<$BlogRSDUrl$>

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What's a liberal? 

Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, takes a shot at defining the American Liberal in today's Chicago Tribune. All things considered, Stone does a good job of defining modern liberalism. But the tone of his comments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of conservative values. Editorial comments in italics:

1. Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others. This is at the very heart of liberalism. Liberals understand, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once observed, that "time has upset many fighting faiths." Liberals are skeptical of censorship and celebrate free and open debate. The last sentence disqualifies many of the folks who call themselves liberals today. Check recent news out of Columbia University for an example of what I mean.

2. Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support the civil rights movement, affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment and the rights of gays and lesbians. (Note that a conflict between propositions 1 and 2 leads to divisions among liberals on issues like pornography and hate speech.) I would note that for many liberals, conservatives represent an exception to their policy of tolerance and respect toward difference. I again point to the Columbia link for an example, but could list many many more.

3. Liberals believe individuals have a right and a responsibility to participate in public debate. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion expansion of the franchise; the elimination of obstacles to voting; "one person, one vote;" limits on partisan gerrymandering; campaign-finance reform; and a more vibrant freedom of speech. They believe, with Justice Louis Brandeis, that "the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people." Liberals, at least those in Congress, have been as guilty of partisan gerrymandering as conservatives; they just haven't had a chance to do it since losing power in 1994. To say otherwise is BS.

4. Liberals believe "we the people" are the governors and not the subjects of government, and that government must treat each person with that in mind. It is liberals who have defended and continue to defend the freedom of the press to investigate and challenge the government, the protection of individual privacy from overbearing government monitoring, and the right of individuals to reproductive freedom. (Note that libertarians, often thought of as "conservatives," share this value with liberals.)

5. Liberals believe government must respect and affirmatively safeguard the liberty, equality and dignity of each individual. It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion the rights of racial, religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, persons accused of crime and the outcasts of society. It is liberals who have insisted on the right to counsel, a broad application of the right to due process of law and the principle of equal protection for all people. I think this would be more accurate of the prevailing view if it said "It is liberals who have championed and continue to champion special rights for racial, religious and ethnic minorities," since this is really the key difference between liberals and conservatives on this issue. No one is trying to take away the rights of minorities.

6. Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare." This is not controversial. It is the definition of "less fortunate" and "neediest" that is and has been a key point of liberal/conservative disagreement. Liberals tend to define those terms far more broadly than conservatives.

7. Liberals believe government should never act on the basis of sectarian faith. It is liberals who have opposed and continue to oppose school prayer and the teaching of creationism in public schools and who support government funding for stem-cell research, the rights of gays and lesbians and the freedom of choice for women.

8. Liberals believe courts have a special responsibility to protect individual liberties. It is principally liberal judges and justices who have preserved and continue to preserve freedom of expression, individual privacy, freedom of religion and due process of law. (Conservative judges and justices more often wield judicial authority to protect property rights and the interests of corporations, commercial advertisers and the wealthy.) Frankly I find it offensive, but not surprising, that Stone does not consider property rights an individual liberty. Indeed, there is no liberty without property rights.

9. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, for without such protection liberalism is impossible. This, of course, is less a tenet of liberalism than a reply to those who attack liberalism. The accusation that liberals are unwilling to protect the nation from internal and external dangers is false. Because liberals respect competing values, such as procedural fairness and individual dignity, they weigh more carefully particular exercises of government power (such as the use of secret evidence, hearsay and torture), but they are no less willing to use government authority in other forms (such as expanded police forces and international diplomacy) to protect the nation and its citizens.

10. Liberals believe government must protect the safety and security of the people, without unnecessarily sacrificing constitutional values. It is liberals who have demanded and continue to demand legal protections to avoid the conviction of innocent people in the criminal justice system, reasonable restraints on government surveillance of American citizens, and fair procedures to ensure that alleged enemy combatants are in fact enemy combatants. Liberals adhere to the view expressed by Brandeis some 80 years ago: "Those who won our independence ... did not exalt order at the cost of liberty." I think the purpose of the entire list is to set up the straw man that we have endured the "unnecessary sacrifice of constitutional values." Liberals keep beating this drum, but there is little evidence that this has occurred. Feedom of speech, for liberals anyway, has never been more protected.

A list of ten things that define a conservative would actually look quite similar to this, but with some subtle changes. I note, for example, the complete absence of the term "personal responsibility" in Stone's list. I'm not suggesting that Stone or other liberals do not recognize its value, but it does not seem to be one of liberalism's core values. It is a concept that should be prominent in any list defining a conservative. I also note that there really is no statement on foreign policy here, despite the feeble attempt to sound tough on security in points 9 and 10. Of course there is profound disagreement in conservative circles on foreign policy issues as well, so perhaps a single liberal or conservative viewpoint is not feasible.

Further comments are welcomed, naturally.

35 Comments:

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Wed Oct 11, 11:07:00 AM:

CV, I am struck by the areas of overlap between this list of liberal tenets and what might appear, perhaps with different emphasis and strategic implications, on a similar conservative list as you suggest. This is why I find the very categories of liberal and conservative needlessly polarizing and dogmatic. Particularly when I hear those who might fall by default in one camp or the other looking for a third political path that is strong on defense and more open to difference on social issues. Could it be that these ideas may fall in that same area of overlap?  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Wed Oct 11, 11:49:00 AM:

GreenmanTim: I really, really wish there were such a third political path such as you describe. Unfortunately I don't see it happening any time soon.

