Type to search

End of the Line: Conservatives and Liberals in the Main Line


Bad Fences, Good Neighbors
A sidelong glance at conservatives and liberals.

It is possible to compare apples and oranges. They’re both pop-ular round fruits often depicted sedately in artistic still lifes. But you can’t compare apples to hammers, Berber carpet or the possibility of life on Mars.

I mention this only to clarify my real point: You can compare liberals and conservatives for the same reasons you can compare apples and oranges—even if conservatives and liberals themselves would say it’s like comparing apples to hammers, Berber carpet or the possibility of life on Mars. In other words, it boils down to a matter of perspective.

First off, liberals are called liberals only by conservatives. Among themselves, liberals refer to each other as “pragmatists.” And conservatives are called conservatives only by liberals. Among themselves, conservatives refer to each other as “pragmatists.” Since both camps believe they are pragmatists, this means they can be compared—even if they can’t stand the thought of it. (If it were capable, an apple would certainly not see itself as comparable to an orange. But do we—who eat both—really care?)

So let’s compare, shall we?

Both liberals and conservatives value life. But one set of pragmatists believes the value of life begins at conception, while the other believes the value of life has its foundation in preventing unwanted or unplanned conception. One set of pragmatists believes there is nothing wrong with putting guns in all the right hands; the other believes there’s nothing right with putting guns in all the wrong hands.

One set of pragmatists sees marriage as a sacred union based on the human love between men and women. The other set views marriage as a sacred union between two humans. One set thinks government should be small and weak in order to guarantee individual liberty; the other thinks government should be big and strong in order to guarantee individual liberty. When it come to the dicey subject of religion in America, one set of pragmatists contends a harmonious church and state can remain separate; the other argues that a separated church and state can remain harmonious.

So, if we’re all really just a bunch of pragmatists at heart, why all the rancor and division? Because, as it turns out, the country is not a bowl of apples and oranges. It’s actually composed of people—some of whom say poh-TAY-toe and some who say poh-TAH-toe. Though one can only hope that both sides—including Dan Quayle—have by now learned the correct spelling of either pronunciation.

And so, rather than stressing the huge similarities that unite us, we stress the tiny differences that divide us: accents, foods, hair, cars, where we live, where we go to get away, our cellular calling plans. In effect, we are all merely conforming to what I call “The Principle of Contrariness.” We’d rather not see each other as the same. We are apples. We are oranges. We are not simply a bowl of fruit.

And we’re certainly—given the current state of political debate—no bowl of cherries, either.

Reid Champagne writes frequently for Main Line Today, but apparently still has too much time on his hands.