Thursday, April 8, 2010

America's Sharp Right Face

In high school, I participated in speech and debate, which forced me to do some research into current events. The public arena was full of social and political problems and disagreements, but in those days, America’s problems—the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; internal struggles for social equality, free speech and expanded roles for women in society—were “our” problems. The “enemies” were abroad; at home, there really were two ways of looking at many issues, each side having some validity.

In college, a friend who was a poli-sci major informed me that I was a Democrat, based on my tendency to reason from the perspective of the well-being of the individual. Over time, I began to realize that was mostly true—more often than not, I tended to agree with Democratic candidates. But labels simply weren’t that important in those days. The left-right spectrum was shaped like a bell curve, with most people milling around and rubbing shoulders somewhere toward the middle.

My basic attitudes and beliefs haven’t changed all that much. I still think people are more important that things—including banks, businesses, and corporations—and that collective entities should serve the needs and respect the rights of real flesh-and-blood human beings. I believe that every human being has fundamental, inalienable rights that should be protected at all costs. But like General Colin Powell—a Republican whom I very much respect—I find that I although I’ve stayed pretty much in one place, America has shifted to the right.

Along with this rightward shift have come other changes that have greatly altered the public discourse. One obvious one is the greatly expanded role of the media in shaping people’s attitudes and values. It’s so easy these days for people to punch a button or turn a dial and get 24-hour reinforcement of what they already believe—or what powerful and skillful special interests want them to believe. A related issue is the rise of libertarianism, which in a way is a product of new media technology, as well: libertarians convene mostly on the Internet. One result of all this is that most of what passes for political discussion these days is really the right talking to the right, the left to the left, and libertarians to libertarians—all parties thereby simply getting more entrenched in their own belief systems.

The rise of libertarianism has changed the American political landscape in more ways than one. Although relatively few in number, libertarians are often smart, well-educated, and influential. Individualists by nature, they tend to view government as a problem—at best, an infringement on individual liberties. Libertarians like to view themselves as being above the fray—neither Democrat nor Republican, neither left nor right. However, like it or not, their anti-government stance ends up greatly supporting the interests of the right, which for different reasons, has a vested interest in limiting the power of government. Thus we have the unholy alliance that’s become known as the Tea Party movement. (I must admit to getting a good deal of amusement out of watching right-wing leaders try to steer that movement—a task that will inevitably be analogous to herding cats.)

Finally, the relationship of Americans to their government has been greatly impacted by the unprecedented involvement of churches in matters of state. Roe v. Wade gave the right a chance to harness the power of the pulpit, using abortion to get churches to weigh in on political matters of all types, often endorsing candidates who profess to be “pro-life”—regardless of whether they know a damn thing about anything else. Thus we’ve had two generations in which a healthy percentage of voters have marched off on election days to cast their votes the way their priest or pastor said they should—completely overlooking the facts that 1) no one person has the power to change the law and 2) morality has many aspects. It’s nothing short of a miracle that the whole complex business of health reform didn’t get mired down because of the essentially unrelated issue of abortion.

Thus, the media, libertarians, and the churches are among those who have, albeit sometimes unwittingly, contributed to the rightward movement of the Republican Party—a movement that has many observers wondering aloud whether there are any “moderate” Republicans left in public service. Oh, of course there are also extremists on the right—those who habitually criticize the president for not “going far enough” on issues from health care to gay rights—but they are relatively few. Most democrats today are what used to be called moderates, and most Republicans are what we used to call extremists.

The biggest change in the American landscape in my lifetime has been the shift from respectful, if sometimes spirited, dialogue to a public discourse characterized by rage and contempt. Perhaps that’s because we’ve been a long time without a war of the kind in which the enemy was clearly and unmistakably evil and the objective was saving America from the invasion of foreign powers. (Terrorists succeed in killing a few Americans at a time, but never have they posed a threat of total annihilation or a hostile takeover of the country.)

As a culture, America tends to be pretty feisty. When aroused and focused on a common enemy, as we were during World War II, we’re a force to be reckoned with. But could it be that in times of relative peace with our neighbors, we tend to become the sleeping dragon that, in its restlessness, devours its own tail? Perhaps as a nation, we’re sort of like a hyperactive child in search of any kind of distraction. Perhaps we need to grow up, set lofty goals, work on developing our true potential, and learn to cope with peace.

15 comments:

The Tarquin said...

One thing that I think most people are missing about the current state of politics is that the majority of the people supporting non-Democrat candidates are not supportive of the Republican party as such. It's an unfortunate truth that the majority of candidates will run either as Ds or Rs regardless of their political beliefs.

