Opinionl: Us

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By Alex Dunkel

In the past, I have tried to look beyond politics and, instead, grasp at the fundamental problems that divide the nation into two rival groups: conservatives and liberals. Over the past week, I have been engaged in debate with John Bambenek, a conservative and writer for The Orange and Blue Observer. The experience has helped clarify my understanding of the core values of informed conservatives.

What’s more, our debates have helped me address an issue that has frustrated me for some time: That many people, whether liberal or conservative, are uninformed yet strongly opinionated. These loose cannons on both sides greatly have hindered debates and discussions for decades and, in my opinion, widened the rift that divides us.

For our nation to come together and make informed decisions on all the important issues – especially leading up to the 2004 election – we must first come to see ourselves and this struggle through the eyes of those with whom we disagree.

Through my liberal mindset, and from opinions I have gathered from liberal friends, I feel safe to say that many liberals generally view most conservatives as close-minded, religiously outspoken, uneducated and/or xenophobic (racist, chauvinist, etc). In contrast, most liberals tend to see themselves as the opposite: open-minded, private about religion, educated and tolerant.

In debates, liberals often are wary of conservative opponents; worried that some of them might break into a religious fervor or start yelling racist slurs with the slightest provocation. Liberals sometimes see unwelcoming rural communities, in which conservatism dominates as a silent, continual protest against multiculturalism and open-mindedness. In fact, sometimes liberals feel pity for conservatives, wishing they would open their eyes to the beautifully diverse world around them.

As I’ve gradually come to learn, many conservatives feel that several of the same criticisms could be levied against a considerable number of liberals. For decades, supposedly open-minded liberals flatly have dismissed conservative perspectives – alienating conservatives from debates and creating one-sided discussions. The one-sidedness of some news organizations in favor of conservative views sometimes is seen as giving liberals a taste of their own medicine.

Liberals often are seen as arrogant and close-minded. While conservatives wish to preserve what works and change what doesn’t, liberals are seen as too aggressive – often too eager to overhaul a mostly functional system for minor changes. A common example of this is affirmative action, which in the mind of some conservatives, devalues merit and overemphasizes race and gender.

Most conservatives also favor life with minimal government interference, while liberals are viewed as favoring invasive government control. (Liberals might point out the irony of this last statement, especially given the strong conservative endorsement of the Patriot Act, Federal Marriage Amendment and abortion bans. But these involve more complex issues, such as secular arguments and morality.)

All in all, conservatives typically want to maintain the status quo, focus on their day-to-day existence and not have to worry about “Big Brother” telling them to restructure their lives to fix a problem that could’ve been fixed through simpler means.

The common theme in both perspectives lies within a critical misunderstanding. We assume strongly opinionated people who do most of the speaking in public represent our opponents. We even are selectively blind and mute to the words and actions of our advocates.

Personally, I repeatedly have called for conservatives to weed out racists and religious zealots among them in order to foster more constructive debates. However, liberals must do their own housecleaning: confronting their arrogant, close-minded supporters.

They also must learn to listen to views they might not immediately agree with or understand.

The first step in healing our nation’s internal divide is for both sides to address the close-mindedness and bigotry that is present among them. Only then can an open-minded, informed public – consisting of both liberals and conservatives – come together and erase the rift that divides us.

Alex Dunkel is a University employee. His column runs alternate Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected]