Here’s an interesting political thought exercise: name 2-5 things you agree with “the other side” about. I say 2-5 because only coming up with one may be too easy, and if asked, I think most people could come up with some sort of token “disagreement” with their own party just to seem reasonable, and not give the question any real thought. It’s too easy to just wave it away with one. And I say five because trying to come up with five points of agreement with your political opponents can be a real intellectual stretch, and require you to emotionally leave your comfort zone of party affiliation. It makes you have to really think of “the other side” as human, to take time to consider/realize that thoughtful, well-meaning people have come to different conclusions than you have about important things, and generally increases the zone of your empathy outside of your political tribe.
1. Pot/drug legalization
Marijuana legalization is probably one of the best things to happen as a social policy in my lifetime. It is the least harmful of all recreational drugs by a long-shot, and if anything, I wish our society’s relationship between pot and alcohol was reversed. If people smoked as much pot as they drank and drank as much as they smoke pot, we would be immeasurably better off.
Think about that for a few moments…think of all the violence, to oneself and others, that results from the effects of alcohol on the mind. If all of the people who drank themselves into a state of mind to hurt themselves or others had gotten similarly intoxicated on marijuana, it’s probably safe to say that the majority of intoxicated incidents of violence would not happen. You are probably not going to get high on weed and go out looking for a fight. Honestly, I’d like to meet the person who would, just out of curiosity.
In the big picture, all drug addictions should probably be treated as health problems and not criminal problems. And society is moving in that direction. A moment that startled me and helped me realize just how far we’ve come and in what direction we’re headed is seeing an interview with Christ Christie in 2015 while he was pursuing the Republican nomination for president, in which he says just that: we need to think of drug addiction as a public health issue and not as a criminal issue.
It might take a moment to appreciate what’s happening here…a former federal prosecutor and a presidential candidate for the “tough on crime” GOP was publicly making the argument for decriminalization. We’re nowhere near that point from an institutional policy perspective, but policy doesn’t change until social mores change. The law is always a laggard behind public opinion. But the public consciousness is being raised on this issue, and we’re moving in the right direction.
Legalizing drugs would also largely end gang violence by taking the money out of the drug trade and leaving them nothing to fight over. This would save thousands of lives per year from that violence, boost the ever living hell out of the economy by moving a major economic sector off of the black market, create mountains of new tax revenue, and create a world where inner city kids can focus on getting real jobs and developing professional skills rather than falling into a life of degeneracy and hopelessness as permanent outsiders from normal society. Imagine inner cities being safe places where people can work and children can go to school peacefully…that is what’s at stake in our decision to end or maintain the drug war. But it’s a fact that you will almost never hear conservatives (other than libertarians) discuss.
Last but not least, legalized and regulated recreational drugs would remove the uncertainty for recreational drug users wondering what their product contains, and save many lives from horrific and painful overdoses due to what they ingest being cut with god knows what toxic substance by unscrupulous drug dealers with no concern for the safety of their customers. Occasionally, to my disgust, I’ve heard people brush this off with the only semi-cogent argument against this fact, which is a callous disregard for the lives of drug users, a sort of puritan “let them die” mentality that you might have heard spoken in a John Wayne voice 50 years ago. But if you actually think of drug users and drug addicts (there’s a difference) as human beings whose suffering you care about and would like to alleviate, then having a clean drug for them to use is a tremendous boost to their safety. If you are the sort of person who clings to a “let them die” mentality, then take at least a minute to be honest and wish the same for yourself if alcohol was outlawed again or for your grandparents when they lived through Prohibition.
As I said, we are collectively making progress on this issue, and there actually seems to be a consensus on marijuana among both parties for anyone under 60. But pretty much all of the resistance to pot legalization at both the state and federal level is from Republican holdouts. And while Chris Christie has shown himself to be pretty forward-thinking on the topic, and even Donald Trump is coming around, the overall “War On Drugs” continues, destroying countless lives through criminalization, costing ungodly sums of money in enforcement, and creating perverse economic incentives that destroy even more lives by putting the drug trade on the black market and diverting the profits to whoever happens to be the most ruthless killer. And while your average Republican is starting to progress on pot and addiction generally, there are still very few voices among Republican politicians, leadership, or thinkers willing to comment on these topics.
2. Defense spending
To put it bluntly, Republicans are off their f**king rocker on this topic. We could cut defense spending by 10-25% without even blinking. We could likely reduce it closer to 50% of its current threshold and still be able to annihilate the rest of the world ten times over. Republicans are deaf, dumb, and blind on this issue, and frankly irrational to talk to about it. The addiction to a seemingly infinite level of defense spending is like a drug to Republicans, or maybe a religious belief or some kind of cult, and it drives me freaking CRAZY.
