Nicholson: Conservative and liberal voices together bring balance to nation (column)
Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
A coin has two sides: heads and tails. A society is more complicated than a coin. In parliamentary governments, there may be several parties. Think of it like a Rubik’s Cube. Sometimes, one or more of the smaller parties might hold the balance of power, as a major party without a majority might need to strike a deal in order to govern. Such is the case currently in Great Britain. As Americans, we generally like things simpler than that.
In our country, a two-party system has evolved. There have been times when there were significant third-party movements, such as in the early 19th century, when the Federalists, the party of Washington and Adams, found their power waning. Along came the Jeffersonian-Republicans, forerunners to Libertarian and Democratic party politics, and the Whigs. By the time of the Civil War, the current two-party system was clearly defined. There were the Democrats and the Republicans.
But, this isn’t just a political science lesson. Political parties, in their essence, represent the will of their constituents. In the broadest sense, that will is either a desire to maintain things as they are or progress toward some goal with the idea that society will be more stable or better able to cope with present or future challenges.
For example, if people who live in a rich neighborhood begin tripping over the bodies of homeless people on their way home and find that a danger and a nuisance, they might suggest to their representatives that they do something about the problem. They might even authorize them to spend a little money to find out why there’s a problem in the first place, if it isn’t too obvious. On the other hand, there might be a call from poor people who can no longer afford the benefits of society such as housing or higher or specialized education for a wage standard that can enable them to achieve some of those benefits.
Conservatives might think it is up to individuals to raise themselves up, while liberals might believe a little help from the society that would benefit from their participation is a good thing, especially if there’s an economic expansion that needs more labor or another resource to help keep it growing. That help doesn’t have to come in the form of a handout for the liberal. It can be a program, like Head Start or the Peace Corps. These are the arguments that underlie the spectrum of the political debate.
What complicates that debate? In my experience, the debate never goes away. What derails it is when the sides stop listening to each other and talk past the other’s concerns.
For example, in the current climate, for a progressive, or liberal, to hear a conservative tell it, what’s happening today is necessary in order to rid government of waste. But, the waste goes on, and it’s obvious. Here’s a tax plan (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1) and a budget that’s just been passed that guarantees an additional projected $1.5 trillion deficit by 2027, the very thing conservatives railed against.
Now you would think that package would have been passed by a progressive, liberal contingent to subsidize all the welfare it’s supposedly trying to support. But, the facts say otherwise. Turns out the conservatives rammed it through to get a point on the board of what has otherwise been a pretty dismal season for them. And, they’re in control!
It doesn’t take more than a third- or fourth-grader to see that the plan of current conservative administrations throughout the country on both the federal and local levels is to dismantle what a friend of mine calls “the nanny state” and what progressives might call the social safety net, an example of which is the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, a relatively efficient government plan originally designed to be funded entirely by the federal tax on cigarettes, that helps keep poor kids healthy and which the Republican majority failed to reauthorize upon its expiration this year.
The conservative fiscal revolution probably includes not just destroying the health care safety net, environmental and labor laws and Net Neutrality rules but just about every piece of progressive legislation from the New Deal to the Great Society. And why? Because in doing so, the employer might not have to worry about spending their portion of the FICA contribution any more or be challenged when they are found to be polluters within the new rules set by the EPA.
But, the most important cuts are to staff; less labor, less cost. Less cost, less taxes. Less taxes, the better. Oh, yes — and less oversight.
These arguments between progressive/liberals and conservatives will always exist. They are always the same arguments. They always show the same results. Which is why it is so important for us to remember our history, so we can improve on it. At the turn of the 20th century, capitalist power was concentrated in the hands of a few and the businesses these people had formed concentrated it into monopolies and trusts.
Along came Teddy Roosevelt, who actually broke up these trusts to the astonishment of the conservatives who said it couldn’t and shouldn’t be done. What resulted was the great economic and social expansion of the 20th century. And, as we expanded, we took the world with us.
At the beginning of the 1950s, in the shadow of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who arguably could have run for that office from either party, kicked it into another gear by helping to direct the building of the greatest infrastructure project our country had ever seen, the Interstate Highway System.
He was followed by the Southern Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, whose Great Society came into being and brought with it Medicare and Civil Rights legislation. These people were true statesmen, in every sense of the word. They worked across the aisle, always minding their manners, at least in public, always minding their constituents, always minding their consciences and delivering to us an America that became the light on the hill. Today, that light grows faint and flickers in the hands of small-minded men.
As I look back on the great leaders, at the risk of oversimplifying, I make an observation. It seems conservatives, with their eyes on the pocketbook, and progressive/liberals, with theirs on the needs of society, are a marriage. Just one telling the other what to do won’t produce as good an outcome as the two working together to secure for the family the blessings needed to keep that family healthy and prosperous and growing. That family is the American family. That family is us.
Gus Nicholson is a resident of Avon and Denver.