Thursday, October 12, 2006

Defining American "liberals" and "conservatives" 

Yesterday, our co-blogger Charlottesvillain took on the question, "what's a liberal?", and today Cassandra told us "what it means to be a conservative." Both posts inspired some excellent comments, and are great examples of the smart conversation that can happen on even amateur blogs that respect thoughtful input from across the political spectrum. So thank you to our readers.

I have but one small contribution to make, and that involves my nomination for the single point of view that most clearly separates American statist liberals from American traditional conservatives (meaning, on purpose, to exclude libertarians entirely). I first had this thought watching Bob Dole's speech during the Republican presidential nominating convention of 1996. Bob Dole was responding to the children-centered strategy of the Clintons, which had been launched on the back of Hillary's book about child-rearing, It Takes A Village. Bob Dole responded, "it takes a family." Here's the key passage:

And our nation, though wounded and scathed, has outlasted revolutions, civil war, world war, racial oppression and economic catastrophe. We have fought and prevailed on almost every continent. And in almost every sea.

We have even lost. But we have lasted, and we have always come through.

And what enabled us to accomplish this has little to do with the values of the present. After decades of assault upon what made America great, upon supposedly obsolete values, what have we reaped? What have we created? What do we have?

What we have in the opinions of millions of Americans is crime and drugs, illegitimacy, abortion, the abdication of duty, and the abandonment of children.

And after the virtual devastation of the American family, the rock upon which this country was founded, we are told that it takes a village, that is collective, and thus the state, to raise a child.

The state is now more involved than it ever has been in the raising of children. And children are now more neglected, more abused and more mistreated than they have been in our time.

This is not a coincidence. This is not a coincidence. And with all due respect, I am here to tell you it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child.

That speech more than ten years ago reminded me of something that my father had said perhaps twenty years before that. As a teenager, I was interested in the key point of disagreement between my father -- who was a rare conservative academic -- and a radical colleague with whom my father was nevertheless on friendly terms. My father thought a moment, and then said that his radical friend "believes that the most important function of the state is to protect people against the pathologies of their family, while I believe that the family is the last line of defense against the state."

Bob Dole and my father were on to something, I think. Is there a better, single point on which statist liberals and traditional conservatives are more likely to disagree?


By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Thu Oct 12, 09:49:00 PM:

I don't think that's a helpful difference at all. I may sometimes want the state to protect the innocent child who is in an abusive home. But my family (and my larger church and community family) ARE my defense against a gov't I don't trust. And I'm not an atypical liberal in this regard.

I'd suggest trying again.

I rather like Lakoff's efforts at defining the differences between the Left and the Right: He suggests that the Right rather likes the Authoritarian Father model whereas the Left tends to prefer the Nurturing Parent model.

So, when someone is in prison, the Authoritarian Father wants that person punished, period. Even if it costs society and even if that person remains unredeemed.

The Nurturing Parent, instead, wants that person held accountable and brought back in to fellowship.

It's interesting stuff, look it up.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Thu Oct 12, 10:16:00 PM:

It Takes A Village

Having grown up in rural America, my perspective as a child growing up was that the nearest village was the place where all the problems and weird people were ;->

I didn't need a village. The barn, back fields, swamp, and an obsession with model airplanes was more than enough to keep me out of trouble.

Of course, I had a solid foundation of self sufficiency as a child in the form of Captain Kangaroo. The good captain and mr greenjeans provided all sorts of ideas that an individual child could employ to keep themselves entertained.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Thu Oct 12, 10:37:00 PM:

I've never heard anyone make the argument that the most important function of the state is to protect people against the pathologies of their family. (until now)

I'm glad traditional conservatives don't believe in legislating the family: especially not family medical decisions or who should be allowed to get married. I'm sure they'd also oppose the statists who want to suspend habeus corpus and allow the executive to redefine torture.

