Arthur Brooks: Why Do Conservatives Need Liberals — And Vice Versa? Social scientist Arthur Brooks explains how conservatives and liberals can cooperate to overcome gridlock and build a better economy.
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Why Do Conservatives Need Liberals — And Vice Versa?

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Why Do Conservatives Need Liberals — And Vice Versa?

Why Do Conservatives Need Liberals — And Vice Versa?

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So tolerance...

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DONALD TRUMP: Should I read you this segment?

RAZ: We thought it was a pretty good time to do a show about tolerance.

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TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for - now listen - you've got to listen to this one because this is pretty heavy stuff, and it's common sense...

RAZ: Of course, we don't have to tell you what's been going on in the U.S. presidential election...

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TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

RAZ: ...Or any time you turn on cable news.

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VAN JONES: The Klan is a terrorist organization that has killed...

JEFFREY LORD: A leftist terrorist organization.

JONES: You could put whatever label you want.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I'm an American. American lives matter.

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BRIAN TODD: This masked ISIS militant gloats...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: And the flames of war are only beginning to intensify.

TODD: ...As he presides over the execution of Syrians.

RAZ: Or, for that matter, what's been happening in countries where they're dealing with refugees and changing populations in ways that you would not exactly described as tolerant.

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LUTZ BACHMANN: We are for the Christian Jewish culture.

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FREDRIK HAGBERG: We have to show them that the people don't want them here.

RAZ: OK, you get the point. You know what I'm talking about, right? You probably don't need any convincing that the world kind of seems like a pretty intolerant place today. But how about this idea - that the solution to all of this is not more tolerance. Tolerance, in fact, doesn't even come close to what we need.

ARTHUR BROOKS: Yeah, I know. Look, it's - when you talk about a couple that's been together for 40 years and they really hate each other. You'll say, well, yeah, they barely tolerate each other. You know, I don't know why they don't get divorced. They barely tolerate each other. Well, hey, they're practicing tolerance. Isn't that a great virtue?

RAZ: Yeah.

BROOKS: No. It's not a great virtue.

RAZ: This is Arthur Brooks. He runs a think tank called the American Enterprise Institute that, just to be clear, most people think of as right of center.

BROOKS: They do. Although we have a lot of people all over the place. Personally, I'm a political independent.

RAZ: Anyway, Arthur Brooks gave a TED talk all about tolerance and why we talk about it like it's some kind of reasonable goal.

BROOKS: We talk about tolerance because we have low standards, basically. It's not enough to tolerate people. It's not even enough to help people. We need to need people who are not like us. And only when we do that can we have a kind of a unity that we really crave.

RAZ: Easier said than done, of course - so today on the show, beyond tolerance - ideas not just for coexisting but really about respecting each other - about working together, even thriving together. And we're going to hit all of the third rails today - race, abortion, politics, and, just for good measure, Israel-Palestine. It's all here on this episode. So let's start with politics. And Arthur Brooks again - here he is on the TED stage.

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BROOKS: Now, I don't have to tell anybody in this room that we're in a crisis in America and in many countries around the world with political polarization. There was an article last year in the proceedings of the National Academy of Science. And it was an article in 2014 on political motive asymmetry. What's that? That's what psychologists call the phenomenon of assuming that your ideology is based in love, but your opponent's ideology is based in hate. OK, now it's common in world conflict. You expect to see this between Palestinians and Israelis, for example. What the authors of this article found is that in America today, a majority of Republicans and Democrats suffer from political motive asymmetry. A majority of our people in our country today who are politically active believe that they are motivated by love, but the other side is motivated by hate. Think about it. Think about it. Most people are walking around saying, you know, my ideology's based on basic benevolence. I want to help people. But the other guys, they're evil and out to get me. You can't progress as a society when you have this kind of asymmetry. It's impossible - irreconcilable differences, right? We'll never come together - wrong. That is diversity, in which lies our strength. We need each other. In other words, if we want to help people, there's no other way.

RAZ: So when you say that we have to not just tolerate people that we disagree with but we have to need them, how do you will yourself to need people that you kind of don't really, you know, want to hang out with?

BROOKS: Well, part of that is a moral decision. But part of that is actually really, really practical. You've got to take things personally when you're going to understand the nature of needing other people. Do you need your sister-in-law? Yeah. I mean, you don't want to banish her to another country and never see her again. She might very well disagree with your politics.

You know, somebody in your family who feels this way - your cousin, your mother, your spouse - and once we start taking it personally about people who are not like us, then we'll understand the nature of what it means to need other people. That's one way to do it. The second thing to keep in mind is that very practically, we need people who are not like us. You know, in the great period of American immigration between 1880 and 1920, that's the time when the sign on the base of the Statue of Liberty - give me your poor - that actually meant something.

RAZ: Yeah.

BROOKS: You know - come here, build our country. You know, my great-grandparents and yours - I mean, they came here for a reason. There was something they wanted to do. There was something they wanted to build. This country actually needed them. Well, Guy, since you and I were kids, I guess, that's changed.

RAZ: I mean, I get that part. I mean, the economy has changed and jobs have changed. So, I mean, what's the connection between that and intolerance? Is it that, you know, when people don't feel like they're needed, they become less tolerant?

BROOKS: Well, actually, it's not - see, it's more complicated than that. For the last 7 in 10 years, the working class in the United States has seen, effectively, zero income growth. That means no progress. And that means bitterness. And that means they've got to look for culprits. And that's when political opportunism comes in. And people who preach intolerance through populism can say either, pull up the drawbridge, kick them all out, or off with their heads - rich people, they've got your stuff. That's when we fall prey to that. And that's where intolerance tends to breed.

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BROOKS: But do you know what we really need? We need a new day in flexible ideology. We need to be less predictable, don't we? Do you ever feel like your own ideology is starting to get predictable - kind of conventional? Do you ever feel like you're always listening to people who agree with you? Why is that dangerous? Because when we talk in this country about economics, if you're on the right, conservatives, you're always talking about taxes and regulations and big government. And on the left, liberals, you're talking about economics, it's always about income inequality, right?

Now, those are important things - really important to me, really important to you. But when it comes to lifting people up who are starving and need us today, those are distractions. We need to come together around the best ways to mitigate poverty using the best tools at our disposal. And that comes only when conservatives recognize that they need liberals and their obsession with poverty and liberals need conservatives and their obsession with free markets. That's the diversity in which lies the future strength of this country, if we choose to take it.

So how are we going to do it? I'm asking you and I'm asking me to be the person, specifically, who blurs the lines, who's ambiguous, who's hard to classify. If you're a conservative, be the conservative who's always going on about poverty and the moral obligation to be a warrior for the poor. And if you're a liberal, be a liberal who's always talking about the beauty of free markets to solve our problems when we use them responsibly. If we do that, maybe - just maybe - we'll all realize that our big differences aren't really that big after all. Thank you.

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RAZ: Arthur Brooks - he runs the American Enterprise Institute, and you can see his entire TED talk at ted.com.

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