WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2012 — Many conservatives and Republicans are in a dour mood this Thanksgiving. Judging from secession petitions, online chatter and talk radio, some of the crew and passengers on the ship of state are feeling positively mutinous.
We’re heading full speed onto the rocks in stormy seas, high winds, and blinding rain. The captain is incompetent, his officers are too busy looting the ship’s stores and shaking down the passengers to force him to change course, and there are no rescue ships. The situation is dire.
For politically split families, this Thanksgiving promises indigestion all around. The recriminations will start before the gravy has time to congeal on the lumpy mashed potatoes. Half the family thinks the country was narrowly saved from a return to slavery and women forced into child-rearing concubinage, half thinks it’s on its way to left-wing tyranny.
For liberals the reasons to be thankful today are obvious. For conservatives, they’re harder to see.
In fact, there are many. A blizzard of electoral post mortems has dealt with the question, what’s wrong with Republicans? They generally look at it from a political perspective. Let’s look at it instead from a public relations and marketing perspective. What’s wrong with conservatives?
They seem to have given up on America.
Let’s step back and take a good look at America. It’s in trouble. Public debt is enormous and growing, and no one in Washington seems ready to do much about it. The regulatory environment is disastrous for small businesses, and government keeps shoveling on the regulations as if afraid that sidewalk lemonade stands are selling thalidomide. The TSA is groping air travelers and doing everything it can to make the public feel helpless and degraded (and grateful for it; a third of people polled wouldn’t object to body cavity searches). The Federal Reserve is creating money at the rate of $40 billion per month as if the value of the dollar can never fall.
Our prisons are full to bursting, the continued misery in New York (yes, New York City!) shows that FEMA’s performance in New Orleans was no aberration, total unemployment is almost 20 percent, jobs keep moving to China, and the lavish theme parties continue in the White House. Yes, America is in trouble.
And so conservatives are angry, Republicans are dour, and libertarians are ready to write off the government as irredeemably corrupt.
The Bible tells us that it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Stupidity and evil will always be with us. As long as there are politicians, there will be corrupt politicians, and as long as we play politics, many will play it for personal gain. Government always tends to grow, power corrupts, wealth leads to pride and decline. Those are facts of life.
If we devote ourselves to fighting the dark, we’ll become dark and angry ourselves, consumed by the despair of a fight that can never be won. It’s much better to light candles and spread light, doing what we can and joining others to make our country a better place. We still have huge opportunities to do just that.
We can’t do that if we’re driven by anger, and we can’t do it if we don’t think it’s hopeless. What’s wrong with conservatives is that they seem to believe just that. How do you go about making a positive impact on people if they believe that you’ve given up on them?
We should remember that the darkness isn’t liberalism or Democrats. One of the most Democratic constituencies in the country is the black community. It also remains the group in most desperate need of something better. Black Americans aren’t the enemies of conservatives in making a better America; they’re one of the biggest reasons that we should fight with all our strength to do it.
The conservative dream of America is a land of opportunity and individual liberty. It’s a dream that resonates with blacks and Hispanics, women and gays, and those are groups that conservatives should want to help – not as groups, but as Americans.
Americans aren’t the enemy. Poverty is the enemy. Bad ideas are the enemy. We don’t fight bad ideas by fighting the people who believe them and we don’t fight poverty by fighting the poor. We fight them by spreading good ideas, then trusting people to make their own decisions.
Conservative or liberal, we’re all human, and our common human failing is our inability to trust others to make good decisions. That inability is built into liberalism, hence liberals often seem dour. But it’s in our human DNA, and so when things don’t go their way, conservatives suddenly become as angry as liberals and as desirous of making people be good. You can’t make anyone be good. You can only make them obey.
Things could be worse in America. In fact, they have been.
We are not engaged in a great Civil War. Slavery is dead. Jim Crow is dead. Those are all wonderful improvements from a past that isn’t long past. Black unemployment is still scandalously high, black families badly dysfunctional, and black politicians like President Obama, Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson Jr. have done nothing to make that better, but it’s still much better to be a black person in America today than it was a hundred years ago. All Americans should be thankful for that, and Republicans helped make it happen.
America remains a hugely wealthy country. Our wealth isn’t just in money, but in human capital and natural resources. Our schools are failing our country and failing our children, but ask yourself: Whose problems and strengths would you rather have – ours, or China’s?
Our problems are huge, but so are our abilities and our resources. The Constitution is under assault, but it’s far from dead. Our political system is unfair and corrupt, but we aren’t Chicago, let alone Mexico.
Liberal and conservative, we have much to be thankful for. We should remember that, and then resolve to be good and do good. If we make that resolution, we’ll always have much to be thankful for, even if the ship of state hits the rocks. Bad things happen, our nation has its ups and downs, but good people who work to spread light will always see what’s in the glass and work with it, not fret about what isn’t there.