When liberals and conservatives debate in the media, you always hear a lot of tremulous self-justification. When a rightie makes a legitimate criticism of Barack Obama, or a leftie of George W. Bush, the tendency of the other side is to scramble, equivocate, change the subject, or just close their eyes and go “la-la-la-la-la,” often even in the face of the most obvious truths. The reason is simple enough. Each side thinks their champion is a well-intentioned man of honor, whatever his mistakes, while the other guy is simply Evil Incarnate.
Unfortunately, these tendencies tend to trickle down to the ordinary citizenry as well (the one place where the Reaganomic theory holds true), but an even greater truth is that many conservatives feel that Sean Hannity goes over the line, while many liberals don’t feel particularly represented by Michael Moore. And when lefties and righties meet in ordinary conversation, the results are often surprising, as in nobody’s pulse rises above 90. True, it’s amazing how much civility increases when you can’t hide behind an anonymous Internet handle, but it also reveals that many of us know, deep down, that there is some justice to the other side’s position. But because public discourse is so poisonous and divisive, we’re less inclined to admit it. Why take the high road when nobody else does?
So in the spirit of the holidays, here’s a list of five things where liberals and conservatives actually share common ground, despite the alternative America routinely peddled by Fox News and MSNBC.
1. The War on Christmas: This one resurges every year, under the American credo, “Never let a silly argument die.” The most visible battle front this year was a holiday parade in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where parade organizers decided to change the parade and main banner title from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays.” Conservative Rep. Jim Inhofe loudly boycotted the parade, and the “issue” made it all the way up to Gretchen Carlson on “Fox and Friends.” That holding and filing behind the offensive banner was a sizable group of Santa Clauses didn’t deter either Inhofe or Carlson from the belief that it was all a politically correct pagan-liberal conspiracy.
As usual, it seldom occurred to anyone that the use of “Happy Holidays” by companies and public-event organizers is one of simple pragmatism. The more inclusive you are, the more people you attract. But won’t Christians be offended by the innocuousness, the colorless androgyny of the title? No. Because normal people don’t see the words “Happy Holidays” as a pernicious attack on traditional “values.” If you’re really interested in what an assault on traditional values looks like, go to Wikipedia and look up The Trail of Tears.
Nobody benefits from this bogus controversy except media pundits who procure higher ratings by riling everyone up. Yes, there is the occasional loon who can’t stand to see the Ten Commandments on the courthouse or a Christian cross on a military cemetery, but these don’t represent mainstream liberalism any more than the Westboro Baptist Church represents mainstream conservatism.
The shocking truth is that liberals celebrate Christmas in much the same way that conservatives do. We exchange gifts, hang up lights, celebrate family, eat and drink copiously, and go to ugly-sweater parties. Many of us, for “tradition’s” sake even though our beliefs may have changed, even sit down for a family reading that starts out like this, “And it came to pass in those days, that their went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…”
2. Iraq: We’ll never agree on why it started. And when and if Iraq officially emerges as a fully functioning democracy or representative republic, we probably won’t agree on who deserves the credit. But since what’s done can’t be undone, in retrospect we should have done a better job of acknowledging that a free and stable Iraq was what we all wanted in the end, even if we differed as to how to achieve it.
Personally, I never agreed with the withdrawal option, even though I thought the war was a mistake. And even if the future Iraq surpasses our wildest hopes and dreams, I’ll never be okay with the deceits, manipulations and ineptitude that characterized much of the war’s conduct. But contrary to what Ann Coulter thinks, I never had any wish to see Iraq in chaos, thus fomenting terrorist recruitment and endangering my own family, just so I could barge into George W. Bush’s office and shout, “nah-nah a boo-boo!”
3. Iran: Ordinary Americans and ordinary Iranians can agree on a few things, namely that few of us care for their leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many ordinary Iranians decry his corrupt, incompetent, autocratic style of rule. Ordinary Americans dislike his hairdo.
Ordinary Iranians might also appreciate a little more acknowledgment that their predicament is partially our fault. It’s a pretty straight line from the CIA-sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1951 to the hard-line Islamic Revolution of 1979, which implanted an Ayatollah position that remains to this day.
For a lot of years now, the reform movement there has been locked in a “two-steps-forward-three-steps-back” rhythm. Relaxed strictures on fashion and pop music is okay for a while, but once it evolves into actual criticism of the regime, that’s when the mullahs bring the hammer down. It came to a ugly and tragic head last year following Ahmadinejad’s election victory, which many saw as only slightly less fraudulent than Saddam Hussein’s “one hundred percent of the vote” in 2002.