CV: While I agree that if liberals and conservatives would make a list of their axioms, the list would look similar, I don't really understand the point of some of your criticisms in italics, since they seem to amount to saying, "look, some of the people who call themselves liberals are hypocrites!" Well, duh. Stupid liberals exist! Surprise! In every group there exist those who do not practice what they preach.

Do you imagine that conservatives are somehow innately less hypocritical? Do you really doubt that, once you made a similar list of conservative principles, I would not be able to find public persons who call themselves conservatives who are disqualified each by one of the points in turn?  

By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Oct 11, 12:13:00 PM:

Phrizz,

I didn't call anyone a hypocrite, since I know Wood does not speak for anyone but himself. I simply added commentary to stimulate discussion, so thanks for chiming in.

No, I wouldn't expect a conservative list to be idealogically pure. I'd be happy to assist in the deconstruction of said list, should one appear.

In most cases I would call myself a conservative if forced to define myself with one word, but would clearly deviate from, say, the Republican party platform in many instances. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite in your eyes, but I don't think so. It just means I believe what I believe.

Unlike my brother TH I will spare you a detailed list of "all my lefty thoughts" but will give a couple of examples to illustrate my point. For instance, I am prochoice for women (as well as for schools), feel strongly that the drug war is a colossal waste of resources and should be abandoned, and think the government should stay out of the bedroom. I guess what makes me "conservative" is that I favor equal rights over special rights, believe in free trade that goes in both directions, think Americans are generally overtaxed with not enough to show for it, and favor an agressive foreign policy (and probably an abolition of the UN). There are many "conservatives" who would no doubt take issue with each of these positions.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Wed Oct 11, 12:38:00 PM:

It's funny to me that people put out lists of purported values (which as CV mentions aren't always the whole truth). Is it to boslter the brand and remind people "this is what we're supposed to be, now everyone be it"? Or is it just marketing? I don't see the need for such lists. How about everyone just keep their eyes open, judge for themselves, and try to vote for people who best represent them?

One gripe. It's kind of a mote/eye thing. If you're going to hold liberals' feet to the fire (repeatedly) over an incident with student protesters, then you should be careful invoking "personal responsibility" as a consevative value. I think there are plenty of cases where conservatives have failed to display personal responsibility. We invaded Iraq because of WMDs that didn't exist: that was bad intelligence. What was in the vial that Powell brought to the UN? Where are the mobile weapons labs? More bad intelligence. Massive deficts, outsourcing, anything else financial: 9/11. 9/11 itself: Clinton and Sandy Berger. Katrina/Brownie/levies/ineptitude: that was unpredicatble (despite being on FEMA's top 3 potential distasters in 2000). Duke Cunningham took personal responsibility for corruption after he was caught red-handed, but never came clean about the hooker parties. Foley took responsibility by blaming his abuse of power on alcholism and childhood abuse. DeLay hasn't taken personal responsibility, but that's because it's just a witch hunt. The executive hid it's numerous connections to Abrhamoff (and even hid photos) until the storm could be weathered enough to let an underling (Ralston) go quietly. Bush never fired anyone for leaks in the spy scandal, despite claims he would. Rumsfeld is still running the Iraq war despite it's lackluster preformance. Limbaugh doesn't take personal responsibility for using his housekeeper to score drugs: if he did he'd go to jail where he's claimed drug addicts belong. O'Rielly doesn't take personal responsibility for sexually harassing a coworker: that was just a greedy wench trying to make a buck. One Republican canditate for re-election owns up to having a mistress, but not to strangling her. I could go on, but that should be enough to make my point.

And here it is: Maybe a student organization is evidence liberals aren't following their ideals (at least to the extent that the students speak for liberals). But one can certainly argue a lack of personal responisbility throughout the conservative establishment. It seems to me that these "core ideals" are 9 parts bull for every 1 part substance. I think people buy into the promotion mostly to justify how right they were to side with group X. What everyone really ought to do is pay attention and look for individual merits.  

By Blogger RPD, at Wed Oct 11, 12:39:00 PM:

GT: It looks to me like the "overlap" you see is what in the authors mind is what seperates conservatives and liberals. Therefore if "Liberals believe individuals should be tolerant and respectful of difference." then the implication is that conservatives don't believe this.

This is the kind of thing that really grates coming from people like Stone.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Wed Oct 11, 12:49:00 PM:

CV: I suppose "hypocrisy" was too strong - what I meant was that it is unfair to suppose that people who call themselves "liberals" (or "conservatives" for that matter) support the actions of everyone else who labels themselves that way. I, as well as most other smart liberals, in no way condone how the Columbia students shouted down that speaker - so why is it fair to say that for some liberals, "conservatives represent an exception to their policy of tolerance and respect toward difference?" Wouldn't it be more fair to say instead that the Columbia students et al. are bad liberals?  

By Blogger DEC, at Wed Oct 11, 01:51:00 PM:

To me, the real divide is between idealists and nonidealists, not between liberals and conservatives.

