I remember when liberals and conservatives used to be able to talk to each other. Sure, liberals had an important advantage, since they controlled most of the prestigious media. On the other hand, we conservatives had logic, tradition, and most of the facts on our side—which pretty much leveled the playing field. I was perfectly comfortable as a teenager taking up petitions for Ronald Reagan and ringing doorbells for the Right-to-Life Party candidate for NYC mayor. While it wasn’t easy being the loudest (and almost the only public) conservative at Yale in the 1980s, I felt I had the Truth on my side—and was constantly subjected to criticism from the Left, which honed my ideas and arguments.
Things are different now. Those who call themselves conservatives have entire TV networks and chains of talk-radio stations on their side. They are able to preach to the choir—much as Pacifica Radio, National Public Radio, or campus newspapers in the Ivy League always have on the Left. Today’s self-styled conservatives can go for months without encountering an opposing opinion—and if they happen to hit one, there are hundreds of blogs ready to dismiss the information or arguments they encountered as toxic byproducts of the “Mainstream Media” or “MSM.” Likewise, the Left has plenty of comfy sandboxes where it can play, untroubled by alien ideas.
Indeed, there is little overlap between the increasingly polarized extremes of American discourse. The Left and Right are barely on speaking terms. You might be pardoned for believing they live on different planets. For the sake of keeping the peace, and establishing interplanetary harmony, I’d like to propose the following thought experiment. Let’s play “Pretend.” (This is gonna be fun, kids!)
Progressives, let’s pretend that every single one of those fetuses aborted in America was an Iraqi civilian, killed by George W. Bush’s failed policies.
Conservatives, let’s imagine that each of those Iraqi civilians killed by George W. Bush’s failed policies was a tiny, innocent fetus.
I told you this would be fun! Let’s try again:
Progressives, every time you complain about the “Christian Right,” just once plug in the “Jewish Left.” Sounds kind of offensive, doesn’t it?
Conservatives, imagine that it had been Arabs, instead of Americans, who killed 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima to save the lives of their soldiers. Then it would have been an act of terrorism.
Progressives, imagine if George W. Bush were using force trying to spread feminism instead of capitalism. Would you still protest his wars?
Conservatives, imagine if it were Bill Clinton trying to suspend the Constitution to protect us against white terrorists like Timothy McVeigh. Would you call reporters “traitors” for covering it?
Progressives, imagine if instead of fossil fuels poisoning the atmosphere that your children will have to breathe, that it was porn.
Conservatives, imagine if the cause of global warming weren’t the use of big old American-made Humvees and SUVs but acts of sodomy. Would you be out there trying to do something about it?
Progressives, pretend that every time Madonna stages a mock crucifixion on stage to sell tickets to her shows, instead she’s appearing in blackface.
Conservatives, imagine that every innocent person who gets executed in America is a cute little blonde girl murdered by Muslims.
Progressives, pretend that every illegal immigrant who crosses the border is a scab crossing a picket line.
Conservatives, imagine if every scab crossing a picket line were an illegal immigrant crossing the Rio Grande.
Progressives, imagine if Islamic extremists promoting theocracy around the world were Baptist or Catholic instead, trying to impose Christianity.
Conservatives, imagine if the Arab Lobby dominated our Mideast policy—thanks to the support of preachers like Pat Robertson—and was able to destroy any politician in America who dared to criticize it.
Progressives, imagine if the Hollywood Ten, and all those blacklisted screenwriters, had been shilling for Hitler instead of Stalin. Would you still admire them for sticking to their principles?
Conservatives, let’s pretend that every time the U.S. government uses force to topple a foreign regime and impose our system on the country, that it’s an act of Big Government engaging in social engineering—like busing schoolkids for the sake of integration.
Progressives, imagine if in every instance in history where Christians were murdered by revolutionaries (from the French Revolution up through the Spanish Civil War), it were Jews or Tutsis or Bosnians instead. Would you still wear that funky little red star cap or that Che Guevara t-shirt?
Conservatives, let’s pretend that the U.S. just outright stole Hawaii and Puerto Rico, the way Saddam Hussein stole Kuwait.
Progressives, imagine that stem-cell research was a plot by wealthy pharmaceutical companies to get the government to fund their labs in the hope that some day Third World women would sell their eggs or embryos, so that rich white people could live an extra ten years or so.
Conservatives, imagine if all those Christians driven out of Iraq and made homeless by the war in Lebanon were parishioners at your local church.
Both progressives and conservatives: imagine you were to apply the same standards to your own partisans and pet causes that you apply to the other side. Imagine how confusing life would get.
John Zmirak is author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.