Yeah, if we only had some traditional conservatives, we'd be ok.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Oct 12, 11:16:00 PM:

The problem with these comparisons is that they inevitably serve only to demean one point of view or the other. Every difference I've seen someone posit always make it seem like one would have to be a moron to choose the side opposite whoever is making the claim.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 12:05:00 AM:

I thought it had been defined at Assymetric Information. At least economically.

Liberal: We don't let people get screwed over with risk.

Conservative: Reducing all risk makes the final outcomes worse for everyone.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 12:38:00 AM:

Liberals will never admitted it in public because of failed policy. And it's their money machine. So there is one side that will never live up to it's history for debate on all the debacles.
I gotts to go buy some land in Bumsuch NV. to trade for casino land in Vegas from the fed gov. Sorry for the short post. I'll be trying next for trading land in Newark NJ for a offshore oil plot.

H. Reid  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Oct 13, 05:47:00 AM:


I've read that model before and find it utterly unconvincing. I think some liberals like it because they are heavily into demonizing us and treating us as Other [sob!], which frankly just harshes our conservative mellow six ways to Sunday. Not terribly tolerant of y'all!

I don't give a rap about 'punishing' anyone. And to be honest, I was a fire breathing liberal for years.

The one thing that turned me into a conservative (and you'll find this with many, many of my brethren) was the realization that doing things *for* people just didn't work very well.

Sadly enough, sometimes you just have to let people sort things out on their own. If I had to name one defining difference between liberals and conservatives, it would be that in general, conservatives accept the fact that there are certain things in life that are, shall we say, unfair?

And while we don't like that any better than you do, we think that when humans step in and try to make those things better for other people, they often make the situation worse. The best example I can give is a child who is born with a handicap, whose parent always steps in and makes his life smoother, easier, to compensate. Who wants the rest of the world to part like the red sea b/c the child was born with a disability.

A conservative, otoh, would say lovingly "You really got a bad deal darlin', but I know that with help you can overcome any obstacle. But you are
always going to have to try 10 times harder than everyone else. So let's go out there and figure out how you can live the best life you can."

And I grew up reading stories about parents who took this approach, and their kids excelled, because when they went outside to play and kids made fun of them, their parents cut them no slack. They hugged them and sent them right back outside, because other kids get made fun of too, for other reasons. They didn't expect the world to accomodate their children - they expected their children to figure out how to succeed in the world with the tools they had -- and they did -- magnificently.

To me, those are conservative values in action - not expecting an entire school not to eat peanuts because *your* child has an allergy, for pete's sake! :)

When raising my boys, I intentionally threw obstacles in their paths from time to time. I gave them things to overcome. It built character. And they are now strong, independent, caring men who have remained close to me and treat their wives/fiancees wonderfully well, so I don't think I went wrong.

It *doesn't* take a village to raise a child. It takes a caring family, and people need to stop pushing off their parental duties onto schools, government, and the rest of society.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Oct 13, 05:59:00 AM:

And that's another thing... expectations. I think that is another way of defining the difference between liberals and conservatives: what are your expectations of the world around you?

Liberals often expect the world to be fair and are mad when it is not. Then they want government to do something about it.

Conservatives do not expect the world to be fair at all. Some people are born rich/pretty/smart/white/lucky. Some have super white teeth and a way with loose women. Others do not. Oh well! It is not government's role to adjust for these inequities - waaaaay too hard to figure out all the variables, and even if we had a perfect formula, there is effort figured in - the smart lazy guy may be outperformed by the dumb industrious one and it's not really fair to take his money and give it to some lazy fool who isn't trying.

Human systems aren't perfect. Nature is unfair enough without adding more unfairness in the form of imperfect systems designed to address inherently insolvable inequities that rob from Peter to pay Paul.

But we'll keep trying, because it's easy, and envy is so attractive. We always want to chop down the highest tree in the forest.

Sad, really.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 06:55:00 AM:

"was the realization that doing things *for* people just didn't work very well."

