Republican morality v. Democratic morality
Posted on October 3, 2012
Many people think the two major political parties in the United States are all but the same. George Lakoff disagrees. In fact, Lakoff argues that Republicans and Democrats approach politics and law from categorically different moral bases:
Democrats tend to see democracy as having this moral basis: Citizens care about one another and act on that care through their government, creating a “public” — a system of public provisions to protect and empower everybody equally. From the beginning, Americans have provided public roads and bridges, public schools, public hospitals, municipal sewers, public records, a judiciary, police, a patent office.
And since then, Americans have come to need and have provided much more — agencies to protect public health, public safety, advance scientific research for the public good, public parks and beaches, public art and so on.
These public provisions free us — it is a freedom issue — to have decent lives and start businesses that use what the Public provides. All of this is what President Obama was referring to, when he said, “If you built a business, you didn’t build that” — “that” being, namely, the roads, the schools, the Internet, GPS, and so on. The role of the Public is a moral issue and a freedom issue. Individualism can flourish only with the prior practical freedoms provided by the Public.
Conservatives see democracy through a different moral lens. They see democracy as providing the liberty to pursue your own self-interest and well-being without responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. This is the Romney-Ryan view. They don’t believe there should be a robust Public. They want to dismantle and destroy it, step by step, and the mechanism is the Ryan budget. They want to change the moral basis of American life by budgetary force.
In other words: either you tend to think that we’re all in this together (which makes you a Democrat), or that we’re all in this separately (which makes you a Republican).
I think there’s a good deal of truth in what Lakoff says, but I also think there’s reasonable middle ground between these two positions. For instance, you might argue that the idea of the Public is largely beneficial, while also remaining wary of its power to, at times, restrict individual freedoms. Or you might defend the centrality and importance of individual freedoms, while also remaining aware unfettered individual freedom can can harm the Public. If you hold either of those positions, you might not find a home in the Republican or Democratic parties. But would you be unreasonable?