Confronting Our Nation’s Social and Political Divisions

As the November elections quickly approach, the Republicans look prime to make substantial gains in the House and Senate. Yet, assuming that they avenge their humiliating losses from 2008, is there any real expectation that the bitterness and hostility that has consumed Washington these past few years will vanish once Republicans take control?

No matter who wins what, our political climate still looks bleak. On the surface, we appear to be in the midst of usual Democrat vs. Republican partisanship, though I disagree with this characterization: Democrats and Republicans have been at this game for awhile, and we have never seen such gridlock, such mutual hatred. Rather, I believe that the conflict has resulted from each party taking stances on divisive social issues—issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Doing so has divided our politics along social lines, putting the Progressives on the Democratic side and Conservatives on the Republican side.

It may seem natural for politics to be divided along social fronts, but it certainly isn’t wise. The terms “progressive” and “conservative” actually have nothing to do with the politics of Democrat or Republican, as both sides, in theory, have legitimate progressive and conservative forms. Progressive Democrats value social equity and are not averse to using government authority to achieve it. Progressive Republicans, on the other hand, combine their fervor for individual rights and freedom with limited government approaches, often preferring to fix problems by reducing cumbersome regulations or finding market-based solutions.

Though progressives from either party often disagree, there are some issues in which they can work together. The issue of gay marriage is one such issue, as epitomized by the collaborative efforts of Democrat and Republican lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson, respectively. Progressive Democrats see gay marriage as a matter of social equity, whereas progressive Republicans see it a matter of individual rights and freedom. Amidst the Progressives of each party, we have the conservative thinkers from both parties. Conservative thought, when healthy, can moderate between the extreme views of the Progressives and input practical concerns, such as fiscal responsibility.

Our parties, however, lack social balance. The coalescence of Progressives and Conservatives on their respective parties has completely marginalized the conservative Democrat and progressive Republican viewpoints. Seriously, good luck finding national media outlets that express these perspectives. Both parties are imbalanced, and both parties continue to shift even further in tactics and rhetoric to win their battle, dragging the country along with it. In this battle fomented by the media, voices of sense and reason have become rare. Conservatives have essentially made it their stated agenda to expel voices of reason and compromise from the Republican Party, and their efforts have been largely successful. Moderate-thinking Congressional Republicans are afraid to speak out and afraid to compromise.

While the current state of affairs does no favor to either party, I am much less concerned with the Democrats. At the moment, they have a practical, sensible leader in Barack Obama. I cannot say the same thing, however, for the Conservative-led Republicans, a group led largely by bombastic hosts on talk radio and cable television. The Conservatives have turned into an ultra-reactionary group seeking to hold on to their idealized vision of America. Their religious-based belief system has fostered an unhealthy distrust of science and education, and their dialogue is wrought with ignorance, hatred, and fear. Among their stances, they believe that global warming is a hoax, that evolution and creationism are on equal footing, and that Barack Obama is a closet Muslim secretly born in Kenya.

As the Republican Party mires in irrationality, we are forced to listen to politicians dumb down their stances to cater to their conservative base. It’s a dangerous game they are playing, but we should expect to see more of it as long as this group controls the Republican agenda.

We need this problem to be fixed; we need to restore balance into both of the parties. One possible solution would be to simply remove social issues, particularly abortion, from each party’s platform. By making it safe to be a pro-choice Republican and pro-life Democrat, the litmus test is removed and the door is open for change. Conservatives who couldn’t morally vote for a Democrat before could then do so, while independent voters, who left the party in mass because they couldn’t stand the Conservatives, could reform a new Republican base. Most importantly, by shifting some of their numbers to the Democrats, the irrational crazies on the Conservative side would lose their power base in the Republican Party, ultimately making future generations the real winners.

Of course, none of this will probably happen, and so we have much more fighting and chaos to look forward to. Buckle in, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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