A Reply to My Conservative Friend…

I have a friend from childhood who grew up in the same blue-collar Westside Cleveland neighborhood that I did and was raised a Catholic, as I was. We both went to the same high school, played football and wrestled on the same team, and rocked in the same band.

Over the years, my buddy has evolved into a conservative – while I have remained a liberal. Those two generic political labels do not adequately sum up the total of our beliefs, but they do describe a basic divide in the way we approach solutions to social and political problems.

He bought into Ronald Reagan. I did not.

I believe that my friend and I would like to see the same kind of just, peaceful and loving world come to pass. He is more traditionally religious than I am, but we both share a reverence for the Gospel message of Jesus and its revolutionary humanity. He’s a good man, with a good heart — and a good and caring friend. He’s the kind of guy you want to have in your foxhole. He’s a great dad, too.

But we disagree on so many things.

Lately, he and I have exchanged a series of e-mails in which we’ve debated current events from Obama’s election to the Madison Uprising. In his most recent e-mail, he laid out what amounts to his personal political manifesto. Normally, I would fire off a direct reply. But in this case, I think a public reply might be helpful to those on both sides of our polarizing political divide who struggle to maintain a civilized and constructive dialogue despite their differences.

My friend’s words are in italics…

Ok, I have a few minutes before I head off to teach…

I am a conservative by learned behavior Paul.

I am a liberal from the cradle, raised by a union factory worker from the South and an elementary school teacher from Coal Country. Mom and dad came through the Depression under the Democratic leadership of FDR and watched progressive legislation like the New Deal and the G.I. Bill combine with a robust labor union movement to build a strong Middle Class in post-War America.

My dad told me when I was a small child that the difference between Republicans and Democrats is that “Republicans are for the rich – and Democrats are for the working man.” And while there are some notable Democratic corporate shills like Senators Joe Lieberman and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson, by and large what my dad told me has proven to be true. Right now, in my home state, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is among the strongest pro-labor votes in Congress.

As I have witnessed over the years, liberal policies that strive to seek justice for all, help the poor, feed the sick, and bring comfort to the least among us are far closer to the Gospel of Jesus than the “Greed is Good”, Ayn Rand-loving, Chamber of Commerce pro-corporate true-believers in the conservative movement who treat “trickle down economics” as gospel, despite that fact that it’s been discredited by the past 30 years of clearly observable history.

I believe the rich can keep what they make.

I, too, believe the rich can keep what they make. I just believe that they should keep a lot less of the excessive multi-millions and billions they stockpile through investments in businesses that make generous use of the public commons (roads, bridges, courts, public education, etc.) while paying taxes on a far smaller percentage of their income than the working people whose taxes actually pay for that essential infrastructure which makes an efficient and productive marketplace possible.

Yes, the rich can keep what they make. But they should keep a lot less of the billions they make by setting up offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. Working people don’t have enough money to set up such legal tax-dodging schemes. (It’s not a level playing field, my brother. The very rich play by an entirely different set of rules.)

Let’s take a look at how much money the rich kept in their silk-lined pockets during the time period that conservatives often describe as the “good old days”…

When Republican President Eisenhower built the massive federal interstate highway system – the greatest boon to freedom of movement and economic development in this country in the 20th Century – he did so less than a decade after World War Two left the government deeper in debt than it is today (in inflation-adjusted dollars). At the time, the top marginal tax rate for multi-millionaires was 91 percent. And there were still plenty of mansions getting built and yachts being bought. But we were also investing in America.

Under Nixon, after the federal government paid off our World War Two debt, built the highways, brought electricity to rural America, sent millions of military veterans to college for next-to-nothing, and expanded public education — the top tax rate was 70 percent. Twice what it is today. And the American economy and the middle class were still growing. Heck, even under Ronald Reagan it was 50 percent.

Today, conservatives and Tea-baggers get all frothy at the mouth over President Obama’s desire to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans from 35 percent to 39.6 percent – even though the more than $40 billion in revenue that would generate in just one year would pay for nearly all the social and education investments the GOP wants to cut.
 (See the bottom of the big graphic, below.)

