I Want to Talk to Democrats. Please Help Me Understand

Sometimes I think that our country has become so polarized and so emotional in that divide that we can’t even have conversations anymore about principles and, hopefully, find common ground. It’s so much easier to only discuss politics with people that we know agree with us. There are opinion programs on cable news to reinforce whatever view we already hold. So we live in bubble where we only hear the echo of our own voices.

I try to watch some opposing viewpoint program at least once a week, read the progressive blog sites, etc. But even then I come away baffled. Recently I tried to engage in a dialog online on a college webite comparing Beck to Maddow. There were a lot of comments on the blog about how Glenn Beck is a hate-spewing, misogynistic, unhinged demagogue. So I tried to ask, “but why do you think that?”. You can see the dialog for yourself here. I didn’t really get any compelling answers. I can understand why some people don’t like Beck because they disagree with his principles on how the country should be run, his ideas on what the founders wanted America to be, or his criticism of this administration or congress. I told a liberal friend of mine once that I liked Beck and he acted like I told him I was joining the KKK and in jeopardy of losing my soul. I am pretty sure he never watched Beck though. I was at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in DC and I saw a group of people uniting around the principles of faith, hope and charity, honor, sacrifice, and personal responsibility. Republicans do not own those principles. They are American principles. They have been the principles of great leaders and individuals around the world.

I digress though, my question isn’t really about Beck, O’Reilly, Olberman or Jon Stewart. I want to find the things that unite us. And for that I need to understand what misconceptions I might have about liberals and what misconceptions they may have about conservatives. So I am going to list a few things that I think define conservatives and a few things that I think define liberals (or at least progressives, because I think that progressive policies are what many in the country are rejecting). But I want my Democrat friends to tell me what they think. Are progressives taking the Democrat party too far into progressive? Am I mistaken about what I believe defines conservatism? Many of things that I did not like about George W. Bush were the areas where I thought that he lost fidelity to conservative principles. So this is more an exercise in exploration on the “battlefield of ideas”.

My conservative principles:
• We are all created equal and endowed by our creator with the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our Rights come from God. Or said another way, they are natural rights. The government does not give us rights, they are there to make laws to protect our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If the government gives us our rights, the government can take them away.
• While we all want a safety-net to protect those that cannot help themselves, we don’t want a nanny state to protect those who will not help themselves. Americans have produced more, invented more and created more wealth than any other nation because of the “American Dream”. The idea that anyone willing to work hard, learn from their mistakes, and keep reaching for their dreams can make it in America.
• When entrepreneurs succeed in America their wealth creates more prosperity for others: employees, vendors, and consumer purchases, those recipients spend that money on their employees and vendors and purchases and so on and so forth. It’s called trickledown economics. Wealth is not a single pie for the government to slice up and hand out. We can all bake our own pies, and keep baking. Wealth is not finite and the “bakers” create more pie for everyone, even as they keep the biggest slice for themselves as reward for their risk, work and talent.
• All citizens should be treated equally under the law
• I am responsible as an individual for my health, my happiness, my wealth.
• It is my duty to care for others who need help. Charity in America is a concept intrinsic to our values and also intrinsic to the success of our nation. How do we care for others? When the government takes our money and hands it out to those they feel deserving we lose the “charity” and move to collectivism.

Progressive principles (as I hear them expressed)
• America is not a fair and just nation. There are the oppressors in power and the oppressed working class. The elite few will make it, but often at the expense of “the working class”
• The government needs to work towards “social justice” to make the country more equal and income distribution fairer.
• The “wealthy” or upper middle class only care about their own self-interest and will not (unless forced) take care of the unfortunate or victims in society
• We have the right to health care, housing and employment. The government must make sure that we get those rights.
• America has too much of the world’s wealth – more than our “fair share”. We are succeeding on the backs of developing nations and destroying the planet by using more than our fair share of consumption, energy, etc.
Where am I getting it wrong? What do you think are the differences between “conservative” and “progressive”?

There is little common ground in the two philosophies above. But I am wondering whether “progressive” represents many traditional Democrats. Maybe there are Democrats out there who won’t be at the “One Nation” rally in DC this weekend. The list of sponsoring organizations reads like who’s who of organized labor, environmentalists, anti war activists, socialists, and even the “Communist Party USA”. You can see more about the event and its endorsements on the event website. In some cases the local unions are even making attendance compulsory. Is this who the Democrats are now?
Have we become polarized because we have become a nation of polar opposites? Where is the middle anymore? The place where we all share the same American principles, even when we sometimes disagree on the details.

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11 Responses to I Want to Talk to Democrats. Please Help Me Understand

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jamie, is it wise to really link your viewers to this blog?"Recently I tried to engage in a dialog online on a liberal site comparing Beck to Maddow. There were a lot of comments on the blog about how Glenn Beck is a hate-spewing, misogynistic, unhinged demagogue. So I tried to ask, "but why do you think that?". You can see the dialog for yourself here."1. It's not a liberal site. It's a campus newspaper blog from one of the most conservative schools in the country.2. There's no mention of misogyny.3. You asked "why do you think that?" and multiple people gave factual reasons but you ignored them and kept asking "why?"Again, do you really want your readers to see this as it paints you in a very poor light.You can "try and understand democrats" all you want, but until you're willing to read the responses people post instead of ignoring them and just repeating your question, you won't get far.

