Sunday, January 31, 2010

what is a conservative, and why does it matter?

Politics -- always there's another who knows more, who knows best, who is right. Really? The Republicans now have a platform you have to adopt if you want any support from them. Kay Bailey Hutchison is running for governor of Texas and refuses to say she'd support overruling Roe v Wade. She tries to justify this by saying that there is 40 years of law already limiting the right to abortion and therefore there are already good things happening and so it is unnecessary for her to state her professed, or implied support, for limiting the Roe v Wade decision. So what? Is she a democrat in disguise because she will not toe the line marked out by the Republicans in an effort to define who is a Republican? I don't think anyone could seriously make that argument. Now this is not about abortion at all. It is about the need we all have, apparently, to label and tag and categorize people, put them in boxes and then base important decisions on otherwise meaningless words like Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, tea party. The tea party folks around here are largely thought of as Republicans yet many of then disavow the party. Many proclaim that they are independents, apparently enamored of the word and its connotations while refusing to consider anything that is not put out by the Republican party.

I do not support abortion and I believe the act of abortion is the taking of a human life. This would qualify among most circles as a conservative position.

I support the right of all people to enter into sacred, committed relationships with dignity, grace and respect. This would qualify among many circles as a liberal position, and wholly antithetical to the first stated position but only it seems (in my small world) among those whose positions against abortion and against equal rights for all relationships are based on some perceived moral high ground (in my humble opinion). Colin Powell, a high-ranking member of George W's team (i.e., a Republican in "name") was I thought well-spoken and highly respected. When he was with Bush he supported the military's don't ask, don't tell policy. He strongly supported the policy and now, today, he supports Obama's plan to do away with don't ask, don't tell. Powell's explanation is that "times have changed" and that today's military can deal with open disclosure of sexual orientation. Really? In such short time the entire military, still largely run by the same historically white, judeo-Christian male hierarchy has just done a bout face and so now it's okay in their little world to be open about who you are? Really? Forgive the cynicism but I think not. No, I don't think that's it. I think that Colin Powell has perhaps examined the policy and its implications in a more honest, aware and open way than he'd done previously and now, no longer tied to the tether labelled "Republican," has come to see things as he would rather than as another branded with that "R" might see them.

So what is Colin Powell -- is he a Republican or a Democrat? conservative or liberal? or is he, like so many others, just a guy trying to make sense and make his way through the world as it exists around and despite him, willing to consider, try on and accept different views and beliefs, to espouse other values gained with experience and maturity?

I know few people who want to be called "Republican" or "Democrat" for the very demagoguery these labels invite. Even if forced to run as a Democrat or as a Republican, as one must do to become a judge in Texas -- which in fact has no separate law for the parties "D" and "R", and where one cannot even inquire about party affiliation or votes cast in any manner related to judicial proceedings -- the strict adherence to party labels leads only to cynicism as those who want to win generally run under the label of the party they think will have the biggest turnout in the general election. One critical remark as to what was conservative or liberal -- was it sarcasm? cavalier? merely short-sighted? -- suggested that the label "conservative" refers to one whose attitude might be described as "I got mine; you go take care of your own self" (to paraphrase). I have never had such thoughts -- are there things that I have wanted? Sure, and some things I have been given, some befell me, and some I had the opportunity to work for and earn. But that does not and never did preclude me from offering what I could to another who wants or needs.

What about the folks hanging out along the riverwalk or by the Alamo in San Antonio or sitting outside the courthouses or in the street here? When last I was in San Antonio a few months ago there happened to be a tea party rally right there at Alamo Plaza. And I was staying in a hotel locking right out over the Plaza. Oh, yeah, and there was a full moon rising over the far right (as I looked at it) side of the Alamo. So I took the camera and walked over to try to take some pictures and there's these guys (gender neutral) both on the riverwalk and even more up by the Alamo who are "begging" if that is an acceptable term. Yes, I ignored them, or at least I gave them nothing they wanted unless a smile, nod, hello is what any of them were looking for. But those things don;t usually set well in hands outreached. Back to the point, the tea party around here seems more conservative than liberal yet I saw quite a few give change and some bills to those whose hands were waiting. This sort of charity -- if that's what it were -- seems more aligned with what I'd consider a liberal view of things.

Do I feel badly when I pass by these folks? I do, and I wish I had something so all of everyone could have all that they need. Sure there are times I get cynical and just know that the disheveled person in the wheelchair sitting out in traffic is a fake and yes, I have seen some who have rolled over to the side, lifted themselves from their chairs and folded them up before putting them in the trunk of a car and driving off. And I guess it is not nice of me to make any judgment about anyone, but I'm human. The guys who hang out by the courthouse, who I see all the time, for them I take the time and give what I can. It is or somehow seems different somehow. You know what it is? It's like down there at the courthouse we all see each other all the time and even if we don;t know every one's names we are a sort of group. Those guys will jump up and help someone who's having trouble getting their dolly full of boxes up the sidewalk; they say hi; they smile whether you give or not. They're comfortable. they're one of "us" in a sense.

What does any of this mean? I have no clue. I think the labels we apply are more a way to exclude than to learn or to be inclusive. If you can label me a conservative then you can make generalizations which, once shared, I am quite inclined to find offensive and unfair, as such generalizations tend to paint one unfavorably -- selfish, self-centered, disinterested, aloof, rich, narrow minded. Yet I really have not a clue as to what generalizations might be made about "liberals" other than "not conservative." I suppose it is a failure of my ability to use language in a meaningful way to say anything you would understand but perhaps too it is our collective failure to use language, to think and express anything close or meaningful about who we are and where we stand, relying instead on the labels and the judgments that almost inevitably follow.

Why the insistence of being in a herd, our acquiescence to being herded, the need to differentiate on every possible basis we think makes this one better than that and us better than the other?
How the heck would I know?
And who even cares?

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