Trees or Forests? Metaphors for the Political Left and Right

Some recent blog posts and the opening of a new (local) political season brought my thoughts back to the speechifying and responding we enjoyed* during the last Presidential campaign. It occurred to me that some of our country’s left-right dichotomy has to do with which side can’t see the forest for the trees, and which one sees the forest but not the trees.

It all depends on perspective … and, to a degree, on what issue is being discussed.

Take the economy, for instance. Those on the left seem unable to see the forest as they focus on single trees in the form of individuals hurt by the recession. Those on the right seem unable to see the individual trees because they are looking at the entire economic forest and the larger forces affecting it (and affected by it). The former would say a forest can’t be healthy if the individual trees are damaged or diseased; the latter would say it makes no sense to focus on individual trees if by doing so you neglect or even hurt the rest of the forest.

We can also see that difference in perspective with respect to healthcare. Those on the left see the trees — individuals and families without health insurance and saddled with staggering bills — and seem willing to sacrifice much of the forest of insured and mostly satisfied healthcare consumers in order to attend to those individual needs. Those on the right see the forest — a vast but untamed landscape of providers, customers, and insurers — and seem willing to let a few trees wither rather than take drastic action that may end up tantamount to clear-cutting.

What about other issues? What about your own perspective? Do you see the forest, or the trees?


*Or, if you prefer, “endured.”


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Image Credit: Jonathan Gill, from Flickr, under Creative Commons

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0 Responses to Trees or Forests? Metaphors for the Political Left and Right

  1. Gray Rinehart says:

    Point well taken, and perfectly illustrative of the left-right split. Thanks!

  2. dbergeron says:

    I certainly fall on the side of seeing the forest instead of the individual trees. The fundemental question for me is what is the role of government in its citizens’ lives?

    If you believe that the goverment has the responsibility to take care of individuals, then you’ll probably side with the trees instead of the forest. On the other hand, if the government’s role is to ensure that people have the freedom to succeed or fail on their own, then I suspect your a forest kind of person.