First, let me say this is a wholly non-partisan commentary. Having said, that, I was indeed raised in a Democratic family and have always thought of myself as a liberal, but I was also taught to test my beliefs constantly and never to assume that because I believed it, it was true. This meant talking with people who see life differently. That was easy in a town like Morrisville in the 50’s where few folks questioned Vermont’s century-old Republican hegemony. But then conservatism meant not spending money one did not have, but also ensuring that people who needed help got it.
What disturbs me today is the tendency of many of my liberal friends to be as locked down in their ideology as the conservatives they vilify. Interesting issue-based discussions seem to slide easily into an attack on the other point of view which absolves everyone in the discussion of the need to think creatively and to listen to one another. Ideological purity, whether conservative or liberal, suppresses debate and the emergence of new ideas, and creates an intellectual ghetto wherein the ideologue of either cast can laze blissfully immune to challenge and change. It is in fact a state of mental paralysis.
Throughout history, ideological solutions to social and economic problems have invariably gone awry. The rise to power of various “isms” has, with few exceptions, resulted in devastating social conflict and economic damage. Most enduring social solutions come from the murky, complex middle way wherein thoughtful people with varying opinions come together to solve a problem, not to preach to one another about their foregone conclusions.
I have often found my liberal colleagues and friends as durably hard-headed and intellectually lazy as the conservatives they make artful fun of. I say lazy only because it is too easy to dismiss a thought without engagement of some kind. I have often been surprised and impressed at the lucidity of a solution brought forward by someone whose underlying principles I disagree with.
If we are to make social and economic progress together in our schools, communities, states and country, we are going to have to turn off the bullhorns of ideological rhetoric and talk quietly and thoughtfully to one another, elbow to elbow with people of different philosophies. It will not be easy, but the dismissive disdain for people with whom we disagree only stymies progress.
If one added up all the political rhetoric spent before cameras and microphones assigning blame for problems that often cry out for common sense solutions and replaced it with sleeves-rolled-up time listening and debating issues, we would begin to see progress on the issues in front of us.
There is a clear mood in the nation and in Vermont that wants to address and solve problems. Either party can deliver this with the right attitude and leadership.