We Are Not The Same, You And I
The differences between political parties in America reach far beyond mere ideology
I used to work for a guy who couldn’t have a five-minute conversation without lying about the wind, weather, time of day, or the cost of pennies. It was usually an inconsequential tidbit or morsel, a desperate attempt to put himself in a positive light at all times, but when stressed, he would launch into epic tales and gross distortions of fact that practically dared you to call him out.
From exaggerations of fact to wild suppositions, he wove a complicated tapestry of falsehoods to protect and promote himself, both emotionally and financially. After a while, I came to suspect he began to believe his own lies. If you didn’t challenge him immediately, they would become statements of historical fact.
We all got used to it, those who worked with him. It was just part of his personality. A little added flavor. A little je ne sais quoi. We didn’t call them lies, of course. They were exaggerations, misstatements of fact, or fanciful tales. We pretended they were mostly harmless, even though there weren’t.
It all just became normal.
One of the consequences of his delusions was that he was so self-deceived that it must have never occurred to him that we might talk amongst ourselves and quickly learn of his many deceits. We came to take nothing he said at face value and would immediately go to the source to find the truth. You assumed that a good bit of whatever he said was made up on the spot or manufactured for effect.
If he’d “heard from a bunch of people,” you could safely assume that either one close confident had told him something or that he’d made it up out of whole cloth. There was little difference between wild supposition and extensive polling. Even his mythology was suspect. He would say things to an employee such as, “Don’t you think this is probably true?” Of course, they would generally agree with him, and that was all the confirmation he needed to tell someone else he’d talked to ten people who all believed the same.
He also projected all his insecurities and fears onto the world and into every relationship, so that he assumed everyone else thought and acted just like him. He concluded that the rest of the world was operating under the same set of delusions and paranoia that he was. So years later, when Donald Trump came stumbling onto the political scene, I recognized him immediately for what and who he was.
“Oh, I know you,” I thought to myself. “I’ve seen your kind before.”
There is a common misunderstanding that America’s political parties are more or less the same even though they exist at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The inference being that if the shoe were on the other foot, the other party would act similarly. This is a profound misunderstanding of politics in America, especially of the left, but unfortunately, it’s also all too common.
In a guest essay in the opinion section of The NY Times yesterday, Rich Lowry, the Editor-In-Chief for the conservative news rag National Review, opines, “There’s a natural suspicion when one side is indicting a leading politician of the other. Imagine if George W. Bush’s Justice Department had indicted John Kerry in 2003 when he was the presumed front-runner for the Democratic nomination to run against Mr. Bush in 2004. Even if, in this hypothetical, Mr. Kerry had been caught dead to rights on something, Democrats probably wouldn’t have assumed Attorney General John Ashcroft had the best of intentions.”
Mr. Lowry makes it plain that, in his opinion, if the situation were reversed, Democrats would act more or less the same as the Republicans. They would rally around their candidate no matter what they were accused of. The problem is, this is wrong. It’s not true, and history bears this out.
Let’s just take his example at face value. Back when Bush was president, the Department of Justice still maintained a tradition of independence. It wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that a federal indictment was partisan. That possibility didn’t even exist. If Kerry had been credibly indicted for federal crimes at the time, the entire party would have turned their backs on him immediately and moved on. They wouldn’t have rallied around him like a disgraced idol. Democrats don’t protect their own. Just ask Sen Al Franken.
I wrote a piece the other day claiming that “Republicans Are Headed For An Epic Wipeout — Their Own.” As you might expect, it garnered a lot of attention, and not just a little from those on the right. One gentleman replied, “Perhaps you would like to address the rather blatant corruption of the current First Occupant?”
If you’re not up to speed on prevailing right-wing conspiracy theories, he is claiming that Joe Biden is corrupt. He’s also refusing to acknowledge that Biden is the President. The evidence for this alleged corruption are unsubstantiated reports and claims by suspicious witness testimony and a lot of innuendo, surrounding Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, there has been zero credible evidence presented that Joe Biden has done anything improper, illegal, or even unethical, despite his son’s troubled past.
These are just a few of many examples of the Republican Party attempting to gaslight the country by projecting their worst misdeeds onto their opponent. When practically Donald Trump’s entire family is accused of impropriety and illegal or unethical business practices, they don’t deny it. They turn around and accuse Joe Biden, without supporting evidence, of running a crime family. It’s beyond irony, bordering on absurdity, and absolutely stupid.
