The value of life experiences

Some of Congress’ newest members, many of whom won after railing against spending and government services, have new reasons to reevaluate their perspective.

They came to Washington with a near singular focus on heady national issues, like cutting spending, reducing the budget deficit and paying down the national debt.

But in their first few months in office, many in the historic freshman class of GOP lawmakers have been waylaid by far more parochial concerns — tornadoes and flooding that have ravaged the South, cost billions of dollars in damage and taken hundreds of lives.

And now these freshmen — especially those from Louisiana, Alabama and the Midwest — realize more than ever their constituents need the federal government’s help. And money.

Many have blunted their anti-government tough talk — choosing instead to focus on how local, state and federal agencies can best help their constituents rebuild. And while none of these conservative freshmen are backing off their hawkish views on the deficit, their rhetoric has definitely taken a softer turn as they see death and destruction in their backyard and assess the role of the federal government in helping.

It’s awful what these members’ communities have been through recently. The reevaluation of government’s role is, however, a reminder of a larger truth.

Conservative perspectives often seem to change when controversial issues leave the realm of abstractions and become real. They often reconsider gay rights when they learn that someone close to them is gay. They’re less sure about opposition to abortion rights when someone in their family has an unwanted pregnancy. They have no use for the separation of church and state until they feel like a religious minority.

And they’re outraged by the very idea of government agencies and federal investments in communities until it’s their area hit by a disaster.

The key to social progress in the United States is apparently quite simple: conservatives simply need to have more life experiences.