Pick the best from both political worlds | Rich Elfers

“As all conservatives know, liberals are a bunch of sandal-wearing, tree-hugging, whale-saving, hybrid-driving, trash-recycling, peaceniks, flip-floppers and bed-wetters.”

This quotation comes from psychologist, author and publisher Michael Shermer in a comment about an article entitled, “What Makes People vote Republican?” by Jonathan Haidt. Shermer is commenting about the author’s characterization of conservatives: “As Haidt notes, the standard liberal line is that people vote Republican because they are cognitively inflexible, fond of hierarchy and inordinately afraid of uncertainty, change and death.”

His comment goes on to note that some social scientists believe, “Conservatives suffer from uncertainty avoidance, need for order, structure, closure, and dogmatism, intolerance of ambiguity, all of which lead to resistance to change and endorsement of inequality.”

Shermer points out that about 80 percent of academic social scientists are liberal with only about 15 percent of academics classifying themselves as conservative.  Having worked in both a high school and now college for 40 years, I would agree with Shermer that most academics are liberal.

These two characterizations point out that we humans are good at seeing the faults in others without being able to see the faults in ourselves. Both characterizations noted above have elements of truth. Psychology and theology teach us that what we see in others we are also guilty of ourselves.

In other words, the reason we can’t stand some people is because they reflect our own attitudes back to us. I learned that lesson in my 20s when I discovered that what I hated in others, I eventually found out I was guilty of myself.  From that time on, I listened to my accusatory feelings to understand what I was avoiding about myself.

According to Shermer, a National Opinion Research Center survey found 44 percent of people who categorized themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” rated themselves as “very happy,” compared with only 25 percent of people who labeled themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal.”

According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 58 percent of Republicans rated themselves as “mentally healthy,” compared with only 35 percent of Democrats. Conservatives are also more generous, giving 30 percent more money (“even when controlled for income”), donate more blood and volunteer more hours to charity.

In contrast, the working poor give a higher percentage of their income to charity than any other income group. Those on welfare with comparable income give three times less to charity. According to Shermer’s response, the difference seems to be that conservatives believe they should give to private charities (through religion), “Whereas liberals believe charity should be public (through government).”

My own personal experience is that nearly all of the criticisms I receive in letters to the editor about my columns come from conservatives who fly off the handle about one part of what I wrote, while missing the balancing statement on the other side.

In my exposure to liberals I have found overall that while they consider themselves tolerant of differences and groups, that only applies to issues where they agree. In areas that liberals hold dear, there is no tolerance for disagreements.

It’s best to be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective and choose the position between liberals and conservatives that benefits our city, county, state and nation the most.