According to a survey on styles on thinking, idealists make up about 42 percent of America's population. President Bush and Jimmy Carter are both idealists. They are both dreamers with social-engineering tendencies.

Unfortunately, idealists focus too much on the big picture. They are lousy at implementation.

You can see an overview on styles of thinking at:

http://sern.ucalgary.ca/courses/seng/693/W98/alang/minor.html#Styles  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 02:01:00 PM:

Interesting list. Not too bad, as far as it goes.

One problem I have, as Tim sort of suggested, is that I have my positions and I hold them often for BOTH "conservative" and "Liberal" reasons.

For instance, I support gov't assistance for the poor for the "liberal" reasoning that it is a good, humane thing to do. But I also support such assistance for the "conservative" reasoning that it is the fiscally responsible thing to do (ie, it's cheaper to nurture and educate a child than to prosecute, imprison and support the criminal).

I support environmental policies that encourage sustainable living because this is my Creator's world (is that a conservative or liberal reason?), because it is the fiscally and personally responsible thing to do (again, some of both conservative and liberal thinking, there) and because we ought to act prudently in regards to our future - with prudence being a conservative tenet.

So, I am just not sure how helpful the labels are.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 02:31:00 PM:

I would like to say that I reject the very first thing he says:

"Liberals believe individuals should doubt their own truths and consider fairly and open-mindedly the truths of others."

How could you do anything if you doubted your own truths? Is that even a reasonable statement? Well, I don't know, maybe we shouldn't doubt our own truths... It's a self-defeating statement.

Yes, liberals value being open-minded but that doesn't have to come at the cost of our own values and beliefs.  

By Anonymous From Right to Left, at Wed Oct 11, 02:32:00 PM:

I like the definition. It makes it easier to marginalize the far-left. I like these liberals and most people who call themselves "conservative." I am libertarian. As proof of my more conservative bona-fides, I also was President of my law school's Federalist Society. Anything that helps define liberals as lovers of liberty will help us point out that leftists are haters of liberty. Let's marginalize those people at Columbia by calling them "leftists" and yanking the proud liberal heritage from under their feet. We can work with liberals but we cannot work with leftists. Let's take the definition a sort people into the fringe left with it.  

By Anonymous From Right to Left, at Wed Oct 11, 02:32:00 PM:

I like the definition. It makes it easier to marginalize the far-left. I like these liberals and most people who call themselves "conservative." I am libertarian. As proof of my more conservative bona-fides, I also was President of my law school's Federalist Society. Anything that helps define liberals as lovers of liberty will help us point out that leftists are haters of liberty. Let's marginalize those people at Columbia by calling them "leftists" and yanking the proud liberal heritage from under their feet. We can work with liberals but we cannot work with leftists. Let's take the definition a sort people into the fringe left with it.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Oct 11, 02:35:00 PM:

I agree with Greenman Tim - I had the same reaction. But then I've always thought we believe mostly the same things and want *mostly* the same ends. We simply disagree on how best to get there :)  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Wed Oct 11, 02:51:00 PM:

So what you’re saying is a small group of violent extremists have hijacked this otherwise peaceful… wait a minute, I’ve heard that somewhere before…

Great post TH :)  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Oct 11, 03:54:00 PM:

Dan:

I think you have nailed one essential difference between many people who are, by temperment and belief, conservative and those who are, by temperment and belief, liberal. I really, really hate that bumpersticker that says, "Question Authority". My best friend, a liberal, has it on her fridge.

It really raises my hackles every time I see it though. I know her well enough to know she's not an asshat, but my son is a cop and my husband is in the military. Those "authorities" protect her. And while I dont' mind her "questioning" them, at the same time it is the relentless "questioning" of some liberals that amounts to silly, petty harrassment from people who (let's face it) haven't taken the time to understand the requirements of their jobs or the risks they face every day. And so they blithely throw obstacles in their way, never caring whether they may get them killed in the process.

I don't argue for a moment that citizens have a right to question. But some people take that to extremes and there is a mindset (exemplified by that "question your own beliefs") that won't let anything, ever, be settled and just becomes an endless force for anarchy.

I think that the counterpart to the criticism of conservatives as mindless rubberstamps for government is the sometimes legitimate criticism of some
leftists as mindless rubberstamps for what amounts to irresponsibility or anarchy.

There has to be a balance there somewhere in the middle for principled, reasoned discourse or society just can't sort out all the competing interests.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 04:19:00 PM:

Cassandra,

I think the whole Question Authority is as much - or more - a mindset (a good one, I'd say) of traditional conservatism as it is of liberals. It is the one area where traditionally we have agreed. It's just that conservatives tend to trust the gov't with trillions of dollars as long as it was invested in big bombs, while they've distrusted gov't to spend "only" billions of dollars on welfare. Conversely, liberals have NOT trusted gov't with the huge military/industrial complex and have trusted them with smaller amounts toward social programs.

My point is, again, that the labels are often less than helpful. Let's talk policy - and the reasons for them, not labels.

Cassandra said:
"I think that the counterpart to the criticism of conservatives as mindless rubberstamps for government is the sometimes legitimate criticism of some leftists as mindless rubberstamps for what amounts to irresponsibility or anarchy."

