By Ken Trainor
Based on previous columns, some readers are under the mistaken impression that I dislike Republicans — and conservatives in general. Not true. I enjoy a good give-and-take with open-minded conservatives very much. It's ideologues I dislike, regardless of whether they're on the right or left — or even the middle — of the political spectrum.
In my experience, ideologues are rigid, close-minded, shallow thinkers for whom a questionable end justifies pretty much any means. They suffer from an affliction known as "excessive certainty," which renders them incapable of compromise or genuine dialogue.
I'm also aware that some readers get very annoyed when I write about this topic and can't understand why I won't let it go. They think a local columnist has no business (or competence) weighing in on such lofty matters, that the national pundits are so much better qualified (and they do it so well, don't you know). Yes, I phrased that in the full flower of their condescension.
I continue to write about this — in spite of the fact that many readers screen what I'm saying through their own biases — because the pundits are (with notable exceptions) basically purveyors of outdated conventional wisdom and because this is too important to remain silent about.
Also because there are times when being "bipartisan" or "non-partisan" is worse than taking sides. As Graham Greene put it in The Quiet American, "Sooner or later one has to take sides — if one is simply to remain human."
This is one of those times.
You can't tell ideologues anything, counter-dependency being their defining character trait, so dialogue, sadly, is not possible. In addition, too many middle-of-the-roaders actually perpetuate the problem by promoting the "false equivalency myth" — that there are an equal number of hard-headed ideologues on both sides of the aisle, so both sides are equally at fault. That has become, in effect, the "centrist ideology."
But it's simply not true.
The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress aren't perfect by any stretch, but at least they have legitimate proposals they'd like to try out. They might work or they might not, but Republicans prevent all of us from finding out — probably because they have no valid ideas of their own.
What they do have is an ideology: Less government + more free market means everything will be fine. That overly simplistic notion was proved oh-so-wrong when a dangerously unregulated free market caused a near collapse of the international financial system back in 2008. Too much deregulation led to greed and reckless behavior in the private sector, which inevitably led to economic catastrophe. It always does.
Yet Republicans are still preaching that government can do no right and the free market can do no wrong. They're anti-government, anti-taxes, anti-living wage, anti-health care reform, anti-food stamps, anti-immigration reform, anti-marriage equality, anti-campaign finance reform, anti-gun regulation, anti-environmental protection, and anti-birth control, just to name a few. They're pretty much anti-American — at least anything that makes life better for the average American.
But they are slavishly devoted to the welfare of the 1%.
An ideology is very different from an idea, and the two produce very different results. Ideologues try to squeeze reality into an inadequately small container, but life is far too complex to be covered by any ideology — right, left or center.
So it's not Republicans per se I dislike. Unfortunately, the Tea Party and a large percentage of elected Republicans are ideologues, which may explain the confusion.
Someone, of course, will accuse me of being an ideologue, but I don't fit the profile. I don't have all the answers and freely admit it. I don't believe either government, or the free market, is the answer to all our problems. I've rarely been absolutely certain about anything. My friends tell me I do way too much compromising for my own good. Also, I've spent many years inviting and attempting dialogue with conservatives, which is more than most of those who preach "civility" and "bipartisanship" can claim (I will happily catalog the columns if you need proof).
Furthermore, I value what rational conservatism brings to our national conversation (if we were actually having one). When conservatives do their job, the country is better off. Unfortunately, they're not.
The strength of conservatives is their "rear-view vision," while progressives have better "forward vision." That doesn't mean conservatives don't also have some forward vision and progressives some rear-view vision. It's a matter of proportion. I happen to be a progressive with a fairly strong conservative streak — probably because I was raised by conservative non-ideologues who taught me to value the past.
We need both conservatives and progressives. As we move forward (inevitable, I'm afraid), conservatives demonstrate their value by identifying what needs to be preserved from the past and brought along on our journey into the future. When something essential is in danger of being lost, they may occasionally be forced to put up a fight, but when they resist all progress, as they have been, the conservative movement loses credibility and devolves into nihilism, which is where they're stuck right now.
When conservatives are doing their job, they have our back. At the moment they're just backstabbing.
Reasonable conservatives still exist (read David Brooks in the New York Times if you want to find out what one sounds like), but they generally don't speak out in public because they're so out of step with the extremists, whose resistance to virtually all change prevents any real progress on so many of our pressing problems.
If the electorate is a "market," then voters need to deliver a very clear message in the only terms free-marketeers can understand: a severe market "correction." The sooner voters deliver that correction (several may be required), the better for all of us — conservatives included. This November would be an ideal time.
I wish dialogue and civility were possible, but they're not — not with ideologues. So I'll state the obvious for anyone in the political middle who might still be listening: Going nowhere is killing this country. If you can't stomach voting for Democrats, at the very least stop voting for Republicans. You're enabling Republican obstructionism and that's screwing things up for everybody.
The question, then, is not why am I so hard on Republicans. The real question is:
Why the hell aren't you?
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