That's because "Democrat" and "Republican" are politically meaningless words these days. They only represent one of two giant cohorts which are trying to consolidate power for themselves and their donors. So the Ds are messing things up right now, so people swing to the Rs.

What the Republicans fail to grasp, though, is that this is not some great revival of the Party. This is a motley coalition of classical conservatives, neo conservatives, Republican party loyalists, and any number of third-way political believers lining up against certain trends in American politics. If the Republicans continue these policies or anything substantially like them, they will see their support disappear overnight.

It's at times like this that I think of my friend Chutch Hutchison's definition for politics. "Politics - from the Greek 'poly' meaning many, and 'ticks' referring to blood-sucking insects."

Sue said...

Oh, Jane, do you really think that the history of this country has been one of " respectful, if sometimes spirited, dialogue"? You're old enough that you should remember the anti-Vietnam-War protests of the 60s and early 70s. In our grandparents' day there was a lot of violence surrounding the question of Prohibition; women did not win the right to vote through " respectful, if sometimes spirited, dialogue", and the Civil War was anything but. Even during the Revolutionary War there were two sides -- which sometimes divided families. You seem to have a view of the past that's more rooted in fantasy than in reality.

As for the churches telling people how to vote -- that's nothing new either. Look at the Civil Rights movement, for example. And maybe if, as you say, abortion isn't a health issue, the churches, as proponents of morality, really do have a valid place in that argument.

Your speech and debate experience should have taught you to research your facts better than the last few postings indicate. It should also have taught you that there were legitimate arguments to more than one side of an issue and that rational people could hold either side. You're denying that legitimate difference of opinion to anyone who disagrees with you by classing them as extremists, radicals, "teapartyers" or whatever other derogatory label you can come up with.

Yesterday you said "But I believe that as Americans, it's our moral and civic responsibility to try to understand and, when possible, find some middle ground." Maybe you should start with yourself.

楊偉誠 said...
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Citizen Jane said...

Sue,

The obstructionism of the minority party is unprecedented:

http://thehill.com/homenews/house/83059-senate-sitting-on-290-house-bills

The Republicans' use of the filibuster to support obstructionism is unique in American history:

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/01/the-rise-of-cloture-how-gop-filibuster-threats-have-changed-the-senate.php

Many people with memories longer than mine, including the first President Bush, have remarked on the unprecedented lack of civility among America's so-called leaders, especially (although not exclusively) on the right:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/how_long_can_gop_leaders_ignore_tea_party_death_threats_20100325/P100

Until the last two decades, routine use of misinformation, outright lies, and manipulation of public sentiment have never been elevated to an art or routinely used and abused by a major political party.

A skillful debater can argue either side of an issue. However, to pretend that there's no difference between the two sides when lives are at stake (as in health care) or when issues can impact the lives of generations that come after us (as in environmental and economic issues) is immoral and irresponsible.

There's also a difference between honestly sharing ideas and just being argumentative.

Six said...

You said that those with libertarian leanings tend to support the right... it's funny though, I have always considered myself more of a liberal. Among my most conservative friends I am seen as any other liberal hippy (which I am cool with). Actually the term I remember being called often by the 'right' was 'losertarian'. Stossel has a great piece today on being the true liberals. It's worth a read.

You said that you believe, "that every human being has fundamental, inalienable rights that should be protected at all costs." Me too! In fact, that is the absolute CORE of what I believe, and it is at the true root of 'liberalism'. We agree! So let's get started on protecting those rights from the worst offender... (and I will give you a clue, it's not Walmart)

So if 'greatly supporting the efforts of the right' include: Opposing both wars, being in favor of a womans right over her own body, supporting equal rights for homosexuals, arguing that the drug laws are a worse problem than the drugs themselves, opposing corporate subsidies, and believing that we would be better off if we made it easier for more immigrants to come here and treated them with a little more respect and dignity. I was very opposed to expanded government sponsorship of 'faith based programs', 'no child left behind' and the expansion of the 'war on terror' (strangely come to think of it, those are all things mentioned above Obama has proven to be incredibly weak on...). I also think that one of the large reasons 'white collar crime' is treated so softly and rarely prosecuted as much or as harshly is because it's committed mostly by... whites! - our law enforcement, law enforcement dollars and laws are all set up to where the poorest (and darker) among us suffer the most injustice by it. All that and I tend to believe the ACLU generally gets it right more of often than they get it wrong. But you're right, those of us 'libertarians' are just greatly supporting the efforts of the 'right'.

Perhaps are you just caught up in your emotions in your hatred for anything opposed to democrats?

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Six!

