Tampa vs. Charlotte: What We Care About

| Thu Sep. 6, 2012 6:52 PM PDT

Dylan Matthews writes about the big difference between Tampa and Charlotte:

We’re two nights into the Democratic National Convention, and the themes could not be more distinct from those championed at the RNC last week. Whereas the RNC heavily emphasized the role of personal initiative in economic success, the DNC’s speakers have focused on the many barriers that keep success away from even determined, hard-working Americans.

I was thinking about this exact thing last night, and what I was thinking is that it's a shame. It's a shame that Republicans think they have to extol personal initiative to the exclusion of all else, and it's a shame that Democrats feel the same way about the value of collective action and real opportunity for all.

I understand why this happens. Republicans feel that personal initiative is under such withering attack from liberals that they need to fight back with no quarter given and no ground conceded. Democrats feel the same way.

There are lots of topics that display the same dynamic. Hell, maybe most of them. But it seems more corrosive than usual in this case, because it does real damage when we disparage either of these things. Personal initiative and personal responsibility really are vitally important, and we should take every opportunity to encourage and praise them. I've known plenty of people who have started and run businesses of their own, and they work their asses off and take plenty of personal risks along the way. It's not an easy road.

Likewise, lots of people, through no real fault of their own, really don't have much of a chance in life. Those of us who do should always be keenly aware of just how lucky we are and just how much we've benefited not just from friends and family, but from things like clean water, decent healthcare, roads and bridges, public schools and universities, food that's free of contamination, government-sponsored basic research, public order, and, eventually, retirement security.

Reverence for personal initiative without a sense of what you've gotten from others produces too much petty arrogance and unfeeling entitlement. Concern for equal opportunity and community support without a healthy respect for personal initiative produces too much lassitude and bitterness.

This is a case where we truly don't want either side to win — and not out of some misplaced sense of mindless centrism. We really do have to value both, not just pay lip service to them.

Barack Obama is one of the best at bridging these two worlds. It's too bad there aren't more like him.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.