There are two things you should never discuss at dinner – politics and religion. Or maybe you should. In this day and age, we tend to speak only of religion and politics in our echo chambers. This certainly accounts for the bitter chasm between conservatives and liberals today.
The dialogue has always been a passion of mine, and I have always believed that when two well-intentioned, authentic adults sit down to talk, the world is better for it. As convicted as I am, both religiously and politically, I have a deep passion to understand people on the other side and not simply insouciantly regard them as evil.
Do conservatives and liberals want to get along? Well that might depend on how old they are. New studies suggest that younger people are less worried about issues they deem peripheral, and more concerned about the big ones: war, debt and the economy.
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Other new studies say that the stronger and more hard hitting the argument for your side, the more likely you are to lose friends and influence no one.
All of this becomes more interesting as we look at the current proposed war with Syria. We have a peacenik president fighting to go to war with the oddest of alliances. We have traditional hawks saying we can't afford another war, and that this war is not warranted. Protests of military action in Syria look like the Duggars meet the Osbornes, or more aptly, the tea party aligned with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. And in a way, they have.
Before I enjoy the juicy little vision of what these sorts of alliances must do to the white collars of the Democrat and Republican elite, I want to examine the irony a little deeper.
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Much to the chagrin of Obama, word is out that K Street got very, very rich from Obamacare. The middle class and small businesses are feeling it like a shot in the gut. Poor Americans are realizing that the economy is worse, jobs are scarce, crime is up and life is worse, not better as they were promised. They were duped, and they are beginning to see that.
Obama voters see that K Streeters (who have traditionally been allies of the Republicans, like the hospitals, the American Medical Association and Big Pharma) are sweeping up on Obamacare. It turns out, the tangled web includes many who helped author the massive bill, so it is no surprise to those who pay attention that they are reaping their massive fortunes. What is surprising is that most of those K Streeters were traditionally friends of the right, not the left aisle of politics. No longer. They have chosen a new friend in an administration that is fearless in the face of public criticism and enjoying virtual immunity with mainstream media. They are sitting pretty, at least financially. But that reality is forcing Obama voters to see that the rich they were programmed to hate are actually in cahoots with the politicians they supported!
The low-information voter might not know much, but he is starting to wake up from his comfy hibernation to a very confusing scenario.
Wall Street and big business are BFFs with Obama, but he is impotent as president, and obsessed with two things: abortion and war. The unions are turning against Obama, and turning on one another. John McCain and John Kerry are clawing to go to war, and the tea party has united with Occupy Wall Street to stop them. The Human Rights campaigners have joined forces with pro-life types who are wondering when the rights of Americans will start to matter as much as the lives of terrorists. Feminists are calling out Hillary as the misogynist who wants to be the next president, and the war on women is in the hands of leftists like Weiner, Filner and Spitzer.
Abortion clinics are closing, and guns are saving lives. Agencies are being exposed by hackers and tea partiers, and it turns out the conspiracy theorists weren't crazy after all! They really are out to get us. The IRS, NSA, SEC and the TSA have all been exposed as targeting the little guy, at the behest of the one where the buck is supposed to stop. Even the New York Times and Michael Moore are saying President Obama has "lost all credibility." Every time a new jobs report is published, the Obama family takes another expensive vacation, and the poor low-info voter is left standing on the sidelines scratching his head.
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What has the world come to? Where are the good ol' days of the Republican war on women, the crazy conspiracy conservatives and the rich, rich Republicans who were so wonderfully easy to hate? What do you do when the evil face you thought you were fighting is looking back at you in the mirror?
Maybe the world has come to something wonderful.
For the first time since Reagan, battle lines are blurring a bit. Now we don't want to exaggerate this phenomenon, because tensions run deep, and there is a lot of aggravation and garrulous tumult out there. Still, the left has been shocked to see some on the right taking such an untraditional stance on a war. The Democrat establishment has done what the pathetically ineffective Republican establishment never could: They have exposed the truth.
Their whispers have turned to a rumble.
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Those who voted this power monger into power have been doubly shocked that their chosen leader who promised no nation building continues to build nations and embolden the Caliphate war. Those who believed that they elected a messiah are shocked to learn that he is more concerned with his next luxury vacation than their jobs. How can they continue to hate rich conservatives when the only ones getting rich are the friends of those in power?
