A recent Facebook exchange with an old high school classmate:

My Status Report – Watching the 7 Republican candidates — all say virtually the same thing: Obama has not done one thing right, liberals are awful, should be a constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage, no state services for illegal immigrants or their kids, no abortions under any circumstances, Americans are the best people in the whole world. Just what you would expect. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

My friend John – So, liberals are smart, think that Obama has done at least one right thing, are in favor of same sex marriage, illegal immigrants and abortions, and think Americans are bad? I side with the conservatives.

Me – John: I don’t understand your comment, particularly the word ‘so’. Are you saying, “so, this is what I, John, think liberals are?” It’s obviously not my definition. Personal traits aside, I think that, politically speaking, those who tend toward the American left (which is not very left in fact) are simply nicer and more compassionate (and understand the world better) – odd, since conservatives tend to be more “religious” in a formal sense. Also, that the majority of the country’s problems are the result of too much conservative leadership over the last 40 years.

John – I’m saying that I am against same sex marriage, illegal immigration, and abortion. I support the rule of law in accordance with the Constitution and capitalism as opposed to Fascism and socialism.

Me – Although same sex marriage is not my issue, I support it because it is important to so many people and does not infringe on anyone’s rights. As to your other points (with some exceptions regarding abortions), I agree with you, as does virtually every “liberal” I have ever known. Does that make me an almost conservative or you an almost liberal?

John – Maybe that means there we still have political middle ground in this country instead of the extreme polarization of the past few elections. That’s nice.

———

Well, clearly there are some non-sequiturs here. Most clearly, we have not shown that there is a political middle ground or, if so, how large it is.

Some of the issues we discussed (abortions and same-sex marriage) really aren’t “political” issues. They are social issues, or religious issues, although there is probably a psychological reason why “social conservatives” and “political conservatives” typically are the same people. But the big issues facing the country as a body politic: debt, taxation, services, etc. are not directly related to either of these social/religious issues, although (for reasons I don’t really understand) the people who hold these social/religious beliefs tend to agree on the big issues as well.

But while abortion, gender roles and the like are largely dependent on social or religious beliefs, the other political questions (debt, social services, taxation, environmental issues, etc) should be unrelated to these beliefs and be subject to a rational analysis as to what is better for the country. But we can’t seem to get there, and – in broad strokes – conservatives think about these issues one way, and liberals another. And all of this gets further confused because political leaders tend to exaggerate and distort in order to win elections.

To me, certain things are obvious: we need to deal with our debt; in order to do this we need to cut back on expenditures (but we need decide how to cut rationally, not emotionally) and we need to expand revenue. We need to discuss whether tax increases would help or hurt, not to react to this question ideologically; to me, I cannot imagine how moderate income tax increases for the wealthy will hurt our fiscal position, but am willing to be shown. We need to expand jobs, obviously, and I have seen no rational attention paid to this yet, whatsoever. I’d suggest that every government action be preceded by a jobs analysis, just as the government has to undertake environmental analyses before taking certain actions. I believe we are able to do what every other developed countries can do – come up with a workable universal health care system – to me, it is obvious that insurance companies are no better than the government in their ability to ration health care, and that they are hampered by having as their ultimate goal profit making rather than serving society. Whether the Democratic legislation passed last year will do the trick, I don’t know. It is obvious to me that our failing infrastructure needs repair – and that this is a way to get the jobs we need to keep the remainder of the economy going. And so forth, and so forth.

But all of these issues should be subject to rational discourse, not to a continual “this is off the table for ideological reasons”. If the Republicans continually take this “off the table” attitude, and only Democrats will be willing to compromise, we will get nowhere and the troubles of the country will expand. And this looks like what the Repubicans will do, whether because they believe this is correct, or because they think this is in their political interest for 2012.

Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t seem up to the task of countering the Republicans in any of this, neither in the Senate, nor in the White House. I think Barak Obama would be a great president in good times, but I wonder if he is up to the task (or if anyone is) under current circumstances. Everyone is assuming that Obama will run for a second term. I for one am not so sure, and I wonder who is in the bullpen.

Unfortunately, we live in interesting times.

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