#13 – Bob Barkley: Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, Greens, and other Parties

Written by admin on May 1st, 2009

It has been said that Democrats pander to the whimsies, fancies, and naiveté of the people. They tend to call it ‘social justice’ or some such trendy label. It can be Pollyannaish, idealistic, and impractical.

On the other hand, it has been said that Republicans pander to the greed, avarice, and self-centeredness of people. They label it individual liberty, self-determination, rugged individualism, and such.

And then we have the Progressives, Libertarians, Greens, and possibly others, who all have legitimate perspectives (maybe even wiser ones) and similar stereotypical shortcomings. I have come to understand that a Progressive is a Liberal who not only supports dealing with many socio-economic issues by addressing them through public funds, but also addresses corporate and elitist exploitation that is a major root problem of many of these issues. Current Democratic leadership, for example, supports the former but apparently spurns the latter. Current Republican leadership supports neither. Possibly the 2008-09 financial crisis will wake up a majority of both groups.

Or, as P.J. O’Rourke observed: “The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller, and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then get elected and prove it.”

Jonathon Haidt, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, adds yet another dimension to the Republican/Democratic dynamic in his article, “What Makes People Vote Republican?” The first clue to his findings was this statement: “…when gut feelings are present, dispassionate reasoning is rare.” Then he adds, “The first rule of moral psychology: feelings come first and tilt the mental playing field on which reasons and arguments compete.”

The way Haidt’s thesis works out, both Republicans and Democrats are made up of good people operating in different frameworks – different cultures – that neither quite understands about the other. Democrats tend to think that morality is quite simply about how we treat each other. It is quite individualistic. For Republicans, however, it is also about loyalty to the group, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. Haidt said he escaped his liberal partisan mindset when he “began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting and equally heartfelt visions of the good society.”

I found Haidt’s work very enlightening and helpful in overcoming my own liberal biases towards those with whom I steadfastly disagree.
In any case, none of these credos alone is healthy. And on the whole, none is helpful to a democratic society. However, there are elements of each that are useful. However, labeling one’s self an R, D, P, L, or a G, is probably not very wise, fair, or useful.

The following was recently (November, 2008) reported in the Washington Post: “Whatever the appropriate label, substantial majorities of the voters of 2008 want the war in Iraq to end as soon as possible. Large majorities favor affordable health insurance for everyone, a fairer distribution of wealth and income, and higher taxes on the rich. They want to preserve traditional Social Security. They want more effective government regulation of the financial sector. On social issues, the country that elected Obama is tolerant of homosexuality and legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, less so of same-sex marriage. A post-election survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a Democratic polling firm, showed that 51 percent said ‘the government should do more to solve problems.’” This last point by Greenberg brings to mind the closing thought in my short essay on Social Democracy which summarizes that topic with this: “…the bottom line role of government is to protect against excesses.” [Entry #2 at this site, April 2, 2009]. Of course, protecting against excesses and solving problems are not mutually exclusive it seems to me.

None of this sounds like it can be easily labeled. Consequently, it seems clear that Party labels are counterproductive. True patriots are loyal to this country’s principles rather than to a particular Party. It is clearly more important to know the difference between right and wrong, ethical and unethical, and good and evil, civility and rudeness or thoughtlessness, than between Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, or whatever. George Washington warned us about all of this right off the bat, and we immediately ignored him. Now, once again, we do so at our great peril.

Robert Barkley, Jr., Worthington, Ohio. Email at RBarkle@columbus.rr.com. Retired Executive Director, Ohio Education Association, served as Interim Executive Director, Maine Education Association, thirty-five year veteran of National Education Association and NEA affiliate staff work, long-term Consultant to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation of Cincinnati, Ohio [www.kwfdn.org], author of: Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders, Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents, Principles and Actions: A Framework for Systemic Change (unpublished), and Progressive Thoughts from a Liberal Mind: Creating a More Perfect World (unpublished and available online upon request).

Note from the moderator: Speaking of Progressives, a correspondent from Madison WI noted, yesterday: “This is the celebration weekend for the 100th anniversary of the Progressive magazine founded by LeFollette here in WI.”