`Simple' may not be `easy'

Philosophy: Liberals hate it, but sometimes the conservatives' simple answer is also the right one.

May 21, 2000|By Donald G. Smith

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- One of the more significant differences between conservatives and liberals is established long before they lock their philosophies into political positions. It is the running battle between simplicity (conservatives) and complexity (liberals).

When I am accused of being "simplistic," I know that I am talking with someone who walks down the left side of the street. With liberals, "simplistic" ranks right up there with "judgmental."

The bedrock foundation of conservative thinking is found in the search for simple solutions. Such thinking is abhorrent to the liberal who worships at the shrine of complexity.

The flat tax, for example, is something that is popular with conservatives. They aren't trying to get out of paying taxes but want to simplify the process: no deductions, no writeoffs and no sliding scale. Above all, there would be no forms that require an accountant to complete. Liberals want no part of this because they are suspicious of simplicity.

Most of our social problems have simple solutions. The answer to alcoholism, for example, is to quit drinking. But this, say the liberals, isn't that easy. No, it isn't, but it is still the only solution to a drinking problem.

It is irrelevant if the problem drinker turns to a support group, a trained counselor or the church because they all lead to the same place. The only solution is to quit drinking, and the methods used are only different routes to the predetermined destination.

First lady Nancy Reagan was ridiculed maliciously when she offered "just say no" as a solution to the drug problem. Liberals got a good laugh out of it but they failed to grasp the rather obvious fact that the lady was right. The problem will never be solved until people say no.

Liberals seem to have a problem comprehending the difference between "simple" and "easy." They assume that the person who presents a simple solution is saying that it is going to be easy, which isn't true at all. It is extremely difficult to kick a drug or alcohol habit, but it is still simple.

This does not mean that all problems have simple solutions. It does mean that simplicity is the place to start looking. If an obvious solution presents itself, there is no need to form committees, prepare bar charts and demand 1,000-page reports. It is the very core of conservative thinking to look for simple solutions first and add complexity only if there is no other way.

Liberals don't see it this way at all.

Donald G. Smith is the author of "People I Can Do Without." This article first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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