Nothing focuses the mind of a group quite like a common enemy, and so Blue America has lately taken to the war path. There are phone calls to make, Indivisible meetings to attend, and fresh outrages about Michael Flynn and the future uninsured to circulate on social media. People who rarely leave the San Francisco Bay Area are suddenly taking an intense interest in individual congressional districts in Georgia and the precise definition of high crimes and misdemeanors. With this president, clearly, we are not about to give peace a chance.
Sadly, most of us are way too fired up to contemplate the sins that got us to this low point in the first place. When thinking back, we generally fire a few memory daggers toward gerrymandered districts, the Electoral College, and James Comey (Whoops! We like him now.), and then resume fretting over the Russia investigation and the midterms.
But lucky for you, I am not that kind of liberal. The truth is that we’ve been needlessly annoying you, our right-tilting fellow Americans, for too long. An explanation and apology are in order.
Our first mistake was an obsession with empathy. We found groups of people (say, for example, the chronically poor, illegal immigrants, and those who lack health insurance) and tried really hard to put ourselves in their shoes. What does it really feel like to live their lives, we wanted to know. What are their hopes, dreams, and challenges? Often, we found this a very easy task indeed, since we had been wearing those shoes since birth, or had friends or family members thusly clad.
Let me tell you: It sure did the trick for us. Feeling the intense pain of society’s weakest constituencies leads to exactly the sort of bleeding-heart agenda you would expect, and we were and still are totally fine with that. Our mistake was in assuming that conservatives would be fine with how we got there, too, and would welcome some friendly tips on exactly how to feel that pain. It was an annoying effort bound to fail, if only for reasons of personality.
Being liberal is not just a particular set of political dishes plucked from a buffet. It’s more of a state of mind, one often formed at an early age. Liberals tend to be more open to new experiences, new ideas, new ways of doing things – and not just in politics (certain college campuses notwithstanding). Take the case of two people arguing over where to eat lunch: One is lobbying for the tried-and-true sandwich joint, and the other wants to check out the new Cambodian place. You can probably guess which one is the liberal, and which one is standing athwart a bowl of num banh chok namya yelling “stop.”
From that mindset comes a fairly predictable set of freewheeling empathetic arguments on behalf of the poor, the immigrant, and the uninsured. Spend money, we say, because there but for the grace of God go you. Raise taxes, we say, because they are in need and it is your duty. Love, we say, because we are stronger together. There is an empathy machine inside all of us, but liberals crank it up to an obnoxious overdrive.
Uh, how about no, you reply, because you would rather keep that hard-earned money and not give it to folks you don’t know. Those people obviously don’t have their act together, you continue, something I can surmise quite well without getting inside their heads, like Brando in full method acting splendor.
That makes you evil/racist/stone-hearted, we reply, employing a rhetorical strategy guaranteed to not work and make things worse (our second mistake).
So bless us, conservatives, for we have sinned. We took a series of arguments that should have stuck to the boring practicalities of policy and turned them into moral indictments of your collective character. We were so caught up in empathizing with marginalized groups that we forgot to use the same trick on our friends in Red America. And we failed to realize that the process of putting ourselves in the shoes of others was not actually essential to solving the problems at hand. It sure must have been annoying.
The fate of the poor, for example, need not be an epic battle between heartless bastards and socialists who believe in a free lunch. Everyone would like to see reductions in poverty, after all. Liberals could just argue that some level of social welfare is a good foundation on which to eradicate poverty, because having lots of desperate starving people wandering the streets and sleeping on doorsteps just lowers economic productivity and property values and flushes away whatever slim chance the kids involved ever had to break out of it.
The fate of the uninsured, meanwhile, need not be so personal either. Liberals could simply argue that uninsured people still get sick and injured, and we’ll all end up paying for it when they rack up huge emergency room bills and then ignore them, possibly with the help of a bankruptcy judge. All the more reason to make sure everyone is enrolled in something and paying what they can, so maybe next time they’ll visit a cheap primary care doc before things get out of hand in an expensive way.
The fate of the immigrant, finally, need not descend into fights about whether laws were violated and whether a group of people is fundamentally good or bad. Liberals could argue instead that American businesses clearly need extra help from foreign nationals, and a basic respect for capitalism and free markets demands that we set up an easy-to-use system for making it work, because nobody likes these illegal workarounds they’re using.
These are not magic bullets that will bring about political peace and harmony, but they are potentially productive roads not taken. For those omissions, on behalf of Blue America, I’m sorry. Some of us on this side will keep working to refocus arguments on the actual issues at hand, which makes for bad television and worse tweeting, so you may have to strain a bit to hear.
But please, try anyway.
Peter Rice (@ricepeterb) is a writer based in Albuquerque and blogs at peterbrice.com. He is the author of “Liberal for Conservative Reasons: How to stop being obnoxious and start winning elections.”