7/22/2002

 

The Left, the Right, and the Ugly

 

Over the next few columns, unless other events demand comment, I’ll explain how much liberal and conservative interests overlap, and how conventional labels and stereotypes prevent us from seeing this and combining forces to make progress in those areas.

 

First I need to review what the ‘60s were all about, since that forms a good part of what the left today is about. Over the last couple of decades the ‘60s have been so continuously commented on by conservatives that a very one-sided view is common.

 

Before I can do that though, in this column, I need to clarify who I will be talking about when describing the people of the ‘60s. I propose that, while we normally divide people into left and right for simplistic political discussion, there is another even more important division that should be applied, not just to discussion of the ‘60s, but to any political discussion.

 

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. There’s the usual division, the political left and right. Now draw a line across the middle horizontally. There’s a division, top and bottom, that’s even more important; the sincere and the insincere, those who agitate for their position out of concern for the good of all versus those who are only interested in what helps them the most; those who follow the Christian precept of doing good to others versus those who focus entirely on their own wants.

 

In the ‘60s there were those who sincerely wanted to advance civil rights, who thought the Vietnam War was a waste of lives, and who thought insider Washington politics was corrupt. Some of them made considerable sacrifices working for those causes. Then there were those who just wanted to go along for the ride because it was a chance to party. There were numerous slogans that came out of the ‘60s, some of which the media made great hay out of. For those partying, hangers-on perhaps, “If it feels good do it” fits them. I always felt that was a misleading phrase about the attitude of the times. For those genuinely trying to make a difference another slogan of the time fits better, “Love is the answer.”

 

In the ‘80s there were those who sincerely believed that welfare and other help programs for the poor were actually doing harm and that the poor would be better off if we cut those programs, reduced taxes, and boosted the economy. Then there were others who couldn’t care less about anyone else. They just liked the idea of cutting their taxes and pursuing their self interests under the guise of the popular free-market themes of the time. For them the slogan, “Greed is good” fits. A slogan I’m sure many conservative Christian people never liked.

 

Of course such divisions are always simplistic. People are more complex than that. But there will always be plenty of people who will go along with whatever parade is popular and find ways to corrupt it to their own ends. The heck with them. All we can do is try to minimize their damage, recognize them when they try to get out in front and pretend to lead the parade, and perhaps raise the general standards of conduct to where they have to behave a little better just to get along.

 

But what we cannot afford to do, when those on the right look at the left or vice versa, is to focus on those on the bottom and conclude the other side is no good. Of course those on the bottom are no good. Ignore them. Connect across the political aisle with others who are sincere and try to find common ground. You will be surprised how much there is, and how much can be accomplished with combined forces.