One of the many things I've learned from readers of this blog is a profound respect for the moral integrity and rational positions of libertarians. We do agree in principle on so many things (including most of the items on your list). We disagree mostly about process.

Here's my take: Government is the only tool we have to balance the powers of big business and industry--in other words, of the very, very rich--over the lives of those real, flesh-and-blood individuals. By opting out of the political process and supporting anti-government campaigns (like the Tea Party movement) when a good, honest Democrat is in office, libertarians are helping the other side.

Things aren't perfect in America. However, we're engaged in one war, not two, and it least it's against the people who actually attacked us on our soil. More people will be able to afford the health care they need. The imminent collapse of the economy has been avoided, much as we may need to have deep discussions about how to move forward from here. Gay rights are at least being acknowledged, if not yet really supported, at the highest level. After yesterday, there will be fewer nuclear weapons in the world and less chance for nuclear material to fall into the wrong hands. And torture is no longer public policy in America.

My feeling is that an imperfect tool is better than no tool at all. Digging with a short shovel is better than digging your hands. I think that people with conscience and a true grip on reality (which includes most of the libertarians I know) should support the party and the president who's making a difference--albeit not all the difference we'd like to see. Opposing the current government is, inevitably, as things stand, supporting the party of Bush and Cheney.

Idna said...

Jane, I believe the following statement you made is the absolute core issue that divides right&left, Dems&GOP, you & me and several of your readers. You say, "Government is the only tool we have to balance the powers of big business and industry."

I couldn't disagree more! Please read an article by Star Parker, a young black woman who escaped the bondage of the welfare state. She says, "Instead of solving economic problems, government welfare socialism created monstrous moral and spiritual problems. The kind of problems that are inevitable when individuals turn responsibility for their lives over to others."

It's important to listen to people who have "been there" and to look at the facts about the failures of "do-good" programs that actually do the intended opposite and keep people poor and dependent.

Here's Ms. Parker's article. The Government Plantation Forever?

I hope you read it.

Six said...

Jane said, "Government is the only tool we have to balance the powers of big business and industry."

Actually I believe that more often than not Government is the TOOL OF BIG BUSINESS and industry. Lobbyist use the government to set barriers to entry for thier competition and use it to protect thier profit margins. Additionally, the whole concept of 'too big to fail' is specifically a result of government intervening in to the markets trying to impose a political agenda rather than allowing the markets to function properly.

The economic collapse you revere government for saving us from was contributed most greatly BY the government. Fannie/Freddie are Government Sponsored Entities... it was precisely because of the implied guarantee of thier relationship to the government and its ability to leverage the US taxpayer on top of the manipulation of them to make money excessively easy to access that on top of banking regulations (set by the Federal government) that resulted in firms taking excessive risk (because of the assumption that no matter what the government would stand behind Fannie and Freddie - which they did) that we wound up in a situation where we ended up with 'too big to fail'. Understanding government encouragement of 'everyone should be a homeowner', and then heavily subsidizing at taxpayer expense (from mortgage tax deductions, artificially cheap money, implied guarantees, and punative regulatory policy against banks not meeting certain lending standards to low income borrowers, etc) everything related to that industry is essential to understanding why our economy froze like it did. The two greatest crimes not talked about enough are the bailouts of Fannie/Freddie and AIG - in fact, I think the legislators who have been in charge of overseeing the management of those should be facing the same civil fraud charges as Ken Lewis.

So what you see as the solution, I see as the cause... which by the way has NOT been fixed and will be doomed to repeat itself. In fact, I predict the next 'too big to fail' Welfare corporations will be the health insurance companies who have been mandated to provide insurance and dictated the terms in which they must do so. I predict that inside the next decade we will see insurance companies recieve massive subsidies to keep thier premiums artificially low and leading to either bailed out or outright acquired (i.e. GM) by the Federal Government if not made the next generation of 'GSE's... all at a very heavy taxpayer expense much greater than what is being projected. We would have been MUCH better off if we just simply would have expanded Medicare coverage (the least of the bad options in my opinion).

For much of young life I was very 'liberal'... it wasn't until I got in to the world of working with small and middle sized businesses that I really began to see the often times awfuly negative effects of Government Regulation interfering with the market place resulting in that picking the winners and losers as opposed to allowing the Free Market to pick.

Six said...

Keep in mind, government subsidies putting barriers to entry to competition do not always come in the form of a check directly to the business (although it often does!). Subsidies from the government can be something such as a limiting quota and huge tariff on sugar subsidies is in effect a tax payer-funded subsidy to corn growers (high-fructose corn syrup in higher demand because of artificially increased sugar prices). See how that works? Government has picked the winner at taxpayer expense - and consumer expense to benefit the corn farmers.

