Sunday, January 23, 2005

Why Can't We Be Friends?

I heard most of an interview with Steven Waldman today on public radio. He's co-founder of a spirituality-oriented Web site called Beliefnet, where you could learn more about the intersection of conservatism and religious faith without feeling like bugs are crawling over your skin.

In an article titled Perverted, God-Hating Frenchies vs. Inbred, Sex-Obsessed Yokels, he lays out ten reasons why liberals and conservatives can't get along — all rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of the other side.


1. They're Just As Moral As Conservatives

2. Most Are Religious

3. They Believe History Is On the Side of Tolerance

4. Most Support Separation of Church and State to Protect Religion

5. Family Values Are Revered


1. They're Just As Smart As Liberals

2. They Don't Want a Religious Dictatorship

3. The Pro-Life Position Is Born of Compassion

4. They Feel Under Assault

5. They Believe American Culture Has Become An Insult to God

Also on the weekend, I attended a party where the host was the only person I knew until one neighbor couple arrived late into the evening. Sitting around with strangers — most of whom were about two decades younger and seemed to have known each other for years — would not be my entertainment of choice. I'm a borderline introvert, afterall, and how could we spend the evening talking about me if no one knew who I was?

Although I arrived a bit worn out, I ended up staying late because the conversation was funny and varied, ranging from the dating habits of someone's father, to adopting children from Guatemala, to Frank Lloyd Wright, to the impossibility of remembering the names of the plants growing in front of your new house. Oh yeah, and the primary demographic was gay men, some in pairs and some not.

How many of the righteous right actually know any gays or lesbians? How could they possibly continue to hold their beliefs once they saw what normal life is like for my friends, neighbors and co-workers?

Waldman says in his article:

Liberals believe that historically red state conservatives were on the wrong side of the civil rights struggle (first as conservative Democrats and then as Republicans) and that they opposed much of the campaign for equal rights for women that enabled Condoleezza Rice to be National Security Advisor and Sandra Day O'Connor to be on the Supreme Court. So when conservatives oppose gay rights, liberals see history repeating itself. To grossly caricature both sides, liberals may have been wrong about the Soviet Union but conservatives were wrong about civil rights and women's rights. Liberals look at gay marriage opponents and say, to paraphrase Reagan, there they go again.

Amen, brother.


Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

One of the comments Waldman made in his radio interview was that people tend to evaluate politically-charged information in terms of where it came from rather than what it means. If it's from "our team," we agree with it. From the other team, we reflexively dispute it.

This is like booing any referee's calls that go against us. As the game gets closer, the calls look worse and the outrage builds.

Can we honestly see the right calls, even though they seem to favor the other team? Can we give respectful attention to the opponent's points rather than looking for holes and ways to refute their argument upon first reading? Can we sincerely applaud a good play by the other side instead of acknowledging minor point as a rhetorical strategy to set up our attack?

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

You write: "How many of the righteous right actually know any gays or lesbians? How could they possibly continue to hold their beliefs once they saw what normal life is like for my friends, neighbors and co-workers?"

Exhibit A is Dick Cheney. The Veep marches in lock-step with the neo-cons and religious righties on virtually every issue...except civil unions. And as John Kerry would be happy to tell you, he has a gay daughter.

- Gus

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the broadcast I heard Monday, Feb. 14, I found Steven Waldman's comments generally positive and helpful. However, I (still) disagree with his critique of liberals' tendency towards intellectual snobbery. Indeed, it is a greater insult to Bush supporters to label them "well-educated and intelligent"; for if one takes away the uninformed excuse, the only alternative is that those people are mean-spirited and selfish. I was raised in a conservative household in a very conservative community (dominated by a fundamentalist college in a small southern city). I still live near there. I have had many conservative friends and relatives all my life. No one can tell me that I can’t see things from their perspective; until I was twenty years old, it was my own.

One may not need to be stupid to be a conservative, but one must certainly be short-sighted to support Bush and his ilk. This administration has heavy-handedly and/or surrepticiously engaged in reckless and self-interested behavior regarding some of the gravest issues facing mankind: war, responsibility for our national security, and ecological disasters pending and being aided by their policies. About most of these issues, they have lied to the American people, Congress, and indeed the world. They have subverted our system of a free press in order to advance their agenda. Moreover, hardly anyone would argue that fiscal irresponsibility is a wise choice, yet Bush's "smart" supporters have put in office a man who has bankrupted the U.S. treasury like he did that of Texas, whose deficit he dumped on the side of the road with the comment "That's the next guy's problem [inane smirk]."

It is my suspicion that “Mr. Beliefnet” would have difficulty criticizing Bushies because he is one. How else could he suggest that we give serious consideration to the policies of self-evident harm the president and his cronies have perpetrated. One might argue that the ecological, economic, humanitarian, and diplomatic slide backwards that the Bush presidency has thrust upon this planet is just the price that socially conservative folks are willing to pay to also slide back to “the good ol’ days” of moral certitude. But I cannot imagine any argument that could disabuse me of the opinion that the equation is horrendously tipped towards harm rather than good, and I consider myself a fairly creative thinker.

I am also one hesitant to argue against statistics; if collected fairly, they can tell us a great deal that our intuition cannot. So, I might concede that Bush supporters include a good many MBAs or a higher percentage of college graduates. But Bob Jones University does not an “education” make. These people must—MUST—lack the critical thinking skills that are shaped by a well-rounded education and arise naturally in the intelligent. There is no other logical conclusion. Unless you want to call them “evil.”

8:42 AM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

Thanks for your comment. I fear the conservatives in power would rather win than be right, be morally consistent or act in the interest of the broader community —especially when it conflicts with their self-interest.

I won't get deeper here, except to say the themes you've touched upon are central to what this blog is about, and they will resurface again and again.

7:07 PM  

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