For the last several years, conservatives have been dominating the political arena. Eventually, they ran out of appealing ideas, and the Democrats capitalized on this opportunity. However, the new Democratic leadership has to deal with the same problems that they were unable to address when they were in the minority. We still have the same misinformed public. We have the same political elites who have not been able to produce better solutions so far. We have a new President and the Democratic majority in both chambers of Congress. There is nothing new in the political debates; they fall into the rut of old rhetoric.
Many political disputes are presented as a clash between conservatives and liberals. In some contexts, “market fundamentalists” substitutes for “conservatives” and the term “progressives” is used instead of “liberals”. Reading the Huffington Post or watching Fox News, one could conclude that liberals versus conservatives is the pivotal political division of our times.
One could not be more wrong. The division between conservatives and liberals is a rift in political circles that does not reflect the real political views of Americans. The ideological contrast between conservatives and liberals does not reflect the real problems we face as a nation. If this were the pivotal division, it would mean that the truth is somewhere between these two options; the right solutions would be always on hand from one or another side of the political spectrum. And, if brought to light, in most instances they would prevail. Consequently, we should not have any major problems. This is not what actually happened. We fell into such a big crisis as the real problem is askew from the conservatives versus liberal split. Liberals and conservatives are two sides of the same forged coin.
In the past two centuries, compassionate people – today’s liberals – were disgusted with the greed of the capitalistic system and sought ways to mitigate it with social policies. Greed was perceived as the opposite to higher human values. Liberals would tell us that there are more important things in life than money. Government intervention was seen as necessary to guarantee all people a fair share of the wealth of society. Whatever the reasoning behind the liberal approach and whatever the sugar coating of their policies may be, in reality, socialism is in the background.
The core strength of conservative ideas arrived from the simple scientific observation that the free market economy with limited government, in the end, is better for everybody than the government that tries to be a modern Robin Hood by taking from the rich and giving it back to the poor. Solutions inspired by socialistic ideas hamper entrepreneurship and lead to dependency on the social services of less resourceful individuals, resulting in making everybody poorer. Today’s conservatives were able to explain and sell this concept to the public. This is where, about twenty years ago, the traditional liberal thinkers, inspired by socialistic ideas, lost ground.
After obtaining power and influence in media, today’s conservatives took the best of both worlds. They loosened government control over the economy and lowered taxes. However, whatever government rule over the economy remained – was available for the Washington lobbyists to grab. The rich got richer; the middle class, having no political representation, got poorer. Conservatives seek social stability by preserving traditional values. However, as soon as they obtained influence, they had temptations and the possibility of imposing their moral and nationalistic agendas on others.
The public, torn between pro-socialistic liberals and populist conservatives, instinctively sensed that something had gone wrong, and – eventually – voted against political establishment dominated by conservatives. For the same reason, the new administration – with a clear liberal leaning – is walking on thin ice.
Democrats need to realize that socialism as a political ideal is dead. The free market, when accepting all its consequences literally, can be seen as a cruel political concept. However, it is the cruelty of an accountant telling us that two plus two is always four, regardless of how we feel about it. Similarly, when facing undue big business influence in politics, the solution should not be in giving more powers to the government to curb it. The solution might be in limiting the influence of the government over the economy so that even if someone could afford to buy political influence, there would be very little to sell. In the term “free market”, the key is in the word “free”. By giving more freedom to everybody, not just to those who can afford to hire Washington lobbyists, we can revive the economical strength of the middle class, flatten the wealth distribution, and make the whole country richer in the process. Voters might like it too.
The real division within our nation is between those Americans that strive for freedom and those that would trade freedom for conveniences offered by the government.
Some Americans want to conduct their lives free from government interference. They want to put in their bodies whatever they believe is good for them. Likewise, they want to take out of their bodies whatever they decide to. They want the freedom to conduct whatever business they see fit. They want the freedom to hire the best worker, regardless if he is a citizen or a foreigner. They are eager to benefit from fewer regulations and are ready to bear the consequences of the risks involved. Both conservatives and liberals advocate for some of these freedoms sometimes.
Other Americans are ready to give up those freedoms in exchange for comforts secured by the powers of the government. These comforts can be strictly material, like handouts to the poor, job security, or protection from competition. These comforts could be emotional as well, from government actions supporting one’s moral ideas or promoting one’s social beliefs. Among those Americans that are ready to trade freedoms for conveniences, some are liberals and some are conservatives.
In the battles between liberals and conservatives, the freedom of an individual has been lost.
A version of this text was published by Huffington Post