Monday, September 21, 2009

Two Sides to Every Story

Figure 3: As a balance scale provides an exper...Image via Wikipedia
Since Obama announced his candidacy for President, I've been involved in as many political debates as I have theological debates.  It's no secret that I am an Obama supporter.  As an Obama supporter, what I've found amazing is the people who criticize Obama no matter what he does.  I think they would criticize the way he ties his shows.  Anyone still remember the flag pin flap when Obama was called non-patriotic for not wearing a stupid lapel pin (that his opponenets don't wear all the time either)? Friends who berate Obama without ceasing like to point out to me that the "left" did the same thing to George W. Bush.  And they are right.  One thing that has become increasing apparent to me through these discussions is how much the point of view we bring with us impacts how we judge a thing.  Most of us would like to think we are objective, that we can look at an issue with clarity and say that this is a good or a bad thing.  But, that "beginner's mind" as Buddhists call it is a rare and elusive thing.  Beginner's mind is looking at a thing fresh and new without preconceived notions.  Unfortunately, many of us don't even seek after it.  We go along slaves to our prior conditioning without even realizing it. The vast majority of us, in the vast majority of situations judge that situation pretty much reflexively based on prior conditioning.

Confession time.   I disagree(d) with George W. Bush politically pretty strongly.  He's a conservative.  I'm a liberal.  What typically happens in that situation is when the person on the other side of your philosophical aisle does something, you tend to immediately view it as the wrong move.  Conversely, when someone who is on your side of the aisle does something  you give them the benefit of the doubt.  Even if you don't immediately understand why it was the right thing to do, you assume it must be because of the person who did it.  I have to confess, I did not give George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt.  I tried.  And there were many good things he did while in office.  But, if I'm being honest, for me to praise something he did, it had to be pretty clearly "good" in my eyes.

What really got me thinking about this in the last couple of days was the administration's plan to change the student loan program.  Currently, the program is handled mostly by the federal government paying subsidies to private lenders to give loans to students.  The administration is proposing having the federal government make the loans to students instead (they do made a minority of the loans now) and "cutting out the middle man".  The loans are a sweet deal for the lenders and the federal government says they can save over $80 billion over the next 10 years by making this move.  Immediately several Republicans/Libertarians/Conservatives jumped all over this calling it a massive expansion of federal power and a takeover of the student loan program.  They held this up as an example of why the government should stay out of health care.  (huh?) I read their claims with some amazement.  Shouldn't they be happy that the federal government is making an attempt to save money?  Shouldn't they be happy that the federal government is pulling out of a program where they are paying subsidies to private institutions?  Obama promised to pay for his programs by eliminating federal spending waste in other areas and he makes a proposal which seems pretty clear it will save money and the reaction is that the government is overstepping its bounds.  Without going into the gory details of the discussion that followed, what I found fascinating is that I believe if the Bush administration had made this same proposal those same people would have been thrilled.  There are, of course, two sides to this story.  You can look at it either way.  It's an expansion of federal government because they are going to make the student loans themselves.  Or, this is the federal government proposing a concrete way to save money and it's less involvement in the private sector leaving market forces to determine how banks deal with student loans (if they do at all).  Same story.  Same set of facts. But, two very different ways of looking at them.  And, unfortunately, the way we choose to look at them often depends on how much we like the person or the party proposing the action.

What's my point?  One of the things I'm trying to do is break through the conditioning to see things more clearly.  The first step in that process recognizing that you bring all of this baggage with you to every situation.  Obama's only been in office a few months.  But, he's made a few blunders that I've called him out on and, even though I support him overall, I'll continue to try to keep a critical eye when I look at the things he's doing.  Keeping it real, of course I'll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tell people I am a a liberal by description not by definition.  I don't always take the liberal position on a topic.  But, my beliefs tend to put me on the liberal side of most issues.   For my friends on the other side, I'd just like to suggest that you try not to go with  your first reaction to everything proposed by the Dems/Liberals and Obama.  Take some time.  Think through as to whether or not the proposal is a good or a bad thing based on the merits of the proposal rather than the person proposing it. Join me in trying to discover that beginner's mind.

