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Is There Common Ground?

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[W]hat is irrational, mysterious, or just plain evil or corrupt to liberals is natural, straightforward, and moral to conservatives.
[F]rom the perspective of the liberal worldview, what seems contradictory or immoral or stupid to conservatives seems to liberals to be natural, rational, and, above all, moral.
[An excerpt from George Lakoff's 2002 book - Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Second Edition.]

Conservatives believe the government should not provide health care, environmental protection, and other forms of public service. That gives too much respect and power to everybody. They rationalize their lack of empathy by claiming that the poor deserve their poverty because they are responsible for their own failings. But the poor haven't necessarily failed. Perhaps they're doing well with the poor cards they were dealt. We're the lesser ones if our hearts are closed. So we have no business being judgmental.

How to reconcile these contrasting foundations from which policy does and does not arise? Until we find more common ground--through dialogue, respect, and understanding (even if switching one's beliefs is out of the question)--we're looking at an endless war of words and philosophies that accomplish little beyond entrenching more solidly each side's beliefs and values. This idealistic hope begs the question: is finding a place in the middle even possible now?

It's going to be that much harder to find ways to resolve ongoing challenges if we don't share a willingness to engage. Is that really a worthwhile objective? While each political camp arms itself with whatever provisions it needs to wage wars of words and ideologies, life is happening outside our windows. Climate change, peak oil, inequality, unemployment worries, health-care conflicts aren't stopping or even slowing down to see if the left and right can find a way to ride along.

That should be--it must be--a bigger concern for all of us much sooner than later. Letting problems of such scope and impact continue unchecked is about the stupidest thing political combatants can do, but here we are!

The right's leading lights routinely ascribe to progressives all forms of hypocrisy and evil intent as they simultaneously attribute all kinds of stereotyped motivations to liberal policy proposals. The efforts do get the followers riled up, so give them credit for that. What would happen if they first considered the genuine motivations of progressives policies rather than the ones they manufacture to keep ideological conflicts front and center? What if they actually discovered there might there be a bit more to these left-wing talking points than the fears they seem more suited to perpetuate?

It's certainly convenient to rely on broadly applied buzzwords in order to wrap up one's conclusions so neatly, but honesty and reality suggest the pro's and con's are not quite so easily divided.

Of course, the inclination to see things in pure black-and-white, cut-and-dried conclusions is a trait often associated with conservative thought and its approaches to policy and cultural debates. We on the left are too often guilty of peeling back far too many layers and devoting too much time to fine points of debate and reason, losing ourselves--and our focus--in the process.

As with most subjects dividing left from right, there exists a sizable middle always available. What will it take to get there?

What happens if we don't try?

Adapted from a blog post of mine.
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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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