If you are anything like me there are people (they may be friends, family members, or public figures) who really set you off, who are able to push your buttons and raise your hackles every time they express a political opinion. It could just be me, but it really seems that the level of pure partisan conflict has become more extreme than at any time I can remember in the last 40 years. But even if it is not really worse now than in the past, it still seems overblown, unproductive, and self-defeating.
I happen to be a liberal, and an atheist, but I don't believe that conservatives are wrong on everything. I admire fiscal responsibility, and I admire personal responsibility and hard work and charity, and many other virtues that conservatives value. It is important to be evidence based, and change for the sake of change is to be regarded with suspicion. Change needs to be undertaken cautiously, incrementally, and based on very good evidence that the change is practical and amounts to a real improvement. I think those elements of conservatism that one might label "prudence" are things I value.
But these things can be carried too far. Following tradition for tradition's sake strikes me as being just as empty as change for the sake of change. Caution is always in danger of becoming fearfulness. A refusal to take risks or to compromise as a matter of absolute principle is often guilty of becoming a foolish consistency, the hobgoblin of little minds as Emerson warned. We have common folk wisdom that teaches us contradictory lessons: "Look before you leap" and "He who hesitates is lost". These might be construed to embody essential moods that color and flavor conservative and liberal thinking. Neither of these is an absolute principle that applies to every situation; we need to have the insight and discernment to find a balanced way to evaluate the specifics of a context and decide which idea is a better fit. In some ways the conservatives and the liberals need one another, just as a bird needs both it's left and it's right wing in order to fly.
The biggest conflict I have with conservatives is in the area of social conservatism, or "conservative" Christians. If you happen to be Christian and conservative, please try to patiently hear me out before you react. I truly do not believe supernatural religious beliefs should ever be used as a justification for public policy or legal evidence or argument, such as we see in anti-abortion, anti-stem cell research, anti-contraception, or anti-gay positions. I cringe at the thought of creationism being pushed into science classes. The phrase "Under God" does not belong in the pledge of allegiance, and "In God we trust" does not belong on our currency. If a parent wants their child to pray in school, they can teach them to do so silently in their hearts and minds. It does not need to be an organized group activity. I don't hate God, as conservatives often claim about atheists, because I can't hate something that doesn't exist. I simply think, with all the sincerity and honesty in the world, with good intent and with respect for the simple virtues of the religious way, that belief in God, the soul, and the afterlife is a metaphysical error based on tradition and habit, no different from any other superstition in it's lack of a basis in reality.
I do get angry when people push their metaphysical beliefs into the public sphere under the naive assumption that they know best and that if everyone went along with their program the world would be automatically beautiful, peaceful, orderly, and pure. This amounts to a desire for theocracy. History conflicts mightily with such an assumption. I think that we need to remain neutral in the public sphere with respect to meta-physical belief systems. Atheists don't want to put "God Doesn't Exist" on the currency. That would be a terrible injustice to Christians. We don't want people to say "Free of enslavement to God" in the pledge of allegiance. That also would be a terrible injustice to Christians. And I wish Christians understood what a terrible injustice they commit when pushing these things on everyone with the unquestioned assumption that it must be good and true for all humans who have goodness in their hearts. We want it neutral, with no reference either to God's existence or non-existence. This is fair and it is neutral and consistent with the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. I liked E Pluribus Unum a lot. We should bring that back.
The other major issues I have with the right comes in the area of what I think of as extreme emphasis on liberty, and extreme emphasis on free markets and competition.
I think liberty is good, and I think free markets are good, and I think competition is good. I simply think that it is true that you can have too much of a good thing.
I view liberty as needing to be in balance with restraint. I view competition as needing to be in balance with cooperation. I think human needs are a greater priority than personal wealth, and that human freedom from suffering is a greater priority than individual property rights.
Think of this in terms of the Laffer Curve. In that model, taxing at levels too high or too low brings diminishing returns in government revenues. I think this model is essentially sound, but there is difficulty in determining at what point the optimal maximum occurs. Real experts can honestly disagree about this.
When it comes to liberty, taking it too far leads to inevitable conflicts. To insist that nothing but property rights or a contract should ever constrain my personal freedom to do whatever I want is taking it too far in my opinion. There is need for restraint in order to achieve social harmony. I have often used traffic safety regulations as an example of what I mean by this. Sure, stop signs and red lights and speed limits are an annoyance. But they serve a good purpose of ensuring mutually beneficial access to the public good of transportation freedom via automobile. The same goes with regulating the free market. Balance freedom with restraint.
I'm not advocating that people sacrifice their individuality and subjugate themselves to a socialistic greater good, which is the automatic right-wing reflexive critique of all things liberal. This is an error. I'm saying that there are practical limits to liberty, and that accepting certain restraints are a good and mutually beneficial tradeoff. Imagine something like the Laffer Curve with instead of zero taxes at one end we have total liberty, free of all coercion. At the other end instead of 100% taxes we have total restraint with zero liberty. I'm saying that there is a median point at which utility is maximized. And the same argument for freedom vs. restraint goes equally well for competition vs. cooperation. There is a midpoint at which we can optimize prosperity, efficiency, and utility.
These are the core ideas behind my objections to what I consider to be extreme right-wing philosophical and political positions of free-markets, no regulation, small government, liberty in all things at all costs above all else. The efficient market hypothesis has value as a guide to understanding economic reality, but to expect it to model actual reality is as misguided as expecting the frictionless plane, the perfect circle, infinite parallel lines, or other mathematical abstractions to be in agreement with the actual physical material world.
I equally object to extreme forms of pure collectivist subjugation of individual will and freedom to the common good. I believe in balance. I believe in middle ground. I believe there is a sweet spot, and in my view Sweden and Norway are closer to that sweet spot than the US is. Obviously the USSR, China, Cuba, and especially North Korea have carried it to an extreme.
The most annoying habit of the far right and the far left is black and white thinking. People are too quick to assume that objection to a libertarian world of limited government and unencumbered business and personal freedom means that one admires North Korea. People are too quick to assume that objection to a Christian nation means that one is immoral and evil. People are too quick to assume that favoring international cooperation means you want One World Government. People are too quick to assume that believing Muslims have equal rights to religious freedom as Christians means that you are soft on terror or want Sharia law. People are too quick to assume that supporting free trade means you are capitulating to a global conspiracy to enslave a permanent peasant class. People are too quick to assume that favoring corporate rights means you value property and wealth above the needs and concerns of human beings. And people are too quick to assume that being opposed to abortion means that you support a religiously licensed subjugation of women's rights to the superior rights of males.
I'm having a harder time lampooning leftist extremist fallacies than I do to lampoon right-wing extremist fallacies. But the source of all such fallacies seems most often to be either slippery slope arguments or imposing a stark binary black-and-white view on a more complicated spectrum of reality. We often err greatly when trying to impose abstract subjective ideals onto a rather messy complex chaotic reality that stubbornly resists totalizing simplifications.