I believe in a flat tax with 0 exemptions.

Billionaire Steve Forbes has been pushing this canard for years. The flat tax is not a fair tax. Let’s remember that income tax is not the only tax Americans pay. There’s also sales tax, property tax, vehicle licenses, bridge and road tolls, fishing licenses, etc. A working family making $30-70,000 a year spends just about every dollar of their income just trying to make ends meet – and thus, the poor and middle class spend a far higher percentage of their annual income on the full range of taxes than multi-millionaires and billionaires do. This is called regressive taxation. Don’t be fooled by billionaires extolling the virtues of a flat tax. It’s a shell game.

I believe ALL religions should be taught in schools, they all have the same basic rules and it might change kids, for the better.

I agree with you here. It’s conservatives who generally attack comparative religion classes. Of course, it would be a challenge to survey the more than 300 religions and denominations in the United States, from those who believe in one god, to polytheists who believe in many gods, and those who believe in no god. (Not to mention Americans who believe in god as represented by an animal, a tree, or an alien being.) I’m not sure all these religions share the same basic rules – but it would be a fascinating field of study for all Americans, and society would doubtless benefit by children engaging such diversity from elementary school forward. I agree that it would change kids for the better.

But let’s also agree on two things:

1. Let’s keep science and religion separate. Kids who believe the Earth in only 6,000 years old will never compete in Science with kids in China and India. Kids can’t compete in Biology if they reject Evolution. And stem cell research (which Bush outlawed here) is already helping friends who are suffering from paralysis and cancer.

2. Our Constitution prohibits establishment of a national religion. So, though you and I – and a majority of Americans – profess to be Christians, that’s the law. Our Founders did not want the religious war of Old Europe to be re-fought in America. And they’d had enough of state-sponsored religion: where Kings claimed God gave them a Divine Right to dominion over the common people.

Gun control didn’t work in Chicago, we just changed the stats. Obvious gang killings became suicides because that’s what the mayor wanted.

You obviously know more about how “the stats” were changed in Chicago – but I don’t see why one big city mayor trying to game his town’s violent crime numbers has very much to do with intelligent, fair-minded efforts by local communities to regulate gun shows or to keep cheap handguns out of the hands of criminals, children, and the mentally unstable. Seems like a worthy goal to me.

Our Constitution states that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Other than National Guardsmen, how many people do you know who are members of a “well regulated Militia”? And I don’t count guys in camo gear running around the backwoods in Idaho preparing for whatever version of the apocalypse they’re into.

My family were all hillbillies. I learned to handle guns at a young age and they were kept and handled SAFELY. Though I don’t believe the common guy needs to be allowed to have an AK-47.

Who can argue with gun safety?  If you must have a gun in your house, by all means keep it safe. But all the statistics make it very clear that while people say they keep guns in their home for safety – it’s vastly more likely that their gun will wind up killing a loved one, a neighbor kid, an innocent victim, or the owner himself by accident than that gun will ever be used to kill an intruder in a fantasy scenario defense of home and hearth.

And yes, let’s keep the AK-47s in the hands of cops and soldiers. I totally agree with you — though those guys running around Idaho in their camouflage do not.

I have no right to not allow Gays their rights…

Great. I’m with you so far…

…but MY church should not be forced to perform marriages, nor should a PRIVATE school be forced to allow a behavior THEIR religion does not accept as normal.

First of all, I’m not aware of any proposal by progressives, liberals or Democrats to force churches to marry gay people. That’s not even on the table – nor would it ever be. The issue is what the state and federal authorities must recognize.

On the other hand, there are areas where the government can and must see that all churches abide by the law. Murder is against the law. A church can, therefore, cannot burn a woman at the stake, whether they think she’s a witch or not. Sounds reasonable, yes?

Likewise, private schools cannot disregard the law. Can a private school allow a 16-year old to drink beer on campus? Smoke pot? Grow his own in Horticulture class?

Private is private, public is public.

