When it comes to politics, each side of the American major two-party system holds certain beliefs about everything. Including, but not very explicitly, human beings.
Conservatives (Republicans, Libertarians, etc.) seem convinced of the power of the individual. In this worldview, people have unlimited possibilities if they/we just try hard, sacrifice, invest, produce, invent and risk. The human person is strongest as the independent “I” who may contribute to the general welfare, but only because of personal choice and acting out of personal moral or spiritual values. The conservative man or woman buckles down, works hard, and enjoys the fruits of their labor, contributing to the general welfare in limited (roads, bridges, national defense) ways. Success? Well, you deserve it because of hard work, luck, or some other feature of your life. At’a boy! Think Warren Buffet, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
Liberals (Democrats, Green Party, etc.) are focused on the welfare of the whole, particularly those whose life experience, health, social status, age or race makes them vulnerable to fewer advantages in the classroom and marketplace. In this worldview, the whole needs protection from the individual run amok; the individual meaning someone Anglo-European, privileged, educated, and middle-class. The environment, exploited by industrialization, needs protection and renewal. Women, children, people of color, the sick, impoverished, and aged, perpetually disadvantaged by the economic system of the last 200 years, deserve legal protection and help from the government of the whole. Think Barack Obama, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and Ralph Nader.
Here’s why I’m between the extremes: because human nature is imperfect, and both of these polarized views of people and communities are true. We are both ingenious and productive AND careless and profoundly selfish. We need all of us working at our personal best as well as joint efforts for justice, economic opportunity, education, and health care. The very best of American politics is an effort to balance out these perspectives on the human condition. Our extremist rhetoric of the last few years is an exhausting waste of all our time.
We need a government that is committed to hard work and effort as well as the common good. The vast majority of voting Americans know exactly what I mean, and can’t wait for common sense to infuse politics. Won’t that be a glorious day.