Ahmadinejad’s virulent anti-Semitism coupled with a burgeoning nuclear program has alarmed many, and opinions differ on what to do about it. Dick Cheney (big surprise) advocated overt force. Others are pushing for more diplomatic solutions, which can mean everything from writing a nice letter to covertly supplying funds and materials for a coup.
Wherever our government’s policies take us, we can all agree that we support the reformers. The reasons might be different. Liberals will want to install a Hustler store over there, conservatives a BP. But the ideals that ordinary Iranians are potentially risking their lives for every day are quite familiar to each and every one of us.
4. Abortion: Recently, I got a comment from someone code-named SamL. In response to one of my posts about Sarah Palin, specifically a passage that questioned why a wealthy, professional (technically) woman would haul a toddler all across the country when most would find some form of daycare, and wondered whether the omnipresence of cameras had anything to do with the practice, SamL had this to say: “To the liberal mind, the mere fact that Sarah might actually love this child is incomprehensible. In the liberal viewpoint, the child should just have been aborted.”
Wow, SamL. You’re absolutely right. The fact that I hug and kiss my own children, ages 8 and 9, every day, clearly shows that I can’t possibly comprehend a parent’s love for his or her child. I should’ve known that I really just wanted to abort them all along. Thanks for straightening me out.
The idea that liberals view abortion as an enjoyable pastime akin to Bejeweled Blitz suggests a fog of idiocy that I don’t think I can begin to penetrate. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, and every time I do, I have the same reaction an American journalist once had to a Middle Eastern interviewee when he suggested the U.S. government deliberately brought down the Towers to justify a global war on Islam: “Just what the hell kind of people do you think we are?”
Outside of reminding SamL that pro-choice philosophy means just that, choice, as in individual choice, meaning it doesn’t advocate for any category of fetuses to be unilaterally terminated, I’m not going to rehash the abortion debate. It’s more complicated than either liberals or conservatives like to admit (if it wasn’t, it would’ve been resolved long ago), and I doubt I have anything new to say on the subject (well, maybe a few things, such as how much better off the world would’ve been if Hitler’s mother had access to a Planned Parenthood).
But for SamL and those who think like him or her, suffice it to say this: Since you can see us liberals quite clearly (the lighting on this planet is still pretty good, I think), we’re not sure where you got the idea that we are reptiles. We are human beings, like you. We give birth to and love our children, just like you. When a woman has an abortion, we view it as unfortunate, like you. We recognize that it’s a decision not to be taken lightly, that it’s an emotionally painful process for the mother, and nobody feels very good about it when it’s over. Just like you.
The First Amendment: Finally, whenever someone questions my patriotism, my standard reply is, “I love America, I just can’t stand the people in it.” It’s a sentiment that largely goes back to the use and abuse of The First Amendment, the most nationally venerated and personally appropriated clause in our Constitution.
I don’t normally look to Hollywood for wisdom, but there’s a few (paraphrased) lines from the Aaron Sorkin-penned 1995 film “The American President” that sums it up pretty well: “America isn’t easy. You have to want it bad. If you want to live in the land of the free, let’s see you defend a man who’s shouting at the top of his voice words that make your blood boil.”
Sadly, many Americans fail this test to some degree or another. You see it at protest rallies, where people routinely tear down each other’s signs. I, too, have been assaulted by unbidden but hardly, I have to admit, unwelcome visions of my fist going through Glenn Beck’s face.
It’s no secret we take this great American experiment for granted. Very few of the numerous revolutions that occurred in the 20th century achieved what we did in the 1780s, rising from a war-torn landscape and formulating a radically new form of government, one that utilized the best from ancient Greece and mother England, forging ahead despite having no idea how it would turn out (hence the provision for militias in the oft-misinterpreted Second Amendment). And not only did we eventually succeed, but we did it without the guillotine, without butchering segments of our own population, all despite the direst predictions of naysayers like the British right-wing political philosopher Edmund Burke, whom American neocons are fond of quoting to this day.
There were, of course, a few kinks along the way, as the imperfections that the Founding Fathers were unable or unwilling to address at the time finally exploded. Things like slavery and the Native American genocide, which has reached its logical conclusion today in the form of American “exceptionalism,” the kind endorsed by Sarah Palin, basically the right to bomb, plunder and regime change anyone we want.
Thankfully, though, there’s another kind of American exceptionalism. The one that inspires people from all over the world to continue immigrating here for a better life. You’ll also find it in the continual desire for self-improvement manifest in the Supreme Court precedents that have gently sculpted the rule of law of this country over the last 200 years. And that’s something we can all be proud of heading into 2011.