Originally Published: May 6, 2004 7 a.m.
Regular readers know that my favorite theme is common ground between liberal and conservative people. Well, you've witnessed some more of it, and I think it's great.
Back on Oct. 26, Tom Steele wrote a guest piece. In that piece he railed against some liberal themes in what I qualified as rather simplistic terms. I took that as the starting point of a column and suggested he did conservatives a disservice by presenting such one-dimensional views. My column pointed out that probably most people, liberal and conservative, see that most controversial issues are very complex, and that it would serve us well to look for common ground rather than viewing the opposition as caricatures.
On Dec. 4, this paper ran another guest column from Mr. Steele. In that column he struck a far more thoughtful tone. In fact, in reiterating three principles of liberalism offered by James Kimes, another writer, he spelled them out very well, if only to take issue with them.
But in the course of it, he revealed a lot of common ground, if also a couple of misconceptions. He says liberals want to be inclusive and provide a safety net, without really offering an alternative view. Yes, we do want to provide a safety net. He says we don't support people who work and don't need the safety net. This is incorrect. We are the champions of workers' causes, from unions that allow workers to get a decent wage, to fair trade agreements that keep foreign workers from becoming slave labor, to a thousand details like regulations that protect pensions. So I think on the issue of supporting workers, we agree.
He says he doesn't want a safety net extended to people in the country illegally. I agree that this is a problem that desperately needs fixing. But rather than simply strengthening the border, we need generous immigration policies with our neighbors and a good guest worker system. Had that been the case all along we wouldn't have a large population of people here unregistered, and this problem just wouldn't exist. We would both be glad to see this problem resolved.
He thinks that people who do receive help from the safety net should get back to work as soon as possible. Agreed, no question.
He writes against government limiting business profits. This has not been a liberal position so there's no disagreement there. There is a need for a progressive tax scale, but that doesn't need to limit business profits.
He states the misconception that liberals want central control of the economy. The term "socialism" can have a fuzzy definition and people sometimes use it to mean two separate concepts. One is the idea of a strong progressive tax system and some of that money goes for a safety net. Most liberals like that idea. A separate concept is central control of the economy. A crazy idea and not one you'd find many people eager to pursue. So we agree that's a bad idea.
So perhaps with cooler thought, he has shifted his rhetoric to something less diametrically opposed to liberal views, from using the broad brush of saying poor people "lie around all day" to saying comment from liberals and conservatives to find a balanced safety net is a good idea. And with a couple of misconceptions cleared up he may see that I, for one, agree with him more than he thought. I'm sure we can find plenty to disagree about, but this is a wonderful case lesson in finding that your opposition is not a caricature, is more complex than you thought, is concerned about many of the same issues.
He ends by saying he likes our country and Constitution just fine. I agree.