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The Liberals and the Republicans
After the 2012 election, and Barack Obama's victory, I can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Not only do I no longer have to deal with all of those endless, annoying political adds and signs, but I no longer have to fear for the direction of the country under Mitt Romney. I can now be assured that the Affordable Care Act will go into effect, and I can hope that President Obama and House Speaker Boehner can make a deal on the fiscal deficit. I now have to hope that the future is brighter than what the last four years implied. But I am a worry-wort of the highest order, and I have now found something else to fret over; liberalism.
I think it will be instructive to first explain my relationship both to Liberalism and Conservatism. I am a liberal because liberal values are the closest to mine. I have been taught that community, teamwork, generosity and fairness to all are every bit as important as individualism, hard work, and gritty determination. If used properly, the first set of values can compliment the second set. I contend, based on my knowledge of Classical Liberalism, that the values in the first set are the more liberal of the two. Lets take Franklyn Roosevelt's New Deal as an example: Although the New Deal was created and passed at the Federal level, its greatest effects and implementation were at the local level. Federal programs like the CCC put millions of Americans to work, but only because of local chapters. In the Depression, and World War II afterwards, the United States showed a massive display of national teamwork, defeating Fascism and then forging the greatest economy the world has ever known. Fairness was a struggle that we all still face, but Americans, by and large, are of a generous disposition, which is reason for hope.
However, I am, at best, a reluctant liberal. Some of the things my fellow liberals say and do annoy me. For one thing, many liberals seem to think of conservative ideas and values as complete anathema to their own, which is not entirely true. I have not studied conservatism as closely as I have liberalism, but my overall impression is that their values reside somewhere in the second set (ie. individualism, hard work, and gritty determination). I know a lot of liberals, none of whom have anything wrong with those particular values. There is one fact that many liberals do not know (or at least choose to ignore) about conservatism. Tea Party Republicans, Rush Limbaugh and FOX News might have gone ballistic over the Affordable Care Act, but that doesn't mean that is was a liberal idea. In fact, the original idea for Mitt Romney's, and later, Barack Obama's, Health Care Law, came from the Heartland Institute. Few liberals, when the law was going through, were entirely happy with it, but they mostly went along with Obama. Nowadays, I can find only a handful of liberals who remember the laws conservative origins.
But look at how easy the Right made it for the Left to forget this! Suddenly, after the bill was passed, the Tea Party wave swept through the country, knocking the Democrats from the House, weakening their hold on the Senate, and terrifying establishment Republicans, who were supposed to have been braver than the spineless liberals. The Affordable Care Act was suddenly called Socialist, Obama was compared to Hitler and Stalin by the likes of Limbaugh, and Allan West famously called the whole of the Progressive Caucus in Congress "Communists." Upholding Health Insurance Reform became essential for Democrats, as did reelecting the President. Those things happened, but that does not make Health Care Reform a liberal policy.
Which leads me to my relationship with conservatism. The Presidency of George W. Bush convinced me of my liberalism, and the rise of the Tea Party solidified it. And this is why; both advocated policies I disagreed with. Bush had few major Legislative achievements to add to his name, other than the tax cuts. The Tea Party sent Republicans into state legislatures all across the country and tried to put conservative policies into effect. Tea Party Republicans in Congress vowed never to compromise with President Obama and the Democrats, and the result was that the nation nearly went bankrupt. Scott Walker tried to crush the Unions in his state, and probably helped Obama win a state otherwise winnable by Republicans. Abortion, gay marriage and rape became hot button "issues" and Tea Party Candidates began falling like flies on election day.
Why? Because the Right overreached. They felt they had been given a mandate to undue whatever it was they feared Obama had done (taking their country back, you see...). They had two goals; to defeat Obama, and to implement conservative policies. They rode into power promising jobs, and instead focused on opposition and on social policy, at a time when Americans cared more about jobs than gridlock or gay marriage.
I had hoped that Republicans would ignore the extremes within their party and work with President Obama, because I do not want conservative ideology to be an enemy to oppose. Instead, I believe that liberals and conservatives should work together, implement policy together. They should exist to contain one another, to make sure that neither side overreaches. Republicans overreached in the last four years, and look at what happened.
As I see it, Republicans have a hope. They've got people like Jon Huntsman, who understands the value in compromise. If Republicans are smart, they will welcome people like Huntsman, Colin Powell and Robert Gates back into the fold. They will hound out the extremists within their party, who can only cause them more misery. They can reach out to minorities, who are soon to be the majority. They will reapply true conservative values, and reject conservative fantasy, like Grover Norquist's "No Tax" pledge.
If liberals are smart, they will get out more. We must speak to many of the people who might commonly vote Republican, and understand why they do so. Many liberals complain that the working class people who vote for Republicans vote against policies that would help them. We must reach out to these people, and find out why that is. Our message must focus on how our policies could help all Americans, and not on how half of Americans are ignorant morons who vote against their saviors. Liberals must leave the moral high ground, and communicate with real people living real lives. Only then can we convince people that liberal policies can help them. Liberals must work with conservatives when it is necessary, which will hopefully be on a consistent basis . And most importantly, liberals must not overreach.
That is why I worry about liberalism. I fear that we liberals may not be up to the challenge.
- James Madison Was Right About Factions
James Madison spoke of factions when he wrote Articles 9 and 10 in "The Federalist Papers". What he wrote still holds true today.