I would just like to offer that I see "conservatives" being as much about anarchy and irresponsibility as I see it in "liberals." It's not a condition of the label but rather the choice of a few from both sides.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Wed Oct 11, 04:21:00 PM:

Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society. It is liberals who maintain that a national community is like a family and that government exists in part to "promote the general welfare."

this is a serious issue for me. As a practical matter it is quite clear now that the government simply cannot effectively "help the less fortunate".

I watched the welfare system destroy poor families. It happened right before my very eyes. Well intentioned liberals spawned a program with the incentive package from hell then fought like the devil to keep it in place.

We are still reaping the bitter harvest of this misguided nonsense and the fact that "liberals" cling to this feel good intention while ignoring the results is an insult.
"General welfare" may mean a lot of things but it does NOT mean taking money from productive people and handing it to non productive people.

it would seem to me, in my wizened old age, that the government's fundamental responsibility is to insure a fair playing field and get the hell out of the way.

Forty years of this oh so well intentioned excersize of mythical government responsibility has drained the treasury and filled the prisons.

if the liberals truly believe this bologna then let them do what they demand of George Bush every day, let them admit that this was a serious mistake with grave multi generational consequences. Then maybe, just maybe, I'll give them some creds. Till then, it's all just socialism disguised as charity.

No thanks.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Wed Oct 11, 04:45:00 PM:

Cassandra: on a less serious note, did you ever watch the X-Files TV show?

I (and many of my liberal friends) *LOVED* that show. I'm a scientist so "The truth is out there" is pretty much my personal motto. And to me, anyway, unquestioned government authority is personified in the figure of the Smoking Man: a heartless creature, accountable to no one except his shadowy bosses who have a mysterious, sinister agenda for the country. He does unspeakable things to people in service of his masters (all the while making smoking look totally awesome and badass), but claims all the while that it is for the good of the country and mankind.

If I had a "Question Authority" sticker I'd put it on my fridge or my car simply because I believe that the most basic existential threat to the survival of our democracy is, "Who watches the watchers?"

I'd rather have too little Smoking Man than too much. Put another way, I am more afraid that our country might slide into a police state, than I am that it might slide into anarchy. Perhaps that would be the difference between me and my conservative evil twin.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 05:01:00 PM:

skip said:
"let them admit that this was a serious mistake with grave multi generational consequences" [about welfare]

Most folk - especially social workers - have said for a while now that many mistakes were made in administering and setting up welfare. And many things were done correctly. We no longer have families starving to death, very little abysmal poverty and this is a good thing.

What we (at least "conservative/liberals" like me) think is reasonable is to embrace the successes and correct the mistakes. For the most part, we have no problem at all if the private sector wants to step up and "solve" our poverty problems. We don't embrace gov't as the only or even the best solution.

But with the failure of the private sector to step up and end homelessness, malnutrition and other debilitating effects of poverty - effects that often or always cost us in one form or another - we advocate the fiscally responsible step of helping folk out of holes they've dug or been placed in.

And if you want to look at what REALLY drains the treasury, you have to look at programs like the military, road-building and the war on drugs/prison system.

I'll gladly trade you a 50% reduction in welfare (~$20 billion/year) for a 50% reduction in military expenditures (rapidly approaching $1 T-T-T-Trillion/year).  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Wed Oct 11, 05:57:00 PM:

Well Dan, let's talk about homelessness for a minute.

I lived in two cities that are quite clearly the homeless folks version of Mekkah: Tucson, Az and San Diego, CA.

having interacted extensively with these homeless folks I reached a startling conclusion.

their homelessness wasn't the result of some failure in the private sector, it was a life style choice these people made.

Yes, many of the homeless would, in an earlier era, be confined to state run mental institutions. And like the orphanages of bygone times I believe that this was the right approach.

but many, many of these people are quite capable of consent and simply chose a vagabond life. these folks have always been with us. My parents called them Smokies. Their parents called them bums, hoboes or vagrants.

What ever the term, they aren't victims of our selfish inattention. They are America's gypsies. They will take what we give and live a life of minimal effort. Help me to understand why that should result in a charge to the treasury.

"We" don't have a poverty problem Dan. We have a character problem.

As for embracing success, perhaps you could show me some successful government hand out programs. Section 8 is working so well here in Akron that the Mayor has launched a cordon and search effort to quell violence. yeah, that's success.

I have a friend who works as a county welfare case worker. her job is to manage a bewildering array of conflicting programs with foolish acronyms as titles while insuring, to the best of her ability, that the people who wind up living on our tax money are actually in need.

she's been at the job about two years now. It took her a total of six months to realize that the majority of her "client's" were simply jogging along from program to program stroking the system and living a life of minimal effort.

Perhaps I'm just too close to the detail on this to see much to celebrate as success. I'm not a social darwinist, but the programs have been destructive, very destructive.

As for the guns vs butter argument, well that's truly typical of the left's mindset. I am not calling you a leftist but I am pointing out that when it comes to priorities the left has their's on display.

How much of the federal and state tax revenue is allocated to "entittlements" Vs the military Dan? Ever taken a good hard look at that?

What does the military cost us in terms of percentage of GDP?

If the liberals can use the term "general welfare" to mean socialists snatches from productive people, why do they then ignore "common defense", a phrase from the self same document?

