When I was in high school and college, lo these many years ago, the big flashpoint political issues that I can recall talking about were:
- Affirmative action
- The Cold War
- Balancing environmental protection with economic growth
- Illegal immigration
- Gay rights
- Responding to unstable conditions in the middle east
- Patriotism (mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance; flag-burning)
- Runaway Federal deficit spending
- Extramarital affairs of politicians
Things haven’t changed a whole lot in twenty-five years, have they? The Cold War has gone away but we’re looking at “containment” and appropriate responses to nuclear-armed Iran and North Korea. Russia is also still, in some senses, a strategic rival kept in check by superior military power. So our “Cold War” concerns have transformed from a bipolar world to a multipolar one.
We’re still worried about the extramarital affairs of politicians (John Edwards), and gay rights (marriage, these days), and demonstrations of patriotism (remember all the hand-wringing about Obama not wearing a flag pin on his lapel?). And unstable conditions in the Middle East?
In fact, about the only thing that seems to no longer be an issue, or at least not a huge one, is crime.
So my question is, what’s happened? Why have we done nothing to move towards resolution or consensus on these issues? Have our leaders let us down? Have we let ourselves down, shouting at one another instead of listening?
Let us try to at least listen to one another in the future and understand the legitimate, good-intentioned concerns of those with whom we disagree.
I am pro-choice. But I recognize that pro-lifers have a legitimate concern about when human life begins and that our laws ought not to sanction killing innocent human beings. That does not mean I agree with them that an embryo that has only been fertilized for six weeks is a human being worthy of that protection — but it does mean I can see how a fetus six weeks away from a scheduled childbirth could easily be considered one. In return, I ask that a pro-lifer understands that my concerns about personal bodily autonomy and control of one’s decision to have sex and reproduce (or not), the government not interfering in private medical decisions between a patient and her doctor, and caution about allowing religious doctrine to control public policy are also not frivolous.
I am generally against affirmative action. But I recognize that historically, various groups of people who do not look like me have had the doors of opportunity slammed in their faces, and that history leaves a legacy which makes it difficult for those same sorts of people today to get the same kinds of opportunities that I may take for granted. And I understand that their social and historical experiences are different than my own and present valid and valuable perspectives on things. So I can see how “diversity” is important even if I do not believe that affirmative action is the right way to get it. In return, I ask that affirmative action proponents understand that fair processes involve opportunities and not results, and that the results of legitimate processes may not always conform to demographics.
I am in favor of same-sex marriage. But I recognize that people have great caution about changing a long-established social tradition. In return, I ask opponents of same-sex marriage to recognize that gay people want to have the same access to social normalcy as straight people do, and to set aside their personal dislike for gays at least enough to recognize their fundamental equality with us straight folks.
I think we should have opened immigration, with easy access to guest worker programs and a standardized and relaistic path to naturalization. But I understand that those who would restrict access to the legal right to be present in and work in the United States do not do so for evil motives like racism (well, not all of them), but rather from a concern about the economic health of our country. In return, I ask that they understand that economic immigrants are a fact of life who deserve to be dealt with in intelligent, humane ways.
See, this is not so very hard. Why does the ability to at least understand the concerns of a different point of view seem to have escaped so many people? Why do we have to keep on arguing about the same stuff, over and over again for more than half of my life?