Well, as in the model of the Nurturing Parent, we don't want to do things for people (although I will give you that this is a legitimate point for some liberals - just as being the Authoritarian Father who'll punish because they believe in punishment for its own sake is true for some segment of conservatives). My life is filled with social workers, teachers and mental health workers (and participants for all of these fields, as well).

The goal is self-sufficiency and one doesn't get there by being done for, but one can get there with a little help from their friends. Just as you say that you place obstacles in your kids paths to help them grow, helping professions and policies CAN and do help.

So, I'll return to my earlier question: Would we advocate spending $2x to imprison or $1x to educate/nurture? Fiscally and socially responsible liberals say we ought to spend the $1x. The Lakoff model makes sense to me because many conservatives will choose the former (spend $2x and imprison) because it's important that the punishment aspect be there - rather than the more fiscally responsible preventative choice.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 06:56:00 AM:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 08:43:00 AM:

And for the record, I was a religious conservative before watching Reagan's policies in action convinced me that political conservatives were WAY too often advocating policies that were neither fiscally nor socially conservative nor Christian in nature.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 11:14:00 AM:

By the way, back in August, I posted some folks' thoughts on defining Liberalism here:


These are not mine, but from a source called The Principles Project (http://www.principlesproject.org/).  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Oct 13, 11:28:00 AM:

Well, IMO the best that can be said of the education choice is that it's cheaper.

It really hasn't been proven that it prevents anything, just as incarceration doesn't prevent crime. So using money as a metric for "preventing" poverty/crime/unwed motherhood is the wrong metric - it completely doesn't work. Throwing money at the problem was never the answer - if it were the War on Poverty would be won now, but the black family has been all but destroyed by all those ameliorative measure designed to "help" them out of the gutter.

Funny thing - when we were oppressing the bejeesus out of them, they actually did better on a whole slew of measures. So all this "help", didn't.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm a conservative. If you or anyone else could convince me that tossing dollar bills at social problems would solve them, I'd be your huckleberry. But I've seen 40 years of failed social programs and I'm SOOOOOO not impressed, Dan.

What does work, IMO, are things like mentoring and teaching personal responsibility, which are things governments just aren't terribly good at.

And so, we're back to the family. And the private sector. And small-unit solutions.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Fri Oct 13, 12:14:00 PM:

I live in the rural outskirts of a failed american city. It is sad to see a once proud town so totally down and out.

A blow hard local talk show host asked a good tough question: "why?" One lady, who called herself a "social worker" called and said that the city did much better under Clinton because there was more Federal money to throw around.

the talk show host, rightly I believe, argued that the lady was simply jumping on the "blame Bush Bandwagon." but he missed a larger point. The "social worker" clearly admitted that the city could not sustain itself without a steady influx of other people's money. The lack of ambition and self sufficiency was evident. that represents the abject failure of the various government sponsored assitance programs.

Let me repeat Dan's question to insure that I've gotten it right:

We can either pay for massive federal programs to prevent the personal failure of these city dwellers or we can pay far more to warehouse these personal failures in prison.

There are a number of clear problems with this question. First, at this point we are paying for both. Not only are we still pumping massive funding into a bewildering array of failed programs, but our prisons remain full and crime in my local city is spinning out of control.

Therefore I strongly doubt that there is a linear relationship between available federal fundage and propensity to live a life of crime.

next, an underlying assumption is that a lack of federal fundage is the causal factor in personal failure. I disagree with this strongly. If poverty, for example, truly bred crime, we would have seen a blood bath during the great depression. And while I admit to being a product of the public school system I cannot recall my history books speaking to roving bands of poverty striken men and women pillaging their way across the dust bowl.

If Dan's concern is crime, and since he mentions prison quite often I must assume that it is, then let's focus on what it takes to regain control of my out of control city.

