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Hanging in there

By Lady Liberty
web posted March 19, 2007

There are various and sundry political action groups for just about anything you'd care to imagine. There are pro-gun and anti-gun groups. There are pro-life and pro-choice groups. There are groups that fight for freedom of religion but from entirely different perspectives. There are economic development groups that find themselves pitted squarely against property rights groups. There are hunting groups and animal rights groups.

It's probably a good thing that there are so many groups because there are frankly at least as many political positions taken up by the American voter. It's certainly fair to say that the more liberal voter might be more likely to belong to or agree with certain groups more than others; the same thing would be true of the more conservative voter. But even like minds aren't entirely alike. Not all liberals, for example, are pro-choice and anti-gun; not all conservatives disagree with the majority of liberals when it comes to abortion and firearms.

But that's the beauty of so many disparate groups. You can have whatever opinion you like about a variety of issues, and you can join with like minds to work for — or against — whatever it is you wish. The things the group members don't agree on are immaterial to the cause at hand and, as a result, everybody can work together toward a common goal without wasting energies on unrelated arguments. Even more importantly, you can work for something you support without extending your efforts and resources toward something that you don't.

This sort of sensible arrangement spills over into our personal and non-political lives as well. You may volunteer for your church where you work with people with whom you have little in common but your religious beliefs. You might go hiking together with your significant other, but read a book while he goes fishing. All the while, the picking and the choosing that you do dovetails with your own interests and your own beliefs nicely with little if any compromise.

Unfortunately, there are some people for whom some agreement isn't enough. Although you may have some things in common with them, they refuse your aid and sometimes even your association because you don't agree with them about everything. They seem to view this condition almost as a personal affront, and they're not inclined to forgive or even for a moment forget your disagreement whatever it may be. As a result, you both lose something, but they typically don't see it that way.

Some years ago, a good friend of mine had a very close friend with whom he had much in common including a lengthy history. Perhaps the only thing they didn't have in common was the path each took toward a religious philosophy. One of them gradually came to believe the truth of Christianity. The other examined Christianity and found it lacking as he did the other religions he investigated. He came to accept the fact that there are no gods. Given the friendship the pair had, the two probably could have learned a good deal from each other. It may be that neither would change their minds, but they still might have gained some understanding of each other's position if not respect or appreciation for it.

Instead, the friend whose newfound Christianity gave him such joy determined that he couldn't possibly have any kind of a relationship with someone who didn't even believe in his god. There was no discussion let alone any kind of an alienating argument or ultimatum. Without so much as a look behind him, he simply said good-bye to a twenty-year friendship because all of the common interests and experiences weren't enough for him if they couldn't also have an agreement on religion.

Now, I never would have expected them to attend church together, and I would have been almost as surprised had the Christian skipped Sunday services to do something more decadent (by his definition, of course) with his old friend. But I also wouldn't have expected that they'd never bowl another game or attend another party or have another discussion of how best to fix everything that was wrong with the world, either. I remember how sad my friend was, and how confused, too. He simply couldn't understand how it was that one thing, even an important one, could override everything else.

I can understand that myself to some small degree. For example, my best friend disagrees with me as to the best of the current presidential candidates. She thinks that Rudy Giuliani is a terrific choice. I, on the other hand, remember all too well when I referred to him as "Rudolph: New York's answer to Adolf." That was when Mayor Giuliani instituted such unconstitutional niceties as expanded gun bans and neighborhood checkpoints. I reminded my friend of those days, and do you know what she said to me? "Well, I actually kind of like that he did that." You can, of course, imagine my reaction.

Although she's completely wrong about Giuliani (just ask me, and I'll tell you!), it never occurred to me that I should stop seeing movies with her, going to parties together, or talking about her kids and my cats. In much the same way, I'd also be more than a little surprised if she decided that my disdain for Candidate Giuliani had anything to do with the rest of our relationship.

Politically, another good friend and I are in agreement more often than not, but certainly not always. Another acquaintance is a real mover-and-shaker in the local Republican Party. Sometimes I agree with him, and sometimes I don't. Whatever we disagree on, the three of us have been known to get together on certain issues and pool our time, resources, and abilities to help further those causes. When that happens, you had better believe our disagreements don't come up. We are, after all, focused on something that we do agree on!