Again. As in the burning of witches, you can’t get away with illegal acts in a private setting. The Boy Scouts can’t keep black children and Asian kids out because of the color of their skin, despite the fact that they’re a private organization. Therefore, they can’t exclude gays, either. In American, we do not discriminate, either in the public square or behind closed doors. Do you want to go back to the days when black golfers couldn’t play in The Masters in Augusta, Georgia? Or when Little Richard couldn’t stay in the same hotel or eat at the same restaurant while on tour with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis? How about if no kids of Polish descent could be Boy Scouts?  Or no “Wops” could join the local country club or Chamber of Commerce?

Most of the CFD is republican, working folk.

Given how little GOP has ever done for working folk, that’s sad to hear. But, after Wisconsin, you’ll see that begin to change. The firemen and cops who backed Governor Walker are now standing in solidarity with the unions. They know they’ll also wind up on the GOP hit list. To break the labor unions is to accelerate working America’s race to the bottom.

Most of the people at my church are republican working folk.

Alas, I can see how conservative politicians and religious leaders who exploit issues like abortion and gay marriage have driven a wedge between religious working people and the liberals who are actually their natural allies. “God, guns and gays.” It’s a shame.

I think there is a big difference between TRUE poor and the leeches of the system. In Chicago, most of the ghetto areas are filled with gangs and system abusers, NOT true people who want or deserve help.

I’m sure you didn’t mean to say “true people”. I’m sure you meant “true poor people”.

Jesus, however, never differentiated between poor people. He never called them leeches. If he was here today, he would be ministering to the slums, the ghettos, and the gang-infested areas. He wouldn’t blame the victims.

Gangs are bad. No doubt. Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s led to a rise in street gangs and organized crime. Today, the War on Drugs has done the same. Then as now, gangsters are mythologized in the movies and feared in the streets. Then as now, selling contraband is often one of the few ways a poor young man with no social or economic advantages can make decent money. (Mickey D’s can’t employ everybody.) That doesn’t make it right. Legalize drugs. Treat the addicts and non-violent offenders, rather than ship them off to an increasingly for-profit prison system where money is made by filling jail cells. That would begin to help.

People who steal $500 from someone with a gun because they need a hit of crack go to jail. (The U.S. keeps a higher percentage of its population behind bars than the regimes in China and Russia.) But if you steal billions from working people by duping them into confusing adjustable rate mortgages – or rob them of their hard-eared pensions at the same time your top corporate execs make millions in bonuses – that’s just the American Way, right?

Ok, gotta go teach now…

Watch out for that tsunami.

Alas, my friend, not long after you sent your e-mail, that tsunami hit. It reminds us all how fragile life is, and how precious. So is friendship.

Let’s keep talking, buddy. And maybe we’ll find common ground.

What’s the alternative?


Filed under Politics, Truth

16 responses to “A Reply to My Conservative Friend…

  1. amithecrazy1

    I definitely agree with your views, and am, sorry to say, astounded that you are Christian. I have always hoped there were Christians out there like you, but this is a first. I really don’t mean to offended at all. It is really inspiring to read this article! Thank you for posting this publicly!

  2. Jerry G

    Paul. Extraordinarily well put. I have made many of the same arguments myself. It continues to astonish me that anyone in my position (middle class) is either unable or unwilling to get this. They see the welfare cheats and other poor system gamers (pittance – and I would add that for most this is rooted in racism, or at least an ethnocentrism, but that is another argument entirely) yet refuse to see or be blind to the wealthy gamers of the system (enormous money) who are blatantly stealing our hard earned money.
    For some, like the hope of hitting that winning lottery ticket, they have been sold on the dream that they too one day will be rich, and wouldn’t want the nasty government to take “their money. ” Money they will never see. (I refer you to the story of Joe the Plumber)


    • rushy

      Well said, Jerry.
      And well said, Paul.
      I think all tax cuts should say “except lotto winners” just so we could swing a few of those masses clinging to that insane rational. Hell, even if they win the ‘big one’, they would not be close to that top one percent spot that now owns over 42.7 percent of this countries wealth. (33.8 in 1983)
      Also all tax cuts for the rich should be labeled “birth tax” cause every baby born here is born into that debt.

