I grew up a political conservative by default, a rules-concerned little boy in a largely conservative family. As I matured, I became more liberal. I still consider myself largely a conservative, but I hold a more liberal viewpoint with respect to some issues. Now, this isn’t a screed about how brilliantly correct my politics are; my politics have evolved enough over my life that I know perfectly well whatever I write now will be cause for wincing when I reread it ten years in the future. No, lucky reader, this is yet another screed about how screwed-up American politics are, and yet another plea for sanity.
It won’t be long, no worries. I just have three points to make, nice and simple.
#1: Conservatism, liberalism, whateverism: these are at most rules of thumb, not ideals to be attained.
When I say I’m largely conservative, it’s more of a general thing than identifying with the current political meaning. I don’t throw ideas out just because they’re “old”. I like being cautious, especially with decisions that are important or look like they could spin out of control. I don’t care for fixing things that aren’t broken. And things that are broken should be fixed carefully, with some forethought, lest they become even more broken or cause problems elsewhere.
Conservatism (or liberalism, or moderation) should be considered a temperament, a tendency, not a law of nature. “Let’s hang on to whatever’s in place” is a stupid law to live by, just as much as “Let’s ditch whatever we have” or “Let’s just go down the middle”. Look at the problem, look at the data, look at the proposals. Apply ideals, apply history and personal experience. Then make the call: what should we do? If at any point you ask, “Well, what does my party think? I’ll just follow their lead” then at best you are not contributing, and at worst you’re part of the problem.
#2: The universe is too complicated, and people are too messy, for a single political philosophy to completely describe a practical society.
Forget about politics for a moment. Let’s say your high school yearbook calls you “Sweetest Person” in your graduating class, and you’re kinda proud of that. Is that going to rule the rest of your life? Are you going to refuse to ever lose your temper again just because of a few stupid words? How about if people call you a penny-pincher, and you’re proud of how frugal you are? Are you willing to rule out an “impulse buy” that would be worth it, just for pride’s sake?
No? Then why do people act like that in politics? Embrace the label as far, as strongly, and as long as it accurately describes your concerns; the moment it doesn’t, cast it off.
#3: Stop hypocritically circling the wagons.
This was actually what, ahem, inspired me to write this post. If the other person does it, and you call them out, apply the same standards when one of your people does it. If you piled in on the other person without mercy, now you don’t get to say, “Well, technically these cases are different because [piddling difference] . . .” or “Let’s wait until all the facts are in.” Did you stop to consider the details in the first case? No? Then the details don’t suddenly matter when it’s your side’s reputation on the line. If you’ve changed your mind and the thing does or doesn’t matter to you now, (wo)man up and admit you were wrong before.
Same thing holds in reverse.
I can respect you whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Anarchist, or even a Cubs fan. I can respect you if your politics show a desire to change the world for the better, to avoid losing good things to fear or hate or apathy or plain old foolishness. The moment you start defending people just because they have the right letter next to their names, however, is the moment I start losing respect for you. I don’t care what ideology you think you’re fighting for. We aren’t here, ultimately, to play at tribalism. We are here to make lives better, even when it means we have to change ourselves in ways we might not appreciate.
My politics have changed over the course of my life. Right or wrong, they’ve changed to reflect my understanding of the world, and my desire for America to be the best it can be. I think that’s healthy. They didn’t change just to blindly match whoever happens to say things I like. I think anyone would agree that would be unhealthy. And, need I say, this country’s politics are very sick indeed right now.