As for roads, well I drive a turnpike everyday. I PAY for the use of the road Dan. So do the 18 wheelers, cars, suv's and minivans on that road. What was that about the cost?

You used some high sounding words Dan. I particularly like "fiscally responsible". Again, from my perspective no government program is capable of this laudable goal.

It is not that I don't believe in heping others, it is that our government is simply NOT the best avenue for this help. It is too cumbersome, to easily subjected to malicious lawsuits with selfish ends and too unwilling to change.

You may not believe that private charity is effective, but we givers have been giving for a long, long time. And we will continue to do so, even while getting our asses taxed off so some bum can get a free meal at a shelter in a park in san diego that is now unusable by families who pay taxes.

yeah, let's celebrate success.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Wed Oct 11, 06:11:00 PM:

The cost of welfare VS the cost of defense is such a common source of disagreement that I did a little quick checking.

Here's the address to a heritage foundation brief on this topic:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/features/issues/issuearea/Defense.cfm

If you travel here you will note that around 1975, the amount we spend on entitlements exceeded the amount we spend on defense and the welfare folks have never looked back.

current cost of major entitlements is hovering at around 8% of GDP, while Defense spending is at 3.9% of GDP.

so what was that about trade offs?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Oct 11, 06:59:00 PM:

I am more afraid that our country might slide into a police state, than I am that it might slide into anarchy. Perhaps that would be the difference between me and my conservative evil twin.

I think that's a great insight, and probably what I was getting at.

I just am tired from writing all day so my comments inevitably aren't terribly well stated.

It's a bit of an overstatement to say I don't want authority to be questioned, ever, and I thought I made that fairly plain when I said I don't argue with the right of citizens to question authority.

What I was trying to get at was the "right" to take that to the illogical extreme, as in example #1, "question even your own beliefs".

As Dan pointed out (rightly, I thought) if you question even your OWN beliefs, HOW IN THE SAM HILL WILL YOU EVER GET ANYTHING DONE?

The obvious answer is that you won't. And this is what bothers a lot of conservatives. Some liberals assert this "questioning" function by exactly that straw man argument you just raised - the bogey man that we are about to slip into a police state.

Ummm.... where's the beef there buddy?

Evidence? Before I let you completely disrupt everything, interfere with society, cause a ruckus, I think your fellow citizens have a right to ask you to present a little thing called EVIDENCE that we are about to slip into a police state. You do not get to just say you have a "bad feeling" and the constantly harrass everyone around you and disrupt the legitimate activities of your class in school, the police, the government, etc.

Be reasonable (and I know you are). This is a question of competing rights, and your individual fears of a police state do not outweigh society's right to function smoothly. At some point you need to obey laws, cooperate with teachers, police, and other authority figures. You cannot endlessy buck the system just on the random theory that by so doing you personally are averting a potential police state.

Because if you do, I am going to assert my constitutional right to question you and call you a pain in the patootie :)  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Oct 11, 08:11:00 PM:

Oh dear.

I wouldn't expect a conservative list to be idealogically pure. I'd be happy to assist in the deconstruction of said list, should one appear.

I hadn't read all the comments until just now, Charlottesvillian.

I suppose if you want to poke holes, I tossed off (perhaps not the most elegant choice of words, but it may prove to be an accurate one) my own list of What It Means To Be A Conservative over lunch.

You're welcome to hack away at it.

I didn't give it an enormous amount of thought, so I don't pretend it's all that intellectually consistent. It was just something fun to do while eating my chicken, and it's probably more my personal manifesto than anything else.  

By Anonymous Purple Avenger, at Wed Oct 11, 09:39:00 PM:

If you're going to hold liberals' feet to the fire (repeatedly) over an incident with student protesters

Ummm, how about THIS CALL for "nuremburg trials" for people who think the standard explanations for global warming are unproven?

That's a pretty frigging chill breeze of Stalinist repression coming out of the left IMO.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 10:59:00 PM:

Skip offered the Rightwing Heritage Foundation as a "proof" that we are spending more on welfare than on the military. Here's another biased source:

http://www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm

that shows we spend roughly half our US budget on the military. A lot depends upon how you look at it, I suppose.

But factually, there was ~$25 billion budgeted for welfare in the budget last year and ~$420 billion budgeted for the military (Iraq Invasion and Afghanistan costs were added on to that to the tune of $100 billion this year - http://costofwar.com/numbers.html. This has added up to over $1 trillion - just for the Iraq Invasion in the few years we've been there: http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0110/dailyUpdate.html).

Of course, all of this is a bit off topic, which is what it means to be liberal. I'm saying that I AM fiscally responsible, and I'm considered liberal by many. I'm for spending money only when it is fiscally sound to do so.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Oct 11, 11:15:00 PM:

Skip also offered a bunch of anecdotal evidence as “proof” that welfare recipients were cheats. I’ve no doubt that you have seen many people taking advantage of the system.

What you probably haven’t seen is the number of people who received assistance, improved their lot and went on to be more ably living on their own. That’s the ideal behind assistance for those who – either due to circumstances or bad choices – are down and out. (And I, my wife and many of my friends have been involved in the social assistance field and have some experience from which to speak, which back up the studies that we’ve read.)

If we don’t assist them, then there still is a cost: We’d pay to deal with the problems of homelessness, the problems of under- and unemployment, children who go under- and uneducated due to parents who are unable to capably parent, lost taxes from unemployed adults, etc, etc, etc.

