Looking Left and Right: Talking Sense, But…. # 2


[NOTE] As I state in the “About Me” section, I’m driven by an intense commitment to learn why those on the conservative side of the fence view so many matters of great importance to us all so differently than do those of us on the progressive side. Those contrasting behaviors, beliefs, and ideologies are contributing factors to the very problems we’re trying to solve—the ones we must solve if our own ambitions and our hopes for a peaceful and prosperous world we leave to our children are to be well-served.

I’d like to make a small contribution toward changing the context and content of public debate. Understanding the ideological perspectives, beliefs, and values of those with whom we disagree is a good first step to engaging in more meaningful dialogue—idealistic as that may be. But why not? Is what we’re “doing” now any better?

If we don’t recognize and accept that bitter partisanship is not always the wisest or most beneficial strategy, the goal of a better future will forever be as far away tomorrow as it is today.

[This is a continuation of last week’s post discussing an essay in the National Journal by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. + ]

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Our debates about what government ought to do must be debates about what we take our constitutional order to be and what we think are appropriate national goals. Such questions should be addressed through the political process established by the Constitution; we cannot expect them all to be settled in detail simply through direct interpretation of the Constitution’s text. These national questions require a governing vision.

“No” is not it.

Most conservatives, if pressed on these matters, would concede the propriety of some government role in helping create the conditions necessary for individuals and institutions to succeed. For too many in the libertarian and Tea Party wings of the GOP, however, such concessions are at best made grudgingly. These conservatives, if left to their own devices, would say almost nothing about these matters. And so crucial realities — the fact of increasing inequality and decreasing social mobility — tend to be swept under the rug. For too many, government’s obligation to protect individual liberty comes first, second, and last, while concepts such as the common good, despite bearing their own conservative pedigree, are regarded as so much liberal claptrap




In a nation, a society—a planet—facing challenges, problems, and changes on a scale unimaginable to most of us a few short decades ago, narrow-minded and fact-free strategies to advance an equally narrow-minded philosophy about the role of government should not be in anyone’s Top Ten list of go-to approaches.

As the authors emphasized, creating lists of “Things The Government Must Not Be Involved In” has been the focus on right-wing opposition since President Obama was first elected. (Did you know he’s not an old white guy? Not that that has anything to do with anything, of course….)

While that tactic stirs the masses eager for some reassurance from media and elected officials that their (unfounded) fears are in fact justified—and who cares about facts—it’s usefulness as a means of addressing the many challenges ahead of us is extremely limited. We all need to be better at figuring out how to find room in the vast middle between the polarized principles of Left and Right, but that doesn’t happen without a more-informed and introspective citizenry willing to draw deep breath before zealously parroting cheap and substance-free talking points.

Not an easy task, to be sure.

Just as citizens must be prepared for the exercise of liberty, individuals must be given the skills and values — the social capital — that will allow them to succeed in a free economy. That is the essence of opportunity: a traditionally conservative, indeed a Lincolnian, goal.
But here we must be attentive to distinctions that are too often lost or muddled in today’s debates and that implicate liberals and conservatives alike.

There are and always will be differences in philosophies and objectives. We’ve managed to work within that framework for a few dozen decades now, so it’s probably not entirely unreasonable to think it’s possible to still do so now. That’s going to require more than reliance on each party’s familiar mouthpieces. We all have a role to play, and blind adherence to what others are telling us we should be thinking and believing should slide down the To-Do list.




Gerson and Wehner turned to Abraham Lincoln for some perspective:

‘The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves — in their separate, and individual capacities.’
Among the things requiring the ‘combined action’ of government in Lincoln’s view were ‘public roads and highways, public schools, charities, pauperism, orphanage, estates of the deceased, and the machinery of government itself.’ Government, Lincoln went on to say, ‘is a combination of the people of a country to effect certain objects by joint effort’; he included in those objects of joint effort ‘providing for the helpless young and afflicted.’ Nor did he shrink from the financial implications of so large a role. ‘The best framed and best administered governments,’ he acknowledged, ‘are necessarily expensive.’
Lincoln therefore understood the role of government (though of course not necessarily the federal government) to be to help those who cannot individually do for themselves, to advance justice in an unjust world, and to lift up the weakest members of society. Lincoln would later say that ‘government is not charged with the duty of redressing or preventing all the wrongs in the world’ but that it ‘rightfully may, and, subject to the constitution, ought to, redress and prevent, all wrongs which are wrongs to the nation itself.’

There are many, many worse governing ideals to abide by than Lincoln’s vision. Perhaps another moment’s pause might be wise right about now.

A few more thoughts on this subject next week.

+ All quotes in this post are from that National Journal essay unless otherwise noted. [Michael Gerson is a Washington Post columnist, and Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Both have served prior Republican administrations.]

~ My Photo: Wingaersheek Beach, MA – 08.09.08

^ Watch for some new features debuting at this website:


This new column began on February 3, 2014. It’s a slightly skewed look at life for those of us on the north side of 50.


A political thriller filled with unexpected plot twists and drawn from real world historical events, this eBook is now available for purchase.

TretiakAgendaEbookCoverFinal copy

You can find it here and here.

Excerpts are available at my website, at the link above.


(The inspiration for the other blog at this website). This eBook is scheduled for Publication on March 5, 2014.

Excerpts are being posted as of January 15th.

         ^ Looking Left and Right:
           Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows

Be the change you want in the worldGandhi

This blog is offered to encourage more enlightened public discourse—by sharing observations about the ideologies which motivate our political, economic, and cultural debates. The simple hope: shedding light on current “strategies” will prompt more of us to realize a different approach is at least worth considering … assuming a better future is worth pursuing. (It is!)

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm, but because
of those who look at it without doing anythingAlbert Einstein