At Sam’s parent-teacher conferences last fall, his teacher said that sometimes he has trouble in class because “he always thinks he’s right.”
My husband just gave me that knowing look, as in ‘we know where he got that trait.’
Yeah, okay. I can own that.
But, truly, I can acknowledge that some of the positions I take may not be right, at least not in a “so the other side is wrong” way. I get that there are legitimate questions about the best way to support working families, for example, or what optimal energy policy looks like, or the precise mix of taxes that create a strong revenue foundation. And, so, within my worldview, there’s room to admit that I don’t have any lock on absolute truth in those questions, where there’s at least an element of technical knowledge, not just moral judgment.
And that’s what politics should be about, in my opinion–vigorous debates about the best ways to attain what should be universally-heralded goals. As in, we all want to make sure all children are well-nourished and well-educated, but what are the best ways to attain those ideals?
This post isn’t about those issues, the ones where people can have open and pretty dignified debate, and where there’s a pretty decent chance that the truth is somewhere in the middle of their respective positions.
This is about those issues where there’s clearly no middle ground, and where what’s at stake is really too sacred to be left to compromise.
It’s about the struggle of oppressed peoples for freedom, about the search for equality under the law, and about the human need to be recognized as fully human, even when that’s not yet where political consensus comes down.
When I was leafing through a magazine shortly after baby Evelyn was born last summer (the great side benefit of hours spent nursing!), I came across this quote from Chris Matthews that I liked so much it has been taped to my office wall ever since:
“Over time, people who advance liberties tend to win the argument, whether it’s for women, African Americans, immigrants, or the gay community. In the end, America takes the side of the people looking for rights. That’s one of the wonders of this country. Eventually, we live up to our ideals.”
I don’t know, quite honestly, that I’d be quite so generous in my assessment, but I think his basic premise is not only pretty accurate but very comforting. In essence, it’s a restatement of the famous quote attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (1967 address to the SCLC).
And it reminds us that, even when we seem to be losing today, today is, after all, only today, and the odds are still in our favor. What was unthinkable a few generations ago is now enshrined in laws, however imperfect they may be, and today’s most heated struggles–for equality for GLBTQ communities, for the civil rights of immigrants–may be case studies in tomorrow’s history books.
I can’t always be certain I’m correct, as much as I might like to posture otherwise.
But we can know when we stand with right.
And, in the middle of lonely and seemingly hopeless battles, that feels good.