The reason this is a fiscal responsibility issue is because it is cheaper to assist people to keep them out of the traps of poverty than it is to pay for the results.

An example: It costs $10x to house inmates in prison. We can educate those inmates for $5x. Education leads to a reduction in recidivism, ultimately saving us money. Are you opposed to fiscally sound programs like this?

As a fiscally-responsible “liberal,” I support common sense assistance. Who could argue against such sound ideas?  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Oct 12, 01:19:00 AM:

Mr. Avenger,

That certainly is over-the-top, though perhaps not Stalinist (Nuremburg was a court after all). Again though, we have some nobody who says or does something stupid and suddenly liberals are Stalinists. I've never heard of Mr. Grist before. No doubt he's important if the magazine he works for got to interview a former Vice President. Still, I think maybe it's unfair to say he speaks for the liberal movement.

I can nut-pick too. Jerry Falwell blamed 9/11 on the gays and femminists, and he still gets all kinds of elite conservative loving. The difference is, he's not a nobody, but part of the establishment. I don't think he spoke for all conservatives when he said that. I could whip up a righteous fury over the chill breeze of theocracy coming from the Right, but what I really think is he's an idiot. Both sides have nuts. There's nothing to be gained from that argument.

Global warming is more Scopes than Nuremburg anyway.  

By Blogger Johnny Nobody, at Thu Oct 12, 07:20:00 AM:

My comments on your comments:

1-2: I agree than many who identify as liberal fail to live up to liberal ideals.

3. I agree. This seems to be an unfortunate consequence of our winner-take-all two-party system. I don't know of any way to counter it.

5. First of all, many are trying to take away the rights of minorities, particularly sexual minorities. People across the country are campaigning against gay adoption, for example. Second, the phrase "affirmative action" was coined in this context: Because of this country's history of opressing ethnic minorities and women, de jure equality is not enough; we must take action to bring the formerly opressed up to the level of opportunity enjoyed by white men in order to have de facto equality. It is, I think, debatable whether this constitutes "special" rights, or if that would even be wrong.

8. I agree with you 100%. People who want to call themselves liberal should be forced to study common law.

I think a large component of liberal foreign policy would be the use of diplomacy (and when absolutely necessary, force) in order to spread liberal values. For example, condemnation of the opression of women in Islamic and predominantly Muslim countries, and making American investors aware that capital investment in such countries is tacit endorsement of this opression; the libertarian in me would like to stop short of embargoes or excessive taxation.

Apropos personal responsibility, I think its absence is due to the fact that liberalism is at its heart social and concerned with the health of the group rather than any one individual; this is the reason liberals see great reason in taking money from the few very-rich and distributing it to the many poor. In contrast, I see conservatism as very individually concerned; conservatives tend to think of the group as made up of individuals, and the individuals each will make a contribution to the health of the group (if such a thing as the "health of the group" can be said to exist). This, as I see it, is the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives.




Cassandra: Questioning one's own beliefs means not to simply accept things at face value. It isn't the case that someone must be able to enumerate all her reasons for subscribing to a particular belief, but rather that she should seek to know those reasons. "I was brought up that way" isn't a very good reason to believe something, in my opinion.

Questioning authority means asking how the status quo came to be. Police and military personnel are symbols of authority, but it is authority itself which should be questioned. The question isn't "Why are the police arresting that guy?" but "Why is what he did against the law?" Not "Why is the soldier killing people in a foreign country?" but "Why are we at war in that country?" The opposite of questioning authority is accepting authority, and trusting that the people in the government who make decisions are doing a good job. "Questioning authority" doesn't involve any disrespect to law enforcement or the military.

Not that people aren't disrespectful of the police and military, but that they're missing the point.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Thu Oct 12, 10:56:00 AM:

Dan, you've missed my point, shocking, I know.

My point is that this:

Liberals believe government has a fundamental responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. It is liberals who have supported and continue to support government programs to improve health care, education, social security, job training and welfare for the neediest members of society.

Is just plain wrong.

It is NOT a statement of principle at all. Rather it is a description of a means to uphold a principle. If liberals truly believe that all people are called upon to help each other, they should say so.

This doesn't speak to that priniciple at all. This says that only the government's monopoly control of violence can force an otherwise indifferent population into doing what the liberals think is best.

Here's an example:

But with the failure of the private sector to step up and end homelessness, malnutrition and other debilitating effects of poverty - effects that often or always cost us in one form or another - we advocate the fiscally responsible step of helping folk out of holes they've dug or been placed in.

You advocate fiscally responsible steps? As in use of the power of the government to seperate me from my money so that it can be given to those who find themselves in holes they themselves have dug?

It rarely occurs to the well intentioned that indifference to the plight of others might in fact be the best response. Further, either we are free or we are not.

if the government can coerce money from me to be used as others, good intentions not withstanding, see fit then wherein lies our freedom?

this phrase is insulting Dan: "failure of the private sector to step up and end homelessness, malnutrition and other debilitating effects of poverty..."

While you flirt with the idea that much of this is a result of irresponsible behavior, you cling to the demand that this irresponsibility MUST inevitably mean that I pay.

