As I enter into a phase of my life in which I’m becoming aware that I’m actually older than some people, I’m starting to reflect on some things I never really thought of when I was a young man. One of these things is the phenomenon and, in my opinion, the somewhat false dichotomy of liberalism vs. conservatism.
I use the term “false dichotomy” because I’m perceiving an increase in polarizations among political views to the point that all liberals are being likened to fringe left-wing extremists, while all conservatives are being likened to fringe right-wing radicals. I’m finding that the argument for left or right is being incorrectly oversimplified down to Pelosi vs. the Tea Party.
Further, I feel as though I can read an online article about something as intrinsically benign as, say, kittens, and scroll down to a comment thread filled with liberal- and/or conservative-minded individuals attacking one another by means of hateful and generalized one-liners about abortion, capital punishment or the poor.
TELEVISION IS NO different, either. I can’t think of a single news channel (be it CNN, MSNBC, Fox News or any others) that’s actually in the news business. They are all in the entertainment business, pitting left and right against one another to get people’s emotions invested in the current program being aired (along with its commercials). When was the last time you watched a national cable news channel and actually saw meaningful discourse during which either side agreed that the other side at least had a good point?
I get it: ratings – nature of the beast. It doesn’t mean, however, that we’re all either right or wrong in our “leftist” or “rightist” views. I just refuse to believe it’s that simple.
Moreover, when did “liberal” become synonymous with “Democrat” and “conservative” become synonymous with “Republican”? I know plenty of people who are quite conservative in many ways but also happen to think that we, during the George W. Bush era, spent entirely too much money in the Middle East. Conversely, I know plenty of people who are quite liberal in many ways but also happen to think that Obamacare is nothing more than a trillion-dollar Band-Aid that does very little to actually address why people get sick or unhealthy in the first place.
PEOPLE CAN BE fiscally conservative and socially liberal, and vice-versa. It doesn’t mean they’re inconsistent, either. To me, it may mean they are quite thoughtful and reflective, and have arrived at their views and convictions by means of their own internal logic and volition (not unlike adapting a faith).
I understand the benefits of a two-party system, as did many of the Whigs and Tories after the American Revolution (which is about the earliest back we can trace such a system). I do not understand, however, how rhetoric concerning our system in particular has digressed to a dualistic muddle of cathartic hate toward the “other side.” Why do the fringes have to try to hijack their respective parties?
The next time I disagree with someone, I’m going to try my best not to enter into the conversation with my emotional buttons already pushed. I’m going to try to listen to the other side with reason and the ability (and room) to learn. Perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle, and I hope and pray that we and our elected officials remain cognizant of that possibility.
(The writer operates a downtown Augusta optometry practice.)