Two steps are required: First, we must get the criminals off the streets. Yes, Dan, this will require a massive investment in prisons, but the law abiding, tax paying people deserve security. It is one of the very few reasons to organize a government that I can imagine.

next, we must turn off the crime factory. The voices of personal responsibility are now being heard in the ghetto. Although the poverty pimps hate it, the simple fact is Bill Cosby and Juan Williams are right.

The blacks in America have chosen failure and that must change. They must recognize that they can retain their uniqueness as a culture and still do "whitey work".

The prescription for success is pretty simple:

finish high school
Find a job and stay with it.
Don't have babies until you are married and in your twenties.

There's nothing in this that speaks to government programs, beyond public education funding.

Perhaps Dan has set up a false dichotomy here. Perhaps there are more than two choices.

This is an intersting discussion.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 12:50:00 PM:

cassandra said:
"It really hasn't been proven that it prevents anything"

Perhaps this is the root of the differences some of us are having here. Studies have shown and real life has born out that some programs DO, in fact, help prevent homelessness and incarceration, lower recidivism, increase self-sufficiency.

Let's look at one specific example. I'll use the prison example (not, by the way, because it is of any greater concern to me than anyone else, but simply because it's fairly straightforward, in many ways and because most people support having fewer people going to prison).

According to this report:


A study by the Federal Bureau of Prisons found that, “Recidivism rates were inversely related to educational program participation in prison. The more educational programs successfully completed for each six months confined, the lower the recidivism rate.

For inmates successfully completing one or more courses per each six months of their prison term, 35.5% recidivated, compared to 44.1% of those who successfully completed no courses during their prison term.”

And goes on to say:

Anyone interested in government finances has an interest in inmate rehabilitation. The web page of the Texas Department of Criminal justice indicated that improvements to the state’s correctional education system would reduce recidivism resulting in savings of $28,000 to $35,000 in construction costs and $13,000 in annual operating costs per inmate.

You don't have to take my word for it or this particular story. Google recidivism and education and you'll see, study after study that shows that this is a economic no-brainer. Lower incarceration rates = lower tax dollars being used for that purpose PLUS lower crime rates, as these former cons are going straight and presumably making their way in the economy, adding to the tax base, not taking from it.

So, taking this ONE example, if educating prisoners costs $1x and not educating them costs $2x, which do you prefer?

And, if you don't want to answer that question, thinking I'm setting up a false dichotomy, then tell me what is wrong with the logic. Do you disagree with all of these studies? Or, is it that you're so determined that people "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," that you'd rather pay the extra tax dollars for prison rather than the fewer tax dollars for education?

To Skip's point (People ought to finish school, get a job and put off having babies), of course, we agree. But people don't always do this, do they? So, in the real world, we've got these people who've made bad choices (or maybe other circumstances led them to where they are - their parents' choices, for instance), the question is, what do we do? Act proactively or reactively?

And, to the point of this post, is it not both a liberal AND conservative position to act pro-actively?  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Fri Oct 13, 02:34:00 PM:

Dan, I think you've missed another of my points.

My original objection to the "principles of liberalism is that the insistence on the use of the government to coerce Americans into doing what the liberals think is best is completely unAmerican.

In my view keeping the government OUT of this means you can decide to do what you think is best and I can decide to do what I think is best.

For example, if you wish to donate to charities that act proactively, you may do so. If I see a different approach I am free to contribute to that charity. With government coercion the choice of approach is made elsewhere and my only options are paying taxes or going to jail.

It really is that simple. but if the liberals firmly believe that it is the government's role to insure that people do what the liberals think they should do I will continue to object strenuously.

further, why do WE have to do anything? It seems to me that your position rests on an implicit threat that if we do nothing we will be awash in criminals. Again Dan, we're doing what the liberals demand. We are paying taxes (my state has the third highest taxes in the nation!) and we are still confronted with massive crime.

if doing "something" proactive, reactive or otherwise is resulting in crime and costing us a fortune, let's try doing nothing for a while!

