Swans Commentary » swans.com November 3, 2008  



The Middle Ground


by R. Scott Porter





(Swans - November 3, 2008)   Do you consider yourself a conservative or a liberal? Our glorious nation has been under siege by these two extremes from its inception, as has the race of man since the dawn of time. The polarization of these two ideologies has become more and more extreme in recent years and now we near a breaking point. Each side assumes that if you are not with them you are against them. If you breathe a word in favor of the other side you are forever suspect. For instance, if you are pro-choice you are automatically branded by most radical conservatives as an extreme liberal, who has no morals or ethics whatsoever, and therefore cannot be trusted. Conversely, if you are pro-life you are automatically branded by most extreme liberals as a knee-jerk radical conservative hypocrite, only out for your own benefit. The extremists seem irreconcilable even though the majority of us are somewhere in between. No one is completely conservative. No one is completely liberal. We are all more complex than that. We have all had different life experiences that have shaped our views. We are all right sometimes and often flat wrong. If you cannot discuss your differences with a loyal opposition without rancor then you are insecure about your position and you need to reevaluate. If you cannot be civil when you are obviously right then you are too self-possessed. We will all need to get over ourselves in order to make any progress. The goal must be to cooperate for the good of society. Failing this we leave our children with a worse situation for which we will surely not be rewarded.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

If you consider yourself a liberal, these stereotypes might apply to you: gentle, peaceful, positive, loving, playful, free spirited, funny, happy-go-lucky, friendly, honest, helpful, artistic, idealistic, naïve, meek, mild, lazy, temperamental, untrustworthy, careless, unreliable, weak minded, irrational, drug addicted, promiscuous, homosexual, communistic, freeloading, and in general, just a real loser. If you think you are a conservative, you might be regarded as hard working, no nonsense, success oriented, dedicated, pro business, God fearing, steadfast, all American, patriotic, pro family, monogamous, anti abortion, pro gun, stubborn, authoritarian, mean spirited, bigoted, war mongering, hateful, boring, self righteous, arrogant, blustery, negative, loutish, chain smoking, loudmouth, alcoholic, redneck, Fascist, woman hater, closet queen, and a shameless opportunistic user. If, per chance, you consider yourself a moderate, these are some of your assumed traits: inclusive, thoughtful, well rounded, adaptable, intelligent, cooperative, useful, wise, common sense, pliable, complex, indecisive, unpredictable, inscrutable, duplicitous, wishy-washy, fence riding, clueless, noncommittal, changeable, untrustworthy, irritating, and passive aggressive.

All of us naturally agree with the positive traits and deny the negative ones, no matter our persuasions. No one wants to think badly of themselves. However, we all have at least some of these negative traits in our personalities, and many more, which I am sure I have failed to list. We all have plenty to work on if we are ever to evolve, on a personal level, and as a society. Instead of constantly blaming each other we should try to keep our criticism of each other to a bare minimum, turn our attention inward, and simply work on ourselves so that we might eventually start living a better example. For a start, really think about the list above and make sure that none of the traits you would consider negative relate to you. If they do then change yourself accordingly. If you can be honest with yourself you will find that your life in general will slowly, but surely, become more tolerable.

What is the archetypical liberal? I believe the fundamental distinction has to do with empathy. Liberals are willing to forgive others for their mistakes. While not condoning or accepting bad habits, they are more willing to extend a helping hand to almost anyone who sincerely wants to change their ways and live a better life. Liberals are not as judgmental or condescending as most conservatives. They are kinder and gentler, which tends to work against them when they have to deal with truly sinister adversaries. It does not come naturally for them to be tough and unyielding. They tend to allow themselves to be taken advantage of. They don't enjoy a good fight, and so they are perceived to be weak on crime and national defense. For the most part liberals are peaceful, loving souls who just want everyone to get along and have a good time.

Most conservatives, on the other hand, tend to be less empathetic. They are more likely to practice "tough love." They will occasionally help the down and out, but not without a certain amount of disdain bordering on revulsion. Somewhere, not too far back in their family history, they must have had it pretty tough and hard lessons were learned about being self sufficient and not having to rely on anyone else. At least subliminally they feel that if they have to live like that then everyone should have to live like that. This makes them seem harsh and uncaring. Conservatives are moralistic and judgmental, while at the same time almost completely unwilling to admit fault. They have developed a certain toughness that serves them well in war and law enforcement, but doesn't win them any popularity contests with the rest of humanity.

