What I Believe About Conservatives.

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on Apr 4, 2011
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(Or, Love Your Enemy, Part 1.)

I read a book a couple years ago that was co-authored by two members of Focus on the Family–the conservative, Colorado Springs-based Christian institution founded by James Dobson.  The book was about a particular spiritual challenge I was facing at the time, and I hadn’t seen any books by authors closer to my own style of Christianity that addressed it.

I liked the book. So I decided to email the authors to tell them how much their book had helped me.  My message concluded:

As a member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, I spend a lot of my “citizen time” fighting groups like Focus on the Family–as much, I believe, for the sake of the Gospel as for anything else.  But I have learned something by sharing an office, at the evangelical university where I teach, with a colleague on the opposite end of the right-left spectrum from me: it isn’t disagreement that keeps people from getting along, but distrust.  My colleague and I trust each other to have the right motives, and we get along very well (to the surprised amusement of our colleagues and students!) That experience allowed me to pick up and read your book, and profit by it greatly, as I never would have otherwise.

The authors’ responses were prompt and gratifying:

This is a great email! Thanks so much for the thoughtful words and practical update on what’s working with and in you!  Hope you continue to move ahead, and that you find all the blessings that I have!

When I was in college, several student groups got together to sponsor an interracial event in which students could ask each other frank questions in a safe space.  (“Why do black students talk so loudly in the halls?” the white kids wanted to know; “Why do white students have food fights and put shaving cream on doorknobs?” the black students asked.) I’d like to see a similar event take place between liberals and conservatives—a forum in which people with widely divergent viewpoints could question each other in good faith and in an environment of trust.  And I’d like to get the ball rolling with a manifesto of what I believe about conservatives.

I’m going to try very hard to keep all traces of Devil’s-Advocate irony and sarcasm out of this document, and to include only those things I genuinely believe to be the sincerely-held values of mainstream conservatives. And as tempting as it is to exploit the rift between social conservatives and libertarians by including only one or the other in my list, I’m going to shun that easy way out by assuming that, for most conservatives, social and economic issues come “in the same package.”

What I Believe About Conservatives

1)          I believe that conservatives need to have confidence in a person holistically before they are prepared to weigh specific arguments.

Once we understand where a candidate is at on their core values, and we believe that they are convicted with their core values on life, on marriage, on separation of powers and the Constitution, on limited government and on free enterprise…then we want to hear what their vision is.

This determination not to pick and choose issues on which to agree with someone, but rather to accept or reject a person or movement as a whole, is behind many conservative positions that can seem baffling from the outside.

Why, for instance, would conservative Christians view the environmental movement with such distrust? (Note: I don’t believe it’s really for the reasons that the loudest among them say it is—those are ex post facto rationalizations, in my opinion.) It’s because of who they believe environmentalists are, and what it would mean if they were to make common cause with them.

“There’s kind of this divide between the evangelical subculture and the environmental subculture,” says the Rev. Jim Ball, President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “From the evangelical point of view, a lot of it is based on the perception that environmentalists are liberals, and that helps drive how they view these things.  They think ‘Well, if environmentalists are liberals—meaning they are probably pro-choice–maybe we ought to go in the other direction.’”

Ball says that “both sides need to…realize that we have to de-couple (these issues) a little bit, and be ready to say, ‘I’m going to be pro-environment and pro-life, and that’s OK, and you can be pro-environment and pro-choice, and that’s OK.’”  But for most conservatives, it’s more all-or-nothing than that. This is something to bear in mind when conservatives respond to liberals with what seem like ad hominem attacks rather than substantive arguments; for many conservatives, the question of who says a thing is as important as what is said.

2)         I believe Conservatives genuinely view economic issues as a matter of freedom, and personal behavior issues as a matter of morality.

(And for that matter, I’m pretty sure that Liberals hold exactly the opposite view.)

What Liberals regard as mean-spirited greed, Conservatives view as allowing people to keep what they earn; what we view as allowing people to make their own decisions about personal morality, they view as countenancing moral chaos.  And while politicians on both sides will cynically espouse these positions in the service of their corporate owner-operators, rank-and-file folks truly believe these things, and don’t understand why the rightness of their positions isn’t obvious to those on the other side.

3)          Conservatives have the best interests of America at heart, and believe that their agenda is the best way to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

When ordinary Conservatives talk about personal responsibility, it isn’t code for social Darwinism; when they espouse American exceptionalism, they aren’t merely shilling for American multinationals; they don’t oppose abortion because they want to punish women for having sex, but because they truly believe that abortion ends a human life. (Full disclosure:  so do I–though I disagree with most conservatives about what should be done about it.)

That should be enough to get started.  If there are any conservatives reading this, I’d love to hear your good-faith estimation of what Liberals believe.  Maybe we can build a bridge over the gridlock.


