The political expert explained it carefully over dinner. The country, he said, is turning to the right, but the New Right is further to the left than it used to be. At the same time, the left is further to the right than it was in the Old Days when it was called the New Left.
By the time he was through chronicling the evolution of politics in America, I was totally unable to remember which hand I was supposed to cut my food with. Was it the right or the left, and was it important?
Now, I had read the Gallup poll, which said that 47 per cent of the American people consider themselves to be right center, and I had heard the accounts of the new conservative bash a the St. Regis Hotel in New York last week.
But, to be perfectly frank about it, I don't think that we can understand what's going on in politics in the classical terms of political anatomy. I don't think we are using the right, or to the left for the matter. I think most of us are turning ambidexters.
There is a much more widespread uncertainty, often a frustrating sense of th complexity of social issues. Every [WORD ILLEGIBLE] someone else offers a criticism. Most of us have become walking dialecticians, carrying our debates in our arms. we are constantly arguing with ourselves - "on the one hand . . .on the other hand . . ." We are, in short, card-carrying members of the New Ambidextrous Party.
The New Ambidexters believe, for example, that on the one hand government should provide services and, on the other hand, government should keep out of our lives. The New Ambidexters believe that the corporations have murderously gunked up the environment and put ruinous chemicals in our food, but that government regulations interfere too much with business.
The New Ambidexters believe that welfare mothers should get off the dole and go to work, and that mothers of small children should stay home with them. They believe that we've all become far too selfish, too "me-first," but that individuals have the right to lead their lives as they choose.
The Ambidexters simply hold on to a wide range of opinions simultaneously, without always seeing them as contradictory. They want security and independence. They believe in responsibility and freedom.
The same people who rue the disruption of the family don't believe that people should be forced to stay in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] marriages. The same people who believe in roots and community believe - on the other hand - in ability and adventure.
Most of them, of course, weren't born ambidextrous. They have lived long enough to see the cost-accounting of change.
They have seen that change, even the solutions, comes with a full attachment of new problems. When the government sets up a program to help those who won't work. When the government helps the aged who don't have families to depend on, they end up with more aged depending on the government instead of families. As divorce becomes more acceptable in society, there are more divorces for society to accept.
The Ambidexters don't want to go back to the '30s or the '50s. Few people want to remove the Social Security system or take away compensation for unemployment.
They have no interest in returning to desperation. But when they look ahead to the future they weigh issues in both hands.
The Ambidexters are aware that there are still serious problems. They believe that government should Do Something. National Health Care. Day Care. Welfare Reform. But there are other problems. Big Government. Family Responsibility. Taxes.
So, in view of complexity of the situation, the one solution the Ambidexters seem to to have agreed upon for the moment is to sit on their hands. The right hand, and the left.