If Tamiquaya decides to bear a child even though she is single and young, it is a tragedy to be sure. Yet since the inception of the welfare system the portion of black children born to unwed mothers has reached 70% of the total.

70% of black children are now born to unwed mothers. We have created our own monster Dan. We have successfully disconnected people from the consequences of their choices through the use of my money. How does that achieve your noble aims? Sadly, it doesn't.

You mention the cost of prisons. It is a sad testament to the failure of your ideas that our prisons are thus stuffed with men.

AFDC marginalized black men at a time when the struggle to overcome institutional racism gave them a good shot at joining the mainstream.

Women no longer needed the men, who could at that point only bring home in a paycheck a fraction of what the women could have for NOTHING by simply bearing multiple children.

Now we face an ongoing source of absolute pathos. Single black moms rearing male children with virtually no adult male involvement. We are perpetuating our ghettos Dan, that's the net result of your high minded words.

Boys need MEN in their lives. And where are these MEN Dan? They are in prison because there were no MEN in their young lives either.

Dan, all the platitudes in the world won't offset the fact that the liberals are using the power of the government to alienate the tax payers and destroy the poor.

the welfare reform movement that lead to clinton (finally) signing an overhaul bill was spurred on by angry taxpayers. Well there is still much to be angry about, we are still being hammered by the well intentioned who find the treasury simply too attractive to ignore.

It comes down to this: if the private sector won't do what you think they should, well the government is there to force them into such action. Is that really a liberal "principle?"?  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Thu Oct 12, 02:32:00 PM:

I still don't think you're getting my point. You said a lot, but let's try to boil it down a bit. You said:

"You advocate fiscally responsible steps? As in use of the power of the government to seperate me from my money so that it can be given to those who find themselves in holes they themselves have dug?"

And the answer is, Yes. I advocate fiscal responsibility. Answer me this: If it costs $2x to imprison people and $1x to educate, nurture them to keep them out of prison, would you support spending that $1x?

The point I'm making is that we WILL pay one way or another for poverty, environmental exploitation, etc. It's not that I'm advocating "taking people's money" and spending it on Program A and you're advocating NOT taking people's money at all. People's money WILL be taken, either through increased crime, environmental degradation, loss of jobs, loss of habitat, etc.

The question then, it seems to me, is: Is it wiser to invest in society in ways that are proactive (when we have a well-researched plan) or ought we only be forced to pay twice the amount (10x? 100x?) for bad results of NOT being pro-active?

Again, my foundational question is: Would you advocate paying $2x to imprison or $1x to prevent prison?

Once you've answered that question, we can get to details.  

By Blogger Johnny Nobody, at Thu Oct 12, 04:00:00 PM:

skipsailing, you seem to use the failures of a flawed policy to condemn the intention behind it. If AFDC had been designed better, it would not have had those ill effects. A hypothetical, yes, but we're talking about ideals, not policies. Unless it's fundamentally impossible to craft a good policy based on that ideal, which I don't believe is the case.


Dan: The problem is that the liberal politicians who design such programs don't understand economics. Well-intentioned politicians have been the ruin of many whom they wanted to help. It's not as simple as you make it out to be.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Oct 12, 04:28:00 PM:

Johnny:

I would absolutely accept questioning the reasons behind one's beliefs. In fact, I do that every day. That is why I write.

I do it endlessly. But that is, as I think you stated very well, not the same as endlessly questioning the means to ends we have to live with in the mean time. I thought that was a nice explanation, and one my friend with the refridgerator would also agree with. It is why we have been dear friends for more than 30 years, though she's a HUGE liberal and I'm a conservative. That doesn't faze either of us - we agree on the important things in life.

I find, however, that most people don't think that hard and say some amazing things, and that scares me sometimes. It's the unthinking questioners who bug me - the ones who do it just "because" or just because they can.

To me, they are no better than the ones who stubbornly refuse to ask questions, because neither one has their brain engaged - they only react, or push people's buttons for the pleasure of seeing a reaction.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Thu Oct 12, 04:50:00 PM:

Johnny said:
"Dan: The problem is that the liberal politicians who design such programs don't understand economics. Well-intentioned politicians have been the ruin of many whom they wanted to help. It's not as simple as you make it out to be."

And you are correct, of course. Nothing is ever simple. Especially when gov't gets involved - and the larger the gov't, the more complex the problems and solutions.

I nearly always am in favor of local solutions rather than larger ones.

My point is that we ARE making policy and those policies DO have costs. Sometimes (oftentimes), the costs are borne by individuals - many, many individuals. And oftentimes, those bearing the costs are those least able to campaign for better policies.

For instance, why do we place our more polluting factories in poorer neighborhoods? Simply because they have less political wherewithal to stop it. And so, the costs of pollution are borne by the poor, who get sick more, have higher medical bills and die younger.

Our policies have costs.

I'm simply advocating that where we can, it makes sense to make policy that is proactive in regards to cost, rather than reactive. This is not a simple thing in the big picture, but from individual policy and action, it needn't be unnecessarily complex.

The prison example is a good one. We know clearly that crimes and prisons have many costs associated with them. Costs that we must pay. We know from studies and common sense that education is one way to reduce crime, imprisonment and redivisim, and does so at a cheaper rate than the crime and punishment response.

