Older, and wiser

chris graham newsAfter losing my first and only run for public office, for a seat on Waynesboro City Council in 2008, I was told by a conservative businessman who had opposed my run that I’d eventually come around to his way of thinking.

Liberalism is something that gets beaten out of you as you get wiser with age, was the gist of what he had to impart in terms of wisdom.

Funny thing was, I wasn’t all that liberal back then, 10 years ago. My political idols were Bill Clinton and Mark Warner, Democrats, sure, but dialectical centrists, whose political ideas were forged while coming of age politically, like I did, Democrats in Republican areas.

For me, that tendency was only reinforced by my work for, at that time, more than a decade in journalism, where I was forced to consider many different points of view on the issues of the day as I reported to the world what was going on, and why.

So, how is it, then, 10 years hence, that I’m not a centrist anymore, and despite the prediction of the conservative businessman who foretold my future as a conservative curmudgeon like him, no, not that either, because instead I’ve become a flaming liberal, and damn proud of it?

A few observations …

First and most important, I’m a numbers guy. And yeah, sure, being a numbers guy is supposed to take you further away from liberalism, because that’s what the conservatives have convinced the world is the case: that liberals spend money like drunken sailors, and conservatives live frugally within tight budgets.

Except that, no, not the case at all. What I’ve come to realize in the past 10 years is that what conservatives are best at is avoiding paying the full costs of doing business, and sticking them to the rest of us.

Pollution from manufacturing, for example. Somebody ends up paying when companies dump chemicals into rivers and streams, not the companies, of course, and that was even before Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt eviscerated the EPA.

Tobacco companies, the people who make the junk food that people consume in massive qualities, auto manufacturers who sell us gas-guzzlers that further foul our environment, all rack up great bottom lines because they don’t have to account for the impacts of their profiteering.

This is because Republican politicians prioritize limiting the impact of supposedly invasive regulations.

We’re the ones struggling with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung and other cancers, and, oh, you need to go to the doctor for that? Great news for us there, too: we’ve got a whole layer of private bureaucracy on top of the healthcare industry that takes 30 cents on every dollar spent on health off the top just to manage it all.

Sure, government could do it a lot cheaper, and guarantee that you get the care you need, like is done in every other industrialized nation in the world, but, where’s the profit in doing it that way?

I’ve already skipped ahead to my number two. Being a numbers guy, universal healthcare just makes too much sense, for myriad reasons.

Yes, most critically, people get the care they need, and don’t have to go bankrupt in the process. But, on top of that, what about improved healthcare making us more competitive in the global business climate?

Being the only industrialized nation without universal healthcare, we through our own policies are adding to the cost of doing business for companies across the spectrum, because employees still look at healthcare as a benefit of employment.

Our competitors in Europe and Asia don’t have such costly burdens added to their costs of doing business, making them so much more efficient from a bottom-line perspective.

And then, yeah, people in countries with universal healthcare are, surprise, healthier, and more productive, and more to their bottom lines.

It boggles the mind as to why universal healthcare is a partisan and ideological issue here in the States.

But I say this as a guy who runs a small business, who wakes up every morning and goes to sleep every night thinking of bottom lines, for my company and my clients.

It’s that experience that has made me more liberal. Funny, again, only in the context of how conservatives have been successful in framing the terms of debate.

My thinking is, err on the side of doing things the right way, and in this day and age, doing things the right way seems to skew liberal, so, therefore, I’m a liberal.

My positions on social issues is actually also a numbers thing to me. OK, deep down, support for equal rights for LGBTQs and DREAMers, for women’s reproductive freedoms and safety in the #MeToo era, for racial justice, for educational opportunity for children from low-income families, is also just being on the right side of history, but it’s also easy to couch all of that in economic terms.

Life is hard enough without the artificial obstacles that exist from racism, from sexism, from discrimination based on sexual orientation. I speak from some experience there, as a kid in a single-parent household in a trailer park who ended up with a degree from a prestigious university and an award-winning writing career.

I’m in a good place in life now, but you can guess that I’ve given thought from time to time about how much easier it would have been without the various hurdles that I had to jump over.

The more inclusive we are as a society, the more productive we as individual members can be, and the more productive we can be individually, the better off we can all be back at the societal level.

This just seems logical to me, that if we can all be allowed to operate at as close to optimal level as possible, we all end up being so much better off.

Racist, sexist, bigoted attitudes are just things we teach ourselves, anyway. We can teach ourselves to unlearn them, is my thinking on that.

Then we’re more productive. We’re even more productive if we make a simple policy commitment on universal healthcare. Throw in a universal basic income as a floor to eradicate poverty, and, boom, you make more people more productive.

Close the loopholes on the costs of doing business, and what do we have?

Not Utopia. The demagogues on cable TV news make it out to be that liberals want to give everybody everything on a silver platter. The true liberal vision is just a world where we all have the same opportunities to succeed, to achieve, to produce.

What the centrist in me from 10 years ago got wrong was thinking that conservatives were willing to work in good faith to achieve dialectical synthesis between their ideas and the ideas of liberals.

I’ve come to realize that what conservatives are actually motivated by is pure, unadulterated, atavistic, personal greed.

What we’re seeing right now is the cashing out of the American experiment by a small cabal that has hijacked control of our system of government for the purpose of plundering as much wealth as they can before any of us catch on to their scheme.

They’re not interested in compromise, bipartisanship, civility. It’s all about distractions, and they’re good at distractions.

But that’s on us, not them. The dirty tricks from Russian bots, Fox News commentators and Manchurian candidate pols only work because we let them work.

It took me the past 10 years to figure this all out. The next 10 years: how can we get the arc of history bending back toward justice?

Column by Chris Graham


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