As I listen to the campaign speeches of the Republican and Democratic presidential front-runners - each outlining their views for the future of America - it seems to me that it boils down to this central question:
What kind of country do we want: an America in which it's "Every person for him/herself" ... or an America in which "We're all in this together"?
Do we vote for the ethos of the individual: the independent citizen, the solo performer, the Lone Ranger who goes it alone?
Or do we vote for the ethos of community: the interdependent gathering of folks who know that it takes a village to raise a barn, to raise kids, and to lift a nation to greatness?
The Republicans have complete faith in the ability of individuals to take care of themselves: citizens can save for their own retirement, pay for their own health care, get a good education, and fail or succeed at business all on their own. The GOP believes that poor people should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Their motto is: "I am not my brother's keeper."
The Democrats have faith in community. They believe that "no man is an island" and that individuals' actions almost always affect others. They understand that human beings are social creatures - like dolphins, lions, elephants, geese, penguins, monkeys, dogs, wolves, and myriad others. Humans thrive when we live in healthy interdependence with one another. We are built for community, collaboration, and cooperation.
Regarding the poor, the Dems agree with Justice Thurgood Marshall: "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody - a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony, or a few nuns - bent down and helped us pick up our boots." The Democrats' motto is: "We're all in this together."
I am reminded of an allegory that illustrates the difference between the Republican Capitalist vision and the Democratic Socialist vision for America:
A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, "Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like."
The Lord led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors for the holy man to peer inside. In the middle of the room was a large round table, in the middle of which was a huge pot of stew that smelled delicious. But the people sitting around the table were emaciated, pale, and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They each had spoons with very long handles splinted to their arms, but found it impossible to reach into the pot of stew and eat a spoonful because they couldn't get the long-handled spoons to their own mouths. The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, "You have seen Hell."
The Lord then took the holy man to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one, with a large round table, in the middle of which was a huge pot of stew that smelled delicious. The people's arms were splinted with the same long-handled spoons as the other room, but in this room, the people were well-nourished and healthy. They were all laughing and talking, as they took turns scooping up big spoonfuls of stew and then feeding each other.
The holy man turned to the Lord and said, "Oh, now I see the difference."
"Yes," said the Lord, "Here in Heaven, people have learned to feed each other ... while in Hell, people think only of themselves."
BJ Gallagher is a sociologist and author of 30 books, including "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats" (Hampton Roads).
(Photo: Peacock Productions)