Conservatives and liberals and us

It's not that there are two kinds of people in the world; there are two kinds of people in ourselves.

This first appeared at my personal blog Wriitng Boots, during the 2012 election year. It comes to mind as I prepare to moderate what will no dobut be a politically lively 2016 World Conference of the Professional Speechwriters Association in Washington later this month. —ed.

Yesterday my funny, brilliant, musical, conservative speechwriter friend Mike Long said on Facebook that he was deeply upset by a Huffington Post piece that basically claims conservatives are dumber than liberals.

I find the article, and its suggestion that there's a physiological difference between liberals and conservatives, less offensive than absurd.

Here's what I think about liberals and conservatives: I think, yes.

Every sane human being has conservative instincts and liberal ones. We each have an inner looker and an inner leaper, a miser and a spendthrift, a lover and a fighter, a hunter and a gatherer. The strict disciplinarian is overcompensating for her permissive side. We've each had experiences that lead us to trust institutions, and we've had experiences that warn us not to. We've been rebels and we've been team players. We've given, and we've kept for ourselves.

It's not that there are two kinds of people in the world; there are two kinds of people in ourselves. Tiresome it is, the liberal and conservative polarity endures because it is psychologically valid and intellectually useful.

It's a complicated world, and none of us has either the stamina or the time to thoroughly think and feel our way through every issue that comes down the pike. (How many issues do you truly feel ownership of because you've put in the person hours studying them from every angle? One or two or three—and I bet you don't favor universally "liberal" or "conservative" solutions to those issues, but some combination of both.)

But unable to wonk out truly independent stances on healthcarereform-defensespendingabortionstemcellresearchglobalwarmingguncontroletaxreform-MiddleEastpolicy, we eventually pick one of the two groups to associate with most of the time, and when in doubt—and we're usually in doubt—we go with the girl what brung us.

How we wind up choosing "liberal" or "conservative" as our default stance is part tribal. It also has to do with the life story we tell ourselves we are living—usually "conservative" or "liberal" is the coat that looks best. And it can have to do with our relationship with a single, searingly important-to-us issue that's associated with one of the two general points of view.

Doesn't matter how we come to "conservative" or "liberal": The trouble starts when we forget all of the above and start to think our political postures are truly connected with our inner lives. And everyone is so eager to defend their "core principles" that everybody forgets: Our political stances are mostly just fallback positions.

This isn't an argument for moderate politics. Issue by issue, I believe that radical politics is often correct and I think political conviction can be one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see. Meanwhile, when someone proudly declares she's a moderate, it sounds like someone who likes both the Cubs and the White Sox. Well, fine, I guess. But you're not really a baseball fan, and I don't want to talk to you about baseball.

If I'm gonna talk politics, I want to do it with people who force me to think harder than I normally do—and remind me of the difference between my deep ideas and my assumed stances.

(Or, failing that, people who agree with me all the time.) —DM

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