Politics is a spectrum. At the extremes one could picture armies of clones, marching in lockstep to the same tune. Both the conservative and the liberal extremists would be completely consumed with a righteousness born of ignorance. Those on the right would be thoroughly convinced that they should follow the party line and the dictates of their religion and they would insist that everyone else should fall into line right next to them. Those on the left would be so concerned with being free that they would actually form their own monolithic association. They would end up crawling all over each other in wanton disregard for personal safety and self-respect. In all of my days I have never met anyone who would fall into either of these extreme categories and so I try to avoid labeling anyone. We all have our own personal tendencies that draw us toward one side or the other. We each inhabit our own particular location on the political spectrum. In America we are all still free to have our own opinions of each other's tendencies. However, in order to foster a desperately needed spirit of cooperation, we should now keep those opinions to ourselves, except in the rare case when someone is either a danger to themselves or others. Perhaps we should simply consider each other as fellow travelers on a journey through this life, for indeed, that is the case. If we can all decide to gravitate towards the middle we will find our differences to be less extreme and each other's convictions less dangerous.

Envision an open field where everyone converges and then separates according to their political persuasion. The two groups are distinct and moving farther and farther away from each other. But wait! There's a small group from each side who have joined each other out in the middle. Members of both extremes turn around and see that there is an alternative. One by one they start returning to the center, where they find compromise and acceptance. They are united by their conviction to make things better. They realize they will never agree on everything. They try not to worry about their differences. They concentrate on their common beliefs. They relearn the art of civil debate. They agree to leave this world a better place for generations yet unborn. In this they find their salvation. Logic wins the day and they soon become the majority. The hardcore extremists never look back and continue on into the wilderness where they are lost for eternity. This is the vision that we must embrace if we seek a better future. Nothing beneficial can come from our separating into two extreme groups standing at each end of that field screaming at each other.

I realize this doesn't sound very exciting to those who demand constant stimulation. For them controversy is stimulating while compromise is boring. More over, most people only change when there is a crisis. The problem is that this time we cannot allow our situation to reach the crisis level. That will be too late. We will have passed a point of no return and that point is fast approaching. It's like procrastinating about turning around before jumping off a cliff to your death. If you wait too long you will change your mind in mid-air. Then, depending on the length of your fall, you will only have more or less time to realize what a fool you have been. A return to common sense is in order, as boring as that might sound. My father's generation witnessed the Great Depression that caused terrible hardship for millions of people. That experience forced that generation to rely on common sense solutions in order to rise above the financial devastation of those times. They were so successful in that regard, however, that there were serious side effects. The next generation had it too easy. They were spoiled by the generosity of their parents and too few were taught the hard lessons that their parents had to learn. There is no better example of this than the present administration in Washington, which seems to have a total lack of common sense. If we succeed, the greatest accomplishment of our generation will be our rejection of instant gratification in favor of long-term solutions.

"We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office."

If the Democrats fail their mission, after winning the White House and a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress, because they fail to reign in their corporate masters, a third party could be successful in 2012. A more progressive political party could emerge and gain strength, without doing any harm by appealing to the moderates of both parties and the disillusioned majority of the population that has given up on voting altogether. Perhaps the right approach might be to educate voters from all parties to moderate their views and convince them to vote their conscience rather than their strict party line. Republicans should vote Democratic, this time around, in order to rid us of this corrupt, power hungry, war mongering administration. True Republicans, who believe in freedom, should never vote for Fascists. In the next round most Democrats might have to vote for a third party in order to finally end the war in Iraq, better defend the home front, fight crime and corruption, bring the real criminals to justice and further advance necessary social issues. In this way we could form a "shadow" third party that would hopefully do the right thing behind the scene. As far as I know, no one can tell what any of us do once we enter the voting booth and we should not feel like traitors if we occasionally vote the other way for a good cause.

We desperately need meaningful campaign finance reform. Huge corporations are now in control of our government. They may well have been in control, to a lesser degree, ever since World War Two, or even since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but in the last two or three decades they have been able to take nearly complete control. They buy whatever legislation they need to profit even further off of our country. We have made it so expensive to mount a campaign for any state or federal office that it is virtually impossible to win without selling out to special interests. Once a politician accepts the millions of dollars necessary to win they are beholden to these corporations for life. It is the ultimate "Catch 22." If you take the money, you sell your soul. If you don't take the money, you can't win, unless you are truly special, and those people are few and far between. Public financing of all elections is the logical answer to the problem. If we can avoid unnecessary wars in the future by promoting intelligent diplomacy there should be more than enough money available to conduct free and fair elections. If it's good enough for the Iraqis, it should be good enough for us.

