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Conservatives vs. liberals: Before you indoctrinate your kids, read this

Clinging to polarizing ideologies is comfortable, sometimes profitable. But you can find persuasive arguments on both sides of the divide. And, like me, you might find that some of your political opposites' ideas make sense.

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• If the government can help create job opportunities during a time of high unemployment, that's a perfect use of tax dollars.

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On overcoming racial discrimination

The liberal view

• The difference in income between white people and African-Americans is still significant and directly linked to centuries of oppression. We haven't overcome the legacy of slavery yet. There's a long way to go.

The conservative view

• Current law protects equal rights for all races, and it's up to individuals to work and succeed according to their abilities. We no longer need to tip the scale toward minorities to make up for what happened long ago. To do so is reverse discrimination, and creates new injustices.

On human nature and justice

The conservative view

• We have the power to choose between right and wrong and are responsible for our choices. Those who violate the law must pay the penalties. Too much leniency results in a culture of disrespect for the law and social disorder.

The liberal view

• Human beings are capable of both selflessness and brutality. Even the best of us is far from perfect. Knowing this, we rely on the rule of law – and ask that justice be tempered with mercy.

On America's future

The liberal view

• Most of the world's most successful, prosperous nations are liberal democracies that provide their citizens with a strong safety net. This represents the natural progress of civilization. It's time for us to catch up with northern Europe.

The conservative view

• What makes America great – a country so many yearn to live in – is the vastness of opportunity here. Freedom of opportunity requires freedom from government interference. We aren't Europe, and it would be wrong to follow Europe's lead.

On ideals

The conservative view

• Duty, honesty, hard work, self-sacrifice, love of country, loyalty, and self-restraint.

The liberal view

• Justice, compassion, equality of opportunity, and clear vision: what’s great about our country, and what could be better.

The middle zone

This list of polar disagreements leaves me with – fittingly – two opposite reactions. The first, more obvious conclusion is that there's no hope, common ground, or room for compromise. And so nothing will get done in Congress over the next two years.

But these opposing viewpoints also suggest a different idea: Contradictory statements can both be true. Yes, America's success lies partly in its dynamism and opportunity – and yes, progress requires that we provide for those who have lost their jobs or their health. In other words, if you set your dogma aside, you may find some truth in the ideals of people you've always disagreed with.

Which reminds me of something the extreme partisans would prefer we forget: governing in America has happened mainly in the middle zone, between the far left and far right. Yes, the differences are significant and worth negotiating over, but what we're really talking about is a few percentage points in tax rates, not a choice between socialism and the abolition of all taxes.

Contempt for the opposition may be profitable on talk radio, but it doesn't help the rest of us. All it accomplishes is to drive people further into their angry, fanatical corners.

This is the next political insight I'll be sharing with my kids.

Michael Laser is a novelist and the creator of, which provides concise overviews of major news topics. More notes on liberal and conservative values can be found there.


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