In my youth I would have never believed that a person could be characterized as “evil” or “stupid” just because they agreed with a mainstream set of political beliefs (in whole or in part.)
But today is a different time.
I read an article last week in Salon.com (a left-leaning news source) titled “Why does the GOP hate College?” The article caught my eye because it was “liked” on Facebook by a friend, and as a self-identified Republican I was curious why the GOP would hate colleges. Or why anyone would think they did.
You see, I’m not at all anti-education. I have a Master’s degree myself and my spouse has a Bachelor’s degree. I expect all seven of my children will eventually earn a degree, and two of my daughters have or will earn degrees in education.
I value education, as do my parents. Getting a good education has been a key contributor to my success in life, opening doors that might have otherwise been out of reach.
But I don’t love everything about college. I don’t love the outrageous inflation of college costs (attributable mainly to the construction of lavish facilities and the hiring of many, many administrative employees – and don’t by this red herring, that the government has shrunk its “support” for colleges. On an inflation-adjusted basis, the dollar amount State Schools receive per student from the government is about the same as it was when I was in college).
I don’t love the seizure of educational lending by the government, which has no obvious benefit other than to reduce available borrowing for many seeking higher education.
And I don’t love the President’s and Elizabeth Warren’s calls for “free” education for all.
You see, in a federal government with out-of-control spending, and a recent mandate (Obamacare) that threatens to further stretch available resources, I don’t believe such proposals are affordable. I’m definitely not in the camp that says that “the rich” (a category that would include me) can afford to pay “a little more” (which looks like a lot more than “a little more,” and unlike Warren Buffet, I already pay half of everything I earn in taxes) If I’m correctly calculating what it will take to balance the budget and begin to bring down the national debt even before this new educational mandate is added into the mix, we are already in dangerous territory. Of course, we can always just keep kicking the can down the road, letting future generations deal with our spending excesses.
According to the readers of Salon, this makes me “evil.” In the comments section of the Facebook post of the article, this accusation was commonly made. Attached to the article itself, people claimed that Republicans opposed “free” education because, (1) it allows them to keep it as a good available only to elites, (2) that they want to exclude certain groups toward whom they are prejudiced, (3) They want to keep the electorate ignorant as education doesn’t favor their party. There were many other claims along the same vein. The article itself makes similar assertions (that Republicans want to reserve education as a good only available to the wealthy, for example.)
Is it just me, or do these attitudes seem patently absurd?
While I’m not a spokesperson for the Republican party (heck, I don’t agree with a number of their positions on various issues), I think I can respond to the commentary in Salon.
(1) While I’m one of the vilified 1%, I don’t consider myself an “elite.” I came from a modest background and worked hard as an employee (and then hard for myself) to get where I am today. Higher education was an important part of my ability to achieve, and I would like to see higher education available to as many people as possible. In the long haul, education helps the economy grow (although perhaps not directly as a result of the coursework required for most college degrees.) On the other hand, not everyone is college material (maybe some of my own children will not succeed there). And many college majors are a far cry from providing practical training that will allow students to succeed in life.
But do people really believe that Republicans, a group representing a quarter of the voting population, really want to pump up college costs so high that only their children will be able to afford to go? The idea is ridiculous, and the implications about a quarter of our population are downright insulting.
The problem is that college costs far too much today and there is little pressure on Universities to reduce those costs. I definitely don’t see the shifting of the load onto the backs of taxpayers as the solution to this problem – it will simply encourage more excessive, wasteful spending.
(2) This is an accusation I hear a lot – that Republicans hate blacks, jews, women, etc. The notion is bizarre. While there might be a very small minority of bigoted individuals out there, I suspect there are just as many in the Democratic party. As for myself, I have four black children, and I wouldn’t have anything to do with a party that I thought wouldn’t/couldn’t represent their interests. And I have a wife, a mother, and more than half of my kids are girls/women – again, why would I allow myself to be a part of party who’s objective was to disadvantage them?
Do Democrats honestly believe that any political party could survive today on a platform rooted in bigotry and prejudice? Need I remind Dems that it was their party that opposed civil rights in the south way back when. The usual explanation for “systemic Republican bigotry” is that these feelings are somehow hidden, and apparently communicated among the “whiteboy’s club” through winks and nods. It’s a “star chamber” view of politics that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
(3) The Republican party’s primary viewpoint could be summed up by Ronald Reagan’s prescient words: “Government isn’t the solution to our problem, it is the problem.” The notion is that government gets it wrong a lot more often than they get it right (for example, the persistent problems of poverty in our country over the last fifty years, despite a “war” on poverty and untold billions spent trying to reduce/eradicate it). Furthermore, Republicans believe that the overall economic outcome for the country is better if people are as unfettered as possible to pursue their own interests. Yes, Republicans may tend to err on the side of business non-intervention, non-regulation at times, sometimes to the detriment of the environment and the population at large. When such events happen, they are usually ready to consider the addition of necessary rules and regulations, but their default position is: if it isn’t broken there is no need to take action.
To think that there is some evil, Machiavellian plan to pacify the masses (one that only “in-the-know” Republicans and a few “wise, all-seeing” Democrats are aware of) is the product of too much pulp fiction. I can assure you that there is no “unspoken intent” behind Republican’s actions, not any more than progressives are “trying to turn the United States into a communist country” – the Republican version of this “smear the opposition” game.
“Evil” is an easy label to ascribe to one’s opponent’s. It’s a put down, one that provides the user an excuse for not further examining opposing ideas. It is a moniker designed to end all discussion, to stop all exchange of ideas.
But labeling people is the trade of our times. Civil discourse, as I’ve previously written, appears to be dead. Why bother debating or exploring alternative opinions when you know it all.
I’m sorry Democrats, but Republicans aren’t “evil.” They simply have an alternative viewpoint of how the country should be run. And while you aren’t likely to agree with them, it might be useful to once in a while try to understand their perspective.
Or maybe you prefer a polarized country where everyone yells at one another, points fingers, labels one another, and nothing is done.
And I’d be remiss if I failed to point out that this same problem works in the other direction, as well. Liberals don’t “hate America.” And they aren’t simply airy, idealistic dreamers. I cringe every time I see a conservative use the term “libtard,” which has about the same intellectual honesty as the “evil” label.
Maybe, if we can cast aside the soundbites, endless harsh opinion pieces, and the rhetoric that leads us to believe our own viewpoint is the only valid one, there might be hope. Maybe then we could embrace the idea that even though we don’t agree with our political opponents, at least their thoughts and opinions are arrived at honestly and may contain some nuggets of truth to temper our own beliefs.
Naw, it’s much easier to simply shout names at one another.
I fear for the future of our nation, and the future of the world.