Compounding the challenges of just getting the two political sides to the same table are the many underlying values, principles, beliefs, and ideological underpinnings that serve as the foundation for motivations and policy. They, too, are quite different and distinct when comparing left versus right.
There's not necessarily any value judgments to made about the differences in and of themselves, of course. But how they play out in the real world with real consequences resulting from the underlying motivations and purposes is of concern.
Some observations to ponder....
[C]onservatives and progressives differ on the meaning of our most fundamental political concepts: fairness, freedom, equality, responsibility, integrity, and security. [*]
The values we cherish
-- Duty, honesty, hard work, self-sacrifice, love of country, loyalty, and self-restraint.
-- Justice, compassion, equality of opportunity, and honesty about what's great in our country, and what could be better.
Progressives, based on the 'human dignity principle,' recognize freedom from want as a fundamental freedom: Acting on empathy for people who are down and out requires that we have a social safety net to secure their freedom. So progressives see Social Security, welfare, and universal health care as increasing freedom.
Conservatives take the opposite approach. They start from the idea that self discipline is fundamental. A lack of property to conservatives indicates a lack of discipline, and hence a lack of morality. Therefore, giving people things they haven't earned creates dependency, which traps people in welfare programs and poverty and thus robs them of their freedom. Not only that, but the taxes that pay for programs like Social Security and universal health care infringe on the freedom of the taxpayer, since taking his money is imposing on his freedom.
What progressives see as essential freedoms, conservatives see as essential interferences. [*]
The Republican Party has a major credibility gap on that issue. Why? The Republicans are for free enterprise, but not free people. And that is their fundamental problem.
Ask any Republican about the party's core values and they'll list a bunch of variations of the word, 'freedom.' Free enterprise, free markets, free trade, economic freedom, freedom from taxation and regulation ... liberty, unchaining the private sector, 'Don't Tread On Me' flags ... basically get the government out of the way so private action can flourish. Like a bunch of 'Bravehearts,' they just want their 'freeeeeeeeeedom!!'"
But their freedom only applies to businesses, not individuals.
For Republicans, it's businesses that ought to be free of barriers to freely pursue commerce, but citizens must be burdened with barriers to freely exercising their rights, like the right to vote. Businesses must be trusted to act in any way they wish, but women cannot be trusted to make even their own health-care decisions. Businesses ought to freely cross global borders to enjoy the global free market, but the tired, poor and hungry who yearn to be free ... they're not free to cross our borders. Business must be free to make contractual agreements, but individuals are not free to contract in marriage to whomever they may love.
[T]he conservative idea of 'freedom' is a very peculiar one, which excludes virtually every kind of liberty that ordinary Americans take for granted....
Since World War II, mainstream conservatives have opposed every expansion of personal liberty in the United States.
In the cases of freedom from racial discrimination and freedom from sexual repression, American conservatives have been solidly on the side of government repression of the powerless and unprivileged. The same is true with respect to workers' rights, debtors' rights and criminal rights.
To listen to their Jacksonian rhetoric, American conservatives are the champions of the little guy against the 'elites.' But not, it appears, in the workplace or the bank. The American right is opposed to anything -- minimum-wage laws, unions, workplace regulations -- that would increase the bargaining power of workers relative to their bosses.
Agree? Disagree? Can we find an acceptable middle? If we don't, the already barely tolerable polarization we're dealing with will become an irreversible and insurmountable challenge to moving our nation forward.
That will not be a good place to be for any of us. We would be wise to invest a bit of time in appreciating that fact now. Later will be too late, and too costly.
Our future needs to matter more than appearances suggest. If we continue to raise roadblocks to our collective well-being, we'll be left with an unfortunate and preventable set of challenges and divisions with few options available.
Let's not go there.
Adapted from a blog post of mine
[*] Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, by George Lakoff [p. 51] - Macmillan, Oct 3, 2006