I’m a self-professed neocon, I’m a veteran who has gladly participated in a peacekeeping military intervention, I believe in a strong and vigorous foreign policy, and I firmly believe in American leadership on the international stage. You can even count me in the camp supporting a Pax Americana sustained well into the future, to the end of my lifetime and beyond. If it needs to be made any clearer, I supported and continue to support both the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
What I don’t support is wasting billions or trillions of dollars. Here is just one example of the tremendous, unfathomable waste involved: aircraft carriers. Ask yourself this: who are our main threats or enemies in the world? Are you thinking of the two that came to my mind? Let’s see where we stand against them in terms of aircraft carriers:
Russia has one
China has one
We have eleven
The entire rest of the world has ten. And all of the others are either our allies or, at worst, neutral. I’m not particularly worried about the threat posed by Brazil or Thailand’s aircraft carriers, are you? Why don’t we try, I don’t know, surviving on eight and see if the world doesn’t come to an end, while we drastically reduce our budget deficit and/or tax burden? If we wanted to go really crazy, what if we reduced our operating aircraft carriers to *shudder* five or six? You know, three times more than both of our only real threats combined? How much is each one of these things costing us that could go back into our pockets? Would you like to know? I certainly would.
I will admit that I’m not an expert on this topic, but it’s certainly worth digging into. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.
The aforementioned list, by the way, “does not include submarine aircraft carriers, seaplane tenders, escort carriers, merchant aircraft carriers, helicopter carriers or amphibious assault ships.” How many classes of expenditures are there like this that we could cleave from the budget and reclaim for taxpayers, while still remaining the most dominant military force in human history? Forget $500 hammers, how about $13 billion aircraft carriers?
My success with even having a civil conversation with Republicans about this issue is about equivalent to the number of christians I’ve talked out of believing in Jesus. They put up the “I’m not even discussing this” force field, proclaim some sort of superior insight into “the real world” or “security” that they presume I don’t have, even when they have never served in the military. I literally had a guy walk away from me at a fundraising event for a Republican candidate in Minneapolis. It was pretty impressive, he was able to pull it off in under a minute, the “You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about” head-to-toe glance over and walk away, in one smooth movement. It was the sort of treatment I get from liberals when I try to talk to them about say race or gender, and one of the reasons I choose to be a conservative is that I don’t find this sort of behavior among conservatives when we talk about political issues…except on this topic. I swear that Republicans are more willing to debate the literal truth of their religion with you than have a factual debate about military spending. In my experience this is the main area of willful ignorance and avoidance in the Republican party. When a person or a group of people won’t even discuss a topic, that’s a pretty big red flag that it’s a religious belief, not a thoughtful position arrived at by deliberation, and that they know it.
Defense spending, more than any other issue, puts the lie to the “fiscal conservatism” that Republicans profess to believe in. And unlike many issues, where the party leadership is out of touch with or simply ignoring the base and acting against their wishes, as far as I can tell the Republican base and leadership speak as one on this issue: there is literally no such thing as “too much” defense spending.
What angers me the most about this position, beyond its terrible reasoning and ideological blindness, is that it makes long-term budget reform politically impossible, it guarantees that our country will never reduce our deficit or balance our budget, because it makes reciprocity or compromise with Democrats impossible. The message I’m trying to get through to Republicans is this: if you want Democrats to give up anything on entitlement reform, we are going to have to give up something on military spending. It’s a well known fact that the three things that are breaking our nation’s budget and sending us towards a humiliating national bankruptcy someday in our children’s future if not our own, are Social Security, Medicare, and military spending. As a conservative, I strongly favor tax cuts to lubricate the economy and foster economic growth, but such growth has to come with major reform and reduction of entitlement AND military spending in order for us to be fiscally healthy again. But I see absolutely no willingness from either party to touch their sacred cow, both from the base and the leadership, so that means we’re just going to push this ship full steam ahead until we hit that economic iceberg.
In case you’re wondering what that iceberg is going to look like and when it’s going to hit, here’s a bit of info on it (open up the “see more” section of the video’s description to read the original article).
[Note: I explored this topic further in my follow-up article, American Bankruptcy]
3. Gay marriage
Honestly, I don’t even think this is a thing anymore, except for extremely religious Republicans over 60. Everyone else is on board. But those who aren’t are just behind the times. I don’t even know any Republicans who don’t support it, but I’m sure they exist, more in religious and rural areas. This battle is over, the right side won, and it’s not even a discussion anymore. But when it was a contentious issue over the last couple of decades, I was always staunchly opposed to the Republican position against it.
4. Planned Parenthood
So to make my own position clear up front, I’m a pro-choice Republican, at least at the beginning of a pregnancy. And to be honest, I’m struggling with this issue more lately. Because if anyone who is pro-choice is honest, you can’t draw a clear, distinguishable line between when it is acceptable and when it is not. A lot of liberals like to walk away from me at this point, when this undeniable logic is mentioned, but you have to face it if you want to be honest about the issue. If you’re honest about a topic and your own position, you have to admit where it has weaknesses or unknowns.
