I have always found ultra conservatives to be kind of scary. When I was a young college student, one summer I had a job life guarding at a members only private swimming pool. The pool manager, an otherwise okay guy not much older than me, was a big fan of the John Birch society. I don’t know if he was a member or not, but when we were sitting around talking he would always try to find a way to push the conversation in that direction. Then he would start spouting ultra conservative rhetoric which he indicated originated with the organization. I wasn’t into politics at the time and I don’t remember the subjects of those conversations, I do remember considering his thought processes to be rather kooky and weird.
Growing up in Louisiana, and certainly after having later lived in Alabama for a number of years, I have encountered many conservatives, some of which I consider friends. I have also been exposed to more intense conservatives like the members of the so called Tea Party who are causing such havoc in the US House of Representatives. In my mind there are conservatives and there are ultra conservatives, and while they may share many common beliefs, they approach life with two different mind sets.
For many, conservatism is the manner in which they organize their views the world and which to a large extent dictates their political mind sets. However, for the most part they are rational people who realize that in world where not everyone is like minded, they must be practical in the way that they try to achieve their goals. They understand that sometimes if they push too hard for their objectives, their efforts could well end up being counter productive. They also understand that sometimes the best way to get what they want the most is to compromise by giving up something relatively unimportant to them, but highly valued by the other side.
On the other hand, the folks that I call ultra conservatives view their political mindset as a religion from which they tolerate no divergence. They are like true believers of many other stripes. They view any compromise, no matter how favorable to themselves, as a betrayal of their values. Like the Tea Party Republicans in the House who are willing to shut down the government in quixotic attempts to obtain their objectives, they are willing to take their fight for the issues they hold dear to extremes even when it should be obvious that their actions will ultimately hurt their overall cause.
Theoretically I understood that within the Democratic Party there exist the liberal equivalents of the ultra conservative Republicans, but I really had never been exposed to them on a personal basis. Here in Alabama where anyone to the left of Genghis Khan is considered a liberal, real liberals are scarce enough and I have yet to encounter someone on the far left. However, recently I have been frequenting a discussion website which is popular with Democratic voters. There, perhaps attracted by the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, ultra liberals frequent in abundance and I have become more acquainted with their views and tactics.
They too are true believers who never seem to stray from the extreme liberal side of any issue and who don’t appear to be overly tolerant of any of their fellow liberals who do. In my observations they seem to view any willingness to compromise as intolerable in themselves and as a weakness in others. They tend to view otherwise liberal candidates with more moderate views on some issues to be traitors to the liberal cause who are not to be tolerated. On the other hand they exhibit a great deal more passion for their causes than is generally found in other liberals and moderates.
I believe that if you asked many moderate voters how they would classify Hillary Clinton they would usually say that she is a progressive. Republicans would usually classify her as a damn liberal, who if elected, would ruin the country with her liberal agenda. And that is far nicer than some things that those on the far right have been saying about her. However, I was very surprised to find that Hillary is also almost universally despised by those on the far left.
Because Clinton has raised a great deal of campaign money from wealthy left leaning business owners and executives, those on the far left view her as a willing tool of evil capitalists. They also believe that she is a war monger for voting with 28 of her 49 other fellow Democrats in the Senate to authorize the President to use force in Iraq if necessary. This despite the fact that she now claims that the vote was a mistake and that President Bush misused that authority.
A surprising number of those on far left state emphatically that they will not vote for Hillary Clinton if she were to win the Democratic nomination. These people are totally committed to Bernie Sanders even though there is a very good possibility that a “democratic socialist” is not electable to the Presidency. Even though they would obviously be helping the conservative Republicans that they despise, these far leftists say that if Hillary is the Democrat’s candidate, they will either not vote or “will vote their conscious” for a third party candidate.
In the final analysis I am struck by the similarity of liberals on the far left and their conservative opposite numbers on the far right. While their view points are totally opposed, the two groups are far more similar than either group would ever care to admit. Both groups are totally committed to their causes. In both groups their members are highly passionate. They both view those who share their basic beliefs, but tend to be more moderate overall, as uninformed at best and as traitors at worst. Both groups almost always refuse to compromise even when it is to their clear advantage to do so. They won’t compromise even when failing to so actually hurts their cause. Like most true believers, they are also usually convinced that they are absolutely right and those that don’t share their views are absolutely wrong.
I personally have come to believe that there is only way to break the log jam in Washington so that our elected representatives can actually govern and pass legislation which will benefit the population at large. Moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats will need to start ignoring the extreme elements in their parties, compromise when necessary, and start governing from the middle. As long as the most extreme elements continue to hold the two main political parties hostage, nothing worthwhile will get done in Washington.
However, I am a realist so I don’t expect anything like that to happen soon. When I start to day dream of a government that actually works, I have to remind myself that those on the far left and the far right are among the most passionate of voters. They are the most vocal and vote in greater percentages than almost every other segment of the voting population. Especially in the Republican Party, the extremists are in a position to hold their party and our government hostage. Unless the majority of us who are the more moderate voters in both parties actively exert our will, the extremists among us will continue to keep our government at a standstill.