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“We’re Right, Everyone Else is Wrong” (2nd Part of Message to Conservatives about Their Enmity)

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This is the second of a three-part series, that has begun appearing in several newspapers in my very Republican congressional District (VA-06).

The first installment of this series — “Sticking It To the Liberals” — was posted here this past Thursday.

(I’ve given the whole series the title “If You’re Closed-Minded, Don’t Read This,” in the hope that it will get conservatives to actually read the columns, rather than just skipping them because I’m their author and they have pegged me as a “librel” and therefore not anyone who could possibly have anything worthwhile to say.)

I have written here before, and I will be writing again, about the importance of Liberal America making an effort to reach the Republican base to bring them back a) from the false picture of the world they have been sold and to a better contact with reality and b) from the dark passions that right-wing propagandists have worked to inflame in them over the past generation and to the better angels of their nature.

It is far from clear what will work to move that “conservative” word– so impermeable has it proved to be in recent years. But it is clear that too much of America’s destiny depends on that for it to be acceptable to give up on that possibility without even trying.

This is not instead of beating them at the ballot box. That must be done. We cannot have the crazy governing our destiny. Rather, it is in addition to the ongoing effort of liberals/Democrats to regain the levers of power in America

This series represents my belief that a good place to start may well be by addressing the relationship between liberals and conservatives. More specifically, the ENMITY toward liberals that has been cultivated in conservatives over the years, with truly disastrous consequences for American democracy (consequences that will be discussed in the third installment of the series.

I make no pretense to know that this approach will have positive effects. All I can say is that it is what I have felt called upon to send their way.

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II. We’re Right, Everyone Else is Wrong

My fellow liberals tell me to save my breath. “Today’s conservatives,” they tell me, “won’t listen to anything you – or any other liberal – might say.” And from what I’ve seen, they might well be right.

But why is that? Is there any justification for assuming that no one on the liberal side might have something true and important to say to conservatives?

No justification I can see: there are liberals with integrity, trained in the pursuit of truth, animated by a love of country and a caring about their fellow Americans.

But the deep-seated antagonism toward liberals among many of today’s conservatives seems to mean that liberals’ point of view is automatically dismissed.

My hope here is to find some conservatives open-minded enough to hear me out as I try to show that his is both true and important: that the enmity of today’s Republican base toward liberals is unjustified, and that this enmity’s effect on our politics is injuring all Americans—conservatives as much as liberals.

Is the “Democratic Agenda” Somehow Obviously Unworthy of Respect?

I began making that case in the previous piece that appeared here last week, and that closed with the thought that — however intense the conservatives’ disagreement with liberals on some issues (like abortion) — it is wrong for them to use those conflicts as a reason not to cooperate with liberals/Democrats to achieve common goals on other issues.

But that is what has happened with the conservatives of these times, and the Republican office-holders they elect. During the Obama years, the Republicans sought to block everything he attempted (the goal being to make him fail)—and their supporters applauded them. During this Trump period, the Republicans have sought to pass everything without including the Democrats in the process—and the Republican base supports that, too.

One hears Republicans talk, with voices dripping with contempt, of “the Democratic agenda” – as if what the Democrats favor is so utterly wrong-headed extreme that the idea of seeking common ground with them is morally repugnant.

Is there any justification for regarding the policy positions of the Democrats as extreme, and unworthy of respect and consideration?

If one looks at the other advanced, free, and affluent nations of the world, the notion that there’s anything extreme about what liberals in America and the Democratic Party want to achieve seems absolutely bizarre.

Those policies advocated by Liberal America are in many ways more conservative than the mainstream of other very well-governed, healthy societies—like the nations of Western Europe, Canada, Australia, and the like.

If America’s Democratic Party comes up with conclusions that fall roughly in the middle of the spectrum of how other such peoples – well-educated citizens of decent societies – have chosen to meet the same kinds of challenges the United States faces, on what basis can the “Democratic agenda” be dismissed as extreme?

On the contrary, in the context of the healthiest societies of the world, it is the Republican side whose positions are “extreme.”

This is true on a whole variety of issues:

  • Government regulation of industry, which today’s Republicans talk about as if it were an inherent evil, rather than the clear necessity recognized by all our brother democracies. The only question is how best to do the necessary regulation to get the most social benefit at the least economic cost.
  • Climate change, with today’s Republican Party being the only major party in any advanced nation that rejects the science and works to prevent any responsible action.
  • Regulation of firearms, where today’s Republican policy is to condemn virtually any tightening of the safeguards such as are employed by other advanced societies—societies that maintain their freedom while having a murder rate a very small fraction of ours in the U.S.
  • Investing in the development and well-being of our people, an area where other prosperous and humane nations do far more to help their citizens nurture their young children, educate their young adults, and provide health care for all their citizens—with policies like those that Democrats advocate and Republicans oppose.

