The giveaway regarding presidential candidate Barack Obama's plans for America was his repeated use of the words "fundamentally transform."
Some of us instinctively reacted negatively -- in fact, with horror -- at the thought of fundamentally transforming America.
The "us" are conservatives.
One unbridgeable divide between left and right is how each views alternatives to present-day America. Those on the left imagine an ideal society that has never existed, and therefore seek to "fundamentally transform" America. When liberals imagine an America fundamentally transformed, they envision it becoming a nearly utopian society in which there is no greed, no racism, no sexism, no inequality, no poverty and ultimately no unhappiness.
Conservatives, on the other hand, look around at other societies and history and are certain that if America were fundamentally transformed, it would become just like those other societies. America would become a society of far less liberty, of ethically and morally inferior citizens and of much more unhappiness. And cruelty would increase exponentially around the world.
Conservatives believe that America is an aberration in human history; that, with all the problems that a society made up of flawed human beings will inevitably have, America has been and remains a uniquely decent society. Therefore, conservatives worry that fundamentally transforming America -- making America less exceptional -- will mean that America gets much worse.
Liberals worry over the opposite possibility -- that America will remain more or less as it is.
Two famous statements encapsulate the operative liberal worldview.
The first was attributed to Robert F. Kennedy by his brother Sen. Edward M. Kennedy:
"There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were, and ask, 'Why not?'"
The other is one of the most popular songs of the last 50 years, John Lennon's "Imagine":
"Imagine there's no heaven. It's easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people, living for today.
"Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion, too, Imagine all the people, living life in peace.
"You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one.
"Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the people, sharing all the world.
"You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will live as one."
Regarding the Kennedy quote, a conservative would respond something like this: