Hands, it seems, are the new eyes: tools for feeling our way through the many ways we see our America.
Given the flurry of historical reassessments we are currently experiencing, I find that many of my conservative friends are torn between seeing and feeling, between their commitment to their ideals and their short termer’s allegiance with political expediency.
On one hand, we have enduring principles that advocate small government, commitment to rule of law, an adherence to moral and spiritual obligations, and a sincere belief that America’s endowment of resources comes with global responsibility for the welfare of friends and enemies alike. On the other hand, we have a commitment to our party and to the maintenance of control over the other.
Traditional progressives—all-American heroes—like Joe Biden struggle similarly: “I’m not running, but I’m not leaving.”
On the other hand, there are those for whom a schism in the opposing party presents an unearned opportunity to gain their own control over the other. On one hand, (this other)-we have enduring ideals that include distrust that people will live up to their individual responsibility to their neighbors, a skepticism for the antiquated ideas espoused in the Constitution, and a willingness to cede American sovereignty to a greater global good. On the other hand, we have a commitment to our party and to the wresting of control from the other.
On one hand, George W. Bush and John McCain are warmongering oil-shah-enriching opportunists whose commitment to military power verge upon international criminality. On the other hand, engagement with evil regimes—even if it means militarily—provides pressure outside the conflict zone, to advocate—Like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton argued—for human rights. All four agreed that feckless, isolationist policy not only undermines economic power but also America’s ability to fight for basic God-given freedoms.
As Senator McCain reminded us, the hands that wield, “half-baked, spurious nationalism,” do no good. This, in the context of current events, highlights that the we and we to which the one-hands and other-hands are attached become difficult to shackle.
On one hand, a polarized legislative branch unable to compromise on sustainable bipartisan lawmaking confirms American perceptions that Congress is useless. On the other hand, a Congress that can prevent a president from pushing through unsustainable, poorly conceived legislation is not do-nothing.
At some point, compromise becomes a winning ideal unto itself. At some point, we find that our hands are reaching for the same ends—safety, equality, opportunity—even if our means to those ends may differ: the other hands on the other we aren’t really so other, after all.
On one hand, the talking points about Bill Clinton’s infidelities and about George W Bush’s Katrina still pack punches when legitimate arguments about fiscal responsibility and global security fail. On the other hand, insinuations of a sitting president’s Manchurianism by a future president lowers the bar on what kinds of lies can be perpetuated and accepted.
Never mind that W was the warmongering target of ire a decade ago and that McCain was the embodiment of that evil lineage until just a few months ago, their recent words spoken in a new context have ignited a flurry of reassessments of legacies and of histories in general. While partisans are concerned with embarrassing each other based on what their respective heroes’ hands have been grabbing, we have grasped that we have much more in common than what the headline-chasing mainstream media would have us believe.
“Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions,” W. Bush recently handily reminded us, “forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”
Yesterday’s hand-wringers have become conspiratorial back-slappers. Finding that we have more in common than what separates us, we are even open to the occasional high five.
On one hand we are a singlehanded nation, looking always to help a neighbor up. On the other hand, we are nudged into the false premise that we can succeed only by pushing others down.
On one hand, we want to follow fearlessly successful people, people willing to do anything, belittle anyone, bemoan truth (even), in order to win a battle. On the other hand, we want to follow brave, good people, to move incrementally, sometimes even zig-zaggedly, guided by firmly held faith and ideals, into a boundlessly promising war for the sustainability of humankind.
We are more complicated than a binary—even ambidextrous—worldview insists. We and we are simply a single, many-handed we.
We cannot cut off all of our hands. Facts, feelings and fists rise from our individualism. We can, however, use them to reach out as often as we can, to clasp others’ in common purpose: Samaritanism, betterment, prayer.
We must—MUST—however, use our good hands to idle the hands of those who would use them otherwise.