Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer

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What Does the Left Get Right?


Bill-Frayer-2010Last month, in the interest of trying to bridge the partisan divide between liberals and conservatives, I explored what left wing thinkers concede that the right may be correct about. This was based on a series of articles for the New York Times by Thomas Edsall. Although the left-leaning thinkers were somewhat grudging in their positive assessment of some right wing ideas, it did, to my mind, demonstrate some possible areas of commonality which, some day, might lead to more productive political dialogue.

This month, I’ll examine what the right wing thinkers admit that the left actually get right, including economic issues, fairness, the role of science, and the over-reach of the military establishment. 

Whereas the right tends to think of unbridled capitalism as a good thing, the left has been able to recognize that this is not always so, particularly for the working class. They identify very real dislocations caused by automation, globalization, and income inequality. They recognize that the federal government can play a useful role in mitigating the effects of unemployment. The conservatives see success or failure as an essential component of capitalism, but they are not sensitive to the real problems faced by the working class and the poor. The liberals understand this and often force the conservatives to deal with these issues.

In terms of fairness, the left has traditionally understood the problems caused by racism, sexism, and other types of intolerance. They understand the enduring legacy of slavery and the lingering effects of institutional prejudice.  For this reason, they stand behind Hispanics in their struggle for a fair immigration policy. They have supported civil rights and affirmative action for women and racial minorities.  They generally recognize the contemporary civil rights struggle of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender people.  They are more welcoming than conservatives.  As the conservative movement continues to be a predominantly white group, many conservative thinkers are concerned that if they don’t change this perception, the right wing will shrink in terms of population and, as a consequence, electoral relevance.     

Another area in which the left is more progressive is in the role of science.  Generally, those on the left see science as a neutral arbiter, and they do not as often apply ideological filters to their views of science. This is particularly true on the issue of climate change.  What the left sees as a legitimate scientific warning, many on the right view as a hoax or as “chicken little” thinking.  As the scientific community reaches more consensus on this, it is hurting the right. 

And finally, the left can see, more clearly, the limits of military and national security efforts by the US government. Those on the right are more apt to unquestioningly support the assessment of military and national security experts who support using military force around the world.  The left is constitutionally more skeptical of the over extension of US forces abroad.  In the view of many on the left, the Iraq war was a terrible overreach, and the Afghanistan war is a waste of money and blood.  Ironically, the left takes seriously Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1959 warning about the dangers of a growing military-industrial complex.

Perhaps, someday, the good people on both sides will put aside the divisive hate speech and, once again, reach across the aisle to do the good work of the people they serve. Both the left and the right have some wisdom to offer!

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