A friend of mine, a dear and good friend, made the following statement: “Obama is stupid.” I found the statement stunning. President Obama is a graduate of Harvard Law School, was editor of the Harvard Law Review, and was widely lauded for his performance as a professor of constitutional law at a prestigious law school. Whatever one may think of his performance as president, “stupid” is a most unlikely adjective to describe him.
So why would my dear friend, a good and generous and hard-working man, call this President “stupid”? The answer is simple: prejudice. Not prejudice based on race. That is far too easy an explanation. It is rather that my friend, an otherwise quite rational and observant person, has been thoroughly and expertly brainwashed by political propaganda structured to ignore reason and promote decisions based on anything other than reason. Why would someone spend a king’s ransom on such propaganda? Clearly because reasoned political discourse would not serve the user’s purpose, and because, if that purpose were clearly stated, people like my friend would reject it out of hand.
When a significant percentage of the population can be made to believe things that are patently untrue, whether that untruth favors the left or the right in the American political debate, the entire political arena is damaged. What we need more than anything is honest debate, and that requires two things. First, we need to know what we are seeking, and, second, we need to know, and genuinely respect, the views of those who oppose our own.
What are we seeking? If we are Americans, we seek to protect and promote the American ideal that all humans are created equal and that every human being is endowed by her or his creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We are, in other words, committed to responsibility for others. If our ultimate goal is our own private interests, then we stand against the American ideal.
Opposing views, in such a debate, are not about ideals. They are rather about the best means of achieving our common ideals. To choose those means we deem best, we must know the alternatives. So, if you are what people call a liberal, then you cannot make a reasoned decision about even your own positions, without understanding and respecting the views of those whom people call conservative.
So what is a conservative? In general, a conservative is one who believes that the American ideal is best achieved by limiting the role of government in the pursuit of those ideals. To put that more positively, government plays a role only when it is clear that there is a community need that can best be served by having government involved. So, for instance, we have a need as a nation for a military force to protect the nation’s interests. A rational conservative would say that the entire nation should pay for a military capable of protecting us against any likely attack. In the present world, that seems to be primarily a vigorous intelligence agency and a military equipped to attack imbedded terrorist groups.
A conservative generally concludes from experience that government expenditure on social welfare programs can, and often does, actually hinder the beneficiaries from improving their circumstances, and that, if anything, government should install programs encouraging people to be more active in improving their own circumstances. So, for instance, welfare programs for the poor should be geared toward rewarding the recipient for working and discouraging those who would merely take advantage of such benefits without making any efforts at self-improvement.
How do we judge these various positions? Simply by installing them and seeing if they work. If private charities and private schools work better in raising the education levels of all children, then that is what we should promote. If the private health care industry is controlling the cost of care and providing an adequate measure of health care for all, then that is what we should promote. If private industry is best equipped to improve the environment, then that is what we should promote.
The bottom line is that the true political debate is not about personalities. It is about issues. Trump’s hair and Fiorina’s face and Rubio’s ability to drink water in public are all irrelevant. It is only when all, liberal and conservative alike, address the issues and offer rational solutions that this country will make good choices and achieve good solutions. Absent that, we do nothing but wield weapons that will end up destroying us.