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megimoo
09-16-2009, 10:55 AM
Everyone knows that Americans are bitterly divided over politics but what is the fundamental nature of that division? What is the core disagreement that separates conservatives from liberals, right from left?

Norman Podhoretz provided a provocative and persuasive answer to that question in a recent Wall Street Journal column (September 10) based on his new book, Why Are Jews Liberals? Podhoretz wrote:

The great issue between the two political communities is how they feel about the nature of American society.

With all exceptions duly noted, I think it fair to say that what liberals mostly see when they look at this country is injustice and oppression of every kind economic, social and political.

By sharp contrast, conservatives see a nation shaped by a complex of traditions, principles and institutions that has afforded more freedom and, even factoring in periodic economic downturns, more prosperity to more of its citizens than in any society in human history.

It follows that what liberals believe needs to be changed or discarded and apologized for to other nations is precisely what conservative are dedicating to preserving, reinvigorating and proudly defending against attack.

The bitterness of the current health care debate demonstrates the power of this important insight. Liberals invariably plead that the United States must follow the example of Britain or France, Canada or Cuba, and expand the governmental role in medicine to guarantee health care as a sacred human right. The left insists that despite the high cost of American medical care we actually lag far behind more enlightened countries in health outcomes.

Conservatives, on the other hand, while decrying the rise in costs, cite the many ways that the US system leads the world (in technological breakthroughs, as well as responsiveness where America is ranked number one by the World Health Organization of the UN). Conservatives want other countries to learn from us and follow our example; liberals long for the United States to learn from our European counterparts and to follow their example.

In international affairs, similar differences apply. The left wants the United States to act multi-laterally at all times and in all things, emphasizing the danger that well probably make a mistake if we go it alone and ignore world opinion. The right concentrates on the need for American power in the world and stresses the positive role played by this country in every corner of the globe.

Conservatives worry that if we wait for other (and often corrupt) international powers to join us in every endeavor, well make a mistake by abdicating the leadership role only we can play by deferring to world opinion.

When it comes to the nations history, the divisions between left and right remain similarly stark. Liberals stress U.S. guilt for slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, and more than a century of imperialist adventures oppressing nations around the world. The right dwells on the way that America introduced ideals of liberty to all of humanity, gave rise to the planets first anti-slavery society, and rescued the earth from two world wars and the danger of international communism.

The opposing instincts toward America also help explain the liberal-conservative arguments over religion and its role in our society. All recent polls show a vast difference in political alignment between those who place a priority on traditional faith and those who describe themselves as irreligious or unaffiliated. From the days of our Puritan and Pilgrim forefathers, the people who inhabited the New World always placed a higher priority on religious practice and Biblical beliefs than the communities they left behind in Europe.

In the 1830s, the French observer Alexis de Tocqueville singled out the powerful influence of fervent Christianity as perhaps the most dominant force in American society, and the clearest distinction between the new Republic and the Old World. Even today, the United States remains by every measure the most religious nation in the western world. For conservatives, the religious character of our past and our people stands as a point of pride; for liberals, its one more reason for embarrassment and apology.

On all of these issues, liberals and conservatives differ dramatically and profoundly. This is not to say that all liberals hate America, or that all conservatives glorify their country unreservedly.
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But in questions of emphasis the contrast couldn't be more clear:

the left stresses Americas failures, shortcomings, hypocrisies, and embarrassments while

the right trumpets the nations achievements, blessings, and distinctive advantages.

Nothing enrages liberals more than the conservative tendency for jingoistic flag-waving and super-patriotism;

nothing bothers conservatives more than the liberal habit of blaming America first and concentrating on historic guilt and present problems.
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The more negative attitude by liberals toward the nation in which they live even accounts for the well-known happiness gap in which all survey data shows conservatives as far more satisfied and optimistic about their own lives. Even controlling for factors like race, age, economic and marital status, conservatives top liberals by all measures of happiness (as described in detail by Arthur Brooks in his valuable book, Gross National Happiness.) The liberal embrace of guilt rather than gratitude, and focus on the nations predicaments rather than its possibilities, clearly contribute to the gloomy temperament (and the inevitable calls for sweeping change) that accompany the leftwing world view.

The critical and even fearful attitude toward the United States has come to characterize the left in every corner of the globeand it makes sense to extend the Podhoretz paradigm internationally. Contrasting visions of America distinguish every major conflict in todays world; the role of the United States has been the explosive, polarizing,
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http://townhall.com/columnists/MichaelMedved/2009/09/16/the_real_political_divide_attitudes_toward_america outstanding international issue for the last twenty years.