Robert L. Sharp: A curious thing has happened

January 3, 2009 

"What goes around comes around."

I never understood that phrase, but I've been around and I've come around. Politically, that is.

Strange, but I think I am growing backwards, as in the recent film, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." We are supposed to grow more conservative as we grow older, but I think I'm growing somewhat more liberal.

I went through the college sophomore enthrallment with the libertarian Ayn Rand (in common with SEC chairman Christopher Cox and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan), but when later living in a highly structured Navy and then banking environments, I voted Republican.

Although similar to the way a third of Californians feel, I never felt enthused enough to join any political party, feeling a lockstep approach didn't fit me, as opposed to voting for the individual and his or her stated policies

But since Bill Clinton got to me with his explanation of the difference between just spending and spending as an investment with a beneficial public return, I have voted for Democrats.

I was impressed that his policies generated a large national surplus, which meets my fiscally conservative, socially liberal, mindset.

I have noticed a curious thing.

The major national parties seem to have exchanged styles and policies. My vague understanding of the major parties was that Republicans were supporters of big business and leery of foreign entanglements.

Democrats were those who supported blue-collar workers and unions and who were feisty enough to get into wars.

However, this last election pitted the Red Warriors against a supposed Blue elite.

(As an aside, I don't understand the red and blue state color code. Red has always been for the left. The "reds" were commies. As for blue, the traditional bluebloods worked on Wall Street.)

It seems to me that liberals think mankind is naturally good and perfectible, while conservatives doubt the inherent goodness of man. Both are wrong. Certainly mankind can be good, but as Ronald Reagan suggested, "Trust, but verify."

The difference between liberals and conservatives is explained by this vivid story I once heard: "A conservative throws a 25-foot rope to a man drowning 50 feet out in the water, as he expects people to contribute to their self-help. A liberal throws out a 100-foot rope, but then drops his end of the rope to go off to find someone else to help."

Although moving left, I was turned off at an early age by unions. This is because I paid my way through college by working in canneries, signing up for the 12-hour night shift at Frank M. Wilson in Stockton because it provided a five-cent increase over the regular $2 hourly wage; a pretty good sum for an 18- or 19-year-old in those days.

However, getting the job was kind of like Joseph Heller's "Catch-22." I couldn't work in the cannery without belonging to the union, and I couldn't join the union without having a job in the cannery.

Finally, the problem was resolved; I'm not sure how, but probably had something to do with the Wilson cannery supervisor being an old family friend.

The conservative Stanford economist Thomas Sowell in his 1987 book, "A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles," observes that the mindsets that make some people gravitate to some ideas instead of others are the difference between a "constrained vision," and an "unconstrained vision."

The first category, the constrained vision, is those who keep coming back to humanity's flaws and limitations, inclinations to be corrupt, to deceive, to be self-centered. In the second, an unconstrained vision, human nature is viewed much more optimistically, perfectible, a utopian vision.

It depends on your point of view.

To quote Abraham Lincoln, "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat; the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him as the destroyer of liberty."

Robert L. Sharp grew up in Linden (population 1,000) and spent most of the following 30 years as an international banker in Asia, including four years as a Naval officer in that part of the world.

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