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King: Hard to find common ground in pursuit of the common good
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If one picture is worth a thousand words, one good cartoon is worth even more. "Zits," a comic strip that appears regularly in The Times, says more about living with a 15-year-old than any parenting column, and a single panel of Gary Trudeau's, "Doonesbury" packs more punch than most political columns.

In a recent cartoon from The New Yorker a father is explaining to his young son why he and the child's mother are getting a divorce. The wife sits at the far end of the couch with her arms crossed. The man says: "We are separating because Daddy wants to save the world, and Mommy doesn't."

This pretty much sums up the political climate today. Congress and those running for office are so intent on their version of "How to Save the Country" that they are willing to tear the nation apart to make their point. Each side sees itself as a savior and accuses the other of trying to destroy the country.

I started this column on a Sunday. The liturgy for the day included Romans 12: 9-21: "The marks of a true Christian." If you have a Bible handy look it up and see if describes the people you read about in the news today. Personally, I find the more a politician proclaims his or her faith, the less real Christian humanity he or she exhibits.

What ever happened to the idea of the common good? These days even the words, "common good" have become divisive. When I wrote a column on the common good back in 2010, I was accused of being a socialist.

But if there is no common good, then it's every man for himself. Not only is this not Christian, it isn't even good social history. Life is better today because of the cooperative efforts of those who came before us.

Labels of any kind are dangerous because they short-cut the thinking process, but they do serve a purpose. They tell you as much about the speaker as they do about the person being labeled. It's easy to call a person a liberal or a conservative. It's harder to explain what these labels actually mean.

What do you mean when you call someone a socialist? The easy answer is a person who believes in the redistribution of wealth. The real question, however, is how this redistribution is accomplished and to
what end? There are many degrees of socialism, everything from state socialism where the means of production, distribution and exchange is nationalized, to democratic socialism where there is public control within the framework of a market economy.

Soviet communism was an extreme form of socialism with a centrally planned economy run by a single-party state. It didn't work. Well-meant in the beginning, it degenerated into repression and finally into despotism. So it is understandable that people have a knee-jerk reaction to anything associated with it. Don't like someone's politics? Call him or her a socialist.

The other end of the spectrum is capitalism, an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned, but this system has its own drawbacks. Over time wealth flows into fewer and fewer hands. Rich individuals and powerful corporations use their wealth to manipulate government to their own benefit. The poor get poorer, and the middle class wastes away.

Untamed capitalism carries with it its own brand of repression. Calling someone a capitalist is not an insult, but does it designate someone concerned with the welfare of the general population? I don't think so.

I'm getting old, and I'm tired. It's discouraging to realize that people no longer believe in goodness for its own sake. Public figures trash the government under the guise of free speech while they struggle to advance their own political aspirations. Why should I believe they will be any better than those they want to replace?

Joan King is a Sautee resident whose columns appear biweekly on Tuesdays, and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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