Friday, September 02, 2005

Philosophy: The View from the Right

So I have this friend who's a diehard Conservative Republican, and he had this to say about me and Liberals:
if a really good guy like you can be taking this stance at a time of national tragedy, then my incredibly negative view of the political left wing is NOT NEGATIVE ENOUGH. Your side of the political spectrum is even less moral, less decent, less rational, less intellectually honest and more sinister than even I previously thought. And I wonder how that can be? I love this country and what it stands for, and I really wonder how it's possible that a large segment of the American population can have such a horribly negative view of their own nation.

That's a pretty sweeping indictment. But I find it all too believable that he would say this; Conservatives look at Liberals like they are some kind of Martians, with strange ideas and viewpoints that Conservatives just can't fathom. We seem to be utterly irrational to them; and I must say, the feeling is mutual. So let's go over these points, and hopefully a Conservative will come along and educate me on what their position is, how it differs from the Liberal one and why their position is better.

1. Liberals are less moral than Conservatives. That implies that there is some standard of morality out there, some objective moral truth we can measure Liberals against and find them wanting in relation to Conservatives. But what is it? Is it compassion for our fellow man? I don't think you can argue that Liberals are not compassionate. Do we have no code of conduct, no standard of behavior in polite society? I think Liberals are as well-behaved as anyone; we don't advocate lighting farts or going around naked everywhere or public drunkeness. Is it really that we have less morality than Conservatives? Or is it rather that we have a different morality? That we don't kowtow to rules laid out in a book written by Jewish shepherds two thousand years ago, that we base our morality on utilitarian reason?

2. Liberals are less decent than Conservatives. Well, I already mentioned compassion. Liberals have no shortage of human decency; in fact, the accusation has long been that we have too much decency. That we're suckers for any cause that claims discrimination, that we'll increase taxes at the drop of a hat if some interest group comes begging. So how are we less decent than Conservatives, who espouse "individual responsibility" above all else? An example: If you lose your job and are unemployed, under Conservative rules you get a certain amount of time with assistance; but after that, you're on your own, and if you weren't able to get a job that's your tough luck. Is that decency?

3. Liberals are less rational than Conservatives. I believe that Liberals invented the "think tank," where experts debate and help develop policy. Most members of these "think tanks" are considered experts in their field; many are university professors. Are they all irrational crackpots? Am I? What irrational ideas am I espousing? And am I so one-sided in my advocacy that I reject all opposing viewpoints out of hand? Are Liberals in general that way? What constitutes "rationality", if not using science and reason to support your positions?

4. Liberals are less intellectually honest than Conservatives. What this seems to imply is that Liberals are hypocritical; we advocate one set of policies in public but in private we enact something else. Or that we are self-delusional, advocating policies that are so utterly opposed to immutable human nature as to be ridiculously impractical. For the first, if we are hypocritical then we have good company. We did not propose Clean Water and Clear Skies and Healthy Forests initiatives that enabled corporations to pollute more and overuse our natural resources. We did not reject all scientific evidence that humans have affected the global climate (and even if not, that the climate is nevertheless changing) and refuse to even try to help slow down this change, with the excuse that it would just be too economically hurtful to the richest nation on the planet. All the while encouraging our citizens to consume more and more fossil fuels in ever more wasteful ways. For the second, we did not advocate codifying into law that the legal benefits and privileges of marriage could not be conferred on same-sex partners in committed relationships. We did not advocate preventing women from having the ultimate say on the uses of their own bodies and reproductive processes. We did not advocate invading foreign lands and forcing our system of government on them. So please educate me on how Liberals are more intellectually dishonest than Conservatives.

5. Liberals are more sinister than Conservatives. One definition of sinister [] is "singularly evil or productive of evil." I assume that is what is being referenced ("of, relating to, or situated to the left or on the left side of something" doesn't carry as much weight somehow). The definition of evil [] includes: "morally reprehensible"; "causing harm"; and "marked by misfortune". Well, we certainly seem to be marked by misfortune :) but I think the other two are what was meant. So that being the case, the accusation is that Liberalism in and of itself is morally reprehensible and/or causes harm. We talked about morality back in point 1; finding something "morally reprehensible" depends in large part (if not absolutely) on what your concept of morality is. And it's easy to accuse something of "causing harm", but I have to ask just what that harm is? Do we harm the poor by advocating giving them welfare? Do we harm the elderly by advocating giving them Social Security and Medicare? Do we harm national security by insisting on military action only as a last resort after careful examination of the evidence and consultation with our allies? Do we harm the public by advocating that the operations of government be disclosed as fully as possible? Is all of this symptomatic of a philosophy of evil, of a powerful elite trying to impose its will on the general public through unaccountable procedures, obfuscation, corruption and even outright deception?

