Di≠ er­ences, dis­agree­ments and a new year

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By E. J. Dionne Jr. E- mail E. J. Dionne Jr. at ej­dionne@ wash­post. com. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @ EJ­Dionne

As a new year be­gins, I want to of­fer a word tomy con­ser­va­tive and lib­er­tar­ian read­ers whose pa­tience I try reg­u­larly.

Per­haps you readme to have some­one to yell at, or in search of ev­i­dence for how dumb lib­er­als can be. No mat­ter. I’m glad you’re there.

I am not some­one who be­lieves that if only we un­der­stood each other bet­ter, we would find our way to agree­ment. In­deed, some­times peo­ple get to understand each other bet­ter and the re­sults are dis­as­trous. They learn that the dis­tance be­tween them is even greater than they as­sumed.

But more fun­da­men­tally, peo­ple dis­agree be­cause they have hon­est dif­fer­ences over what mat­ters most. We might all claim to be­lieve in lib­erty, jus­tice, equal­ity, com­mu­nity, se­cu­rity and per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity. But we can still quar­rel be­cause we put dif­fer­ent weights on each, or be­cause we de­fine some of th­ese con­cepts dif­fer­ently.

I might see a gov­ern­ment pro­gram ( stu­dent loans, for ex­am­ple) as pro­mot­ing per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity while you might see it as en­cour­ag­ing de­pen­dency on gov­ern­ment. You might see lib­erty as be­ing en­tirely about free­dom from in­ter­fer­ence by gov­ern­ment. I might speak of us­ing gov­ern­ment to pro­tect the lib­erty of peo­ple in re­la­tion to large and pow­er­ful pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions. My laws to pro­tect peo­ple’s rights in their work­places might, for you, be noth­ing but big gov­ern­ment run wild. I think that the New Deal and the Great So­ci­ety made us more free, not less. You prob­a­bly don’t.

Th­ese are real dif­fer­ences. The prob­lem is that we of­ten don’t even get to them be­cause we are so busy ped­dling stereo­types about each other.

This is a habit com­mon on both sides. Some lib­er­als can be rather in­tol­er­ant when it comes to re­li­gious peo­ple. This is one rea­son why, as a lib­eral, I like to write about re­li­gion. Lib­er­als can be too quick to jump to the con­clu­sion that some­one who dis­agrees with us is a bigot of one kind or an­other. Maybe be­cause I’m Catholic, I know that peo­ple can be anti- abor­tion with­out be­ing “anti- woman.” When I hear some­one speak about “eco­nomic lib­erty” or lower taxes, I may well leap too ea­gerly to the con­clu­sion that my in­ter­locu­tor is pro­tect­ing some spe­cial in­ter­est— or a large for­tune.

And I can’t stand it when any­one, left or right, as­sumes that some­one dis­agrees with them sim­ply be­cause said per­son is “less ed­u­cated” or “not very smart.” Can we all ad­mit that the side we op­pose in­cludes a lot of smart peo­ple— some of them smarter than we are— and that more ed­u­ca­tion does not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into wis­dom?

It’s also true ( on a slow day, read the com­ments un­der one of my col­umns) that con­ser­va­tives hold a lot of stereo­types about us pro­gres­sives. I have to con­fess that a few of them really bug me.

I am most both­ered, I think, by “pro- fam­ily” rhetoric on the right im­ply­ing that pro­gres­sives who sup­port gay rights and gay mar­riage are some­how “an­tifam­ily.” This is wrong on sev­eral lev­els, es­pe­cially the per­sonal.

Noth­ing is more im­por­tant to me, or a greater source of joy, than my fam­ily, and I speak here for just about ev­ery lib­eral I know. Many of us who have come to sup­port gay mar­riage see the con­ser­va­tive ar­gu­ment on its be­half as de­ci­sive: If we be­lieve in fidelity and com­mit­ment, shouldn’t mar­riage, the institution that promotes both, be open to us all? More­over, as a pol­icy mat­ter, I share the view of my con­ser­va­tive friends that the break­down of the fam­ily is a so­cial prob­lem that both left and right should care about. This is an is­sue on which we need to seek com­mon ground, not pro­voke deeper di­vi­sion.

Col­umns in sup­port of gun con­trol typ­i­cally draw vi­tu­per­a­tive re­sponses, and I’ll try not to in­cite any­one here. I would just im­plore my con­ser­va­tive friends to re­con­sider an ab­so­lutism about guns that is thor­oughly in­con­sis­tent with a con­ser­va­tive dis­po­si­tion.

Lib­er­als love to throw Ed­mund Burke quotes at con­ser­va­tives. I’m no ex­cep­tion. Still, Burke is right that “rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than pru­dence, de­lib­er­a­tion, and fore­sight can build up in a hun­dred years.”

The signs are that the rage and frenzy lev­els will be even higher than usual in 2016. Can’t we at least try to con­tain them? But by all means, let’s keep ar­gu­ing. Ar­gu­ment is, or at least ought to be, in­her­ently ed­u­ca­tional. And we can agree on this: Call­ing out views you ab­hor is one of the

hall­marks of lib­erty.

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