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kc bob said...

These days terms like conservative and liberal are representative of ideological fundamentalism. It is why I have been identifying more with moderation or centrism.

I agree with what you said about the govt "cutting out the middle man".. it is a good thing.. I can see it because I don't see the prez (or the govt) as bad.

IMO people who see him as "bad" or "good" have a skewed view.. until we get past a fundamentalist view of the prez and the govt we will always have this atmosphere in our country.

Here endeth the rambling.

Brian said...


You're right about the labels conservative and liberal and what they've come to mean. I don't let the label liberal define me (any more than I let the lable Christian define me). But, I can't completely reject it because it does describe me pretty well. What I don't let it do is influence my opinion on something. I don't take a side because it's the liberal side or the Christian side or the Buddhist side.

I don't see government as good or bad. I see it as necessary for an orderly society. In some instances, maybe a necessary evil. For me, the key is finding the balance between where government can do things better and where it should butt out. I don't care about a big government or a small government.

I do have to admit I see Obama as relatively "good". When I read his book, The Audacity of Hope, I was very impressed. There's more than a little vanity involved with this though because I think his thinking and his ideology is very similar to my own. So, no surprise I would see him as "good".

Thanks for the comment. I had trouble writing this post and wasn't sure if it made sense or not.

Don said...

Brian- You see it correctly. As a former Conservative with mostly Conservative friends and family, I see it the same way. The conservatives I know will automatically assume anything that the president does is wrong or at least, not good for the country. This is why I try to ignore party politics in general. I have a disdain for party politics.

kc bob said...

Yes it makes sense to me Brian.. great dialog.. inspired me to post a bit at my place.

Joe said...

If the parties only differed on how to run the government to serve the People, life would be simple, but the parties disagree on what the government should do rather than how to do it. Liberals and Conservatives rarely compromise because neither can look at the other's ideas as merely different. Each group sees the other's ideas as wrong. The issues lists has little room, if any, for compromise: social programs, death penalty, abortion, gun control, civil rights (race, gender, orientation, etc.), separation of church and state. Conservatives consider the poor lazy and therefore, undeserving of assistance. Conservatives hold poor people completely responsible for their condition. Liberals see reasons for poverty that are beyond the control of most poor people.

There's no middle ground for Conservatives and Liberals. Hell, they can't even agree on whether racism is still an issue that the government must deal with.

Also, I agree with Don and George Washington about party politics. I think both parties abuse their power. The stronger the party the less the People are represented. I'm opposed to career elected officials. The parties not the People determine who will run for office. If you aren't connected within the party you won't be nominated. Most of our states are Blue-only and Red-only states, which means that only one party gets elected. Term limits are the only way to reduce party power. I'd like to elect only the people who are willing to serve, like jury duty, but have no interest in making a career of it.

Brian said...

Wow, Joe. I wish I could say you're wrong about no middle ground between Conservatives and Liberals. But, I think you're right. Until we agree on what the government should do, we'll never agree on how it should do it.

Hmmm.... no easy answers. I guess we just have to muddle along the best we can.

kc bob said...

"Liberals and Conservatives rarely compromise because neither can look at the other's ideas as merely different. Each group sees the other's ideas as wrong."

Well said Joe! Maybe you have to have a bit of the gray to see that living in the gray is the only way to go. IMO compromise on the issues is generally a good thing.. there always seems to be a middle ground solution if you are open to it.

annie said...

good words brian. and thanks for the info... i was unaware :). as you know, i consider myself a moderate libertarian. i'm one who is against HR 3200 because the govt has already made such a muddle out of their previous attempts at sick care (medicare/medicaid). but, tis shortsighted to confuse one notion with the other.
i LOVE this idea of the govt taking over student loans and cutting out the middle man - as long as they insure cutting edge technology and as simple a process and as few bureaucrats as possible. my concern about any government program is that what begins as a great idea often grows into the customary bloated behemoth (run by incompetent appointees who are owed political favors) that can't get out of its own way... or find its butt with both hands (or the paperwork for said loans). LOL