For longer than we want to admit, we have been a country of opposites.
Today, we tend to call those opposites Republicans v. Democrats, Conservatives v. Liberals, Red v. Blue, or MSNBC v. Fox. However, we’ve been a country of opposites since our inception with our only commonality early on is the desire to be free of obligations to King George. We have defined ourselves at various points as Free v. Slave States, North v. South, Aristocrats v. Bureaucrats, Capitalists v. Labor, Agricultural v. Industrial, Urban v. Rural, Heartland v. Coastal.
Upon closer inspection, the real divide beneath all others continues to be the ability to be free to do whatever we want versus adhering to some agreed-upon norm. The short-hand for this divide is Business v. Government as the ultimate good (creating a thriving economy) vs. bad (the regulatory state looking to take something away). It’s odd positioning to have as Americans since we fought our establishing revolution in order to have a government of our own. Yet, many consider government the ultimate Big Brother to be fought rather than embraced.
The problem with all these constructs is they assume one position is right and the other wrong. One is good and one is evil, whereas all that “We the People” generally hold dear hangs more in the balance.
Conservatives I know are generally middle-class, good, decent people – people who work hard for a living, may be small business people, and want to be less regulated, but have a sense of justice. Many self-defined Republicans are saying things like “My party has left me.” They are not democrats by definition, but are also no longer republicans.
Related Post: Is It Time for a New Party?
In fact, most Americans (democrats and republicans) are moderates – people who believe in a balance of good government with good business. The important modifier here is the word “good,” not “great,” not “exceptional.”
Democracy, by definition, according to our founders is imperfect. Good enough government is likely the best we should expect because good government, by constitutional decree involves compromise – small v. large states, agricultural v. industrial interests, executive v. legislative branch.
Digging Deeper in Arguments
It’s not in our human nature to change positions, but we also tend to align with groups without understanding how our positions were fostered. We believe the labels our parents, family groups, or geographic groups first give us, and it takes an exceptional person to shed those first skins. The only way to become more self-perceptive or introspective is education — learning our real history instead of accepting easy reframes handed to us by political leaders on both sides. Two books — one old and one new — are designed to help us reexamine commonly held beliefs and confront some of the realities of our common dirty past.
The new book is In the Shadow of Statues by NOLA Mayor Mitch Landrieu. The monument argument, according to Landrieu, has reframed a nasty battle on slavery into one on historical pride. He writes that the Civil War, referred to by Southerners as the War of Northern Aggression, was really a combat of “entrenched business interests” and the desire for a free labor system and aristocratic way of life over human ethics. As a white southerner, he has had to reexamine some of his traditional beliefs and reconsider prior held conclusions. As a result, he became an advocate for removing many confederate monuments from his city of New Orleans, which is 60% African AMerican. In other words, upon reflection and research, he put aside his personal long-held beliefs to better represent the citizens and history of his city.
Related Post: Monuments & Statues- Not All Icons Are Created Equal
The old book is The Wrecking Crew – How Conservatives Rule by Thomas Frank. It’s compelling because it was written in 2008, a full decade before our current divide. Potentially written as an indictment of prior Conservative movements, it seems to be a blue print for the current one. It explains the strategy of putting someone like Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA and how it has historical precedence.
Eyes on Moderates
People are still chatting about the Conor Lamb win in the 18th district of Pennsylvania, largely populated by Republicans. It’s not such a mystery as most Dems don’t consider him a Progressive. He’s an old-fashioned moderate. As one NYT article noted, his appeal was his distance from current fringe leaders on both sides and “exposed the ways in which both parties are weighed down by divisive leaders: Democrats by Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader; Republicans by Mr. Trump and Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House.”
Currently, in South Jersey, there are two democratic candidates running for an open Republican congressional seat in the mid-terms– one a clear Progressive and the other characterized as a Republican in sheep’s clothing – much like Conor Lamb — because he’s a moderate. Herein lies the problem – the old moderate democrats are vilified by the new Progressives just as the old moderate republicans (read John McCain) are vilified by both the old neo-con tea partiests and the newer aristocratic Koch/Trump coalitions. Most of “We the People” are the moderates of both parties and feeling increasingly left out in the cold. We should have a color — Gray — Not Red or Blue, nor Black or White, but willing to work within the gray areas. We should also have a motto: “Make American Moderate Again,” MAMA! Morale of the story – When in doubt, always trust your mother.
Potential Little Hinge Action Steps:
- Follow Thinkers on Twitter. Follow Thomas Frank on Twitter @thomasfrank_ or Mitch Landrieu @MayorLandrieu.
- Listen to a POV AudioBook. Thomas Frank’s more recent book is Listen Liberal, chastising Progressives for not making more strides on the social justice front.
- Declare Moderation. Join NoLabels.org. This bipartisan group is the voice of moderation in today’s Washington.