The growing divide between left and right in this country has been on my mind of late. I recently lamented that it seems to be infecting more things than just politics so that even entertainment and leisure decisions take on political significance. Like deciding between Walmart and Target, where one shops sometimes now depends on where one stands. This makes some sense because world view and personality influence life choices as much as they influence politics and even career choices are often influenced by the same forces that draw one to certain political persuasions. I can remember the 1984 presidential election. I was 9 years old and trying to convince all of my classmates to go home and tell their parents to vote for Ronald Reagan. My mother was a child of the 60s and so was not a fan of Reagan, but even then I was drawn to Reagan’s vision of the promise of America’s founding principles and his opposition to collectivist schemes. It was a clear example of “nature” over “nurture”.
Often those on the right are put off by the preponderance of liberals in entertainment, media and academia but they should expect this given the nature of those professions. People who pursue the arts are usually creative dreamers by nature, the proverbial “soul of a poet”, so it makes sense they would be seduced by utopian concepts and attracted to leftist ideologies. Those who enter journalism generally want to “right wrongs” and speak truth to power and generally prefer to caste themselves as crusaders against perceived injustice. As for academia, is there really any question as to why those who spend their lives seeking answers would be drawn to ideologies promising to cure society’s ills? Their position is that we only need to give the right people enough power to guide the collective and we would all benefit. People on the left generally accept Jean Jacque Rousseau’s vision of man in the state of nature as generous and good. They want to strip away the greed and pride which they believe has corrupted the human spirit so we can all work together towards a more perfect society.
Not surprisingly, those on the right have the opposite view of the world. People drawn to conservative or libertarian worldviews are often pessimistic about human nature and distrustful of power, and not without reason. History is replete with examples of those who claimed to have “the answer”, slaughtering those who were perceived to stand in the way of progress. From Jacobin France to Hitler, Stalin, Chairmen Mao, Castro and the Khmer Rouge, “spreading the wealth” has often been a precursor to death squads and gulags. People on the right also tend to see themselves as self sufficient individuals, sovereign entities who agree to give up some of their natural sovereignty in exchange for the protection afforded by being part of a larger society. The right tends to see man in state of nature as a Hobbesien war of all against all where life is nasty brutish and short. In this worldview we form a society for mutual protection of private property and to unite in common defense against invaders; but beyond this we should be left to pursue our own vision of the good life.
Individuals may not be able to articulate these two competing philosophies, but the cultural cues they draw from elites reinforce them subconsciously. It is important to remember that each citizen forms positions based on what matters most to them. If I agree with the right on most issues, limited government for example, I will look past points of disagreement such as gay marriage. To someone with a different rank order of priorities and concerns, the equation has a different answer. This is called the theory of multidimensionality and it posits that there are so many variables involving so many issues that individuals will naturally choose the one or two issues which matter most to them based on their own priorities. Political leanings will then flow from this decision. It is not that the folks on the left and right are bad people; they simply focus on different things.
These debates are healthy and the current partisanship in Washington is a sign of the vitality of our republic. Republicans and Tea Party Activists who swept Republicans to power in the House did so because they have very real concerns about the health of our economy and the size and scope of our government. Those who continue to support Obama also have very real concerns about those who are unable or unwilling to compete in a capitalist system. We are facing harsh choices as a nation and these arguments represent a necessary sorting out of our priorities. I cannot purchase a new Mercedes each year and stay current on the household bills, just as the country cannot have a robust “womb to tomb” welfare state and a dynamic economy. All things exist on a continuum and the point of politics is to have these arguments and decide which priorities will receive our limited resources. With the burgeoning industry built around keeping American’s divided along political and cultural lines it is important to remember that we are still one nation, united by common principles and values handed down from the Founding Fathers.