The recent publicity about the connection between the Koch brothers and Gov. Scott Walker has led many of his critics to claim he's just a lackey of billionaires, pushing the policies they pay him to push. That's a mistake: Walker really does believe in what he's doing. Moreover, the will to denigrate his motives underscores a broader and deeper problem in our supposedly educated culture.
Conservative publications and pundits have been complaining about the excessive power, benefits and job security achieved by public employee unions for many years. Walker is trying to implement longstanding ideas, as are Republican governors in other states. Whether you like their attitudes or not, those are their honest attitudes.
Now put yourself in the position of a fat-cat contributor. For the sake of balance, use George Soros as an example. Extremely wealthy, he has given lots of money to support liberal causes and candidates. Do you think he picks out some politician who isn't particularly liberal, and then tries to influence him to support liberal causes by giving him lots of campaign contributions?
No, that's the hard way, and rich people don't get rich and stay rich by doing things the hard way. Instead, Soros will find politicians and groups that are already deeply and enthusiastically committed to left-wing causes and support them.
First of all, these people and groups aren't that hard to find. Secondly, they're going to work harder to advocate the policies Soros likes more than somebody who's just doing it for the money. Thirdly, you can't be sure that bought politicians will stay bought, while those who really believe in what they're advocating will stay the course.
For the same reasons, the Koch brothers looked for politicians who already supported conservative causes. They aren't hard to find. When you get past the platitudes, there are some deep and honest differences in our society on many public policies.
Which leads us to the broader problem: The belief that there is just something wrong with people who disagree with us. It's not often plainly articulated, but it's there the assumption that opponents must be ignorant, or don't understand the issues, or are selfish, or have some ulterior motive, or, depending on the issue, are racist or narrow-minded. The possibility that intelligent, informed, open-minded people might honestly disagree with us on important issues just doesn't seem to enter our minds.
This is not a new problem. It's been around for centuries. And it's common across the political and social spectrums. It's often expressed as "I just don't understand how they can believe such-and-such, when the evidence is so obviously the other way." That is correct. The speaker doesn't understand. And the other guy probably thinks the same thing about the first.
This is not to deny that some folks are lying, or have ulterior motives, or occasionally indulge in plain evil. But such people aren't typical, and they are pretty evenly scattered across the political spectrum.
You would think that with the greater level of education in modern society, and the increased exposure to different points of view, we would realize that we don't all have exactly the same moral values. There's a lot of commonality, but there are serious differences as well. The differences become more pronounced when we have to balance one value against another.
For instance, I oppose affirmative action because it includes racial preferences, which are a form of racial discrimination. I recognize the value of helping blacks and other folks, but it's not enough to justify something as grossly unjust as racial discrimination. Yet when another person advocates preferential treatment, he doesn't really approve of racial discrimination - he's balancing one value against another in a different way.
In his book, A Secular Age, the philosopher Charles Taylor observed that when we have high ideals, it becomes easy to denigrate those who don't seem to share those ideals. Combine that with the desire for power to implement those high ideals - or the fear of the opponent's power - and you have the roots of violence.
We need those high ideals, and we cannot back off them because others honestly disagree with them. We have to live with this paradox: that we may be convinced the opposition is blatantly wrong in a dozen ways, but we need to respect their right to be wrong.
Wayne Shockley is a retired computer programmer who lives near Brooklyn, Wisconsin.