Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
What Does the Right Get Right?
As you might guess, my personal political beliefs are somewhat left of center. I usually vote Democratic in US elections, and I am more comfortable with traditional left-wing ideas. Nevertheless, I am disturbed by the stark polarization between liberal and conservative political thought. There was a time when the left and the right could, and did, compromise for the good of everyone. Now? Not so much.
Thomas Edsall recently wrote a couple of articles for the New York Times in which he asked the other side what ideas their opponents might actually get “right.” In this month’s column I’ll explore what the left wingers concede might be “right” about the ideas of the conservatives.
According to the left wingers in Edsall’s survey, the conservatives inherently understand the limits of governmental solutions to social problems. They tend to see solutions to poverty, medical inequality, and education coming from non-governmental institutions like family, church, and private enterprise. They see that government programs are sometimes inefficient, expensive, and patronizing.
The left, perhaps, has a blind spot about the problems created by large-scale government intervention because they see them as reliable ways to address some social problems. An example from the 1960’s would be the welfare system which provided aid to poor families with young children. It did provide a stable source of income, but, in the process, encouraged women not to marry and created a culture of dependency.
Another area where the left wing respondents agreed that the right had a strong point was their focusing on individual freedom and responsibility. Conservatives support the idea of putting the onus on individuals to make their lives better and giving them the freedom to accomplish this. They support school choice and private health insurance, and often oppose government mandates which reduce individual autonomy like motorcycle helmet and gun-control laws. Liberal thinkers are more likely to pass laws which may limit individual freedoms to accomplish a “greater good.” (I might add that the conservatives did support many post-9-11 laws which, arguably, compromised individual freedom and privacy, so there are exceptions!)
Conservatives also tend to support non-governmental institutions like religion and family as way to support “moral” values. Good parenting and strong church affiliation, they believe, can do more to promote the values of hard work, the sanctity of life, and charity more than secular, government-based institutions. Perhaps the left, by promoting more secular solutions, diminishes the traditional role of family and church in helping young people take individual responsibility of their lives. Conservatives believe that liberal programs weaken these institutions.
Although there are some worthy ideas coming from the right, even conservatives themselves will disagree on specific proposals. Many libertarians see government regulation of abortion-rights as improper. Although most conservatives oppose government-provided health care, some agree with some government involvement for childhood inoculations and food and drug regulations. Obviously, conservatives and liberals do not always agree among themselves. So these types of generalizations need to be tempered.
Perhaps, if Edsall’s liberal thinkers are correct, the left should not dismiss the conservative’s viewpoints out-of-hand. Perhaps there is some common-ground which might be the basis for good policy. Next month, I’ll examine the: what the right-wingers agree the left gets right.