Commentators often use words like “left wing” and “right wing” to describe the two dominant factions in American political life. People on the left (or “progressives”) often describe themselves as those who care most about maintaining a healthy environment; supporting the peaceful coexistence of people from diverse backgrounds; expecting government to help people meet their basic needs–including educational, health care, and economic needs; and preferring a large government that intervenes on behalf of the “little guy” to a smaller government that allows free rein to faceless corporations. People on the right (or “conservatives”) often describe themselves as those who care most about keeping taxation and government regulation at a minimum; maximizing each individual’s freedom to act without interference from the Nanny State; supporting a strong national military as a deterrent to war; and supporting a strong local police force as a deterrent to crime.
When commentators on the left look at politicians on the right, their criticisms might sound something like the following: “Those fat cats, who probably got rich through fraud or corruption, are only interested in themselves. Of course they support lower taxes, because they are the ones who would benefit the most! They want you and me to fund the U. S. military in order to guard the profits they receive from their international corporations. They’re rightly afraid of the little people. That’s why they support a strong police force to prevent justice from happening.”
When commentators on the right look at politicians on the left, their criticisms might sound something like the following: “Those lazy bums who never worked a day in their lives! They want to take the money from those of us who are willing to work and hand it out to those who have grown dependent on the Nanny State. They don’t understand that there are ruthless dictators out there who are jealous of our nation’s wealth and who will attack us if we don’t maintain a strong military. And if we don’t maintain a strong police presence, these left-wing bums will steal everything!”
These quotes are just caricatures, of course, and many more issues could be added in each wing’s quote. But you get the point. Both sides of the political spectrum have become so polarized that almost no one seems to be out there speaking for those of us who prefer the Spirited Reasoner approach. Turn on a political commentator on any radio station or cable channel and you are certain to hear issues filtered through the lens of one, and only one, political wing or another. Apparently, media pundits believe that those of us who prefer a more thoughtful approach are in the minority–otherwise such commentary would tend to fall more toward the political middle, right? And it would change as our lives evolve and as markets fluctuate and as new facts emerge, right?
We would understand a pundit making a strong left-wing or right-wing argument today if that same pundit were willing to adopt a view from the opposite camp tomorrow or even next week, given a newly emerging set of facts. But that’s not the way it happens. Those on left stay strongly on the left and seem to grow more strident every day, even when facts emerge that seem to favor the right. Those on the right stay strongly on the right and seem to grow equally strident, even when facts emerge that seem to favor the left.
So, how does a Spirited Reasoner view these same issues? I would argue that a more thoughtful approach to the issues in these quotes should sound something like the following: “Taxes ought not be so high that they deter honest people from working hard to strengthen our national economy, but they ought not be so low that our nation cannot afford to provide the types of services only government can offer. These services include supporting those who are unable to support themselves, because it is a good thing for us to be a generous nation (especially to each other). But we should not be stupid about it, either. We should look for ways to deter those who might take advantage of our generosity. (And because we are a good and kind nation, we can choose deterrence methods that are humane, yet still effective.) While a strong military sounds like a good way to deter the aggressive tendencies of those nations who might want to harm us, we should employ alternative foreign policies before using any method that might harm innocent civilians, especially when we can identify methods that have been proven equally effective. When war becomes absolutely necessary, we should be ready to fight to win, being mindful of the need to keep civilian casualties to an absolute minimum. And then our military should come home, unless we have strong reason to believe that the war will re-erupt upon our departure. As for our local police, we should fund them to the level necessary to protect and serve all citizens equally.”
Or something like that. In other words, we should take the good from both the left and right while jettisoning the bad wherever we can. We know that the devil can be in the details, so when any of those sentences need to be parsed to include nuanced improvements, we’re not afraid to make those changes.
Isn’t it the approach most of are expecting from our political leaders? Why, instead, do they seem to believe that we will reward them at the ballot box for their mindless partisanship and corruption?