Cassandra makes the point that poor people were actually better off before we engaged in these massive transfer payment programs and I agree.

The argument that massive transfer payment programs act as a bulwark against crime fails on the current evidence.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 03:10:00 PM:

So, your answer to my question is...? That you don't believe those studies that recidivism HAS dropped?

I'm asking a fairly straightforward question and find it interesting that you don't choose to answer it.

IF you read a study that says by paying $1000 to educate a prisoner, we can save $2000 in prison costs, would you

1. Pay the $1000?
2. Pay the $2000?
3. Reject the study?
4. Have some other answer I'm not guessing?

I heard your point ("In my view keeping the government OUT of this means you can decide to do what you think is best and I can decide to do what I think is best.") and think you're missing mine (That by choosing to keep gov't OUT, we still have gov't getting IN and IT'S COSTING TWICE AS MUCH!).

By your choosing to not answer that question straightforwardly (giving instead your answer that doesn't happen in the real world), I'm assuming that means that you find it okay to pay after the fact when we have more criminals (for example), but you think it's NOT okay to do so before the fact. In other words, it seems you reject the conclusion of the studies and would choose instead to base policies upon your best guess.

I don't mean that in a rude way at all, I'm just saying that I'm having a difficult time reaching any other conclusion, based upon your not wanting to answer this question (and I see this repeatedly with people who consider themselves "conservative.")  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 03:12:00 PM:

"why do WE have to do anything?"

Because it is fiscally and socially responsible to do so - which gets back to my original point that I don't find these labels very useful. Here I'm advocating fiscal responsibility and I'm called a liberal?  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Fri Oct 13, 03:48:00 PM:

No dan, massive transfer payments are not the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do. If it were these problems would have been eradicated a trillion dollars ago. It seems to me that the fiscally and socially responsible thing to do is support those community leaders who advocate personal responsibility while developing a transitional process that ends the transfer programs.

I know I must be coming as scrooge over this and in fact I'm a very generous guy. so to answer your question directly: yes I'd rather build prisons than continue to fund failed programs.

further, I believe that there is much to be said for such social dynamics as shame and guilt.

As I stated earlier some 70% of black children are born to single moms. Out of wedlock births are at an all time high irrespective of race. Rather than shun the people who act in such an irresponsible manner we shower them with tax dollars.

the fiscally and socially correct thing to do, in my opinion is to restore those aspects of our society that were designed to inhibit these poor choices to begin with. Further we must work hard to restore the value of men in our communities. If crime is your concern, nothing will solve the problem better than having sound families with strong effective PARENTS.

If I believed that the approach you champion was effective, I would support it. I voted for Carter! but living in urban areas, working in healthcare and listening to the news have soured me on the government sponsored approach altogether.  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Fri Oct 13, 04:15:00 PM:

I find it fascinating that during the last couple of days, Dan, skipsailing and Cassandra have each of their own accord chosen to reveal that they used to think differently than they do now. Cass was a "flaming Liberal", Skip voted for Carter, Dan was a religious conservative who voted Republican. Each of these folks has at one time been on the other side of some of the issues they are now debating.

This is great. Opinions evolve, perspectives change and personal experience informs. I think Cassandra got it right. We recognize the importance of many of the same problems but do not agree on their root causes or on appropriate solutions.

I think we need to look harder at our beliefs and assumptions about the causes of problem social behavior and come to some degree of agreement there before we will be able to find common ground on solutions. Not an easy thing indeed.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Oct 13, 04:22:00 PM:

Dan - the problem with the prisons/education example you cite is that there is an assumed causal relationship between education and reduced recidivism. It may be that prisoners who were less likely to return to prison chose to pursue additional education -- or chose to concentrate on it. The reduced recidivism rate may be principally related to a choice made by an individual prisoner -- "I don't want to come back here" -- and they then decided that the best way to prepare for life on the outside was to seek additional education.

