"This seems like kind of an odd question to me. How is an R2 or SLAC position better than an R1 spot?"
This seems like an odd response to the question, and suggests that everyone has the same values and interests. "da dude abides" put it perfectly — it's about the culture, and also the fit between the individual and the department/institution. An R1 would be my worst nightmare. Yes, I would have to teach less (and that is always desirable), but the pressure to get grants, publish extensively and in only the best journals, and lack of work/life balance would destroy me. My values and interests do not fit such a position.
Also, I cannot do "half-a**ed" teaching. I take that portion of my job very seriously, and think it's hugely important to give my best to every student in every class. So yeah, while I would teach at an R1, I wouldn't be able to put my all into it due to the publishing/grant-writing pressure, and that would really bother me.
Ultimately, I pose this question because I think it's demeaning to essentially tell people, especially in these forums, that they are "less than" someone else. I understand the arguments about some SLACs or R2s being "better" than others, but it still seems insulting. People should find a place that is a good fit for them personally, and that is their personal "best" job. So, if I want to "trade up," then that means moving to a different location and a school that is more liberal arts focused (I'm at a tech school). That would be a better fit for me, regardless of rankings or prestige. And my current job would probably be the "best" for someone else, and that's great!
This hierarchy we all support has just always bothered me, and I wondered what others think. Thanks for your responses.