My Turn: After the election: A time for understanding

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2004

Since the end of the recent elections, I've been watching my fellow American's various reactions to the outcome with interest. I, like many others, have been making an effort to understand the significance of the outcome, particularly in relation to the conservatives and the progressives ("liberals"). Instead of looking for validation or just deciding that the other side must be stupid, amoral, un-American, or just plain ignorant, I've been making an effort to grasp how each side reached their conclusions, including how I reached my own.

At first I tried to make sense out of it all by looking at specific issues. Taking the issues one at a time, however, ultimately provided me with no answers. In the course of my research into the respective positions, I encountered an author, Dr. George Lakoff, who provided a fundamental context that actually makes some sense to me. He contends that all sides are in fact consistent and thoughtful within the bounds of their own world view and moral code. The fact is that conservatives and progressives, seeking similar outcomes, operate under different moral codes. One side is not "moral," just as the other side is not "immoral."

Lakoff hypothesizes that people project their family morality into politics. To oversimplify, he says that if one believes in self-discipline, self-reliance, and the leader as the moral authority and protector who teaches and meets out punishment to the transgressors (consequences), he/she is conservative. This is how a conservative believes that the government should act to protect its citizens from a dangerous and bad world. Also, under this model, material success is an indication of "moral correctness," keeping the fruits of one's labor is one's right, taxes are inherently bad because they take away those "moral earnings," and government's role is to protect and promote a context in which businesses can flourish and individuals can succeed.

On the other hand, progressives assume that the world is basically good, can be made better, and that one should work toward that. This requires empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others. The government is seen as the provider of fairness and protection, in the form of a social safety net and regulation, the promotion of an economy that benefits all, and universal civil liberties (freedom). Openness in communication and mind function to promote and protect these values, as do our laws and military. Under this model, willingness to share the fruit of one's labor or one's time for the public good indicates "moral correctness," and taxes used to help make a better society are "morally appropriate."

It is difficult for me to argue against either position when seen in this light. I find that I am a mix of the two. I believe in fairness, but I also believe that I have a right to what I have earned. I believe in nurturing and open mindedness, but I believe offenders should be punished. I believe that the world is a good but dangerous place. I believe that there is an "undeserving, lazy poor" but it's a tiny proportion of the poor, and it's a moral imperative to give people in need a helping hand if I can. I believe in ensuring a level playing field, but that success can be achieved by self-reliance and self-discipline. I'm stuck in the middle.

As I now read the vehement letters to the editor from one side or the other, I am struck by how much better I can understand where they are coming from. The key issue for me personally, and perhaps for those of you who have not been able to swallow either the conservative or progressive rants, is that I, and many of us, have elements of both sides in our moral composition. And, more importantly, that we may have more in common than we realize. We all wish to protect the children, provide an acceptable lifestyle, live in peace, prosper, and preserve our great nation. I encourage the reader to try to understand the other side. We cannot heal the divide and reach our mutual goals until we learn to put aside our baggage and examine the issues with a clear perspective free from accusation.

• Chuck Greeson is a non-partisan Alaska voter living in Juneau, veteran of the armed forces, father of three and 12th generation American.



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