Strife in politics is nothing new but the division in this day and age has grown so hardened that there appears to be no common ground for compromise. Terms that used to convey philosophical leanings have now taken on the status of derision and expletives. I’m talking about words like “Conservative”, and “Liberal”. We have become so polarized that it has literally become a “my team versus your team” mentality with no handshakes after each contest. Worse yet is the fact that each side continues to push for more and more ideological purity, thus terms like “RINO”.
Some of us may think we have an open mind to other political stripes so let me provide a little test. I will list the attributes of two individuals and you can decide how to categorize them. The first is a white male in his late 60’s. He is a military veteran, having served during the time of the Viet Nam war but not in the war. He is most comfortable in jeans, tee shirts, and cheap sneakers, all purchased at Wal-Mart. He owns several guns, mostly of the handgun variety. He thinks there should be some limits on abortion. He has always worked to live within his means and believes that the government should too. He attends church on a regular basis.
The second individual is also a white male in his late 60’s. He went to high school and college in Southern California during the 1960’s and 1970’s. He holds three degrees in all – Psychology, Sociology, and Computer Science. He was opposed to the Viet Nam war. He believes that a woman should have the right to an abortion. He believes that those who have much should help those who don’t. He believes that there should be better screenings for gun ownership. He thinks that those who believe that the Universe came about exactly as it is stated in the Bible are intentionally ignorant of scientific facts.
So, what do you think? Number 1 sure sounds like a “Conservative” and number 2 sure sounds like a “Liberal”, don’t they? At this point, however, many of you may suspect that this is a trick and you would be right. Both descriptions fit the same individual. Before you write this individual off as some sort of Schizophrenic oddity let me assure you that he is a happily married (47 years), middle-class individual who is well within the norms of sanity. I should know because he is me.
So what is the point of this exercise? Simply to show that there are many individuals who don’t fit the constricting molds that have become the new world views of “Conservative” and “Liberal”. Moderates of both parties are an endangered species and any hint at compromise is seen as a betrayal of one’s political tribe. I wrote a letter to the editor one time in which I decried the language of a local party boss who berated those of his own party who were not “pure enough”. He also filled his commentary with plenty of invective for those of the other party and peppered it with lots of usage of the terms “Conservative” and “Liberal”. A big part of my argument was that the use of labels in general was a lazy way to avoid making the effort to see other points of view. In some ways it harkens back to what Sociologists like Erving Goffman called “Labeling Theory”. The danger here is not only do we too easily reject those who do not fit the label but we also too easily help in the very creation of our own enemies.
So what is an old moderate to do? Well, first and foremost is to not stoop to the levels of mudslinging that are so common today. Second is to call BS when alternative facts are espoused by anybody of any political stripe. But to do so requires that you have the actual facts at hand as proof. It may not (and probably won’t) change the mind of the person or persons touting the alternative facts but it’s still somewhat comforting to know what the truth is. Third is to stand up for people who need a voice or a hand. There are those who get disenfranchised from not only the political process but from society as well. I have worked hard for what I have but I know many people who have worked hard and have very little. As someone who tries to follow the example of Christ I know that I should do what I can with what I have to help people who need it. But I can’t help everyone and sometimes that breaks my heart. I’m not saying you have to be a Christian or even believe in God to be part of the solution. Your motivations may be different than mine and your resources may be different than mine but the results will be the same – someone who needs it will be helped. Last is to vote. For about ten years my wife and I lived in a state where our votes almost always went opposite of the majority. But we voted anyway because we view voting as not just a right but a responsibility. Besides, I always say that if you don’t vote then you have thrown away your right to complain about the results.
The United States is the greatest nation in the history of the world in terms of wealth, opportunity, and personal freedoms. To have been born here is a stroke of fate for which I am eternally grateful. The fact that I feel like an outcast from both political parties does not change that perspective. But I hope, and pray, that I will live long enough to see reason and civility return to our political process. Maybe then there will once again be a country for this old man.