When I have political discussions with people, there is a new question I like to ask before getting too deep in debate: Do you have children?
Until I became a father, I didn't understand how much parenthood and family life translates to politics and government. The family is the elemental form of government in our society. You have the leaders who are in charge (parents) who set the rules (laws) to govern and advance the welfare of the citizens (children, parents, relatives, pets, etc.).
And it is with this view of family organization that we tend to look at government in general as a large family. This nation-as-family metaphor is one of the main themes in the book Moral Politics by George Lakoff, which explores the differences between how liberals and conservatives think, and how it can be traced back to their views of family life.
The nation-as-family metaphor runs through our culture and language. Think about how we use terminology like the founding fathers, Uncle Sam, Big Brother, the motherland or fatherland, the birth of a nation. These are all metaphors tied directly to how we view the country as our family, as dysfunctional as it can be sometimes.
Lakoff holds that conservatives are the product of a strict father morality, while liberals follow the nurturing mother model.
To break this down further, conservatives promote fatherly-type values like discipline, responsibility and self-sufficiency, while liberals advocate nurturing, understanding and security, values normally associated with mothering.
In my view, a good citizen is a balance of both, the product of a metaphorical two-parent family. This became clear to me when I became a father responsible for not only loving and caring for my darling daughter, but also setting limits and enforcing discipline on this strong-willed child.
My wife and I split these duties. Sometimes I'm the enforcer of discipline, other times I'm the nurturer. But what is important for us is that both sides are kept in balance, to keep our daughter morally centered.
Somewhere along the way, we as a country have lost sight of this balance. Both liberal and conservative political leaders today fight to dominate each other, instead of working together to advance the interests of the country. Each think their way is not only the best way, but the only way to run the country.
Imagine a family where the mother and father fought each other on these terms, letting their egos get in the way of helping their family.
There needs to be an acknowledgment that we need both sides, in balance, for us to work together. The name calling, divide-and-conquer tactics and pursuit of purely partisan goals all force a split in the American family.
This balance is the basis of what America stands for. Take the founding fathers of this American nation/family. Liberals like Thomas Jefferson came together with conservatives like John Adams, and they created something larger than themselves. We need to keep this in mind, as this country and the ideas that created it are far bigger than our petty political differences. We need to respect the principles it was founded on, checks and balances, all sides contributing to the common good.
Our political structure makes this balance sometimes hard to achieve. Two-party politics gives power to those on the extremes of the spectrum who care little for balance. The extremists who make up a significant part of the base of both major parties are like two stubborn children pulling on opposite ends of the same toy. Soon, the toy is ruined, leaving each to argue about who has the bigger half, and who is at fault.
Everyone is at least a little bit conservative and a little bit liberal. But neither position works by itself. We all need a little discipline, a little nurturing, a little responsibility, a little love.
And the sooner we all realize this, and put away our past differences, the faster we can work on mending this family. Stop condemning the other side for qualities we all need for a successful and fulfilling life. And realize that those whiny liberals and greedy conservatives might just be right, in balance with each other.
• Kirk Caraway is Internet editor of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at kcaraway@nevadaappeal. com, or comment online at nevadaappeal.com.