We will never be able to trust the voting process in this country again until we return to paper ballots that can be recounted if necessary. Touch-screen voting machines were invented by conservative corporations with the probable intent of rigging elections for conservative candidates who could never win an honest election because of their fatally flawed views. The evidence is clear at this point that the last two presidential elections in America were stolen. If we cannot change the way we vote in time for the '08 election, we may well see another puppet government placed into power to do the bidding of corporate America. Why not make the ballots out of recycled paper? Those ballots could be stored for at least eight years, if not forever, before being recycled again. If there was any question about the fairness of the vote the ballots could be recounted at any time. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but it must spell certain doom to those who feel the need to steal elections.

"Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish."

Behind the scenes, politics must be a brutal business. Those in office probably face a daily barrage of threats and intimidation while those seeking higher office have to sell their souls to get there. Few have the backbone or the finances necessary to withstand the influence of the big money interests and so very little changes as our situation continues to get worse. It is most likely a matter of personal survival that impeachment proceedings have not yet been brought against this present administration. At least that is the only reason I can imagine.

Meanwhile, things continue to get worse. We still wage unnecessary wars killing hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children every year. Thousands of species of plants and animals are going extinct year after year caused by pollution and loss of habitat. Global climate change and global dimming are accelerating because of overpopulation and archaic energy policies. Corrupt governments, worldwide, postpone solutions in favor of personal greed. The ruling class is in denial about their lack of security, caused by their stubborn refusal to contribute to the common good. The middle class is disappearing because of an inability to organize and demand changes in trade policies. And the ranks of the poor continue to swell while they can only concentrate on simple survival. When simple survival becomes impossible, as it has so often in the past, the poor will revolt, and then woe be to the rich. No walls will keep the hordes out. No army will defeat their numbers, for by then, their numbers will be legion. This is not meant to be seditious. It is meant as a precaution. It is simply the unvarnished truth.

"Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime."

Maintaining our middle class will be essential to give hope to all the suffering masses around the world. If we fail, they will lose hope for ever advancing out of their poverty and with whatever strength they have left, they will rebel, sending us all into a new dark age. The rest of the world will be glad to take care of themselves, and trade with us, just to keep us from coming after them again. We should be in the business of supplying the world with whatever they need to progress. We have already done enough damage for the next one thousand years, at least.

Here in America we must maintain a strong defense because the world is still full of angry, depressed people. There are still far too many poor souls with a death wish because their lives are a living hell. Until we can make their lives better we will have to keep a close eye out for them, and when we find them we must spare no expense to rehabilitate them back into society as peaceful, hopeful citizens. A strong national defense is essential while foreign adventures for political or monetary gain are regressive. We should bring our armed forces home from Iraq as soon as humanly possible, build "permanent bases" along both borders and protect our ports. We should return to self sufficiency where ever possible, and to strong, fair trade policies for all our imports. One world order must not be allowed to lead to a feudal society here at home. America must once again be the shining light that sets the example for the rest of the world.

"Hope is a waking dream."

Don't you hate it when you buy a big, juicy, perfectly ripe apple and then forget all about it? You end up leaving it in the refrigerator for way too long and by the time you spot it, buried in the bottom of your fruit drawer, it's spoiled. You pick it up and instantly feel the withered skin and the softness just under it. You have that sinking feeling that yet again you have failed your mission. You have wasted another perfectly good apple that you really wanted to enjoy. You certainly didn't mean to let it rot to the core. You were simply preoccupied and didn't realize that it was going bad. If someone would have warned you, you would have been thankful, even thankful enough to share it with them. And now you're going to have to spring for another one. Think of The United States of America in comparison to that apple and beware!

So, if no matter how hard people try, and how terribly they suffer to make a difference, nothing ever seems to change, why bother? If the rats just keep winning the rat race, why enter the race? Even now there are plenty of places to run away to where we might continue to live a selfish, delusional life. Why not just find a comfortable hole somewhere and hide out? That has been a great question, up until now, and that is probably why so little social progress has been made for the past forty years. Now, however, the time runs short. We can no longer allow the rats to win, uncontested. The rats don't care if we live or die, as long as they stay on top, all the way to the end. We have no time left for people like that. If we value our lives, if we value the lives of our children, we must now finally act. There will soon be no alternatives left to us. The window of opportunity for saving our democracy, here in America, is closing. The physical ability of this planet to absorb our abuse is becoming more and more limited, and we are growing farther and farther apart, ideologically, each and every day. These are uncomfortable realities that too many still prefer to avoid or refuse to accept, much less confront. If we fail, as individuals, to contribute to solutions to these problems, then we have failed our primary responsibility in this life, no matter how wealthy we have become, or how righteous we feel about our morals and ethics.

Keep up the good fight, and please don't forget to vote!


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About the Author

R. Scott Porter is a General Contractor who lives in Laguna Beach, California, and whose skills and expertise have been featured in This Old House magazine in March 2008. To learn more about Porter's bread and butter, please visit GandSbuilders.com



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Published November 3, 2008