama.

Taking these absolute positions has been a new phenomenon in modern politics.

What this loses sight of is not these people but the process. When liberals or conservatives lose, we have to respect the system and those Americans who voted different than we did.

But we don’t, and that is dangerous.

We are already hearing calls to remove the Electoral College or to delegitimize presidents, even impeach them, if they don’t win the popular vote.

We don’t respect the process.

This doesn’t mean we give up on our values, but we have to show respect to the other side.

Most importantly, we have to give a little to get a little. We have to compromise and realize that it is not evil to reach across the aisle in an attempt to solve a problem rather than believe the only solution is for my side to win more seats and get everything we want while the other side gets nothing.

America is a large, diverse nation, and what works in Kansas may not work in New York. Expecting a one-size-fits-all solution is not the answer, nor should it be.

Perhaps we have expected too much from our federal government rather than allow our states to be the place were these differences are legislated.

Still, we send representatives to Washington, and we should expect them to accomplish something. With a Democratically-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, we see the inability of the federal government to address the most basic issues including border security, the handling of refugees, and no concensus on how to handle changes in energy production. Throw in the climate change debate and abortion issues, and the rift gets even wider.

Whether we intended to or not, we are forcing presidents to become more dictatorial when our legislative bodies can no longer function. 

Do we detest compromise so much we would prefer presidents from either side to rule unilaterally? Governing requires give and take, and until we restore that principle, we get one-party dictatorial rule.

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