      • Rush, your “birth tax” idea is excellent. That’s the kind of messaging that the right wing has been so effective with. No poor farmers pay a “death tax” — but by repeatedly frothing about a “death tax” the GOP manages to enlist hardworking farmers in the noble struggle to allow multi-millionaires and billionaires to avoid fair taxation when they pass on their second, third, fourth and fifth homes to their heirs.

  3. Fat Dave

    I’ve had some facebook discussions with the Beef around the poor/true poor nonsense, and one thing I noticed is that he and other conservative types don’t seem to understand economies of scale. First of all, gaming the system is one of the unpleasant intrinsic parts of human nature. But when a poor person games the system, what do they get out of it? Money in the 5 figures, maybe a longshot at 6 figures at best. When the captains of industry and titans of Wall Street game the system, they make billions and their very actions threaten to undermine and wreck the economy for everyone.

    Not to mention that it is much easier to game the system, when you create and run the system.

    Never fails to amaze me how no one ever screams socialism when the money goes up the economic ladder.

    Keep preaching the truth brother Paul, it needs to be out there

    Fat Dave

  4. Paul Block

    I scanned your blog, Paul, and it’s so sensibly rational. Unfortunately, I have a busy day, so I can’t read it all until I get home, but what I read I liked. I never really could merge religion with rational common sense, though. Comments to come. Thanks for taking the time.

  5. Fat Dave

    I actually did study all religions(or at least the major ones) in HS, I had a comparative religion class in my sophomore year. Now I did go to a very prestigious NYC high school, perhaps the average HS didn’t offer such classes, but my school was public, not private, so such things are out there.

  6. Shelly

    Your best ever, Paul. Thoughtful and wise.

  7. Riffmaster

    Barrosse for President!

  8. Tom Kalicky

    I took our conversation private, to discuss as friends…our differences. You took portions of a letter, of some length to post on your blog and for your, dare I say, entertainment.
    I am offended you took that course without as much as talking to me first.
    That said, I will try to clarify a few things….
    1) the tsunami comment was not ment to poke fun of the devestation, it was watching the news and seeing all the coastline of California running for the hills. This has been the norm in the media on all levels. PANIC over reasonable preparedness. I would never make FUN of that kind of situation.
    2)Most major cities lie about their stats to get what they want, just like the medical labs who adjust their findings to get funding, etc. Most cities do this, I do not believe I is different in small or large towns, anyhwhere in this country, because funding is sought after more than commonsense budgeting to meet goals or to be eligibable for fed grants and programs.
    3)I always hate the fact that the RICH get attacked but the terminal por are not. It isn’t fair. We are in a 5th generation welfare state. The program needs reform, not more money. It is not affective. In Chicago, the public housing turned into gang infested travesties. Do I want the poor helped, of course.
    4) I have always stated we need a FAIR tax system that does not allow for dodging. I personally have backed the Flat Tax idea and consumtion taxes.
    5)I have seen several reports of private schools being attacked for firing teachers with personal beliefs that do not correspond with the schools teaching. there has also been situations of gay couples demanding services inChristian churches that do not agree with the life style. A slipperry slope, but I stand on the foundation, public is public, private is privat. I realize we can go into the KKK things and such, but I don’t believe it truly falls as deep. What about groups that believe in child marriage, or multiple partners. Again societal acceptance vs private desires is a hard one one for me to just let go of. I ponder it quite a bit. Just as I believe we need a national language. I open myself up for attack, but I stand by the ideas and principles of being allowed personal freedoms in your own home or community.
    6)I do agree with legaliztion of drugs and a change in the penal system. I also agree that if there is cheating by BIG financial firms they should be prosecuted. Same with polititcians. I have always made that statement.
    7) My statement about rebuplican coworkers was to show that blue collar guys and gals stay in the party, not because it is the party of the rich, but because of conservative values. The time of our fathers is gone. Things have changed.
    8) Every sermon at my church is not about God, guns and gays. We actually work quite a bit with the poor, help families in need, etc..though socially we do not believe if abortion. We believe life begins at conception. I have always stated that is where the arguement needs to be fought then the rest is mute. No body come to church packing either.
    I am not a bigot or a racist. I am not by any means rich. I am conservative after being brought up in the same neighborhood, by the same type of parents and attending the same schools. I was a friend to your brother and had my own reputation in school attacked for remaining friends with kid who came out of the closet and was constantly professing his love for me.
    But Paul, I am not an idealist.
    The world that exists needs to change.
    You cannot contiually have rose colored glasses for things that don’t work .
    The social programs do not work, just regulating does not work. we need to truly step back, review, take whats good and working , trash the rest and implement ides that might.
    Unfortunetly, we were suppose to be the generation that did that, most of us sold out.
    I hope the next will be able to.