I don't deny that there are politicians out there who claim to be Liberals and yet pursue these very power games. But the Liberal philosophy does not stand for that, and Conservatives should come up with better arguments than "you Liberals are as corrupt as anyone". Liberals may be corrupt, as they and Conservatives have been shown to be throughout history; but we don't discard Conservatism as a philosophy because it has some corrupt adherents, and the same consideration should be extended to Liberalism.

So, here I stand, mind open, waiting to be educated on the evils of Liberalism. Who will take on the task?

Oh, and on the subject of loving this country and what it stands for, I take a backseat to no one. It has been positively heartbreaking to me to watch the great ideals that this country used to (and should still) stand for corrupted and piddled away in the name of economic development and corporate profits. This country is supposed to be a beacon of freedom and democracy, an example to the world. Instead, we curtail our freedoms in the name of security; we discount international law and cooperation when it doesn't suit our purpose; we selectively apply standards of human rights depending on our enemies of the moment; we allow exploitation of foreign labor for our own economic benefit and to the detriment of our own citizens; we pursue unsustainable fiscal policies and bankrupt our children's future for temporary luxury of the few; and on and on. I don't have a negative view of our nation. I'd rather live here than anywhere else on Earth. I DO have a negative view of our current leadership, which seems bent on destroying what has been built over generations with their dreams of empire and wealth. I DO have a negative view of religious fundamentalism, which is opposed to science and reason and wishes to turn back the clock to the 11th century when their power was absolute. I will fight these hydras rhetorically with all the strength I have to muster, and to the extent that I find them in my own nation, I will fight them with doubled effort. I love my country and see it as a powerful force for good in the world, and I will not allow it to be used to spread darkness and despair. See, I can be just as romantic as they are.

Another New Orleans rant

You know, I don't blame the President a lot for what he's doing right now. It looked bad when he took two days to decide to cut short his vacation (which he shouldn't have been on anyway) because of the disaster, but he did go back to Washington and presumably started kicking some butts to get things moving. A day late and a dollar short for a lot of people, though. The critical mistakes were made earlier.

Fact: the Clinton Administration doesn't get off scot-free on this. They didn't fight for funding for shoring up the levees in the 90's, though after 1994 it is doubtful they could have gotten anything passed in the Congress anyway. But here's another fact: Clinton's director of FEMA was a professional emergency manager who completely rehabilitated the agency, turning it from a "sorry bunch of bureaucratic jackasses" (to quote Sen. Fritz Hollings) into a streamlined, responsive organization that drew praise from local disaster officials around the nation. Ironically, this appointment occurred after hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida and brought attention to FEMA's shortcomings.

Bush's first director of FEMA was a professional politician, who had worked on the 1984 Reagan-Bush campaign and became W.'s chief of staff in Texas. He ran the 2000 campaign and was rewarded with the FEMA post. He resigned in 2003 when FEMA was put under the Department of Homeland Security. The new FEMA director was a professional lawyer before taking his new job, with limited experience in emergency management.

Some leadership! Leadership includes getting the best-qualified people to run your agencies. We can argue about whether Rumsfeld pursues the right strategies or whether Rice is the best ambassador for our country; but they are undeniably qualified for their positions. The Bush FEMA directors have been political operatives and buddies, not emergency preparedness experts. And to the extent that they are planning for things, their superiors at the Department of Homeland Security are focused on terrorism, not domestic natural disasters. So it's not altogether surprising that FEMA falls flat on its face when a real disaster occurs.

Leadership is also being prepared ahead of time for events. We've had five years of the Bush administration having control of all the levers of power; if they were going to do something for New Orleans, they had ample time. There were several warnings put before them over the last years of what could happen if New Orleans sustained a direct hit; yet they were no more inclined to spend money on the region than the Clinton administration had been. In fact, money was shunted away from the Corps of Engineers to help finance the Iraq quagmire. It might seem like Monday-morning quarterbacking; but the fact is, it is their job to plan for these things and have responses prepared. If there was any such plan, I see little evidence of it. Instead it's all shock and surprise and spur-of-the-moment reaction.

So now supplies and troops are finally starting to show up. But the disaster is still unfolding, and it won't end until order is restored and cleanup begins. Then we will count the cost of our leaders ignoring expert advice and choosing political expediency over the welfare of the people.