Liberal Thinking vs. Conservative Thinking This Election Year

Recognizing the benefits of both kinds of thinking, I think it is safe to say that we need both from those who represent us…

June 2, 2008  —  Liberal thinking is rational, creative and compassionate.  Driven by the right side of our brains, it sees the big picture first, then fills-in the details.  It inspired a new and promising form of government 232 years ago – the United States of America.  It secured freedom and opportunity for millions, most of whom were immigrants and former slaves. It brought about new technologies that revo- lutionized agriculture, communication, transportation, and medicine.  It gave us a second chance when the Industrial Revolution ran out of steam and capitalism alone wasn’t working for most Americans.  It promoted “progressive” reforms that gave women the right to vote, made discrimination in schools and the workplace illegal, and committed society to providing for citizens who are unable, whether because of disability or age, to provide for themselves.  It was liberal thinking that challenged our physical and mental limitations and put men on the moon.

Conservative thinking is guarded, cautious, protective and resistant to change.  Driven by the left side of our brains, it processes information in a linear manner, arranging parts in a step-by-step process before arriving at conclusions.  It too played an important role in the building of this great nation.  Conservative thinking by the Founding Fathers protected us from excesses of power by providing for checks and balances in the Constitution.  Conservative thinkers in state governments then forced the fledgling national government to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution so that basic, individual rights would be protected under a stronger, “federal” government. These kinds of thinkers, our first President among them, cautioned us against foreign wars and economic entanglements, insisted on fiscal responsibility, built a strong Navy to protect the nation as a whole, and established national preserves to protect the environment and our national resources. But the party that claims the conservative moniker today seems to have forgotten its roots.

Recognizing the benefits of both kinds of thinking, I think it is safe to say that we need both by those who represent us if they are to make good decisions… and, yes, it is possible for the same person to employ both kinds of thinking, although we each do have a dominant style.  Hence, Republicans are capable of liberal thought, though some might be loath to admit to it, and Democrats are capable of conservative thought.  Imagine that…  Science on the subject tells us that the learning and thinking processes are enhanced when both sides of the brain participate in a balanced manner.

We are all also prone to reptilian thinking, but this is not the kind of thinking we need governing us or even in selecting those who do. What, you may ask, is reptilian thinking?  It is basic, instinctive, and emotional thinking.  It is the kind of thinking that causes us sometimes to act without thoroughly considering the consequences, or to act even without thinking at all. The basic ruling emotions of love, hate, fear, lust, and contentment emanate from this, the first stage of our brains. When we are out of control with rage, it is our reptilian, basic brain that overrides the rational parts of our brain. So, if someone says that they have reacted with their heart instead of their head, what they really mean is that they have conceded a decision to their primitive emotions, their reptilian brain.

If Americans concede to their primitive emotions this election year and vote with their heart rather than their head, they may well be voting for a four-year extension of fiscal policies (taxing, borrowing and spending) that have brought us to the precipice of depression.  I say this because:  the national debt is nearly twice what it is was when George Bush first took office; our roads and our bridges are falling apart; real jobs with decent pay and benefits have been lost to other nations; the dollar has lost 40 percent of its value; gas now costs twice as much as it did then, which is driving up the cost of everything else; our homes on a national average have lost 14 percent of their value, and; to sustain our efforts in Iraq, we must borrow ever more from China and Japan.  Sure, most of us have had a measly couple extra hundred dollars after taxes each year to spend, but that doesn’t buy much these days. The truth is that big business is more profitable than ever while small business is rapidly becoming extinct.  If you own preferred stock, you’re rolling in dough.  If you own common stock, you’ve either lost your shirt or you are barely breaking even.  Executive directors are making obscene salaries even as employees’ benefits are being sacrificed to the competition. Therefore, a small percentage of Americans have grown wealthier at the expense of all the rest of us. But our government doesn’t want us to know how bad things really are (see the below reference).