In any event, you can infer the causal relationship you cited from the study. In fact, we should evaluate the effectiveness of the deucation program not base don recidiivsm rates, it seems to me, but by a series of other measures -- and then determine whether it merits additional investment or ot.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 04:22:00 PM:

"I'd rather build prisons than continue to fund failed programs."

Thank you, that's all I was looking for was a relatively direct answer. So, then, in JUST THE ONE case where I pointed to some specific studies (prison recidivism), I gather you don't believe those studies? Or would it be the case that, MAYBE in that specific case, you DO believe the studies but you don't think there are similar studies out there proving the efficacy of other programs?

If it's the case that you're not willing to believe the studies, I don't know what you'd base your position on, though, other than just your gut feeling. In the case cited, despite the numerous studies supporting education as the cheaper option, your hunch is that prison education programs are "failed programs"? And your conclusion based upon that hunch is, Let's go ahead and forcibly take people's money to build more prisons?

If we're going to "forcibly take people's money" either way (ie, agree that there are some common needs that we must pay for collectively) to pay for one or the other, YOU may support making decisions based upon your hunches, but I'd hope the majority of the citizenry would do so based upon something more significant than your hunches.

At any rate, I'd hope you could understand why I find it fiscally and societally responsible to pay for educating prisoners to reduce their return rate. I don't have the same hunch as you, and the studies are so pervasive and so much in agreement from one to the other that I can't make any other reasonable choice but to support prisoner education.

[And again, I'll point out that I'm just dealing with that topic to narrow the focus. This is the fiscally, liberally, conservatively responsible way I try to determine my support for or against any policy.]  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Oct 13, 04:23:00 PM:

oops - meant to say you CANNOT infer the causal relationship.

A rather important typo...  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 04:31:00 PM:

"Dan - the problem with the prisons/education example you cite is that there is an assumed causal relationship between education and reduced recidivism."

Well, that may be one problem. But I'd hope that everyone can see the problem with just relying upon an individual's gut feeling that those studies are wrong or hunch that there is no causal relationship. By the way, Cardinal, have you looked at the number of similar studies and how the consistently make the same conclusion? Do you suspect those doing the studies are all trying to sneak one past the citizenry in order to waste money on programs that don't work?

Do you get what I'm getting at? I'm not seeing ANY reason for opposing this particular solution (for example) other than your suspicion that it doesn't really work, despite what the numerous studies have all concluded? Do you see why many citizens would have a hard time accepting such an argument?

And we wouldn't have a problem with your opposition based upon supposedly "liberal" reasons ("I just want to help the poor prisoners...") but for supposedly "conservative" reasons (fiscal responsibility).

I do agree, I think, with your conclusion, though. Which has been my point: We should evaluate the effectiveness of the education program by a series of other measures -- and then determine whether it merits additional investment or not. And the same for the welfare programs. The relief programs. The military programs (and I want a HUGE refund on that, based upon effectiveness...) The infrastructure programs, the health care programs, etc, etc.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Fri Oct 13, 04:47:00 PM:

Dan your argument makes little sense to me.

My understanding of your position is that we taxpayers are on the hook for the poor choices of others because if we don't pay now via government programs, me must pay "more" later with prisons.

then to support your position you cite an study of recividism. but among the problems with that study is that is uses as its population prisoners, who be definition have already failed. Essentially you are trying to prove that money prevents failure by citing the experience of failures. It just makes no sense at all.

Were you to offer a study that was both credible and indicated that money prevents crime I could understand you but to say that "money will keep people out of prisons and I know this because I read a study about prisoners" just isn't logical.

You're talking to the wrong guy about military failure Dan. I spent the first sixteen years of my life in the navy, getting dragged from one roach infested quonnset hut to the next while my dad did his duty. My son just returned from his second tour with the Marines in the so called triangle of death.

let's not go there. I don't see a failure anywhere I look. Let's not go there, there's no progress to be made in such a discussion at this emotional time in our lives.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 05:19:00 PM:

"My understanding of your position is that we taxpayers are on the hook for the poor choices of others because if we don't pay now via government programs, me must pay "more" later with prisons."

