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I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

My Republican Friends

By Michael E. Berumen 6-12-04

Most of my friends voted for George W. Bush. I did not. I am a Democrat, though not of a partisan sort. Indeed, the truth is, I rather dislike the Democratic Party, and I sometimes think I should declare my independence from any party. However, I dislike the Republican Party even more, and, in our primary system, independents have relatively little influence over the choices for major offices. I do not want Republicans to win. Whereas Democrats are wooly-minded on several economic issues and are beset with a good deal of politically correct claptrap, to which they mostly pay lipservice, Republicans are dominated by an unholy alliance of religious zealots and corporate welfarests and monopolists, which I view as more inimical to liberty. Yes, everyone likes to say, "Vote for the person." In a strong party system, however, the person is beholden to the party. Therefore, one votes for the person....and his party, not simply the person himself.

I live in Orange County, California, a bastion of Republicanism. What is more, I have spent the better part of my adult years in commercial affairs, and most of my colleagues have been Republican. I even belong to several social organizations that consist largely of Republicans. I am surrounded by them. I suppose it therefore is no surprise that many of my close, personal relationships would end up being with Republicans. Some of them have hoped their predilections would have rubbed off on me by now, but if anything, I am even less enamored of their party than ever before.

Now, to summarize, I think the Republican Party has gone downhill since Lincoln, and I think the Republican platform consists of some very stupid positions. Moreover, I think George W. Bush is one of the "greatest mediocrities" (as in "jumbo shrimp?") to occupy the White House, which is saying a lot, since most of our presidents have been, well, quite mediocre men. It was a mistake to reelect him; however, I am comforted by the fact that even the most lackluster minds are correct an amazingly high percentage of the time. It's the other 10% that concerns me. I shall keep my fingers crossed.

In any case, you can well imagine the kinds of discussions I have with my friends, given my views. Some of them are quite vigorous, indeed. Even so, at the end of it all, somehow we always manage to laugh without taking ourselves too seriously and move on to other, more interesting and, oftentimes, more important things.

How is it even possible that I can befriend someone with whom I have such fundamental disagreements? Perhaps it is because there is so much more to life than politics. And, it is also the case that most of us agree on more topics than we disagree, so there is a good deal of common ground. Most importantly, however, I think that we Americans, as a group, are far less ideological than people living in other places in the world. We are a uniquely pragmatic people, and we tend to look for particular solutions to particular problems, rather than deriving our answers from a body of interdependent, systematic, overarching principles, from which all other views must spring. The latter tendency is far more prevalent in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Also, the truth is, we Americans are not an especially political people. We do not have the same, strong views about how our neighbors ought to live their lives (George W. Bush being an obvious exception) as people in other countries often have, or at least we are less likely to act on our views. Moreover, we do not particularly care for politicians as a class. We don't trust them. I believe these are among the main reasons why many Americans do not vote. This is sometimes mistaken for apathy. Americans are not really apathetic in the sense of not caring about their country; they are simply more interested in minding their own business and letting others do mostly as they choose, at least, to the extent their doing so doesn't interfere with their own liberty.

I think our relative lack of interest in politics has as much to do with simple practicality as it does anything. If the choices available to Citizen X are not going to have a dramatic effect one way or the other on the things that matters to him, personally, he does not want to waste his time with politics, especially believing that others will inevitably choose among either unobjectionable or equally objectionable alternatives, anyway. On the other hand, if something is important to him or likely to affect him in an untoward way, he speaks out: "Don't tread on me." No motto could be more apt to an American. And, again, Americans, if nothing else, are a pragmatic people.

Ideologues are especially prone to dealing harshly with any deviation from the accepted Weltanschauung, with a marked propensity to view disagreement as heretical. For the ideologue, rejection of even an aspect of the received wisdom is tantamount to a departure from all of it. They take their beliefs very seriously, and, because these beliefs deal with how society ought to be arranged, they take other people's beliefs much more seriously than do most Americans. Americans concern themselves much more with how people actually behave, with what they do, than with what they believe. We value action over belief, utility over ideology, and liberty over authority. And, unlike Europeans and others, we are very suspicious of intellectuals and would-be philosopher kings. Given their track record in running the world in various places at various times, I'd say this is prudent. Many intellectuals and dons of academe think things would be much better if they were in charge; there is certainly no historical evidence for this. Personally, I wouldn't follow the average professor in order to find the lavatory, let alone allow him to structure how I live.

Even though Americans are more religious than others in the industrialized West, they do not treat their religion in quite the same way as their European counterparts did in prior centuries, or as the faithful in many Muslim countries do today. With few exceptions, they are more tolerant of those who believe differently, and far less likely to condemn them, except, perhaps, on Sunday. Europeans fancy themselves as more enlightened than we are because of their non-religiosity; but the fact is that their rather strident intolerance of believers (e.g., banning religious symbols or dress in public places), their elevation of secularism into a sort of religion, is much more reminiscent of their former Inquisitional selves, sans deity, than they are likely to admit. While we're at it, add to this their shameful treatment of immigrants. And, having recently (in historical terms) caused the loss of around 100 million lives through war, genocide, and political correctness, Europe is in no position to brag about its superior enlightenment to anyone. But I digress.

My principal point, here, is that it is not really necessary to agree with people on everything in order to get along with them, indeed, even to like them or to love them. It is quite possible for people to disagree with one another without becoming disagreeable, and, more often than not, to find some common ground. My own life is a microcosm of this. Passions might get heated, occasionally. But this generally subsides when things are put into proper perspective. Indeed, our differences can make things much more interesting and, I might add, as a society evolves, even more successful. Despite its many problems, the place we call home, America, consisting of many races, interests, and divergent beliefs, is perhaps the clearest proof of this.