Easily accomplished? Not always. Fiscally responsible? Yes.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Thu Oct 12, 04:52:00 PM:

Cassandra, you make a good point. I DO often question my own beliefs and it doesn't freeze me up. It is a way of enlightenment and learning.

I'll revise my original statment to say that sometimes it is a good thing to question one's own beliefs.  

By Blogger The Leading Wedge, at Sun Oct 15, 09:11:00 AM:

In answer to the question posed in the title:

A liberal is a person whose interests aren't at stake at the moment. - Willis Player  

By Blogger MB, at Sun Oct 15, 05:01:00 PM:

I've seen a lot of comments here about the merits, or lack thereof, of the liberal idea of helping people who are less fortunate. I'll paraphrase two primary conservative arguments below:

--Why should the government take my money and use it to help someone less fortunate than I am, but who hasn't bothered to study, work, save, etc., as I have?

--The current cost of major entitlements is hovering at around 8% of GDP, while Defense spending is at 3.9% of GDP.

My center-liberal answer would be that some functions of a just society have cost and scale issues that make them impractical or uneconomical to run in either the private or noprofit sectors. While it's common to react to that proposition by asking if we want some incompetent government official running a particular function, the fact is there are examples of federal, state and local programs in a variety of areas that have performed well. Those programs, of course, tend to behave a lot like private-sector organizations that perform well: they attract and retain highly qualified people, they are funded at levels that offer some hope of meeting stated objectives, and -- having learned from best practices in the private and nonprofit sectors over the last three decades -- they are CUSTOMER-DRIVEN.

Now I have a question for you: Why should the government take your money and give it to someone who is MORE fortunate than you?

Let's look at the forms that takes:

1. Corporate welfare. From farm-price supports that keep the profits rolling in to ADM to the no-bid contracts for Halliburton and KBR, not to mention the sops to the credit-card industry (did you know that half of all bankruptcy filings are the result of a catastrophic illness?) and big pharma.

Say what you want about pressure from Wall Street -- yes, it's real -- but we're also talking about a lot of money winding up in the pockets of individual senior executives whose major qualifications may have been who they got drunk with in college and their golf score.

Please don't get all superior about how hard they worked to get where they are. The fact is -- and as a society this is a problem we are all going to have to deal with eventually -- there are many more very smart people available and more than qualified to do high-level professional and management work than there could ever be jobs for them to fill or clients to hire the firms they start.

2. Tax policy. In the fifties the highest marginal tax rate was 90 percent. I'll agree that was too high. In 1980 it was 70 percent -- still too high. In the Reagan era it got down to 28 or 33 percent, depending on how you define the top bracket. Now it's 35 percent, except that's only for earned income.

You know that kid down the hall in college -- the one who was drunk half the time and never went to class, but whose name was on the building across the quad? Thanks to his dad's friends in the current Congress, his top tax rate is 15%.

Yes, someone in his family had an idea and worked like a dog to get him where he is today, but as a representative of the investor class that's supposed to be investing his capital in new ventures to grow new industries and keep America strong and growing, how's he doing? Yeah, right. Don't make his trustee down at the bank laugh -- he might cut himself clipping those coupons.

3. Entitlements. One reason we all feel overtaxed is that we all feel payroll taxes -- that 7.5% that gets taken out of our paychecks from the very first dime to a ceiling of $90K or so. First of all, Biff from down the hall isn't paying that on his unearned income, although, to be fair, let's say he cleaned up his act and is now doing something noble with his life -- teaching or social work, maybe, or he joined the family investment firm -- he pays FICA etc on the first 90K of that.

Now, let's stop in Wal-Mart for a minute and grab a couple of bags of chips. As we've all read ad nauseam, the stockboy and the checker are very likely making so little money that they might be on Medicaid. But they're still paying their payroll taxes, because they're paying into an insurance fund that will pay them back when they get to retirement age.

And--you probably are also aware that the self-employed pay not 7.5 percent but 15 percent, and that at the low end, some employers deliberately misclassify their employees as independendents for that reason.

Now, you know that's not how Social Security Works. It's a pay-as-you-go system. Which means you and I are paying into the system to support today's retirees. And so are that stockboy and the cashier -- paying into the system that suuports all the retired stockboys and cashiers. And housewives, and cabdrivers, and tradespeople, and doctors and lawyers. And corporate vice presidents, and Biff's gradparents, and the rich ladies I play tennis with on Wednesday mornings -- who dutifully paid into the system on the first 90K of their earned income but not a penny more of anything else, and who now have income in retirement that still probably exceeds that first 90K, and makes that monthly Social Security check look kind of trivial.

4. Tax enforcement. My facts are admittedly sketchier here. I have heard from several sources recently that the IRS has cut staff in half in the divisions that examine high-dollar returns but at the same time has insisted that the organization root out fraud on returns that claim the Earned Income Tax Credit -- which can recover a maximum $3K per return.

I am also not aware that we have done anything legislatively to discourage corporations moving their headquarters offshore to avoid corporate income taxes while still competing for -- and winning -- government contracts.

So before we get into the merits of some level of income redistribution to support the less fortunate, let's start by asking those same questions about individual taxpayers contributing to the support of the more fortunate. Especially the massively more fortunate.  

Post a Comment


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?