  9. Tom Kalicky

    and I apologize for the typos. I just got off shift and the brain was not coordinating with the fingers…

  10. Tom Kalicky

    and another thing I missed here….
    the hillbilly line was meant for you because you knew I spent most summers in Pennsylvania on a farm. My grandmothers to be exact, not to make me look like an uneducated, gun running, hick.
    I apperciate the foxhole comment though. For years I truly cherished our friendship, anquished over mistakes I made with things between you and I.
    I was really working hard at trying to rekindle that, especially with our social and political differences and to talk as friends.
    This really offended me, though I do not run from my values and thought, nor am I ashamed of them.
    I am so offended you took a personal letter between us and did what you did.
    So Dave, Riff, Rush allllllll you guys. I love you all. Always will. I’m sorry if because we disagree on issues, it stands in the way of being friends. I am always open for discussion and can change my views when proven wrong or incorrect, I only hope for the same by my friends.
    By the way, I’m going back to India in January on my third missionary trip there. Plan on burying my wifes’ ashes by the nursing school we helped build.
    Stay tuned for details,

    • Tommy —

      I am sorry that you are offended, but I will not apologize for posting a public reply to your e-mail. My intent was to respect your privacy by removing your name and describing you in terms that only the closest friends that we share might identify. These friends are already well aware of your conservative leanings, as you’ve never been shy to post similar thoughts on many of our Facebook pages and on this blog.

      With your public reply to my post, you have come out of the phone booth to reveal your secret identity to everyone. That’s fine with me. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and neither do I. So I will reply to your public comments in public.

      Your e-mail was a concise and cogent summary of your views, and as I was composing my reply, I thought that others might benefit from reading how two old friends discussed such hot topics without rancor and vilification.

      You suggest I took “portions” of your letter “of some length” to post on my blog for my “entertainment”. I left very little out of your e-mail, and I stand by the content and context of the passages I quoted. In fact, it was because your e-mail expressed your views so succinctly that I felt compelled to share our dialogue with others.

      I don’t think anyone would consider your tsunami comment to be anything other than a harmless comment on current events. I certainly did not criticize you for it. But, as one who lives just a few miles from the coast of California, and who regularly sails in the waters off that coast, I can assure you that “all the coastline of California” was not “running for the hills.” Though the tsunami did sink several boats in Catalina harbor — just 22 miles offshore — and the damage done in Crescent City to the north was quite substantial. There was never any panic, regardless of what any faux news outlet might have reported.

      I have never suggested that you are either a bigot or a racist or an “uneducated, gun running hick”. I know you too well. And I know you come by your views through your own experience. So do I.

      I confess that I am an idealist. But that does not mean I’m wearing rose colored glasses. I wear simple non-prescription reading glasses because my eyes are worn out from reading as much as I can to understand the world beyond my own limited personal experience.

      Sorry you took offense, Tom.

      I love you, too.

  11. Tom

    I was offended you just took it and did it Paul. I would have gone with it completely. The original letter was a private conversation between you and I. It was written as such. I would have done that much. For you, All of our friends knew who you were talking about without the friend from high school tag. Again I clarify…that is what upset me.
    I always had your back always will,but to put it out that way was a call it a misuse of private musings to get a point made.
    For that I do feel you owe me an apology.

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