Someone coming to America during one of our national elections might think politics is a kind of sporting event. They’d see a red team facing off against a blue team and hear that a team would win or lose based on how many votes it got.
That kind of thinking got a friend of mine into trouble. Once an outspoken and proud “dittohead,” a few years ago he decided he was going to instead become a liberal (his wife actually decided it for him, but that’s another story). But this guy tripped up because he thought that politics was a sporting event with teams that are just as interchangeable as if a baseball team were to move from Kansas City to Oakland. He thought it was a matchup with a playlist of issues like Social Security, national healthcare and the “war on terror.” On one side of each issue were conservatives and their talking points, and on the other side were liberals and their talking points. He figured all he had to do to switch sides was memorize a new set of talking points, the way a sports team would simply change its venue.
But then over lunch, one of us would bring up an issue that wasn’t one of the issues for which he’d memorized a new set of talking points. Sometimes it was an issue that didn’t even seem obviously political, like why so many coal miners are getting killed in mining accidents or why we’re paying to teach kids how to take tests but not paying for music classes. The guy who thought he had gone from being a conservative to a liberal didn’t know what to say. Those issues just weren’t in his playbook.
A true liberal or conservative, with a grounding in the philosophy and the history of the liberal or conservative worldview, would instantly know how to respond to such issues.
A liberal would put the miners’ story inside a bigger story about how corporations are now required by law to care more about profits than people, and how the evisceration of the labor movement by Reagan’s “war on labor,” and later conservative pro-business efforts, have stripped workers of the democratic and balancing power in the workplace (known as unions!) to emphasize things like safety.
A liberal might answer the music issue by talking about a child who learned how to read and write after he started playing a musical instrument–how that shows there are different intelligences we all have and can express–and conclude by stressing how important it is that we create an opportunity for every child to realize his or her potential.
There is a story behind every political issue, a story that is either liberal or conservative. Politics is no more and no less than the sum of those stories.