  2. John White says:

    I self-identify as center-left, so I'll respond.I can't agree with your expression of any of the Democratic principles. But maybe a restatement is all that's necessary to further the discussion.1) It isn't enough to count on _people_ to be fair and just. It's too easy for people in power to act unfairly towards those who aren't. It's important to have societal structures in place to make sure that abuse is minimized and punished when it happens.2) Social Justice should be valued as it relates to increasing equality of opportunity, personal advance relating to merit, and balanced with redressing historical injustice towards the citizenry. Equal outcomes and redistribution of wealth aren't the goal. Making sure that everyone gets a fair chance to succeed in life based on merit should be an important goal for our society.3) It's naive to assume that the wealthy and empowered will take care of all the issues of society, whether those needs happen to be relating to society, infrastructure, defense, etc. It's the responsibility of a just society to see that people have a fair chance to succeed, and government is an expression of that societal responsibility.4) We as a society have a responsibility to provide a fair chance for our citizens to succeed based on their individual merits. As this relates to providing baseline shelter, food, health-care, and an opportunity to participate in commerce based on merit, society should make sure this is present.5) Our economic success as a nation shouldn't be based on compromising our values as we deal with other countries and their citizens. Does that help? Personally, I see access to a solid baseline of opportunity (shelter, health, food, education) as a key to succeeding as a true meritocratic society. Otherwise, we're throwing away important resources, inventions, business, wealth, and success that would have been created by people who just never got a chance. Another way to think about it is about strength through competition. If 20 people start businesses, the ones that eventually succeed should be the ones that are better. If 10 of those people don't start businesses because they didn't have access to good schooling, food, or a place to live, the resulting competition isn't as high. That might result in businesses that aren't as good, as they didn't have to compete as much.Is anything that I'm writing making sense?

  3. John – I appreciate your comments. I think that we are closer than I thought. Obviously I believe in some societal sructure. We need roads, defense, police, etc and we need government. Although I don't agree that it is the government's job to provide food, housing, healthcare, employment to those who can get it on their own. I love the story of Star Parker. She is running for congress right now. She lived on welfare for years and is now a successful business woman and candidate for office.So here are my follow-up questions for you: who is it that doesn't have access / ability to succeeed? (besides someone with a handicap / tragedy, etc, we need to take care of those people that cannot take care of themsleves).Doesn't the free market mean that even the least fortunate of us can acheive success and greatness? Are we promoting the "you can do it, no matter who you are" mentality? Or the "you can do it if you are one of the fortunate ones with the right set of circumstances" mentality.There will never truely be equal opportunity because some people are born smarter, healthier, better looking, more natural talent, etc. But like the boy who lost both his hands in a tragic accident and so learned to play piano with his feet, I believe there is a path for anyone willing to work for it.I don't consider myself one of the "people in power" but I am blessed and I have worked hard and I consider it my duty to help those in need with time and money charitable giving. I work for a Fortune 100 company that has charity events and collections nearly every week for differnt causes. I think many Americans feel that way. That is why Americans, as individuals and corporations, give so much to charity. Still, we should all encourage each other to do more with the idea that it is our individual responsibility to take care of those in need. Did you see "America: the Story of Us" on the History Channel? The immigrants that first started this nation, many of them, came here with a few dollars and the shirts on their backs. A "guide" that was handed to new arrivals at Ellis Island read something like: "welcome to America, where anyone willing to work hard and not give up on their dreams can make it." And it was true. Do we still believe that? I don't think that I am stuck at the income I make now. If I choose to work hard enough, and take the risks, anything is possible. I can be a millionaire someday if that is what I decide I really want. Do I have an easier path than someone who grew up in a poor neighborhood and didn't go to college? Probably. Maybe someone who has really wealthy parents (think Paris Hilton) has an easier path than I do. But we all have a path don't we?Which is the fundamental principle of America: "societal responsibility" or "individual responsibility"? PS: I couldn't figure out just what you meant on your 5th point. But I really do appreciate the dialog. I honestly don't enjoy only talking with people that agree with me. It doesn't lead to very much expansion of my views.I think these are the types of discussions that people of different political points of view should have. It's more more about principles (some shared, some not, than it is about parties). And we all need to look outside our bubbles from time to time. Including me.

