After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 the liberals of both parties felt emboldened. They were ready to challenge the fertile ground of poverty, aging, war, college education, and woman’s rights. These were and are noble issues. By some definitions the liberal movement of that era was quite successful. But there were some unintended consequences.
Medicare was passed, college funding in the form of Pell grants and student loans was expanded, women gained more notoriety and opportunity in the work place. All good things. But the young liberals of that era did some mental shenanigans that were more consistent with conservative thinking.
For instance, in the quest for women’s rights the idea of equality somehow came to mean the men and women were only different because of social or cultural influence. The argument was that parents gave boys toy cars and girls dolls – thus creating the psyche of either feminine or masculine. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s a men’s movement came along – based to a great extent on Robert Bly’s Iron John. Bly defined mature masculinity as essentially forceful, resolute – but never cruel. The Jungian Analyst, Robert Johnson, wrote interpretations of mythology in the context of gender perception. Johnson wrote He, She, and We. He was an exploration of the Percival Myth – the quest for the Holy Grail was a metaphor for man’s quest for mature masculinity. She the quest for mature femininity. The poet Bly and the psychologist Johnson were saying that men and women, while equal, were different creatures. The late 1990’s saw books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. And the 1960’s indoctrinated liberals about had a fit.
Personally, I enjoyed the teaching of Joseph Campbell, another Jungian Analyst; I enjoyed the poet Bly, and loved the mythological interpretations of Johnson. Robert Bly claimed practical interpretations of masculinity went awry in the 20th Century. He talked about male role models. People like John Wayne and Sylvester Stallone – what sort of role model were their movie characters for young boys? Masculine meant unyielding force – at any cost. Bly examined the changing male role model starting with the industrial revolution – men were taken out of their farm fields and sent to long days in factories. Their sons no longer invested their time with their fathers working in agriculture – the fathers came home at night and the son experienced the father’s temperament rather than his teachings. Mature masculinity slowly went awry. Young men in America today find themselves being shot in drive-by shootings.
The venture of narrative life interpretations has been one of my enjoyments. A local liberal minister overheard me talking in the locker room of the YMCA about these new understandings of masculinity – he invited me to come to a Monday evening Men’s Group at his church. I was happy to accommodate. I went to the Men’s Group armed with videos of Bill Moyers interviewing Robert Bly. As I began my presentation on new ideas about masculinity I was interrupted by a prominent local physician – a leading member of both the church and the Men’s Group. He said, “What you are saying cannot be true. We discovered in the 1960’s that men and women are the same – they are molded by their environment into either masculine or feminine.”
There it is. That is the problem with the modern liberal – enigmatically the flawed modern liberal is not open minded and does not accept new ideas. I always thought of people being resistant to change as being conservative. But it gets worse.
The men at the church group did not come there to learn about masculinity. They wanted to take action. Their interest was in working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for the less fortunate in our community. Again, a noble idea. My suggestion was simple – or so I thought. I suggested the men build houses with Habitat for Humanity – but that they take teenage boys with them. Boys who did not have good role models – boys who needed help – the very boys the men wanted to build the houses for. Using Robert Bly’s logic, I suggested that the men of the church could do great things. They could build a house and build mature masculinity in a young man at the same time. The house building project would be perfect for the young man to experience adult men in positive endeavor. Mentoring young men did not seem complicated to me. And a house would be built along the way. Win/Win.
The physician led the men out of the room – they thought I had gone completely nuts. Good liberals believe in the sameness of men and women – and then volunteer on the weekend to help people who cannot help themselves. Case closed. It was almost enough to turn a grown man into a conservative.
In the late 1990’s I worked for an umbrella corporation with several different subordinate corporations – all in the health care industry. As an umbrella corporate employee I was often assigned to the various sub-corporations to help with management issues. I was sent to the one corporate office which had a female Chief Operating Officer. She was determined to prove that she could be as forceful and mean spirited as any man. Her mission was to prove that women were tough enough to run a company – she almost said as much when I challenged her management style. I believe today that this woman was a victim of the liberal mindset of the late 20th Century. She believed she could learn to act like a male leader. She was acting on her impression of what it meant to be a man. She failed to understand the value of the nurturing qualities of femininity. Qualities often lacking in male leaders. Qualities that are extremely valuable in good leadership.
The liberal leadership in the United States Congress fell victim to old liberal ideas. They somehow believed that a more ‘fair’ distribution of wealth was in the best interest of all. This ideology led to the encouragement of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to grant home loans to people who could not pay for them if the economy somehow went awry and the interest rates ballooned. The economy tanked, the dot.com bubble burst, the mortgages were bundled and swapped around different banks, an unpaid for war exploded the national debt, competition for borrowing grew, a Republican led government eased off on regulatory enforcement – and the bottom fell out.
When the terrorists struck on September 11, 2001, everyone agreed to strike back. As the war expanded beyond the borders of Afghanistan and beyond the borders of 2001, the liberals took their cue from the previous generation of anti-war protest. The logic was and is simplistic: If Vietnam was wrong then Afghanistan is wrong – something like that. My personal opinion is that until Osama Bin Laden is captured or killed we should move ahead with forceful resolve. Sadly, there is collateral damage. We have grown accustomed to smart bombs. Do people really believe that war can be waged on grand scales without innocent people being injured or even killed? I am not advocating the death of anyone other than Bin Laden – but certainly I recognize that war is nasty business and war never progresses according to any plan. I also recognize this reality – there are dangerous people in the world – your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault – there will occasionally be a war and innocent people will die. I don’t like the reality any more than anyone else.
I have often called myself liberal because I believe that being liberal means to have an open mind, to explore new ideas, to challenge old paradigms, to progress. When I was growing up conservative meant to be careful, to change only after close examination, to take calculated steps toward progress. Neither of these concepts of liberal or conservative were offensive – both made sense. A thoughtful liberal did not just charge ahead because he could – and a conservative did not resist any change just because he could. There was give and take, compromise, and civil, social, and cultural progress.
The modern liberal has locked in on a specific mindset of change at any cost (change everything by our mindset). The modern conservative has locked in on a mindset never change anything proposed by a liberal. Examples of lunacy: Liberals say any immigrant adds value to our society. Conservative say all Mexicans are criminals. Both points exaggerated for dramatic effect – but you get the idea. Sadly, each party can make a case against the extremism of the other party. In doing so they justify their own extremism.
Madness has resulted. The madness of partisan gridlock.