published Monday, September 5th, 2011

Cook: A conservative and a liberal walk into a bar

Last Monday, while poking a stick at Rep. Chuck Fleischmann for only sponsoring one bill since arriving in Washington, I wrote about a pretty outlandish idea: an annual income cap ($10 million) that transfers any extra money earned by an individual to college kids struggling to pay tuition.

In the last seven days, this idea has exploded on me like a joke-store cigar.

"Does the [Times Free Press] actually pay this guy to write such drivel?" one reader commented.

Others weren't as kind.

"Jackass," emailed one woman.

Tongue in cheek, I had written about such an exaggerated idea -- a $10 million income cap! -- to push down some walls and let other more realistic ideas and questions be given room to emerge.

Like tossing a Hail Mary pass, I crossed my fingers. Held my breath. Hoped readers would understand the larger questions I was asking: What is our moral and financial obligation to others? What do fairness and justice look like in our economic system?

"Liberal," one reader said, like an accusation.

So if your emotional tachometer went straight to red after reading that wealth should be transferred from the super-rich to those with far less, I've got two things to say to you:

I am liberal.

And conservative, too.

"We believe in the rights of individuals to achieve whatever they can on their own without the help of the government," said Marty Von Schaaf, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.

I called Von Schaaf to ask him to name the essence of Chattanooga conservatism. Boil it down, I told him. What is the heartbeat of it all?

"One of the first things we as Republicans believe is in smaller government," he said. Then, he began to discuss the importance of family. When it breaks down, the fabric of our nation goes with it, he said.

Amen. In the 11 years I've been a husband and father, I am stunned by the amount of forces in this society trying to tear families apart. Junk media -- interested in either sex, violence or money -- and the widespread notion that lying is acceptable create a culture that works against families, instead of for them.

And like Von Schaaf said, I, too, believe government is best when it's small and local. And freedom and hard work are walking sticks along the road to happiness.

But I also know things are rarely this cut and dried.

Years ago, I lived in a small town in Virginia. One of my friends there worked as little as possible, he said, to keep receiving government assistance checks on a regular basis. He was lazy, sometimes stoned and drank too much beer.

So when I hear debates on welfare, I think of him.

But I also think of the four words a Chattanooga teenager once told me. An honor-roll, never-late-for-work type of kid, she lived with her grandmother, who held down two jobs at once to pay the bills. And she still needed government assistance.

"Welfare saved my life," that teenager -- who I'd bet a month's salary will contribute in majestic ways to our country -- told me.

"We are one nation under God," Von Schaaf said. "We believe in government for the people."

The God I believe in created a wide variety of folks who are going to continue to believe different things. Beyond an individual's beliefs, there is dignity, which is far more important than political parties.

I refuse to believe that politics can't honor and respect this. Folks can be liberal and conservative at the same time, and we don't have to see politics in a binary and myopic way. It reminds me of an old yarn.

A conservative and liberal walk into a bar. Bartender looks up, sees the two of them together and asks: "Is this some kind of joke?"

It shouldn't have to be.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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adolphochs said...

I never would've hired Cook! He's so predictable, you can save time by reading the first sentence of his column and be safe extrapolating the rest of it.

September 8, 2011 at 9:04 a.m.

What do fairness and justice look like in our economic system?(mrCook)

Well my daddy told me to read and read to find out what is true and read the true books and stuff that hasnt changed alot like todays. Soo i read mrMarx and all the others who have the same ideas that the nice mrCook said up there. Librall with conservative he said he is. But i saw the words and they are the same as Mr Marxs and he took away alot of money from companies that werent rich and people that were rich and all those countries became Hell. Then mrMao said the same things and the same things happened to his people and he said so what? whats 25 million (dead from being hungry!)?. But it was 30 million and 70 million from mrStalin and other misters. Soo we should think and think about our government taking and taking whats not theirs!

my daddy told me to give the benefit to everybody and dont call names unless the name fits. Soo mrCook could be alot of different things and ideas and he is not a donkey like that woMan said up there. I know a Jack and he is NOT a donkey either! But mrCook could be confused about what he is and i say thats ok! when you get bigger mr C you will understand and see how things happen. you will see how unfair life is to alot of people! and not everybody WANTS to be rich! and how we are happier when we work and make things ourselves!

why MrC i have seen the happiest people you could ever see and their kids are happy and they like their life and theyre not rich! theyre poor but have what they need and their kids are not violent or rude or greedy or mean! and they teach their kids all about Jesus and not to just make words but follow Jesus the way He said to!

so mrCook when you get big, check out alot of old good books and stuff and talk to people from mrMarxs and mrMaos countries. I know, i know, its the PAST. but it is Soo real, even now with mrobama and such it is MORE real, funny huh? i am.

September 8, 2011 at 4:25 p.m.
jesse said...

i don't know what huckleberryfriend is smokin BUT i wish i had about a pound of it!! i think cook may be smokin the same sh#t!

September 10, 2011 at 6:56 a.m.
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