The American Conservative movement, such as it is, has become unmoored in recent years from any sort of ideological conservatism recognizable in American history. They have maintained an attitude that they are above the law, and that even questioning their actions, no matter how illegal, unethical, or bizarre by historical standards, amounts to a politically motivated attack outside the bounds of common decency. They believe themselves to be untouchable.
But the other unintended consequence mirrors that of my former colleague, who often assumed everyone saw the world as he did. They cheat, so they assume everyone cheats. They lie, so they assume everyone is lying. They feel guilty, so they assume everyone is guilty. Everyone does it. You’re no better than me.
Every accusation they make against their political opponents seems to have some basis, in fact, concerning their own predicaments. He who smelt it, dealt it, as we used to say. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” the Bard once intoned. Pure projection.
The elected official ranting about groomers who turns up indicted for child porn. The religious zealot who decries the debauchery of the radical left gets caught in a sleazy motel room with a minor of the same sex. A champion of conservative Christian values takes a fall for embezzling campaign funds to finance a life of hookers, drugs, and booze.
Their answer is always the same.
We are just simple men, after all, just humble servants. God forgives the sinner. We all make mistakes. But we never quite get into the fact that this is who they are. They aren’t repentant because of what they did. They’re just humiliated that they got caught.
Now we are moving into a new, more dangerous phase of this debauchery, where they’ve learned that they don’t have to repent at all. Their new golden god has shown them the way. You can just deny everything until the end of time. Worst case, just ignore it, or even embrace it, and everyone will stop talking about it. Lower the bar for what is acceptable and embrace your worst instincts. People will accept you anyway, as long as you win.
I’m still talking about elected officials and party leaders rather than the great unwashed masses of voters and supporters. Your average voter believes what they hear from their own trusted sources. Some combination of conservative media, social networks, talk radio, friends, and coworkers. Just one big echo chamber looking for validation.
The vast majority of the population pays only cursory attention to real policy issues or the day-to-day operations of the government. They react to culture war issues with pat answers they repeat from a litany of things they’ve heard. There is either no critical thinking or an overabundance of conspiratorial thinking. It’s not a concern for democratic governance but a desire to be entertained. Pure spectacle.
The Democrats are no saints, believe you me. But they’re dysfunctional in different ways. I’m sure there are plenty of elected officials who are corrupt as they come. No one is above temptation, and when given a chance, many people will rationalize bad behavior. I work hard. I deserve it. Everyone does it.
But generally speaking, Democrats, and liberals in general, share a fundamental political ideology that centers around the idea that government should be an instrument of positive change to protect and support its constituents. Public servants have a moral obligation to help the needy and protect our citizens from the worst impulses of our enemies, whether they be domestic corporations or foreign governments
Republicans don’t feel that way. They think all government is fundamentally evil and should be destroyed, or at least dismantled, which is rather ironic for all these career politicians. It’s hard to know exactly what they believe and what is simply an effective strategy for ginning up their base. Their entire game plan dates back to the titans, who opposed Roosevelt’s New Deal and want to go back to when the federal government was relatively toothless and left giant privately held corporations to do as they pleased. They want small government, no taxes, no regulation, and no social safety net. They have all they need, so they want it to be every man for themselves.
Republicans feel that government should be limited and do the least amount possible. It’s a perfectly valid ideology, except they only believe that when it works in their favor. They want a strong defense to protect their global investments. They want strong policing to protect their property. They want government bailouts when they overreach, and they need a mollified electorate to keep the peace and ensure everyone gets to work on time. They also require the government to maintain the roads, bridges, ports, and airports so they can move their merchandise around the world. Essentially, the only thing they want the government to do is protect their wealth. Everything else is frivolous.
It’s a question of morality. Do you believe you have an ethical obligation to your fellow man, or do you believe it’s every man for himself? Are empathy and compassion a thing you value, or do you think ruthless greed is the height of human accomplishment? It’s not so silly a question if you quote Ayn Rand as your life inspiration.
“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine,” writes Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged.
No, we are not the same, you and I. We are different. We have different values, different wants and needs, and different goals. I believe we live in a society where this requires sacrifice and collective bargaining. To expect peace and prosperity at no personal cost to yourself is greedy, naive, and entitled. I, too, expect a great many things, but I believe everything of value comes at a price.
I do not believe anyone has the right to make and hoard billions of dollars. That is not a just system. Unfettered capitalism is a recipe for disaster for everyone involved, including the rich, unless you’re happy to follow a scorched earth path to infamy. Not everyone has the means and ability just to lift themselves up, not after they’ve been held down for so long. Not everyone is born with the same gifts and privileges, and we should do our best to help those in need.
I believe in a compassionate government that serves its people. I just don’t see what is so radical about that.
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