And I don’t know if you’ve ever looked up what they do to “terminate” a pregnancy once the fetus starts to develop, but if you haven’t, you absolutely have to if you want to have an informed opinion on this issue. I personally can’t get through an entire article describing the procedure, and in case you didn’t know, once you get past the first few weeks, it’s not like simply “expelling” a blob from your body…they have to kill the fetus. Yes, kill it. By, say, dismembering it or vacuuming out its brain. If you’re pro-choice, you have to face this, and should read some articles about the procedures, maybe look at some diagrams, and try to imagine the procedure in every detail from start to finish, and then see how you feel about it.
But this war on Planned Parenthood is a ridiculous red herring and a monumental waste of time and political capital. I could not believe how much time was wasted on it in our local caucus in 2016, and I was clearly unwelcome when I questioned it (that is its own story/post). There is still a demonization of Planned Parenthood from Republicans like they’re fighting Satan Himself (and I’m sure some of them think they are).
Now on this or any other issue, it’s fine and normal that people will have different opinions, and be passionate about it, and fight about it. That’s normal in politics. But it’s infuriating to deal with conservatives who seem to think they’re fighting Nazis here, when they don’t even know what Planned Parenthood does. And I find very disturbing the degree to which they dehumanize the people who staff that organization (which is about on par with the degree to which I find most liberals dehumanize anyone who is pro-life). In a civilized society, we should never see people who disagree with us on a political issue as monsters, and I’m just as disturbed when “my side” does it as when the “other side” does.
As contentious as the months after the 2016 election were, and as many Facebook wars as I had with hysterical liberals about the end of democracy and President Hitler, I’m almost proud to say that my first block of 2017 was from a hysterical Republican over Planned Parenthood. He was ranting about how evil they are, and I simply posted a chart showing how much they spend on various services, and asked what his objection was to the majority of their work (hint: it’s almost entirely other female health and reproductive services). He blocked me within less than a minute, another record of which I am proud.
I understand why conservatives don’t like Planned Parenthood for its abortion services. I can understand why that makes them angry, because unlike many people who are pro-choice, I can see how someone could disagree with me on this issue, and respect their disagreement. What I can’t stand is how most conservatives seem to completely ignore literally everything else Planned Parenthood does. The plethora of health services they provide is vital to the health of so many women, and they provide a lot of services for women who could not otherwise afford them.
And conservatives should be especially thankful for the free and low-cost birth control they provide, because more birth control equals fewer abortions. I mean, this is just about the best thing any organization could do to prevent abortions: how many fewer abortions are there because Planned Parenthood and other organizations provide birth control to women who could not otherwise afford it? They should literally be praying for as much birth control and contraceptive education as Planned Parenthood and other organizations can provide. But this view requires some nuance, and also requires one to do some minimal research into what they actually do. For pro-life conservatives overcome by their hatred for Planned Parenthood and abortion in general, this seems like something they are incapable of or simply unwilling to do.
Now, for my friends and readers who are pro-choice, I have to ask you to do something very uncomfortable: I have to ask you to watch this 4 minute video which is the absolute best version of the pro-life argument on abortion. It explains, as succinctly and logically as possible, why a person would hold that position on abortion, and I can say fairly confidently that it’s an argument you haven’t heard before. It also addresses the current politicizing of the Supreme Court, no matter who the candidate is, and it speaks a very important truth about how many (in my experience most) advocates of abortion rights view those who oppose them. As hesitant as I am to do this, I have to pose this as a personal challenge, and a litmus test of whether you are willing to honestly engage the best version of the other side’s argument (only you will know whether or not you pass this test). Please take a few minutes to watch and digest this commentary, and I think you will be better for it, both in understanding the pro-life argument, and in bringing you closer to humanizing people who disagree with you on perhaps our most polarizing issue.
I first wrote a few preliminary thoughts on the topic of points of agreement with “the other side” and disagreement with my own about six months ago, as it occurred to me that this would be a useful exercise for myself and a helpful conversation starter with liberals, demonstrating that I think for myself and come to my own conclusions, rather than simply toeing a party line or regurgitating talking points from my preferred conservative news outlet, which is one of the first things liberals start saying to me when they want to get nasty.
For the record, I actually get almost all of my news from NPR, CNN, the New York Times, and other liberal outlets. Like, 95%. A full 90% of my news and information comes from NPR alone, which I listen to every day both ways on my commute, continuously at home, and for coverage of any major event. I’ve even supported them financially as a subscriber/member.
And no, I don’t watch “That Station.”
I also think a conversation like this is a demonstration of goodwill and open mindedness, showing that you are willing to consider arguments from people who disagree with you, that you are open to facts that may counter your current views, and that you aren’t overly invested in your “team” winning and partisan party politics. Also that you’re just a decent human being who can get along with other human beings even if you disagree about some things, and more important, see them as human beings. There’s a whole other conversation to be had about how politics isn’t everything, about how we’re all in this together, and how we should all love and respect each other, and not let politics poison every single aspect of our life. But that’s going to have to be another article for another day.
Ok, now it’s your turn…GO!! 🙂
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