In all of these give and take situations, it seems to me that when we concentrate on what we have in common, we're of mutual benefit to each other and to our cause. And by working with other people on other things, we continue to collectively do more than any of us could ever do on our own. The key, of course, is being willing to work with people on some causes without worrying about or placing conditions on other causes in which they might be involved.

Our ability to compartmentalize and prioritize our own opinions becomes even more important when it comes time for casting our vote. Unfortunately, we can't vote for different candidates to represent us on different issues. We're stuck voting for one candidate, and all we can do is vote for the one that represents us on the most issues, or at least the ones most important to us.

Some groups are better at this than others. By groups, of course, I'm not referring any more to special interest groups but rather to political parties. Traditionally, Democrats tend to stick together perhaps better than any other party. Their candidate may not be a great one. He (or likely soon to be she) may not represent all, or even most, of their views faithfully. But the Democrats have done a terrific job of convincing party members that even a bad Democrat (but, as Mark Twain might say, I repeat myself) is better than anything else.

The Republicans know the Democrats are good at what they do politically, and they've tried via their much-vaunted "Big Tent" to do the same. There's room for everybody, they say, and by extension almost every viewpoint. But some Republicans aren't going to be able to swallow their bile long enough to vote for a "Big Tent" candidate (in many cases, I'm not inclined to blame them). In my opinion, the sagging "Big Tent" is the perfect example of taking agreement and tolerance for disagreement too far. Everything will be shored up quite nicely, however, the moment the tent is made a little smaller, and a candidate can be found that represents most of the viewpoints of most of the GOP.

Meanwhile, perhaps the worst party at getting people to unify behind a candidate or even a cause is the Libertarian Party. I've heard it said more than once that getting Libertarians together is like herding cats. Now, I don't know how familiar you are with cats, but I'll tell you from past experience that herding them is pretty much out of the question! In no small measure, the problem with unity within the party is caused by people with principles so truly precious to them (which I frankly appreciate and admire) that they're disinclined to work gradually toward a goal they believe ought to be the status quo already. That's too bad because the Libertarian Party is really the closest thing I've got to my party of choice primarily because it is, in my opinion, the party closest to liberty.

The fact is that the people who win elections are going to be those who get the most people to vote for them en masse. And every time the Democrats do their thing successfully, and the Republicans manage to pull off some unity even if it's only long enough to defeat the Democrats, they see their candidate in office and their issues addressed. Meanwhile, Libertarian candidates all too often languish in the distance after having failed to make all of their party members happy all of the time, and all too often having scared non-party members away.

I don't suggest that anybody — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians or anybody else — compromise their principles to the point where they vote for somebody whose every viewpoint they find abhorrent. I do, however, suggest that we might consider accepting a little less than the perfect candidate and vote for the best candidate we can get even if we don't love him as much as we wish that we did, or agree with her on all of the issues we consider most important. After he or she is elected is plenty of time to lobby for attention to our interests! And by working together in our various grassroots groups, I'm betting we can do just that.

Whether it's a cause or an entire election, though, the key is working together. That's something that I do my best to do. Unfortunately, in recent weeks, a person I'd worked with on various issues in the past advised that we'd not work together in the future because I'd written a column in direct contradiction to his views on a specific subject. I'm not sorry I wrote the column, but I am sorry we won't combine efforts again on any of the many things we do both support. I've also lately seen at least two groups effectively chase people away for failing to toe one particular line or another when the line in question really had little or nothing to do with the group's reason for being.

Throwing away the perfectly good resources represented by interested and politically active people is self-defeating at best, and making unreasonable demands for unreasonable agreement is a great way to throw those resources away (most of us know better than to ask our significant other to agree with us 100% of the time, so what makes us think it's okay to do the same with our friends, acquaintances, or political cohorts?). The end result is that we're less. We collectively have less money, time, voice, manpower, and political power. When we're trying to get something done, less is never a good thing. When we're trying to accomplish something as crucial as the restoration of freedom, less is an outright tragedy.

After signing the Declaration of Independence – effectively an act of treason — Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." I think his words are at least as valid now as they were then, only I'd put it just a little differently: "We must all hang together, or we may as well hang it up."

ESR

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