It is possible to compare apples and oranges, since they’re both fruits, round and are often depicted together in artists’ still-lifes. What are not possible to compare are apples and hammers, apples and Berber carpet or apples and the possibility of life on Mars.
I mention this only to clarify my real point: You can compare liberals and conservatives for the same reasons you can compare apples and oranges, though conservatives and liberals themselves would say that is like trying to compare apples and hammers, apples and Berber carpet or apples and the possibility of life on Mars. It boils down to perspective.
First off, liberals are called liberals only by conservatives. Among themselves, liberals refer to each other as “pragmatists.” And conservatives are called conservatives only by liberals. Among themselves, conservatives refer to each other as “pragmatists.” Since both believe they are pragmatists, they can be compared, though they couldn’t stand the thought of that. (Were it capable of human discourse, an apple would certainly not see itself as comparable to an orange, but do we humans, who eat both fruits, really care how an apple or an orange might argue their relative superiority to each other?)
And so we proceed.
Both liberal and conservative pragmatists, for example, value life. But one set of pragmatists—the conservatives—believes the value of life begins at conception. The other set of pragmatists—the liberals—believes the value of life is preserved by preventing unwanted or unplanned conception in the first place. And one set of pragmatists believes there is nothing wrong with putting guns in all the right hands who want them. The other set of pragmatists believes there’s nothing right with putting guns in all the wrong hands that want them.
One set of pragmatists believes marriage is a sacred union based on the human love between men and women. The other set of pragmatists believes marriage is a sacred union that men and women believe represents love between two humans. One set of pragmatists believes government should be small and weak in order to be able to guarantee individual liberty. The other set of pragmatists believes government should be big and strong to be able to guarantee individual liberty. One set of pragmatists believes a harmonious church and state can remain separate. The other set of pragmatists believes a separated church and state can remain harmonious.
So, if we’re all really just a bunch of pragmatists at heart, why all the rancor and division?
It turns out the country is not a bowl of fruit made up of apples and oranges but actually composed of people, some of whom say po-TAY-to and some who say po-TAH-to.
It turns out we actually would rather stress the tiny differences that divide us rather than the huge similarities that unite us. Accents, foods, hair, cars, where we live, team loyalties, as well as our cellular calling plans are used to identify our differences rather than our similarities. In effect, though, we are all merely conforming to what we can call The Principle of Contrariness. We’d rather not see each other the same. We are apples. We are oranges. We are not simply just a bowl of fruit that all together can make a beautiful still-life.
And we’re certainly—given what passes for “political debate” today—no bowl of cherries, either.
Reid Champagne writes frequently for Delaware Today, but confesses to not eating much fruit, one way or the other.