Imagining the "War on Syria" conversations between Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry and Barack Obama is better than fiction! But seeing the real-life town hall meeting of John McCain is just rich! One thing is for sure: The political elite have made themselves an enemy of the people. It has become "They the elite" vs. "We the People."
The sobering reality is that We the People are still the hoi polloi to them. We don't have K Street or Wall Street to fund our efforts. We don't control the IRS, TSA, SEC or NSA to harass our enemies. This might require a revolution, of sorts. But ah, the vindication. Can we just enjoy that for a moment? We knew we weren't crazy, but now they have to at least wonder if maybe we were on to something all along.
They were sold that we were rich and evil. If we were never the rich ones, that only leaves evil. But if we don't want to go to Syria and blow things up for the fun of it, how evil can we really be?
This is an opportunity to talk. I am not saying we should, for a moment, compromise who we are or what we believe. In fact, I hate the word compromise – that is what Boehner and McCain do. That is not going to get anyone anywhere in today's conflict. I am saying simply to engage.
I jest in my radio show that we should "find a liberal to love." I mean it, mostly. So far, though, the timing has been bad, because the odium has been too deep.
Jonathan Haidt wrote a brilliant book called "The Righteous Mind" that spells out the differences between what is morally sacred on the right and on the left. In it, he explains moral motivators that cause political polarization and enmity. He suggests that there are moments and approaches that may help us work together, at least on the big issues, like jobs and economy. I would say this is one of those moments. I spoke with Dr. Haidt, and he agrees.
Haidt contends that the sacred morality of modern liberalism is that they care. That doesn't mean conservatives don't care, and he details that also. But liberals care disproportionately to all other things they do. There are worse things than caring. They also care who cares. They perceive that conservatives don't care, at least not as much as we should, about certain oppressed groups.
Conservatives, in turn, get annoyed at being told they don't care because they do. Conservatives also get very annoyed that the liberal seems to care more than he uses his brains – and therefore reacts emotionally to what the conservative deems a problem easily solved through intellect.
He gives this example of this difference, but look for the commonalities, too:
"Markets Are Miraculous … Now let's do the devil's work and spread chaos throughout the marketplace. Suppose that one day all prices are removed from all products in the supermarket. All labels too, beyond a simple description of the contents, so you can't compare products from different companies. You just take whatever you want, as much as you want, and you bring it up to the register. The checkout clerk scans in your food insurance card and helps you fill out your itemized claim. You pay a flat fee of $10 and go home with your groceries. A month later you get a bill informing you that your food insurance company will pay the supermarket for most of the remaining cost, but you'll have to send in a check for an additional $15. It might sound like a bargain to get a cartload of food for $25, but you're really paying your grocery bill every month when you fork over $2,000 for your food insurance premium.
"Under such a system, there is little incentive for anyone to find innovative ways to reduce the cost of food or increase its quality. The supermarkets get paid by the insurers, and the insurers get their premiums from you. The cost of food insurance begins to rise as supermarkets stock only the foods that net them the highest insurance payments, not the foods that deliver value to you.
"As the cost of food insurance rises, many people can no longer afford it. Liberals (motivated by care) push for a new government program to buy food insurance for the poor and the elderly. But once the government becomes the major purchaser of food, then success in the supermarket and food insurance industries depends primarily on maximizing yield from government payouts. Before you know it, that can of peas costs the government $30, and all of us are paying 25 percent of our paychecks in taxes just to cover the cost of buying groceries for each other at hugely inflated costs."
Haidt summarizes, "[A]s long as someone else is always paying for your choices – things will get worse." He continues, "I find it ironic that liberals generally embrace Darwin and reject 'intelligent design' as the explanation for design and adaptation in the natural world, but they don't embrace Adam Smith as the explanation for design and adaptation in the economic world. They sometimes prefer the 'intelligent design' of socialist economies, which often ends in disaster from a utilitarian point of view."
Dr. Haidt says to avoid morality with liberals, because your sacred matrices are too different. Instead, he says, find what you agree on (perhaps, the attack on Syria or the arrogance of the political class in D.C.), and prove yourself compassionate and human. (They have been told you are neither.) Then you have something to build upon.
So after you have your "vindication celebration," stop and take a look at where we are in our history. Invite someone to dinner to talk about the unspeakable – politics and religion. The enemy is quickly becoming "They the Imperial." That gives "We the People" so much to confabulate. This might just be our miracle moment.