We keep thinking that the so-called conservatives are simply misguided and deluded. If we could only educate them, if we could only share our insights with them, they would then give up their destructive impulses and join with us in making a better world. We call them stupid when they fail to see things our way.
This perspective is wrong. It's not about intelligence, It's not about knowledge. it's not about an inability to understand the issues that marks the difference between the right and left in today's America, whether you're discussing corporate power or universal health care or global warming. They are not stupid. They are doing exactly what they need to be doing in order to advance their interests as they see them.
There are plenty of smart people in the corporations, plenty of smart people fighting to deny us a publicly financed health care system, and plenty of smart global-warming deniers.
The issue lies not in intellect but in something more fundamental. The Ojibwe Indians I knew in my youth would have called it "good-heartedness." It is variously expressed in small and inconspicuous acts of charity, or in great ways, as when a President pushes through a national retirement plan intended to keep the elderly out of poverty. It is about love and empathy. It is about valuing other people. It is about simple decency.