Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

Robert Steinback points out the difference between liberals and conservatives as demonstrated by the Terri Schiavo case.

Liberals see an obligation to attend to the needs of the distressed while they’re alive. Conservatives apply that obligation only before birth and after death — brain death, in the case of Terri Schiavo. In between, they’d say, we’re all on our own.


It’s ironic that conservatives — who usually argue vehemently for the sanctity of marriage — would trust the state’s judgment over that of a brain-damaged individual’s spouse. But it’s consistent with their preference for the state’s judgment over that of a woman regarding the entity within her womb.

For all other decisions between birth and death — except marriage; most conservatives believe the state has a right to limit an individual’s choice of spouse — the state’s superior judgment mysteriously vanishes. The fate of the poor, the suffering, the disadvantaged, the young, the elderly and their ilk should, in the conservative view, rest entirely with their families and private enterprise. If those options fail any particular person — well, tough break. There’s always begging.

The contemporary American liberal, contrary to allegation, is not enamored of unlimited government and socialism. Rather, the modern liberal view attempts to apportion responsibility where it most logically should reside: Let families do what the family does best; let the marketplace sort out what competition does best; let government meet the needs government is best equipped to address; and let individuals be as free as possible to direct their own lives.

It’s a balancing act, and not always an easy or obvious one. This innate complexity has hamstrung American liberalism in recent decades — trumped by the conservative philosophy, which always seems to distill easily to pat sound-biteable phrases. Liberalism just gets too bogged down in — dare I say it? — nuance.

Which brings us back to Schiavo. One side says, “Life is sacred!” Quick, concise, easily packaged. The other side says, “But there are many complex, interlocking issues to consider.”

As the Florida Legislature will prove again, simplicity almost always wins — even when the logic is questionable.

I’ll give you a simple liberal solution: if the Legislature wants to keep Ms. Schiavo in limbo for the rest of her natural life, let’s move her from the nursing home and into the Governor’s mansion and let him look after her every day and pay for her medical care. Let that be a reminder of what the sanctity of life really means.