David Brooks wrote a great reflection on the current Health Care legislation, the history of the animating spirit behind it, and some of the long term considerations it raises about America’s future.
In Brooks eyes, the “Republican Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of personal freedom and economic dynamism…For a similar period, the Democratic Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of fairness and family security.” Brooks is a conservative who used to write for the Weekly Standard, not an Obama devotee. What I consistently admire about his writing is his ability to see things from a number of different perspectives. Such intellectual empathy is what engenders healthy and fruitful political discourse. Without it politics becomes an all or nothing game, strike that, war, waged by the forces of light against the legions of doom and darkness.
In a column written last week before the passage of the historic health care bill Brooks had this to say about the importance of understanding the other:
Human beings, the philosophers tell us, are social animals. We emerge into the world ready to connect with mom and dad. We go through life jibbering and jabbering with each other, grouping and regrouping. When you get a crowd of people in a room, the problem is not getting them to talk to each other; the problem is getting them to shut up…To help us in this social world, God, nature and culture have equipped us with a spirit of sympathy. We instinctively feel a tinge of pain when we observe another in pain (at least most of us do). We instinctively mimic, even to a small extent, the mood, manners, yawns and actions of the people around us…To help us bond and commit, we have been equipped with a suite of moral sentiments. We have an innate sense of fairness. Children from an early age have a sense that everybody should be treated fairly. We have an innate sense of duty…As a result of this sympathy and these sentiments, people are usually pretty decent to one another when they relate person to person. The odd thing is that when people relate group to group, none of this applies. When a group or a nation thinks about another group or nation, there doesn’t seem to be much natural sympathy, natural mimicry or a natural desire for attachment… Group-to-group relations are more often marked by calculation, rivalry and coldness. Members of one group sometimes see members of another group as less than human: Nazi and Jew, Hutu and Tutsi, Sunni and Shiite.
As I pay attention to my own tweets, Facebook comments and antagonistic exchanges with those whose political sympathies differ from my own (and the sidebars I have with politically kindred spirits about “those people”), the words of Brooks cut deeply.
Brooks concluded his critical column on heath care reform with the following estimation of the challenges ahead for us as a nation:
The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take. We will have to raise a consumption tax. We will have to preserve benefits for the poor and cut them for the middle and upper classes. We will have to invest more in innovation and human capital.
To rise to the occasion such realities present we’ll all have to do a little more listening.