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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/3/19

The Road Less Traveled: The Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

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The Road Less Traveled
The Road Less Traveled
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In Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken," the traveler comes to a fork in the road and muses about which way to go. Although the poem is open to interpretation and not about politics per se, I think it can be used as a striking metaphor for why some individuals choose the conservative road in life that extols the virtues of the status quo and tradition, and why some go down the liberal road and opt for change and progressivism.

It's been my experience that most people tend to take the conservative road. For example, almost all Republicans go down this road. So do conservative and centrist Democrats and independents. In fact, the only individuals who go down the liberal road are left-wing Democrats, artists, and radicals.

Numerically, then, the travelers on the conservative road far outnumber the ones on the liberal one. Why is that? After decades of evaluating human nature and politics, I think it boils down to one thing: security.

Life is often daunting and filled with chaos and uncertainty. Many people come from dysfunctional childhoods. As they grow up and advance through life, they encounter social and relationship difficulties, medical problems, and financial hardships.

In short, they become insecure. So the last thing they want is to vote for a political candidate who offers to take them down the road less traveled.

I remember when I was working at my first journalism job in Philadelphia in 1972, I thought it was self-evident who the better candidate was in the race for president between the Democrat George McGovern and the Republican Richard Nixon.

McGovern was a legitimate war hero, a humanitarian, and an intelligent and principled man. Nixon was, well, Nixon. But what Nixon lacked in heroism and ethics, he made up for in shrewdness and political acumen.

So while McGovern offered Americans an end to the Vietnam War, Nixon offered the country law and order and security. We all know the results. Nixon won in a landslide. That was my first big political lesson: the best man does not always win.

So are most Americans doomed to always choose the political candidate who offers them the most security? Is there any way for them to rise above their fears and insecurities?

In one of Carlos Castaneda's booksI can't remember which onethe Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan tells Castaneda, his young disciple, that in order to fulfill his apprenticeship, he must go into the jungle and spend the night without any shelter or weapons.

At first Castaneda demurs, saying it is too dangerous, that he'll be killed by wild animals. But eventually he accepts the challenge and spends the night in the jungle. When he awakens the next morning in one piece, he sees a large bug crawl beside his face.

The bug has also spent the night in the jungle unscathed. At this point, Castaneda realizes they are both equal; they are both being "hunted by death" and must accept their fate. In other words, the individual must give up control of his self to the universe. Amor fati, as Nietzsche called it, the love of fate.

In the film The Matrix, when Morpheus asks Neo to choose between the blue pill (security) or the red pill (truth), he chooses the red pill. This is the choice all of us at one point in our lives have to make. Do we do what we're supposed to do and follow the path of conformity, or do we break free and "follow our bliss"? as Joseph Campbell advises.

But what causes one person to eschew security and choose the road less traveled, and the other to give in to his or her fears and go down the path of the well-trodden? One can only speculate. It's not always about genetics or behavioral conditioning. Sometimes, for example, two siblings who have the same parents and grow up in the same environment become two different individualsone a liberal artist, the other a conservative businessman.

The problem is, even in the Democratic Party, the security-based voters outnumber the free spirits. This could not be more apparent in the current primary. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are offering the Democratic voters something new, a chance to change the system and make it fairer and more egalitarian, a chance to walk down the road less traveled, whereas "Uncle" Joe Biden is offering them more of the same by incrementally tweaking the current system.

Who will prevail? As of this writing, the wild card is Pete Buttigieg. He offers voters a little of each. Also, as of this writing, the Republicans are sticking with Donald Trump for their presidential candidate, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that he committed impeachable offenses.

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John F. Miglio is the former editor of the Online Review of Books & Current Affairs and author of Sunshine Assassins, a dystopian political thriller.

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9 people are discussing this page, with 12 comments  Post Comment


David Weaver

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Not a bad article but it's terrible he left out Tulsi as a great candidate, along with Bernie and Elizabeth. Mayor Pete is a Neolib Trojan horse!

Submitted on Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019 at 9:42:26 PM

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John Jonik

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Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 at 5:03:35 AM

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TruthWillPrevail20

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Trump wages peace with North Korea, Syria, Russia and others. He proposes long overdue troop withdraws and still the so called progressives can't support his actions. They hate Trump more than they love America.

Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 at 7:11:38 PM

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Tim Crusader

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It was the so-called "conservatives" who rah-rahed us into Iraq, killed a million children, women and men, and threw $6+ trillion of our tax dollars down the toilet.

And the Republican elite hates Trump's "peace waging", but that's more than offset by his tax and regulation cuts for corporations and the rich, and his enormous increase in military spending -- setting up the next profitable war.

