The research I did for an essay earlier this week about “fairness” and the related value of “equality” was something I found particularly interesting because it shed light on much more than just differences in political ideology.
It also helps explain why family members, spouses, co-workers, neighbors and business associates so often view and practice these values from such different perspectives.
Related and just as telling, is how we think of “liberty.” Researchers such as Dr. Jonathan Haidt of NYU’s Stern School of Business have found that Republicans, mostly conservative, think in terms of what is called “negative liberty,” the freedom to be left alone, freedom from interference.
Democrats who are mostly moderate with a faction that is liberal, think in terms of what researchers call “positive liberty,” or having the power and resources to choose one’s path and fulfill one’s potential.
They believe government has to the obligation to remove or lower barriers to full political participation and to enable success.
Republicans view government as a threat, which makes them prone to be stubborn and obstinate, even about things to which they otherwise tend to be open.
The Republican view, Haidt explains, is the more traditional view of liberty. They seek freedom from oppression and often view government as oppressive. Democrats believe government has an obligation to remove barriers and “enable previously oppressed groups to succeed.”
As a moderate Independent, this explains a lot and helps clear away the obfuscation when “true believers” of each viewpoint tend to demonize the other. It also explains why Republicans think I am Republican and progressives think I am a Democrat.
It also explains why my conservative father and I, despite a deep love and respect for each other, had such a difficult time understanding one another yet agreed on so many things.
It explains why, in my now-concluded career as an executive in public authorities and non-profits charged with generating economic improvement, so many were so frustrated that I wouldn’t bend the rules to tip the “playing field” in their favor or in support of their agenda.
It also explains why so many of us who came of age -in our 20s -primarily over the course of the 1970s, took such polarized viewpoints from the same set of life experiences, while others of us glean some validity from both world views.
Some emerged from that era blaming the Vietnam War as government at its worst, others blamed government for giving up, for making what they stood for seem futile.
Some viewed new social policies such as civil rights and integration as worthy of extremes to achieve balance, others viewed the ways in which it was implemented as taking away their liberty.
Some viewed new environmental, safety and health regulations as improving quality of life and productivity, while others saw them as getting in their way and holding them back.
Some viewed run-away inflation as a reason for government intervention, while other blamed government for letting it occur and an inability to curb it.
This may all soon be moot. Surveys and studies are revealing a new generation gap. Millennials, the generation in their 20s and 30s today, do not buy the stale anti-government narrative that has dominated public discourse since the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In fact, they are substantially pro-government. They are more ethnically diverse and even among those who are working class they are less susceptible to class divisions. Even those who are conservative are less anti-government.
Overall, Millennials are much less about “them vs. us,” much more savvy about “agendas” and keen to spotting manipulation. They are more capable than older generations of holding two seemingly contradictory values.
In a word, they tend to be more “moderate,” open to ideas across the ideological spectrum, open to what works, open to fixing government rather than bashing or starving it, and open to a balance of both views of “liberty.”
As often noted by political strategist Andrew Levison, being moderate isn’t just a “find the middle of everything centrism,” it is common sense open-mindedness based on “one hand but on the other hand” analysis.”
It is time for those of us forged by the ‘70s to give way. The anti-government narrative has run its course with mixed results, mostly self-defeating. It has evolved to become more a rationalization to justify divergence, corruption and special interests.
It is time to hand America over to a new generation. It is time for a middle way, a third way, a middle-out way. It a time for a better-not-smaller, more nimble and more robust public-interest driven government.
It is simply time to reboot.
God bless Millennials, God bless America.