Another example is the tremendous subsidy paid to US Cotton growers (endorsed by Obama) of more than a billion dollars (and found to be illegal according to the WTO) while simultaneously putting tariffs on imported cotton. And actually the administrations new 'deal' with Brazil in order to get them not to slap us with a nearly BILLION dollar tariff on US imported cotton to them we are actually paying them a $150 million dollar bribe to thier cotton growers (not the US taxpayer gets to subsidize the US cotton grower AND Brazillian cotton growers!) Additionally, in exchange, we are going to scratch thier back by making it easier for them to import thier beef by declaring some parts of the country 'disease free' (And you thought those descions were made by scientists on an objective basis - HA!). Of course, the US taxpayer suffers as a result in both higher prices and higher taxes... but it does not suffer as much as the African countries that we have shoved out of the way by our unfair trade policies (specifically with cotton). That's not a tool balancing the power of big business, that's a tool OF big business.

And your last line... "Opposing the current government is, inevitably, as things stand, supporting the party of Bush and Cheney." That sounds eerily similar to, "if you are not with us, then you are against us" mentality that dominated the Bush years that upset liberals so badly...

Citizen Jane said...

Six, your remarks about trade policies lead me back to my main gripe about libertarians: people who are smart, well-informed, and capable of rational thinking should participate in this democracy to help improve the balance between government and big business.

As for the "with us or agin' us" business, hostile anti-government rhetoric right now inevitably plays into the hands of the extreme right, who wish to preserve all the privileges of the rich by being anti-everything during a Democratic administration. People who don't know the difference (most people, including pollsters) mistake libertarian rhetoric for pro-Republican rhetoric.

I think libertarians who turn out for Tea Parties should either shut up or be much more nuanced in their approach to informing people about the real basis of their objections to government.

Bush ≠ Obama.

Six said...

And by 'participate' you mean pick either Republicans or Democrats?

You can go pound sand with that one. I am plenty involved, much more-so than most, from the simple things like being in a tax bracket where I actually pay income taxes, to writing my representatives, voting, volunteering in the community for private charity, and going to political events (from speaking arrangements to rallies to full blown protests - everything from gay rights demonstrations to anti-war protests). But hitching my wagon to the Republicans or Democrats is no different than a battered woman going back to her abuser again and again. Once you are able to break free and you look back, you wonder what the hell you were ever thinking in staying after that first time getting walloped. It doesn't have to be this way.

Citizen Jane said...

When libertarians attend right-wing Republican conventions and Tea Parties, they're throwing in their lot with the Party of No. There are Independents in Congress, so why doesn't Ron Paul call himself an Independent or a Libertarian? Why does that libertarian leader's name appear in lists with the likes of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachmann?

If a Libertarian Party were the real counterbalance to the Democratic Party, this would be a very different country. But as things stand now, libertarians have simply put their thumb on the Republican scale.

I think libertarians need to distinguish themselves from Republicans by emphasizing what they're for, not what they're against.

The Tarquin said...

I second Six's last comment. Both parties have a long history of spitting on the libertarian project.

"...people who are smart, well-informed, and capable of rational thinking should participate in this democracy to help improve the balance between government and big business."

To a libertarian, this is pretty much a false dichotomy. The issue isn't some balance between government and the private sector, the issue is that the government has a small, well-defined job to do. Both major parties, however, seem to want to expand the role of government indefinitely.

An analogy: most (not all) libertarians see the government as something like a janitor. The Democrats think that the janitor should also perform thoracic surgery. The Republicans think the janitor should instead be a master of espionage.

Libertarian's just want the janitor to be a janitor.

So to say we need to throw in behind one party or the other is asking us which of two equally absurd options we want.

As for the (totally legitimate) question of why a lot of libertarians are Republicans? Beats me. My best guess is that they're still hungover from the days of Barry Goldwater when the Republicans at least threw libertarians a bone.

(Dear fellow libertarians: the Republican party hasn't been the party of liberty and small government for several decades now. Please stop rewarding their asinine anti-rights machinations!)

The fact of the matter is, there isn't a major party that is at all a good option for libertarians. Until (well, unless) one of the major parties drastically changes its approach to politics, then the future of the libertarian project in America lies outside the mainstream.

Six said...

I am with you Tarquin - I don't get why so many libertarian-leaning people tend to go back to the Republicans over and over. Honestly the hard-core, conservative-christian-fundamentalist-right scare me a hell of a lot more than the enviro-wacko, gvt-union-loving, anti-capitalist left. Part of it is that the Republican rhetoric in the last 30 years or so has been a little more liberty-sounding, but of course that's just style without substance...

