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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Theory # 9: Politics: We're more alike than we realize

I'm not talking about the hardcore ideologues. I'm talking about average, everyday Americans. It occurred to me while writing yesterday's post that much of what divides us is semantics.

But just so I'm clear: assume every time I say 'we all' or mention 'conservatives' or 'liberals,' I'm talking about average, reasonable people, not the fringe elements.

During the 2004 election, one email list I'm on (readers, mostly women) engaged in a lively but mostly respectful political debate, and the idea most of us came away with was that we had more in common than we thought we did. We had many of the same concerns. We didn't even always differ in what we thought the solutions were. Where we differed was in which party we thought would address our concerns better, and the priority we attached to those concerns.

I don't know anyone who's not concerned about crime, poverty, education, terrorism, health care, unemployment, Social Security, etc., etc.

We're not even all that far apart on hot-button issues:
  • Liberals don't think abortion should be the main form of birth control.
  • Conservatives don't think there should be thousands of unwanted children being born and abandoned or neglected.

  • Liberals don't think all men should be castrated.
  • Conservatives don't think all women should be subservient.

  • Liberals don't think we should all be forced to become gay.
  • Conservatives don't think gays should be imprisoned, tortured, or killed.

  • Liberals don't think murderers should be set free to kill again.
  • Conservatives don't think we should execute petty criminals.

  • Liberals don't think minorities should be handed life on a silver platter.
  • Conservatives aren't white supremacists.

  • Liberals don't want to turn the other cheek or cave in to terrorist threats.
  • Conservatives don't want to kill a few thousand American soldiers for oil.
Somewhere in the middle of these gross exaggerations each side promotes as being the view of the other side is where the opinions of most of us lie.

The exaggerations polarize us, make us distrust whichever half of the country is not us. They get people to the polls to vote, mainly for whichever extreme we find less distasteful.

If we could sit down and talk without sound bites, without rhetoric, I believe we'd find we have a lot more in common than we think. And we could, very possibly, find compromises in the vast middle ground.

But that's not the way it works.

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