Continuing my series on the real differences between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, knuckle-draggers and bleeding hearts... the one that I think is most objective and most important is this:
Conservatives think the world is basically fair; liberals think the world is basically unfair.
This is oversimplifying on purpose, but that's the whole spirit of this thread. By "fair," I probably really mean "just." And by "the world," I of course really mean "America," which to Americans is the world. And by "America," I kind of mean what would generally be described as "the system."
Everybody knows the world isn't perfect. But deep down, conservatives generally think that the people who have wealth and power have earned it, and the people who are poor and powerless deserve it. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to think that those who have wealth and power do not deserve it, and those who are poor and powerless got screwed.
You can't think this without placing judgment on "the system" that applies to everyone. So to a conservative, that system is fundamentally sound. If you work hard and play by the rules, you'll generally succeed. If you're lazy or immoral or expect other people (like "the government") to bail you out, you won't. To a liberal, the system is fundamentally unjust because human nature is fatally flawed and those who have wealth and power will do anything they can to keep it, even if it means keeping it away from other people.
What backs up the conservative position? All the Horatio Alger stories... the true stories of people who came from nothing, had an idea, pursued it, made it happen, improved the world and received much-deserved wealth. On the flip side, the people who move to Minnesota just to take advantage of its supposedly generous welfare system, the people who get out of prison and commit more crimes, panhandlers and whiners.
What backs up the liberal position? George W. Bush. A guy who, if he were born into any other family except the uber-powerful New England elites who were his parents, would have ended up managing a Waterbeds Waterbeds Waterbeds store in Mishawaka, Indiana. And Enron, of course... all the stories of people who come from wealth, don't play by the rules, and still end up with huge real estate holdings in Colorado.
What issue exemplifies the differences the best? Affirmative action. To a conservative, an already basically fair world would be more fair if we got rid of something that by its nature favors one race over the other and puts it on paper. To a liberal, an already basically unfair world would be made even more unfair if we got rid of one of the few systems that tries to correct on paper the unfairness that's not on paper.
To a conservative, affirmative action is legalized discrimination. To a liberal, George W. Bush achieving the presidency is affirmative action.
I do tend to sympathize more with the liberal position, because after all, nothing--absolutely nothing--is more powerful than the motivation of the wealthy and powerful to hold onto or increase their wealth and power. But seriously, who doesn't know someone who "came from nothing" and succeeded in one way or another, and who doesn't know pathologically lazy people who always blame their problems on their boss, their parents or "the system"? The truth is most certainly in the middle on this one, but the fringes, as always, are extremely vocal.