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?