I apologize if I've not made myself clear. Let me try again:

What I was trying to do was not deal with ALL of the social welfare programs out there, but bring it down to one, to reduce the size of the argument to a manageable level. I wasn't talking welfare, socialized medicine, environmental issues or anything else. I was only talking about this one report that talked about how if we spend some money educating people in prison, then we'd ultimately spend less on those prisoners.

And then I asked the question, if this is true, would you support investing in money to educate those prisoners if it would indeed save money and keep them out of prison down the road. IF that is true, would you support that specific type of prisoner education?

And I was further saying that this "liberal" WOULD support investing that money in that way and I would support it because it was fiscally responsible to do so.

And so I was making my case that the terms "liberal" and "conservative" were rather messy, because, would you fault me for trying to be fiscally conservative and call that "liberal"?  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 05:26:00 PM:

"I don't see a failure anywhere I look. Let's not go there"

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the failure of soldiers, but the failures and HUGE costs and excesses of our military policies. But we need not go there if you don't wish. One topic at a time...  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Oct 13, 05:27:00 PM:

Dan - the difficulty I have with your commentary is that you put lipstick on your poltiics and call it analysis. It's not.

For instance, you are assuming an educational program's effectiveness at reducing recidivism rates, just as you are assuming our military programs are ineffective. You are then saying, in effect, "oh yes, I support the same analytics you do." No, you don't. You assume any analytics will support your politics. Becuase you are sure your politics are right.

Your sarcstic remark about the military is perfect evidence that you don't support objective analysis at all. Our military, Dan, is the most effective military in the history of humanity. And furthermore, and this one will really get you, the Iraq War may be the best, most effective military campaign our nation has EVER waged. It is certainly among the best, anyway. I think my vote based on analysis would be the Mexican War, but Iraq has been incredibly effectively waged. That is, assuming you use data, rather than what Cassandra would call fish wrapping (that's the New York Times).

By contrast, I could easily construct an argument that says most of our prison's educational programs are deficient. In fact, most of our public school education programs are deficient. Terribly so. Why? A good subject for debate. But mostly, we have an array of very poor teachers who aren't held to impressive standards. It's one important reason why private schools are immensely better than public schools. As are parochial schools.

One might be able to construct a study, for instance, which said that prisoners who became religiously devout had lower rates of recidivism. Would you support evangelical programs in prisons funded by the government?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 13, 06:45:00 PM:

I'm tired of this prisoner/eduction/recidivism debate. That's so 1980s. Let's shift the subject. In light of the new Nobel Peace Prize winner -- is Muhammad Yunus a liberal or conservative?

Seems to me, both sides could claim him to be one of their own. Liberals, because we believe that poverty is a real issue of concern, and that it's not just a matter of people being lazy, but that there are obstacles in their way, and that there are institutional means of removing those obstacles. Conservatives could claim him because he promotes hard work and private enterprise, says that charity leads to dependence, and nobody is "compelled" (or taxed) to contribute to his bank. And he makes a little profit along the way.

And how does the fact that he's a Bangladeshi Muslim impact that perception?


By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Fri Oct 13, 11:56:00 PM:

"the difficulty I have with your commentary is that you put lipstick on your poltiics and call it analysis. It's not."

I've offered a study and suggested that you go look up the dozens of similar studies that are out there on that particular topic. You and Skip have offered your opinion. Your opinion is fine as far as it goes, but I was offering the study to get you to answer a question that you both have steadfastly refused to answer (well, Skip eventually answered it a little bit, but he appears not to have understood the full context).

Let me try it this way: SUPPOSE there is a study that is sound (suppose it was conducted by the Heritage Foundation or some other group you respect) that shows beyond all doubt that educating prisoners will reduce the recidivism of those prisoners, ultimately SAVING money.