Submitted on Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 at 8:33:54 AM

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TruthWillPrevail20

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You are absolutely correct that "It was the so-called "conservatives" who rah-rahed us into Iraq, killed a million children, women and men, and threw $6+ trillion of our tax dollars down the toilet." It was my outrage at this (back when I considered myself a liberal DEM) that eventually work me up to the more hard to see realities facing We the People. I found out that it wasn't the republicans as much as it was the political/MSM establishment (R and D) that leads us to these immoral and illegal wars. And that that establishment was also covering up the mountain of disturbing facts related to the 9/11 Hoax. Trump is not part of that political establishment, which is why the MSM hysterical tries to convince the liberal lemmings that OrangeManBad. Justice is coming for the establishment traitors. It can't come soon enough for me.

Submitted on Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 at 4:16:49 PM

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molly cruz

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Trump threatened North Korea with a holocaust, hardly peaceful, and called Kim insulting names. He has bombed the Middle East with "the mother of all bombs" for no particular reason and great expense. In Syria, he abandoned allies, the Kurds, and allowed them to be slaughted by the Turks. He has sidled up and complimented the sleaziest rulers on the planet, and ignored our European allies, pulled out of a nearly universal ecological effort to save the planet, calls the global warming factor a "hoax"; and tried to get China, Russia and Ukraine to help him get elected so he could create more chaos. What you see in him is beyond reason. I'm sure whoever's paying you is grateful.

Submitted on Monday, Dec 9, 2019 at 5:52:28 PM

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Maxwell

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Interesting analysis, but it conflates the true meaning of "liberal" and "conservative" with what they've come to mean in modern US politics. Nobody can credibly accuse the Trump voter of wanting the status quo. If they did, they would have gone for Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. It's just that with Trump, as NYT columnist Gail Collins observed, it's "the kind of change you get when you decide to drive a bulldozer through your kitchen to pick up the garbage".

Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 at 7:56:57 PM

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Maxwell

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p.s. When I first read the headline I honestly though it was an argument for Ayn Rand's character Howard Roark's rugged individualism as opposed to the masses' willingness to give up liberty and go with the flow--but read the article anyway.

Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 at 8:16:51 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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I agree with your basic premise, but I hardly think Bernie and Liz are great examples of progressive principles. Domestically they're slightly better than the standard neoliberal Democrat. On foreign policy which most Democrats seem to have decided to be more hawkish on than Trump, they leave much to be desired.

Liz is all in on the coup in Bolivia and the attempted coup and deadly sanctions in Venezuela. That's just for starters.

Bernie has condemned the coup in Bolivia, but called Maduro a vicious tyrant and Chavez a dead communist dictator.

As an antiwar progressive, I could never support either of these candidates. How low are we willing to set the bar before we draw an ethical line we refuse to cross?

Submitted on Wednesday, Dec 4, 2019 at 8:43:52 PM

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Thought provoking article. Thanks.

Submitted on Thursday, Dec 5, 2019 at 4:14:19 AM

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In considering what might motivate a conservative viewpoint, it's wise to watch for bias in your criteria. A sense of security is undoubtedly a motivator, but is it really possible that a progressive is willing to eschew security? Or is it likely that a self-identifying progressive finds security in feeling a member of a particular tribe? And is it possible that conservative views include a desire to conserve social cohesion (which progressives may also share) and a functional society not continuously roiled by shouted calls for upheaval? And don't forget conservation of nature, which those calling for solar and wind "farms" tend to ignore.

Canada has Progressive Conservative political parties in most provinces. That's not the oxymoron some might think. Conservative principles don't have much to do with Trump or his ilk (if there really is anyone else truly like Trump).

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 8, 2019 at 5:50:48 AM

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molly cruz

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Not only was "tricky Dick", who ended up impeached for all practical purposes, just another liar; but there is a point this article fails to note: The Conservatives, with their security, vote for policies that inflict insecurity on millions, and keep the world jumping with aggression. The pious posturing about election interference is absurd, as the US wrote the book. In Chile and Iran, we assassinated duly elected presidents and planted our own in their place. So like the man said: "Get used to it."

But my point is other. The differences are indicated here between the two sides: the brave progressives and the cowardly conservatives; and what I find counter intuitive,is that each wishes its opposite on the populace they pretend to represent.

"Sink or swim!" say the Creationists to their less fortunate citizens. and that, ironically, is called "Social Darwinism", "Give them security, education, healthcare, job training, say the crazy progressives, each with his own tale of adventure, but disinclined to impose their own personal challenges that lack of support would suggest, on the general populace. Doesn't anyone find that interesting?

Submitted on Monday, Dec 9, 2019 at 5:42:50 PM

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