Perhaps it is because the party in minority, whomever that happens to be, seems to be the one fighting for holding back the government afraid of what the party in power is doing - it's only then they want to limit government (until it is them controlling it again).

As for Jane's comment about Paul - my guess is that because he is in Texas. 'Dr. No' probably would say that the 'ideal' of the Republican party is that centered on 'conserving' the individual's rights or 'conserving' the intent of the Constitution and it is just that the party for the most part has lost it's way (I disagree, I think 'conservatives' are bent on 'conserving' a false 1950s image of what a 'great' Christian-know-your-place the USA used to be before the 'dirty hippies', 'feminists' and ASI am with you Tarquin - I don't get why so many libertarian-leaning people tend to go back to the Republicans over and over. Honestly the hard-core, conservative-christian-fundamentalist-right scare me a hell of a lot more than the enviro-wacko, gvt-union-loving, anti-capitalist left. Part of it is that the Republican rhetoric in the last 30 years or so has been a little more liberty-sounding, but of course that's just style without substance...

Perhaps it is because the party in minority, whomever that happens to be, seems to be the one fighting for holding back the government afraid of what the party in power is doing - it's only then they want to limit government (until it is them controlling it again).

As for Jane's comment about Paul - my guess is that because he is in Texas. 'Dr. No' probably would say that the 'ideal' of the Republican party is that centered on 'conserving' the individual's rights or 'conserving' the intent of the Constitution and it is just that the party for the most part has lost it's way (I disagree, I think 'conservatives' are bent on 'conserving' a false 1950s image of what a 'great' Christian-know-your-place the USA used to be before the hippies and 'Afirmative Action' activists ruined things). That and Paul is a bit of a loon so I am not sure what goes on his mind. I think deep down he does not like immigrants, homosexuals and he is opposed to abortions and that manifests itself from time to time. Those things tend to resonate in Republican/'conservative' circles - particularly in Texas.

However, if you are comparing lists of crack-pot politicians, I will see your Romney, Palin, Bachman and raise you McKinney, Rangle, and Frank. Your man shares affiliation with those clowns... I don't really get your point took root). That and Paul is a bit of a loon so I am not sure what goes on his mind. I think deep down he does not like immigrants, homosexuals and he is opposed to abortions and that manifests itself from time to time. Those things tend to resonate in Republican/'conservative' circles - particularly in Texas.

However, if you are comparing lists of crack-pot politicians, I will see your Romney, Palin, Bachman and raise you McKinney, Rangle, and Frank. Your man shares affiliation with those clowns... I don't really get your point?

Six said...

Holy smokeys! I don't know what happened to my comment there... weird. I guess that is what I get for not looking in 'preview'! Ha! Here is the way it was meant to read:

I am with you Tarquin - I don't get why so many libertarian-leaning people tend to go back to the Republicans over and over. Honestly the hard-core, conservative-christian-fundamentalist-right scare me a hell of a lot more than the enviro-wacko, gvt-union-loving, anti-capitalist left. Part of it is that the Republican rhetoric in the last 30 years or so has been a little more liberty-sounding, but of course that's just style without substance...

Perhaps it is because the party in minority, whomever that happens to be, seems to be the one fighting for holding back the government afraid of what the party in power is doing - it's only then they want to limit government (until it is them controlling it again).

As for Jane's comment about Paul - my guess is that because he is in Texas. 'Dr. No' probably would say that the 'ideal' of the Republican party is that centered on 'conserving' the individual's rights or 'conserving' the intent of the Constitution and it is just that the party for the most part has lost it's way (I disagree, I think 'conservatives' are bent on 'conserving' a false 1950s image of what a 'great' Christian-know-your-place the USA used to be before the 'dirty hippies', 'feminists' and'Afirmative Action' activists ruined things). That and Paul is a bit of a loon so I am not sure what goes on his mind. I think deep down he does not like immigrants, homosexuals and he is opposed to abortions and that manifests itself from time to time. Those things tend to resonate in Republican/'conservative' circles - particularly in Texas.

However, if you are comparing lists of crack-pot politicians, I will see your Romney, Palin, Bachman and raise you McKinney, Rangle, and Frank. Your man shares affiliation with those clowns... I don't really get your point took root). That and Paul is a bit of a loon so I am not sure what goes on his mind. I think deep down he does not like immigrants, homosexuals and he is opposed to abortions and that manifests itself from time to time. Those things tend to resonate in Republican/'conservative' circles - particularly in Texas.