Right, Left, and Center
Scripps-Howard News Service 12.04.02
People need labels. People like labels. To say that Americans prefer the shorter version of everything is a monumental understatement. The fact is, if one syllable will do the job, perish the idea of wasting our precious breath on a second. I learned that forever when "Mary" proved way too exhausting for the cast of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. "Mar" (Mer?) was as far as they were willing to go.
One wonders when all that happened, given that our great statesmen, justices, men of consequence in general, were famous for their eloquence. "It's cool, man" doesn't quite do when you want to say, "We hold these truths to be self-evident."
We now have a profusion of political attitudes and an infinite number of venues where they are discussed. There must be a way to make it simple, people said, however complicated it has become.
The catch was that no American tradition existed to classify - much less lump together - people who like baby seals with those who wish to display their sexual life in public; or persons who take their religion seriously with those who would drain wetlands.
What to do?
No one knows who, when or where, but someone hit upon a quick solution: to adopt a system already developed and in full swing. Necessity, as we know, is the mother of invention. In the 1930's, Josef Stalin urgently needed to create the appearance of a vast gulf between the Soviet brand of Socialism and Adolf Hitler's, which the latter called National Socialism. So Stalin came up with "left" for his, and "right" for Hitler's. Henceforth, "Left" would be the equivalent of "good." "Right" - you guessed it - would stand for "bad."
"Bingo," said someone at New York's New School for Social Research, "we have our political scenario. We don't even have to bother to call the good people Left. We just call the bad people Right."
The foregoing may shock many a reader. But I ask you to offer an alternative explanation, given that described as being on the Right are people who believe that:
- the U.S. Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land;
- defense of the realm is a primary duty of government;
- no law is constitutional unless it applies to all;
- no one has a right to enjoy the fruits of another person's labor;
- immigration, like everything else, must be regulated by law;
- the freedom to exercise religion was basic to the founding of America;
- the Ten Commandments are so fundamental to the nature of our country that persons offended by them should deprive us of the pleasure of their company;
- no nation has ever been as generous to the world as this one;
- self-sufficiency is the key to independence;
- liberty does not survive if one's property can be taken under some pretext.
Remember, these are the "bad" people, the ones on the Right. Put it to the test. Take the opposite of these 10 points. That is where you find the "good" people, the ones on the Left. Isn't it time to rethink the whole scenario?
If any of my readers has a few spare moments, I would be grateful indeed to find out if someone detects rationale in calling the above a list of "right-wing positions." They appear to my eyes as rooted deeply in the fundamental American model.
Or were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison all right-wing nuts?
So, I think it is time to dispense with the Soviet terminology and begin using our own. After all, not only is Stalin dead - the Soviet Union, even, went off the air more than 10 years ago.
Accordingly, how about the generic term, "American," for the foregoing list?
Now, for the other side. If we abandon "Left," what do we call people who believe that:
- the U.S. Constitution is valid only when it helps their agenda;
- funding the Defense Department is a waste of money;
- laws are to be applied selectively;
- all sorts of people have a right to the fruits of another person's labor;
- everyone has a right to come to America;
- the freedom to exercise Christian religions is offensive to new arrivals;
- displaying the Ten Commandments violates the Constitution;
- America is usurping and abusing the planet's resources and exploiting its people;
- society owes constantly increasing benefits to all citizens and illegal aliens alike;
- property is subject to government regulation, no longer under the protection of the Fifth Amendment.
Well, that's really for them to figure out.