Monday, October 8, 2012

Conservatives Are from Mars, Liberals from Venus

I recently had two very illuminating experiences, three thousand miles apart.

First, at Yale, a talk given by Gaddis Smith, a prominent retired history professor who has become the unofficial historian for Yale itself. The talk was on the history of Yale's residential college system. For those not familiar, "colleges" are what Yale calls dorms but they are much, much more than just a place to live. Modeled on Oxford and Cambridge, they are the hub of your undergraduate life. Architecturally resplendent, they are a daily beehive of activities that range from sports to arts to social events. Each has its own, distinct personality and it matters which one you are in. It is a wonderful system. (Full disclosure: Gaddis was actually my own master in Pierson College, many moons ago.)

Gaddis's talk was entirely - and I mean entirely - about Yale's history of discrimination, at least as Gaddis saw it. He was viewing the history of the college system through the prism of gender rights, gay rights, etc. Now, Yale's not perfect, but like every other institution in the world, it has evolved. A lot. If your highest priority is the promotion of aggrieved groups, you should be ecstatic with where Yale is today. Over the moon.

But seriously, Gaddis, you couldn't find a single nice thing to say about the college system? Hey, Pierson won the beer chugging tournament when we were both there. How about that? Wooooot!

(Brief time-out...going back to non-sarcasm mode. 1, 2, 3....okay.)

A week later I found myself in Venice Beach, not a tweed jacket in sight. I was looking up a Yale friend that I hadn't seen in 30 years. Great guy, and it had been too long, but we're definitely on other sides of the philosophical fence. He was in the Peace Corps and designs sustainable architecture (Naked Dollar regulars probably know my feelings towards the word "sustainable").

He took me for a coffee shop that also sold surfboards and motorcycles. Piercings abounded. I asked for Splenda and was met with a disapproving glare. (We have agave nectar - it's delicious!)

We got to talking politics, of course. I don't think my friend runs into too many conservatives in the Venice Beach sustainable architecture crowd, because he periodically looked at me like some fascinating new species upon which he had stumbled. That's okay, we conservatives are used to it.

I made this comment: "If Obama is re-elected, the America we grew up with will be gone forever." My friend's face lit up and he said, "Good!"

I was taken aback. Seriously, you actually said that? 

But I wanted to understand. This is a nice guy, a decent guy, and smart to boot. I started asking questions, and answers came.

My friend uses the same prism as Gaddis. He was thinking entirely of progress America has made, as he sees it, in areas like women's, gay, and racial rights. Who'd want to go back to the 50s? I, on the other hand, was thinking (almost) entirely of economic issues, and how we will soon bankrupt ourselves. We had two entirely different perspectives, and it was a difficult gap to bridge.

Here's the thing, my liberal friends. None of those issues you care about is going to matter if we become Greece, and that is very much where we are heading. The path, and the mathematics, are clear. When our currency is destroyed and unemployment hits, say, 20%, you will long for the day when we could spend hours at a time debating things like gay marriage. I have serious qualms with your priorities.

Oh, liberals are vaguely aware of these issues, and if you pin them down they'll admit they're a problem. But they just don't care, at least not nearly as much as they do about cultural issues. I would argue this is an adolescent view of the world, one where economic issues are "boring," and best left to others - parents? - to worry about.

Most conservatives I know would give on virtually every social issue if we could just get the country on solid economic footing. Do I care about abortion? Sure, I have a view, but it's about 45th on my list of priorities. As one friend of mine put it, "I'll let them have gay marriage and everything else if we could just have a tax system that makes sense and a goddamned balanced budget."


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