  4. John White says:

    Thanks for bringing up the subject and being willing to listen. Where did you get your initial list of Progressive principles? I've never met anyone who self-identified as a Progressive who believed in any of them.I don't think it's the job of the government to provide us all with life's basics either.1) Who doesn't have access?I think there are many people who are born into situations where they don't have access to good food, shelter, healthcare, or education. Being born into an economically disadvantaged situation shouldn't be a structural barrier in a society which values the ability to rise on merit.2) Doesn't the free market mean that the least fortunate can achieve success?No, I think you're conflating 'merit' with 'minimally regulated'. Free markets don't guarantee success of those with the most merit. For example, in a free market, suppliers can conspire against those with the most merit.3) Are we promoting the "you can do it, no matter who you are" or the "you can do it if you are one of the fortunate ones with the right set of circumstances" mentality?I'd criticize the first attitude as extremely naive and the second as extremely cynical. I'm not sure how helpful it is to promote either naivete or cynicism. How about reality? The more assets one starts with, the better chance one has to succeed. Some assets are tangible, like a food, clothing, and shelter. Some are "soft" assets like intelligence, self-motivation, charisma, or cunning. We can probably learn to better use our soft assets with guidance, so access to training is another soft asset. That's just … reality. If one is born in Haiti, one doesn't have the same chance to succeed as someone born in Newport Beach.4) There will never truly be equal opportunity because some people are born [with more soft assets]That's not really a question, but I'll respond to it anyway. I define that in my own head as in unequal distribution of soft assets. Society can't control that (and it's creepy to think about a society that would try). But if a child born with the potential to be the next great scientist/businessman/philosopher/artist is born in a situation where he doesn't have enough food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education, our society as a whole suffers. We lose out on the ability to benefit from that child rising as high as his merit will actually take him.

  5. John White says:

    5) Kid without hands who plays the piano with his feetI'd argue that concert pianists without two hands are at a disadvantage against their two-handed cohort.6) Charity and the Free Rider ProblemI commend you for your charitable feelings and actions. I'm not sure that charity is enough to cover the scale of the poverty issue in America. I'm not sure that your example means we don't need a social safety net.I've always been puzzled about why it's acceptable to battle the free rider problem with taxation for things like military or infrastructure spending, but not for things like education, health care, or a general social safety net.7) Not all new arrivals were given dreams and success in America. Some were brought here in bondage. Some were given the dreams and drive speech, then told later on to dispose all of their belonging within 24 hours and report to a concentration camp. And lets not forget those who were already here, and and subjected to an attempted genocide. I only bring this up because you used an archetypal story as a reason to be inspired by history. But the history of our country includes both good and bad. History isn't a purely warm fuzzy story that exists for the sole purpose of inspiring us.8) Society responsibility vs individual responsibility as the fundamental American valueI don't think either of those things is the fundamental American value. Or that a complex place like America can be summed up in a single value. With respect to the two you mention, I don't think it's a choice between them. I think it's society's responsibility to provide enough opportunity to the individuals to allow them to exercise their full individual actualization (responsibility for their own success). I only need to chose between the two when they come into conflict.9) My fifth point was a response to your statement, "America has too much of the world's wealth – more than our "fair share". We are succeeding on the backs of developing nations and destroying the planet by using more than our fair share of consumption, energy, etc."

  6. I watched "The Blind Side" last night. I love that movie, and of course it is based on a true story. I though a lot about what we can learn from that movie1. Those who are and have always been well off, many of them, have no idea what it is like to be born into a violent, drug-ridden impovrished neighborhood2. People change other people's lives, by reaching out, seeking to understand, and by helping.3. You can't just throw money at the problem of poverty, because lack of money isn't the real problem, it is the symptom. The real problem is lack of belief that that there is a way out for those in that situation. Money can help, but not if belief isn't addressed.I do want a saftey net. I don't like seeing generation poverty and a cycle that repeats itself though. I worry that we have moved beyond safety net to a nanny state that actually promotes poverty and discourages economic advancement by creating a system that actually encourages some not to strive, not to change, not to believe. We need a system that promotes more "Star Parker's" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Parker) and more Leigh Anne Tuohy's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blind_Side_(film)

  7. John White says:

    I'm not sure whether any of that is a reaction to what I wrote.It doesn't sound like we have a big disagreement about the problems. Maybe the issue is about how to fix them?

  8. I guess that's the crux of it – how to fix and is it even the federal government's responsibility to fix it? I see many countries in Europe that have moved along the progressive model with more government entitlements and they are going through angry protests right now as the government admits that it can't pay for a society like that imposes austerity measures. I don't know how much you have looked at what is going on in Spain, France, Greece, etc, but how is that not our future if we continue down the path of big government and spending?

  9. IMO – Both the Government (Federal, State, County, and local) AND the private sector must play a role in our nation's future. We (society) are arguing over a false-dicotomy. It is not either/or, it is both. Always has been, always will be.Also, until ANY party is willing to take on the big 3 (SS, Medicare, Defense spending) we are not taking spending seriously. Freezing Government hiring, or giving furlough days is a drop in the ocean compared to Defense spending. I would simply add that the fact that there hasn't been a war tax is beyond me……and regarding Europe, they are no more/no less screwed than we are. Just screwed in different sorts of ways.My honest opinion, I think we get too worked up over Federal politics. City government affects our lives much more directly, is usually non-partisan, and offers the public a better opportunity to contribute directly to their community.Anyway, off the soapbox now…

  10. John White says:

    This post seems to be the opposite of the stated goals of your blog.

    • I don’t think so. I have to understand where Democrats are coming from to find common ground.
      But anyway, I am changing the whole direction of this blog now called “Purple Ground”. Take a look at the “about Purple Ground” page to see what I have in mind.

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