Sometimes clarity can come through oversimplification. I will attempt to explain why conservatives and progressives do not agree and why they need to learn to respect one another.
Conservatives are people who yearn for an overly idealized past.
Progressives are people who yearn for an overly idealized future.
Realize that, of course, anything said about a large group of people doesn’t necessarily apply to any individual. Plus, I freely admit this is an oversimplification, so please don’t get your knickers in a twist.
Conservatives obviously have something they want to conserve. They want things to continue to be they way they were in the past. Many harken back to the way things were in the 1950’s and 1960’s, for example. Well, an incredible amount of picking and choosing has to go on for this to work. Would we want to go back to a time when women were refused jobs because they would be taking a job away from a man? (For those of you under 50, this was a standard practice in this time period.) Would we want to go back to racial segregation? Would we want to go back to black and white TV?
Progressives, on the other hand, are always saying “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if . . . ?” Change, sometimes radical change, is the topic of the day. The problem is that change is just that, making things different. Making things better rather than worse is always the goal, but not necessarily the outcome. Progressives want progress, want things to be better, but sometimes we settle for things being just different.
These differences create a great deal of the tension between conservatives and progressives. One group looks forward to a new, and different, future. One group looks forward to a future much the same as is the past.
Here is the second oversimplification:
Conservatives are people who prize group cohesion most highly.
Progressives are people who prize individual rights most highly.
For conservatives security comes with predictability. Since we adopted living in larger societies, family ties are insufficient to be able to control the future, so other institutions are needed, preferably ones with some authority to wield. (Conservatives, though, are very “pro-family,” whatever that means.) Conservatives are pro-business. While many conservatives extol the virtues of unfettered free market capitalism, when in political power, they provide legislative and tax breaks as well as outright subsidies for business interests. Conservatives are pro-religion. Conservatives’ interests in religion is not from a real family values or morality perspective (conservatives have moral and familial lapses as much as do progressives) but for the stabilizing influences that churches exert. Churches have rules and techniques to ensure people follow them. Conservatives are pro-military, being especially enamored of generals, people who wield authority for the military. Conservatives are anti-abortion primarily on religious grounds even though they take the stand that government should be “small” and not intrude upon the rights of individuals or businesses.
Progressives are pro-labor and hence are assumed to be anti-business. (Being “pro-labor” is the definition of being anti-business in the conservative dictionary.) Actually, progressives are fine with business as long as it is well-regulated and pays its share of taxes. Being pro-working people is basically focused on being fair to the people actually creating the wealth of which others are reaping the lion’s share. Progressives are somewhat ambivalent about religion, because the hierarchical structure of most religions ends up creating a power hungry class of the “religious” who wish to intrude on people’s individual freedoms, e.g. various religious leaders trying to influence politics or, in the case of a number of Popes, actually dominating politics and the lives of citizens (who weren’t free to choose a religion or not choose a religion). Progressives are all in favor of faith and spirituality as long as it is in the form of something freely chosen (or not) by individuals. Progressives are not pro-military, they are pro-soldier. They generally support the troops, but not the war. Those who spat upon soldiers returning from Viet Nam (if that actually occurred), were not progressives. Progressives are generally pro-abortion because this “choice” is a right of individuals and government and the church shouldn’t be interfering.
While these are admittedly oversimplified arguments, they expose enough of the core differences between conservatives and progressives to explain a lot of the antagonism between the two. But it is very, very important that each group view the other with understanding and with some respect, too, because both represent real streams of people flowing through American politics and, more importantly, both groups are needed. In fact, a near balance is needed between the influences of the two.
I know, I know, right-wing commenters are using language that makes it sound like a war for our very existences is going on. (The current administration is a “regime,” the President is not an American, the President is a Nazi, a socialist, they are coming for your guns, etc.) So, don’t listen to them; they couldn’t be more wrong. The current President is very close to President Eisenhower in his actions, he is a slightly center-left pragmatist, where Eisenhower was a center-right pragmatist. The “commenters” have worn out and disparaged the term liberal, so they leaped over that term and embraced “socialist” to describe President Obama as a way to push him even more toward the right. If President Obama were a socialist, he would have nationalized all of the health insurance companies and run them as a government service, instead he handed them major new profits. Some socialist!)
Here’s why we need to ignore the crazy commenters and learn to respect one another.
If conservatives ruled permanently, we would suffer the excesses all too familiar from the recent Bush administration. Government would be in bed with business and unrestricted greed would lead to environmental degradation (BP insisted on regulating its own business and the Bush administration said ” . . . , uh, sure!), financial shenanigans (You know, Wall Street collapses, etc.).
If progressives ruled permanently, we would suffer the excesses of impractical social legislation and business stagnation; we could lose sight of some of the core values of our society.
Down one road is stasis, down the other is willy-nilly change. One road is “preserve the past, preserve the past” and the other is “create the future, create the future.”
What is needed is a balance between these two sensibilities.
And I am a progressive!
(Unfortunately, right now the progressives have an effective spokesperson, and the conservatives have clowns like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity drowning out sensible people like David Brooks. We need to send the clowns to the bench and push the sensible people to the fore.)