What enables the conservatives in America to be so adamant that their views are so completely correct, when that requires that the people of pretty much every other free and decent society on the planet be wrong? Shouldn’t being such an outlier –so out of step with much of the free world — give one pause?

In the Declaration of Independence, our founders felt called to show “a decent respect to the opinion of mankind.” Such respect should surely –at the least — require today’s conservatives, and the Republican Party they support, to treat the views of liberals and their Democratic representatives as wholly defensible and responsible positions on most of the issues we face as a nation.

Agreement is not required. But there is no justification for the lack of respect – and downright hostility– that the right now routinely shows in a variety of ways:

  • As mentioned in the previous piece, the Republicans in Congress reasonably fear that Republican voters will kick them out of office if they work to find common ground with Democrats (as happened, for example, to Republican Senator Bennett of Utah).
  • Republicans in the House now operate continually by “the Hastert rule,” which requires that nothing can be brought to the floor for a vote unless it commands the support of a majority of the Republicans. The result is that many measures that do have the support of a majority of the people’s elected representatives cannot even get voted on. That, in itself, is a slap at the democratic ideal, which is that the will of the people – not just the will of a minority that happens to constitute the majority of one political party – can guide the nation.
  • And now, with respect to the Senatorial election in Alabama, we hear the Republican governor of that state, and the White House, indicating that it would be better for a state to be represented by a pedophile than by — God forbid! — a Democrat.

Once again, one finds no basis for any justification for the right’s dealing with liberals and Democrats with such deep hostility and contempt.

While there is no justification for this enmity, there is an explanation. And there are important, detrimental consequences. Those will be taken up in the next (and final) installment.

*********************

Andy Schmookler is the author of the series, “A Better Human Story,” available on the web.

  • Do a quick substitution of liberal with conservative, left for right, and Republican for Democrat. Swap out the issues with things conservatives might hold dear — then pretend I wrote it.

    See if it still sounds as condescending as this article would to someone like me.

    Here’s the problem, and it’s twofold: (1) people have a hard time putting themselves in someone else’s shoes to hear the other side of the argument, and (2) at the end of the day? This boils down to “I want” rather than an attempt to understand the opposition.

    Best of luck reaching civility when the argument for engagement is “how come the right is so unreasonable in their opposition to our demands?” That’s no starting point.

    • Andy Schmookler

      There is no symmetry here, Mr. Kenny. Sorry if it sounds condescending to you for me to say so. But just because different groups of people believe different things, that doesn’t mean that both sets of beliefs are equally valid.

      In terms of listening to the other side of the argument, I did talk radio across the liberal/conservative divide for a decade. I introduced each show with some words about speaking with each other in a spirit of “mutual respect, as if we might actually learn from each other.” And I meant it.

      (And, as I’ve written in my op/ed columns before, during those years, I felt a genuine respect, and affection, for my conservative interlocutors.)

      But what has happened on the right since then has created an asymmetry that makes the right actually quite unmoored from reality, makes most of the beliefs on the right invalid.

      I don’t know if there are some tricky skills that would enable someone to deal with that reality in a way that would not bother you. But if there are, I don’t have those skills. What I do claim to have is some skill at discerning the truth, and at speaking that truth.

      Doubtless that will seem arrogant and unreasonable to people like you. I regret that. But I do maintain without concern that I am mistaken that what I am saying here is substantially true, and I do regret that I can’t do anything more than speak that truth to bring conservatives back from the dark place to which they have been led.

      • Shaun Kenney

        “…deal with reality in a way that would not bother you. (sic)”

        Somewhere in Virginia, there is a Tea Party nationalist that is saying the same thing to a liberal who really does’t understand that sort of mentality — that reality is whatever they say it is and everything else is fake reality.

        How does one have a conversation with someone like that? Tough to do…

        • Andy Schmookler

          I doubt that there is a Tea Party nationalist saying anything like what I am saying in this series. Which leads to specifying ONE of the many aspects of asymmetry we have in this liberal/conservative divide.

          If one takes a look at all the various mentions of things like “bi-partisanship” or “bridging the divide” or “how to bring people together,” etc., one immediately is struck by a glaring fact: whether we’re talking about interactions among citizens or about the words spoken by those serving in Congress, virtually ALL of the speakers are on the liberal side.

          My columns are attempts to reach our to a conservative readership. I can’t remember seeing a conservative reaching out to liberals.

        • ThomThom

          Start by providing a counterargument that the Republican Party IS in step with the conservative parties of the First World. My impression is that conservatives of the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany & Scandinavia are all in the center or to the left of the US Democratic Party on issues of gun laws, marriage equality, climate change and health care.

          • There’s no serious question that today’s GOP (as opposed to the GOP when I was growing up, which was a normal conservative party) is a wild outlier compared to any other mainstream conservative parties in the advanced, industrialized world (or really anywhere). What is today’s GOP most similar to? UKIP, the National Front, etc.