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About Scott Robinson

Scott Robinson taught college music at a Christian university for ten years before leaving to pursue creative work and fatherhood.  He has written for Sojourners Magazine, PRISM, Cross Currents, Minnesota Parent, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.  He currently composes, records and performs original kirtan with his band Mandala mandalaband.net. Scott is a professed member of the Third Order of St. Francis,  and lives in Philadelphia with his wife, two children, and two incessantly shedding dogs. 

Comments

35 Responses to “What I Believe About Conservatives.”

  1. TamingAuthor says:

    Scott, the type of dialogue you propose has been dubbed a "learning conversation" in the dispute resolution world. The idea is to bring two divergent groups together and then, in small groups settings, allow them to share the personal experiences that shaped their views and positions. Out of such dialogue can come creative solutions to common problems.

    The task you set out in your piece is very difficult. There can be quite significant differences between conservatives and how they view liberals. My views might not match those of another conservative but perhaps it will get us in the ballpark.

    In your #1 I believe the issue is not so much a holistic criterion but rather gaining a sense of the moral fabric of the other person. We recognize there will be differences on issues even among liberals, so the most important factor is the nature of the person's heart. The "heart measure" may be what you are seeing as holism. Men of good intention, men of good heart, get along even with differences on issues but if the heart has become hardened or darkened with evil troubles arise even when there is agreement.

    Conservatives can see liberals as people with good heart. However, radical progressives, a la Alinsky are seen as having evil intentions toward their fellow man. They are seen as being dark and deceptive.

    Reaction to environmentalists tends to be more of a reaction geared to heart and integrity. From a conservative view a great portion of the environmental movement is severely misled by those who use the movement for personal gain — i.e. Al Gore. The amount of dishonesty and deception tends to drive the negative attitude.

    The backlash is not so much against liberals who share the goal of wise stewardship of the environment but rather against radical activists who threaten to collapse society in the pursuit of personal power and profits. A segment of the environmental movement is seen as using the environment merely as a tool for grabbing economic and political power. (Conservatives find it amusing to see liberals bashing corporations and evil capitalists while dancing to the tune of the worst of such people as a result of buying off on a con.)

    2. Evidence supports the connection between economic systems and freedom. There is overwhelming evidence that Marxism destroys both the wealth and freedom of a people. The 20th Century is filled with horrors resulting from Marxist philosophy. Liberals tend to realize this but recently radical progressives have overwhelmed liberals with the false promises of a utopia coming out of class warfare and bogus new systems of government.

    As with the environment there is agreement between liberals and conservatives regarding the importance of the rule of law and maintaining justice within a system of robust economic freedom. It is only when radical activists come upon the scene pushing for destructive forms of government that overturn protection of our freedoms that things get tense. The ironic fact is that all Marxist governments bring about less equality — a very small group of elites end up tyrannizing the majority in socialist and communist nations.

    Perhaps conservatives overall consider liberals to be poorly educated on matters of economics. Much of the radical protests show a profound ignorance of economic reality. Conservatives may vary in terms of whether they attribute the problem to ignorance or evil intention. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle — there are those with evil intentions who create and promote ignorance.

    3. The principles of the Founders have been shown to best protect our freedoms, so these views have a solid foundation. Liberals, too, can have respect and admiration for limited government structured within the bounds of the Constitution. However, once again, Marxist progressives have co-opted the liberal position.

    Perhaps the most important "take away" on how conservatives view liberals has to do with the failure of liberals to recognize the dangers presented by radical progressive Marxists who have co-opted the liberal movement. There is a sense, on the part of conservatives, that liberals have not awakened to the deceivers in their midst who are driving the nation off a cliff. There is a frustration with the degree to which liberals sometimes appear oblivious to the duplicity to which they are being subjected.

    Perhaps the greatest single specific example is the degree to which liberals do not recognize the attack taking place on this nation by George Soros who funds and choreographs one of the most audacious invasions of a nation ever undertaken. The feeling is that unless liberals wake up and recognize his underhanded influence we will all suffer greatly in the future.

  2. happydog1960 says:

    You are right that the issue is one of distrust. You and your office mate share a faith, which means you have a common ground to establish trust. I, as a non-Christian, hear harsh rhetoric and hellfire from the conservatives who condemn my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and I hear the evangelicals who condemn my soul to hell for not believing that Jesus was anything more than a good man, and who curse me, literally, and wish me ill for not believing that their holy book is not religious allegory but 100% truth. Without Christianity, would you have so much to agree on?

  3. Geoff says:

    Correction : Let's hear from some good faith CONSERVATIVES who are looking to understand the opposite side…

  4. TamingAuthor says:

    Geoff, how do you mark the dividing line between the liberal and the radical? When a conservative looks to define a liberal (the exercise set out by Scott) should they include the left wing radical? Or should they make a distinction between a liberal and a radical?

