Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tear dots

Having long been an observer of politics, it has occurred to me over the years that the things that make liberals cry are not necessarily the things that make conservatives cry. This observation was validated recently when Rep. John Boehner, R-OH, made an appearance on 60 Minutes. The soon-to-be Speaker of the House, with his wife by his side, choked up when talking about the American Dream and how he hopes he can use his new-found power to make it accessible to more Americans. He reacted in a similar fashion when appearing before reporters shortly after the magnitude of the Republican victory became clear.

This reaction is certainly understandable, given Speaker-elect Boehner's humble background (one of 12 children whose parents owed a neighborhood bar in southern Ohio). It is probably true that a rise from such humble beginnings to being third-in-line for the top office in the land could only happen in a handful countries in the world. If I were in his shoes, I would probably cry, too.

Lots of people cry when reminded of their childhood or early adulthood. The feelings come up at weddings, funerals, and reunions. My uncle, who witnessed the horrific reality of the German concentration camps, never failed to attend his Army unit's reunion. (He could still don his uniform even into his 70's.) Even speaking of it would cause him to tear up. Some people weep upon hearing The Star-Spangled Banner or Pledge of Allegiance. The sight of a flag-draped coffin is heart-breaking for many. It apparently caused enough concern for the George W. Bush administration that they forbid pictures to be taken of them.

These are things that stir emotion in most of us, regardless of our political philosophy. They touch our patriotism and/or sense of nostalgia in a very meaningful way. They relate to God, country, and family--the very foundation of conservative religious values.

I didn't notice many moist eyes, however, in the early 1980's, when President Reagan was ignoring the new plague that was devastating thousands of American families. I don't see many tears being shed by conservatives for the miners who suffer from atrocious working conditions; or the folks who, as recently as last year, could not get health insurance because they suffered from poor health; or the people who, through no fault of their own, have been out of work for six months or longer; or the gay men and women willing to give their lives for our country by serving in the military who are at risk of being discharged; or the women for whom an unwanted pregnancy means physical, emotional, or financial ruin; or the workers who lose their jobs to sweat shops overseas; or home owners thrown out of their houses because they lost their jobs through the machinations of Wall Street billionaires.

What good is love of country if you hate so many of its people? It's easy to get sentimental over an ideal, a concept, a document like the Constitution. What's hard is to really care about human beings--imperfect, untidy, sometimes smelly or selfish or intimidatingly needy--people. To care about them is to realize that the work isn't done when the tears dry up. And this is why liberals are different from conservatives.

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