By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
The nice young man at the front door asked three questions for a poll he was taking. Two of them aren’t relevant to this column. The third, I shouldn’t have answered.
It was, “Do you consider yourself conservative, liberal, or moderate?”
I hate that question. The answer doesn’t define most of us accurately, and it defines some of us too much.
It doesn’t define us accurately because people are more complicated than a one-word description. Many of us are “conservative” on some issues, “liberal” on others, somewhere in between elsewhere and, in a few areas, off the charts.
Moreover, just as people are complicated, so are political issues. Many don’t fall neatly into one category or another – for example, when and how to use military force.
I’m not a pacifist. Sometimes you’ve just got to kill bad guys. But it was the height of arrogance to think the United States could turn Afghanistan into a Western democracy by force, and we had no business invading Iraq. Or bombing Libya.
War usually does far more harm than good and causes more problems than it solves. It kills and maims people. It wastes resources, enlarges the government, and adds to the national debt. It despoils the environment. As we are seeing in the Middle East, it destabilizes entire regions and sows the seeds for more war. As a people, it first makes us fearful and willing to surrender our liberties. Then we become callous. Just bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age, right?
Looking at those reasons, am I a conservative who distrusts the government, or a bleeding heart liberal who doesn’t want to bomb people? Maybe I’m a little bit of all that, so does that define me as a moderate by default? Maybe I’m just a pragmatist who believes war is usually an ineffective foreign policy tool.
The other problem with these labels is that they define us too much. By labeling ourselves, we limit ourselves.
We all must have guiding principles, but rigid ideology narrows our thought processes. Too many Americans, and far too many elected officials, run every issue through a filter. What’s the liberal position, because I’m a liberal? What’s the conservative position, because I’m a conservative?
That filtering process is intellectually lazy. It makes us less likely to examine issues and makes us more easily manipulated by political and media demagogues. It also divides us into tribes so that our democracy can’t solve anything. A chasm now exists between congressional Republicans and Democrats that few even want to bridge. The only way Congress can function these days is when it’s faced with a crisis. So, occasionally, one is manufactured. How’s that working out?
I’m not asking for everyone to gather in some mushy middle and hug it out. I’m asking for a more thoughtful political process where elected officials and average citizens are more willing to come and reason together. We should appreciate the limits that our life experiences place on us – that I cannot know, for example, what it’s like to be a woman or of a different race, and that maybe as a result I have a few blind spots that are only worsened by blind ideology. I’m asking us to appreciate the idea of synergy, that your idea plus my idea potentially could lead to a better third idea, even if that idea can’t easily be labeled.
By the way, I told the nice young man I’m a “moderate,” and then regretted it. Of the three, it’s the closest to “none of the above,” which is what I will say next time I’m asked.