Thursday, August 13, 2009

Conservatives, liberals...and scuba diving

Most comparisons between liberals and conservatives are aimed at proving that one or the other is in the wrong on all things always.

I disagree. Instead let me offer up...scuba diving as a way to understand the difference.

I'm a scuba diver. If you're not, and you're a liberal, your reaction is likely to be "Wow--I'd like to try that sometime. Sounds exciting." If you're a conservative, your reaction is likely to be "I like watching undersea stuff on the Discovery Channel, but that sounds really dangerous. Aren't you worried about sharks?"

Neither of those reactions is wrong. Scuba diving is a lot more dangerous than walking through a garden. And while it is exciting to try, people prone to panic shouldn't do it. Nor should those with certain medical conditions.

So I tell people good scuba divers are a blend of liberal and conservative, actually. Divers have to be both adventurous and methodical. Those who are adventurous without being methodical soon die, to put it simply. OTOH, those who are methodical without being adventurous just stay home and watch the Discovery Channel.

And while you're diving, you have to constantly monitor your nitrogen absorption, amount of air remaining, ascent rate, condition of your ears and other organs, water temperature, currents, surge, where your dive buddy is and how he/she is doing, possible dangerous critters/conditions nearby, and more. Good divers deal with all this through thorough training, so we can also enjoy the dive--the purpose of all that preparation and work.

So while diving might seem to be a liberal activity--the adventurer/explorer thing--you won't survive unless you dive like a conservative--the methodical/careful/detail-oriented thing.

And not only are good divers a blend, so is a good electorate, and for similar reasons.

With one caution: as someone said, when you're on thin ice, the prudent thing to do is run like hell!

Thus I think Obama actually did the prudent, conservative thing with the huge trillion-dollar bailout; as did the Fed.

After the stock market crash of 1929, the Hoover administration did what seemed to them to be the prudent, conservative thing, prioritizing keeping down inflation and debt. But it turned out that while those are the prudent things to do in normal times--and I agree that they are--they aren't, and weren't, the prudent things to do after a crash.

This runs counter to a conservative's intuition, so I sympathize with conservatives' extremely suspicious reaction to what the Obama administration is doing. But our instincts were honed in simpler circumstances, and they sometimes mislead us.

So when you're talking with conservative friends and relatives, agree with them that in normal times we need to balance the budget and keep down inflation. That way you establish a point of common agreement. Then go and build as much common agreement as you can before you get to the things you disagree about.

I'd go so far as to say that conservative (not Conservative, but actually conservative) principles should always be considered in politics.

And then, when you're about to dive into controversy, see if you can get them to agree with the thin ice analogy--that sometimes the conservative thing to do is to act quickly, as when the house is on fire, or there's an earthquake. And this was a financial earthquake.

Lastly, for conservatives reading this--most of what I said applies in the other direction when you're talking to liberal friends and relatives. It is liberal--if not Liberal--t0 take the other side's points seriously. We are talking about a major revision to our healthcare system. Personally I think we need to do it, since the current system isn't sustainable economically. But that's no excuse to be blithe about it.

Neither side should resort to namecalling, even though this is something we all feel very strongly about--because this is something we all feel very strongly about. And the best way to do that in either direction is to start by seeking common ground. A good start might be to denounce undemocratic actions by both sides.

No government works exactly like anyone would like it to. But imperfect as it is, it beats no government. If you don't think so, move to Somalia for a month.

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