By Ken Trainor
A century and a half after the start of the Civil War, the war continues — or else we're in the midst of another. This one is a slightly more "civil" Civil War. So far, we're not actually firing shots at one another (although one side is trying to arm everybody, which can't be a good sign).
Our battlefield is the Internet. Online, there's plenty of head-butting and name-calling, but very little dialogue. Dialogue requires listening to what the other person has to say, thinking about it before responding, respecting the other person, bringing to the discussion a desire to learn, and humbly acknowledging that you don't have all the answers.
So let me first acknowledge that I don't have all the answers. And I would like to learn more about my political polar opposites.
In this "civil" war, conservatives are pitted against progressives, with moderates cringing in the middle, doing their best imitation of "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil." Notify them when someone wins.
Only no one ever wins. Democracy has become a state of perpetual culture war. If you aren't prepared to do battle, you won't reap the benefits.
Conservatives have never been shy about verbal combat, and the epithet they hurl most often at their opponents is "elitist." Anyone who disagrees with them and has the nerve to say so, is an "elitist," usually living in an "ivory tower." Often they hurl this insult while criticizing "liberals" for name-calling. Condemning an entire group for name-calling as you call them names seems, at best, inconsistent.
Recently, New York Times columnist and former editor Bill Keller received 98 emails following a column he wrote that was critical of Sarah Palin. Here's a sample:
"You are an elitist twit, pouring out bile because you cannot stand Sarah Palin."
"I am beyond repulsed at people like you and your ELITIST, pseudo-intellectuals who feel you are justified at spitting in the face of Mrs. Palin."
The right, which claims it is their sacred duty to balance the federal budget, spits in the face of former President Bill Clinton, who not only balanced the budget but ended his term with a surplus. Yet I never heard those fiscal conservatives utter a word of protest as George W. Bush wiped out the budget surplus and added $4 trillion to the deficit. Even their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, tripled the deficit during his tenure.
Perhaps conservatives need to define their terms. They want to cut the deficit (most of it piled up while Republicans were in charge) by cutting programs for the poor and middle class while continuing to extend tax breaks to the rich and large corporations. When I think of "elitists," I think of the rich and large corporations.
Clinton balanced the budget with a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases. You would think Republicans could learn something from that success. Instead, they insist on spending cuts alone (except on the military). No revenue increases (the dreaded T-word). Democrats, meanwhile, say you need a balanced approach to balance the budget.
Which of those positions strikes you as "extreme"?
Conservatives say they want to balance the budget more than anything in the world, but they won't take the steps necessary to do so.
The progressives I know don't strike me as elitist or extremist. Elitists think they're better than everyone else. They're absolutely certain they know better. They're concerned primarily about the privileged few, not the common good.
Conservatives want to repeal attempts to make quality, affordable health care available to most Americans. I've never heard a Republican say, "We need health care for all." Now they want to revamp Medicare so the elderly will no longer have full access to health care when they need it most.
Conservatives have been labeling progressives elitist for decades. When I read online comment boards, it only confirms what I've thought for some time. If a conservative accuses you of something, he's really talking about himself. Whenever a conservative calls me a name, I'm tempted to use that old retort from the playground: "I know you are, but what am I?"
If you don't like people calling you names, then stop calling them names. If they continue calling you names, keep in mind what my father always told us growing up: "Doing something wrong because somebody else does it to you, doesn't make it right."
That would be the first step on the long road to dialogue.
I'm a progressive (or a liberal, by my definition). I want what's good for the few to be good for the many. I want all Americans, including the wealthy, to share the sacrifices necessary to balance the budget. Does that make me an elitist?
Do you want to do battle or do dialogue?
Either way, we'll need to get our terms straight.