Right and Left and the People Who Moderate
October 23, 2010 2 Comments
Oh my the University of Texas was all-a-rumble in the late Seventies. Okay, not really. It was pretty ridiculously quiet compared to ten years earlier. As a freshman in 1977, I attended meetings of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. The latter group consisted of four interesting and modest people. Having read a bit of Hegel, I was, despite my whippersnapperosity, welcomed. The RCYB president confided in me once that he was troubled by Hegelian dialectic if it meant that the superior thesis couldn’t simply proceed to “synthesis” unmolested by its antithesis. No, Hegelian aufhaben, sublation, brooked no such total preservation. There could be no freedom from molestation in German philosophy.
I wasn’t anywhere near a Communist, but how fascinating for a wee teenager. In due course, I joined University Young Democrats, and, liking to write, the staff of The Daily Texan. With stints as copy editor, wire editor, and editorial assistant, I came to know and admire Beth Frerking. I actively supported her campaign for Daily Texan Editor (yes, the top position for this modestly influential daily was elected). She won and I became Assistant to the Editor, in charge of the editorial pages. I wrote 1-2 columns a week, most of which are painful to me now.
In this milieu, I met Mark McKinnon, who would himself win an election for Editor of The Daily Texan. I wasn’t initially comfortable with Mark — the guy was a Nashville songwriter and excessively cool — but he was about as disarming and charming as it’s possible to be, and he won me over. Mark went on to become a wise consultant to kings, including George W. Bush.
Around the same time, I got to know Paul Begala. I was busy advocating unsuccessfully for the abolition of student government, and Paul got himself elected president of student government. He was a decent and honorable guy. Years later, at a 1988 reunion, Paul asked me (we were urinating at the time) why I was so hostile to Jesse Jackson in the Democratic primary (we were all Democrats then), and I told him it was because I hate “Hymietown”-like double standards. It’s insulting to any person to hold them to a lesser standard of civility or racial sensitivity. My candidate then (and yes, it’s painful to me now) was the young Al Gore, who fortunately never won the presidency, but did win the vice presidency four years later. Paul went onto distinguish himself as a savvy advocate for electable Democrats, including Bill Clinton.
Now here we are, decades later, and we’re not Democrats anymore, except Paul of course. Mark is a moderate Republican, an endangered animal, and fighting most articulately for the dignity of the center. His centrist manifesto speaks volumes. I don’t agree with everything in his 12-point manifesto, just nearly everything.
We’ve reached a place in America where ideological predisposition almost always governs not merely what we believe, but how we perceive. The batty notion that power is a zero-sum game between liberals and conservatives has us instantly inclined to favor the left spin or the right spin, according to our predisposition. We think less, accept more fraudulent nonsense that goes viral, and content ourselves that our team is either winning, or losing because the other side is dishonorable.
The dialogue is critical. Any right-wing person who doesn’t know any left-wing people needs to find them, and talk. And left-wing person who doesn’t know any right-wing people needs to find them, and talk. If you’re conservative, subscribe to a left-wing magazine or blog. If you’re liberal, subscribe to right-wing magazine or blog. If your world is an ideological bubble, you are probably mistaken in your views. Not mistaken because your conclusions are per se wrong, but because the way you think about issues hasn’t been tested by any actual human beings who hold a different view.
I am a right-of-center thinker. My most exhilarating experiences have been forging bonds with left-of-center thinkers. How much we have in common! Yes, to be sure, we agree to disagree on much, but not nearly so much as we agree on. More importantly, I cannot hold forth in harshly abstract, categorical terms about Democrats, Obamacare-supporters, liberal gays, atheists, Palestinians, or even wacko-leftists because I know real people who are each of these, and I admire them, and they are honorable.
Whatever my ideological predisposition, I cannot slam the category with the face of the real human being in front of me. Everyone needs the face of a real human being in front of them before they opine about the category to which that human being belongs.
My opinions are nevertheless strong. I’m not advocating a weepy, can’t-we-just-all-get-along, cessation of critical thinking. I’m advocating a human way of thinking critically. Our ideological predisposition comes from wherever it comes from, be free with it, but do not mistake it for a super-framework that resolves all issues. Acknowledge the possibility that you, and the only kind of evidence you’ve allowed into your thinking, might be mistaken — or might at least need to be qualified. This openness to qualification distinguishes open thinkers from closed thinkers.
I argued recently, with one of my dearest liberal friends, about whether it was even possible to be a moderate, whether such a category even meaningfully existed. She insisted that you always take a stand, right or left, and she had a point. I say it is not only possible, but preferable, to be a centrist, to suspend judgment and see the evidence, to give neither ideological camp the luxury of taking you for granted.
There are many more moderates in America than current notions of polling and politics contemplate. That is why there can be such amazing electoral swings. God bless America.