Do you support the program or not?

This isn't a trick question, I don't think. It isn't intended to be. I'm just trying to determine if you support gov't taking action that will ultimately save money or if you're so anti-gov't (not a bad trait, that) that you wouldn't support it even if it saved the taxpayers money. Lakoff's model would say that many folk who call themselves conservatives would rather pay the extra money. That appears to be the answer here for at least Cardinal and Skip. I'm just trying to verify that point.

Gee. No wonder there's such a great chasm in our country.

And as to this: "You are then saying, in effect, "oh yes, I support the same analytics you do." No, you don't." I'd thank you to not presume to know what I do and don't think. You're just not that omniscient, pal.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Sun Oct 15, 09:03:00 AM:

Has this post been abandoned, then?

I'll have to say that this doesn't bode well for those who call themselves "conservative."

I tried to have a conversation about the problems of what is generally referred to as "welfare," giving my reasons for supporting one particular program. My reasoning (which, as I pointed out, transcends traditional "liberal" or "conservative" labels - as is true for most of us) included some scholarly studies to support it.

I had hoped to answer the question, which would then leave us in agreement (ie, we ought to be fiscally responsible and take actions that ultimately save us money rather than cost us money) and suggest from there it is just a matter of trying the tricky task of determing which programs are working - and how do we determine they're working.

But for the most part, I couldn't even get an answer to the question. This leads me to think that Lakoff is right (as well as "conservative" Thomas Sowell), that many who identify as "conservatives" have a distrust for science and act upon gut feelings and anectdotal evidence rather than something more objective.


By Blogger Cassandra, at Mon Oct 16, 03:59:00 PM:

Nice try, Dan. You can't ignore any arguments you don't care for, then declare victory :)

Is it any surprise that after a while, on the weekend people who aren't getting paid to engage in a circular argument concluded no one was going to have their mind changed and decided to do other things?

Come on :) In political arguments it is always interesting to explore what the other side thinks, but if you go into it with the idea that you are going to change the other guy's mind, you are destined for disappointment most of the time.

Lots of people attempted to answer your questions. You just didn't care for their answers. That's not the same as not answering, and recharacterizing their comments to suit your position does both them and you, a disservice. Why not just agree that we have a fundamental disagreement about what works? Because we do.

I found your stats utterly unpersuasive. Your original question was not phrased anywhere near
so narrowly as "would you support prison education programs to *help* prevent recidivism". Because that's a no brainer - I already do and I wouldn't even have bothered to engage on that one, even though I don't believe the stats show they're all THAT effective, but it doesn't matter. They're there - what are you going to do - warehouse them? Heck - teach them and hope it takes. I'm all for it. I believe in the redemptability of people.

But it's not a question of prevention in my book because of the self-selection factor.

And I don't believe throwing money, in general, at social problems, prevents them from happening, for all the reasons already discussed. It's not an either-or proposition - that is a simplification of a vastly more complex situation, so you're presenting a false trade-off that ignores a third trade-off: the harm that often comes from throwing money at social problems.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Tue Oct 17, 09:05:00 AM:

My point was, and remains, that several folk here - and many "conservatives" in general - are opposed to policies based upon nothing more than their opinions. There seems to be a strong lack of evidence or even interest in evidence to support their positions.

For instance, in saying, "I don't believe in throwing money at social problems..." well, no one does! But if there seems to be a legitimate program that has evidence that it 1. helps alleviate the problem and 2. thereby saves us money, then it only makes sense from both a compassionate and fiscally responsible angle to support that program.

Which is why I keep trying to point out the lack of understanding behind characterizations of "liberals" as not fiscally responsible and of "conservatives" as being fiscally responsible. The real world is much more complex.

If those who identify as "conservatives" want truly make change and they truly believe that social assistance programs are harmful, then they'd do well to make their case based upon something more than just their opinions, as interesting as they may be.  

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