Why do conservatives and liberals respond so differently to the current war in Georgia?
The answer to that question exposes the great political divide separating left and right, Democrats and Republicans, in today’s America. The stark contrast between Barack Obama and John McCain at this weekend’s televised Civil Forum at California’s Saddleback Church further underlined the vast gulf in worldviews when it comes to injecting moral standards or arguments into politics.
Conservatives approach every challenge with a determination to approach the question (as far as possible)as a choice between right and wrong, good and evil. Liberals, on the other hand, look for nuances, subtleties or extenuating circumstances. They feel reluctant to denounce any action or position as unequivocally wrong, or to endorse any alternative as quintessentially right.
Those who take their inspiration from Ronald Reagan enthusiastically embrace moral absolutes; those who admire Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama feel uncomfortable with terms like good and evil when applied to politics and world affairs. Republicans relish crisp black-and-white when drawing distinctions; “progressives” feel an incurable fondness for shades of gray. On foreign policy, social issues, even the economy, the right wants to take sides and to make sure the good guys win. The left, on the other hand, seeks to split the difference among warring interests in behalf of a “can’t-we-all-get-along” vision of moral equivalency.
When John McCain responded to the invasion of Georgia with a full-throated, unequivocal denunciation of Russian bullying, Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisor, Susan Rice, condemned the Republican nominee for “shooting from the hip” and “complicating” the situation. Her criticism echoed the sentiments of nervous 1980’s liberals who slammed President Reagan’s “simple-minded” and “destabilizing” characterization of the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire.”