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.













I do philosophy. By philosophy, I mean thinking about the meaningfulness of the relationship of the things in this world. It is a very important thing to do, and we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. We all think about what it is that makes our lives meaningful. We all want to make the world a better place, and we all want to do the right thing. Granted we all have to provide for ourselves and our families, and we all want to enjoy our lives. Yet we are all very serious about wanting our lives to mean something. We pray. We read about various civic and political events. We consider politics, and we vote. In all of that, we are doing philosophy. We are thinking about the meaningfulness of our relation to the people and things of our world.

Lately, however, I have discerned a certain avoidance of, and even hostility to, that kind of thinking. Instead of honest discourse and give-and-take discussion, our conversations on the issues of the day have become shouting matches, or, likely much worse, complete silence. For instance, I was talking to a neighbor of mine who had made it clear that his view of things was decidedly right-wing. Another, like-minded neighbor, came along, and the first man said to the second, “Don’t talk politics with him. He is a liberal.” I probably laughed at the comment, but I cringe now thinking about it. That is, in fact, the case. We simply do not discuss the issues of the day with those we meet. We take our positions, however we arrive at them, and then we build walls around them to prevent any challenge.

This disease of the avoidance of thought seems to have become standard practice among our politicians. Recently, presumed presidential candidate Scott Walker took a trip to Israel. We have no information about that trip other than that he was there for a few days and apparently got a guided tour of Jerusalem. He returned from that trip and announced that, apparently as the result of his guided tour, he had developed an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He was actually questioned about the problem, and he actually spoke about the problem, and someone actually wrote down what he was saying and published it in a newspaper. Where he got these opinions, I have no idea. However, I have been to Israel, and I have talked with many people at length about the problems facing Israel and the Palestinians. I think I am beginning to understand that complex and centuries-old struggle. The only one thing I am absolutely sure of is that a tour of Jerusalem is not sufficient to qualify me as an expert on the subject.

That, however, seems to be the state of things today. If you are a public official, you do not think about the subject at hand. In fact, you avoid thinking at all costs. Instead, you check with your party boss or your campaign director. You identify the party message. Then you sing that message at the top of your voice, and, if you speak at all about opposing views, you ridicule.

We are in trouble, big trouble. Our physical and political infrastructure is crumbling, and we are creating ever widening gaps in the various sectors of our country. Bigotry — racial, religious, political, financial — is becoming the order of the day. I put it all to a refusal to think, to a ban on thinking, to the mindless building of barricades against any sector of the country opposed to our own. We need to think. Most of all, we need to listen, really listen, and try to understand opposing views. If we do not think, if we do not listen, we will face the alternative. The opposite of thinking is not ignorance. The opposite of thinking is violence. We all deserve better than that.