    Where is the line between holding liberal views and moving into the deception prescribed by Saul Alinsky? When Alinsky instructed organizers (in his own words) to bring about division, civil unrest, and revolution was that liberal or radical?

    Do you feel there are those who create and foster division intentionally? Is creation of division a liberal trait? A conservative trait? Or does division arise from those off the scale? How would you characterize those who intentionally bring about unrest and division?

    Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? Would evil be a trait of liberals or conservatives? How does one identify evil along that spectrum? What actions or ideas might be characterized as evil? Deception? Coercion? Destruction? Enslavement?

    My thesis (above) was that liberals can be characterized by good heart, good intention, love of freedom, but a profound inability to recognize evil within their midst. One might say naivete characterizes the liberal. A liberal would be someone you would not have hold your wallet on a trip to the carnival. So there is much on which to agree but a narrow, but vital, slice of life which deserves strong attention.

  5. TamingAuthor says:

    Geoff, you mention Glenn Beck. Have you watched Beck regularly? More than twenty shows?

    What is his primary message? In what ways has he been correct in his observations? In what ways has he been shown to be incorrect?

    Why do you characterize him as a radical? In what way is he removed from mainstream America? What values does he promote? What political concepts does he advocate and how are they radical?

  6. elephantjournal says:

    #
    Jaime Karpovich Wow, ballsy? I like it. Very nice.

    #
    Greg Davis Good stuff.

    #
    Kim Sequoia Thank you, a thousand times over. We need to start having a dialogue in this country, and come TOGETHER, regardless of our differences or we all lose.

    #
    Deanna Kurman I would love to see the opposing view too!

    #
    Lisa Sackos Good read. :)

    #
    Karly Davis Smart.

    #
    Kelley Davies really good.

    #
    Raymond Kaltenbach This is a great first step. I'd love to see a Conservative response.

  7. happydog1960 says:

    Wow, TamingAuthor. I have to hand it to you. You respond by trying to initiate a debate on every issue but the one at hand: can liberals and conservatives get along? You want to argue against homosexuality, for "morality" (whatever that is), against "evil," you accuse liberals of being blind to "the evil among them" (defined loosely as George Soros and whatever Names of the Week the Corporate Conservatives on Fox News like to trot out) and you support Glenn Beck. So far, you got nothin' as far as common ground goes, and have given me no basis whatsoever to trust you. Thus you may have proved, in three simple posts, that with some people there is no common ground. It takes a dedicated person to do that, someone who is dedicated to being Absolutely Right All The Time, and I salute you for that dedication.

  8. Kathy_Hutchins says:

    [Part 1 of 3]
    Scott: you prodded me on Facebook to add comments about the possibility of a respectful dialogue between liberals and conservatives. I am pessimistic about the possibility of such a dialogue, and your article and the comments already offered do nothing to dispel that pessimism.

    First, you start by defining a category on your own terms, you place me (as a 'conservative') into it, and you finish by telling me what I think and what I value. Even if you have made every attempt to be generous, kind, and openminded when constructing this argument — do you really not see how dehumanizing and belittling that is? I am not defined by my membership in a group. I am an individual, and my beliefs, my value system, my store of knowledge and expertise, and my experiences are mine *as an individual.* If you sincerely want to know what I think, and why, then ask me. And if you want to create a space for respectful dialogue, then listen to me respectfully when I tell you.
    [continued in Part 2]

  9. openthoseojos says:

    I liked your article a lot, especially as someone who self-identifies as a liberal Catholic who is pretty religious but also pretty…well, liberal. My struggle is that while I agree with you on your points, the many, many Conservative friends I have judge and condemn me for not being a good Christian for holding their same beliefs. I am disliked wholly because I am a liberal, and also condemned because of how that liberality intersects with my faith. It's difficult because I feel we're supposed to be on the same side, and this just keeps us separate, instead.

  10. Waldo says:

    So I'm guessing that Dan and "Taming Author" won't be around the table when we begin the conversation you propose, Scott. That will be just fine by me.

  11. API says:

    It seems to me that open dialogue between liberals and conservatives is impossible because the discussion is about the very essence of how we identify ourselves. We just plain get offended when someone contradicts our beliefs and it is almost impossible not to try and "correct" them, leading them to get offended as well. We may agree on some things, but it is almost impossible for any Joe Blow on the street not to take it personally when they see/hear/read etc an opposing view because of how personal our beliefs are. Just look at the comments so far. None of them is devoid of emotion. I personally liked this article because, to me, it emphasised that this was the specific author's opinion, which, in my opinion, was hard to take offense at… but some did… proving my point. Give up; you'll never get a valid compromise.

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