America at its best has always been a political, social, and economic balancing act. That's one reason I am proud to call myself a moderate.
As a diverse people, we seek instinctively to avoid the extremes of various political "isms," and the ills they tend to bring upon the world when misguided leaders attempt to apply them untempered to the real world.
I feel like we are approaching a critical juncture for our nation. This is not some diatribe in favor of, or against, a particular political party or Presidential candidate. Our national identity is rightly composed of liberals, conservatives, moderates, and those free-thinkers who explore the fringes of what is possible and even desirable in our governance. No, what I mean when I write that we are approaching a critical juncture is that we must think more deeply about our national philosophy. About what it means to be an American, and what we consider to be important. We must contemplate not only our shared values (and there are more of them we hold in common than you might think), but how we should apply them amidst the realities of the 21st Century.
At the heart of our current political schism in the United States is the balance between individualism and the cooperation and interdependence necessary for a First-World Civilization in the modern world.
Conservatives understandably fear a bloated, too-powerful government that takes most of the wealth of its individual citizens. The excesses of the 20th Century clearly teach us how government can become an end to itself, taking too much from the people while accomplishing little to benefit them in return. The corrupt regimes of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are the most egregious examples. But the more benevolent "Nanny States" of the mid-to-late 20th Century European model are also a cautionary tale in how government can stretch too far, attempt to do too much.
However, liberals correctly understand that a government that does nothing is worse than useless. A government should exist to make a peaceful, productive society possible. Despite our folklore, no one in the United States stands alone. Individual citizens do not provide a national defense, a common currency, police, courts, prisons, roads, fire departments and emergency services. Government - supported by taxes in some form - is necessary to provide these things we consider necessities in the modern world.
At one time, in a less interdependent, less technologically advanced world, individual citizens were responsible for providing most of these services for themselves in some form. That is no longer realistically possible in a First World nation. By the same logic, it may or may not be time to consider whether or not an individual citizen is capable of providing him or herself with other services, like health care. It might be that the modern medical world has reached a state of advanced technology, complete with attendant costs, such that we have to dispassionately look at other models to provide health care to our citizens. Single payer systems work reasonably well in some countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and parts of Northern Europe.
We need to ask ourselves if basic health care should be a right in a First World nation, in the same way that reasonably safe streets, public protection from burning buildings, and defense against foreign enemies and terrorists are all concepts we have decided are part of the social contract between government and the people of a nation.
Likewise, what level of education should be guaranteed to a citizen of the United States? All reasonable people understand that it would be a ridiculous notion to not provide for a common education system for all children of our country. To not do so, would be to create a permanent underclass, doomed to to clog the courts and prisons and fill future welfare rolls. It would also cut the throat of American businesses, making them incapable of competing fairly in a global economy that is dependent on knowledge and innovation. But where should government's role in providing education end? And how far should government go in facilitating the higher education of its citizenry? What priority will an aging nation place on education? These are valid questions that will play in important role in our future as a nation.
But if that is the case - and we wish to increase the scope of what government should provide in the United States - then we need to have a calm, intelligent discussion about how to pay for the improvements we desire, so that the services our taxes fund will be the best we can create.
We also must find a way to discuss religion and sexuality like the adults we should be. We must respect the rights of consenting adults to live their lives in whatever manner they choose, as long no actual, legally definable harm is done to others. This does not mean every American has to approve of every other American's choices and beliefs. It does mean we have to reclaim the old-fashioned American value of each of us "minding his own business" and not attempting to force others to conform to our individual world views.
We must not be afraid of rhetoric and old ghosts as we have this debate.
Conservatives should not be quick to label every government service "Socialism," without any intellectual regard for the actual meaning of the term. Especially when many of the very people complaining about other citizens possibly receiving government services are already receiving similar help from public funds, just under different political labels.
At the same time, liberals need to be careful not throw around charges of "Fascism" just as carelessly. Liberals need to stop fearing private industry, which is the engine that drives our nation. Without banks and large corporations (which are made up of individual American citizens, just as government agencies are), there would be no United States - no jobs, no new technology, no improvements in our lives. Nothing. Financial success does not automatically equate to evil.
Most importantly, as a people, Americans need to set aside our rancor for one another. We must stop thinking of our fellow Americans as less intelligent, less patriotic, essentially, LESS HUMAN, than ourselves. We must stop this dangerous slide into factionalism.
We must be one nation - a diverse, quarrelsome nation, we must admit if we are to be honest - but one nation, nonetheless.
If we cannot come together, I fear for the future of my country.