John McCain has committed to supporting the Bush tax cuts during his administration, although he opposed them as a Senator.  He has said too that he is committed to keeping our military in Iraq for “as long as it takes.” However, after nearly eight years of President Bush and his policies, most Americans (62 percent when I last checked) say that they think we’re on the wrong path, both in the War on Terror and on the economy. I believe that they are right. and I too believe that it is time for change. As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

I read a comment on-line last weekend in response to an ABC news article.  It was written by someone who said she is a great grandmother, older and wiser now, thinking about the mess we are leaving her grandchildren to clean up and to pay for.  She said, “I would not vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman.  I would not vote against Barack Obama because he is young, black and has a funny sounding name. Neither would I vote against John McCain because of his age or for him because he is a decorated veteran. I will vote for the candidate whose convictions and advocated policies make the most sense for the nation as a whole.”

I plan to do the same.  I pray that you will do likewise.

Please feel free to respond pro or con to this posting.

[i] Kevin Phillips, Harper’s Magazine, “Numbers Racket ~ Why the Economy is Worse Than We Know,” page 43, May 2008


Published in: on June 2, 2008 at 2:26 pm  Comments (9)  

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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks Kent for the thought provoking article. Your summation was very good and it should prompt us do a little soul searching before we go to the polls this coming November. Thanks again for prodding us to step outside of our “little box” and view our nation as one–undivided.

  2. Very nice blog! Keep up with the good work.

  3. Nice blog. Although, I believe McCain had to warm up to Bush’s policies to win over the conservatives. McCain is a moderate and I feel he is exactly what the country needs right now. He will use both sides of his brain!

  4. Nice read, Kent. While as a neuroscientist I might have a few comments on the right/left brain assignments and details, I would be most interested in how you reconcile your commentary in light of today’s situation (7/21/09) with respect to the national debt, unemployment, borrowing from foreign debtors, the GM bankruptcy and secured bond holders etc.

    Best line from your Wiki reference: “There is always a disconnect between philosophical ideals and political realities.” Hooo boy, ain’t that the truth. On both sides!

    I would posit that the politician operates from the reptilian brain stem, while the true liberal and conservatives operate from the cerebrum, side notwithstanding. They are politicians first, liberal/democrat/representatives of the people second. Or last.

  5. With respect to reconciling my posting commentary with the national debt, unemployment, borrowing from foreign debtors, the GM bankruptcy and secured bond holders etc., Obama is not so far to the left as many on the right make him out to be. Afterall, he could have asked Paul Krugman to chair his counsel of economic advisors. Instead he chose Christina Romer, who is considerably more moderate and listens closely to Paul Volker’s ideas on restoring banking regulations. Volker was Fed Chairman during the 70’s, serving during the Reagan years.

    I must remind you that the economic situation, while it is Obama’s problem now, was situation he inherited. The right side of his brain is telling him to change what isn’t working while the left side is telling him not to fix what isn’t broken.

  6. And I must remind you that the Democrats controlled Congress from 2006 on, and that means the purse strings. Much of what he inherited was created by politicians talking down the economy for the sake of political expediency. Remember how McCain was excoriated for saying “the fundamentals of the economy are strong?” And how Obama virtually repeated that statement to little criticism?

    Again, as I said in the other thread, I will stop trying your patience and “bothering” you.

    Keep an open mind.


  7. Don’t laugh when I say this about my own party, but when the Democrats are the majority party in Congress, nobody controls Congress. My mind is far from closed, but left-of-center feels a whole lot more comfortable to me than the right.


  8. “Conservative thinkers in state governments then forced the fledgling national government to add the Bill of Rights” – this is false! The whole rights movement was started by liberalism in the Age of Enlightenment. John Locke is widely considered the father of the movement. He argued that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.

  9. I stand by my assurtion that it was conservative/antifederalist thinkings that forced the drafting of the Bill of Rights. In order to approve the new Constitution, voters were to elect representatives to special state conventions. In New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts, the people and their representatives were strongly opposed to the Constitution. They were called the “Antifederalists.” The Antifederalists included such patriots as Patrick Henry, the Virginia orator; Sam Adams, the Massachusetts agitator; George Mason, who had written much of the Virginian Constitution; and Richard Henry Lee, who had served as Virginia’s delegate to the Continental Congress


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