Saturday, August 12, 2006

Restoring the Balance

OK, let's relax with some politics. (Tells you where I'm coming from, doesn't it?) Here's an intriguing article by a guy named Doug Muder called Ten Ideas for 2008. Muder is a New Hampshire politics junkie and unapologetic liberal. Not the cartoon liberal that Rush Limbaugh flogs on his show, but the real kind. He's posted a lot of articles on his website, and this one gives important food for thought for liberals and Democrats (they're not the same thing), about reframing the terms of the debate.

This ties in with something that's bothered me for years. The most infuriating thing about liberals is their willingness to let themselves be defined in the public mind by their enemies. (See: Rush) Muder says it's past time to change this.

Two examples. Moral values and codes of sexual conduct are not the same thing, but conservaties routinely use "morality" as a code word for sex becuase, hey, sex sells. Liberals should not be afraid to use the word "immoral" in their arguments. For the richest country in the world to let poor people die because they can't afford healthcare is immoral. For President Bush to break the law whenever following it would be inconvenient is immoral. Why not say so?

Second, Christianity is not fundamentally a conservative religion. It is a liberal faith that has been largely hijacked by conservatives. Since when was Christianity about following the letter of the law but not its spirit? Since when was getting as rich as you possibly can a Christian virtue? The Republican brand of Christians resemble, more than any other figures from the Bible, the Pharisees who heckle Jesus throughout his ministry. They certainly don't resemble him or his disciples. So there's a slogan for you: "The Religious Right; 21st Century Pharisees."

There's one issue Muder doesn't address, but which Thomas Frank does in an op-ed column in today's New York Times. That is conservatives' unshakable view of themselves as scrappy outsiders, fighting a brave but disadvantaged battle against an all-powerful Washington liberal elite. For many years this was true, of course, but it hasn't been for a long time. In the past quarter century there have been exactly two years in which the Democrats controlled both Congress and the White House, the first two years of Clinton's presidency. Look at Washington today, and you see conservatives dominating all three branches of government, backed by incredibly rich and powerful business interests, with individuals happily gaming the system and milking it dry, becoming insanely rich in the process. And they certainly are all about excluding those who are Not Their Sort Of People. If that isn't an all-powerful conservative elite, then what the hell is it??

Both pieces are worth reading, even if you're a Republican. Because the issues raised are all valid ones, and if the Republican Party does not address them, well, it may still be able to hold on to a degree of power, but it won't deserve to.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. My reaction before reading the article on this typically ADD night is that the reason liberals look weak on the moral values thing is because liberalism has developed into a container for moral relativism. Your typical liberal is uncomfortable with the concept of morality, because it leads to judgment, and judgment is illiberal. Of course, if suckheads like Bush provide demonstrations of right-wing immorality, this will no longer be true.

Anonymous said...

Just to be an annoying little brother I'm commenting on the cited article.

1. 9/11 changed a lot of things, just not the straw men the author submits. Okay, then, it didn't change everything. (By the way, this idea about conservatives thinking America doesn't need allies is a particularly strong-smelling left-wing lie.)

2. He's right about sex but ... Al Sharpton? No, poverty, disease and health care are not moral issues, they are economic. And ideologies that link economics and morality as he would have a tragic history.

3. Whence this claim we try to rule? Bollix. Second half, he's right, and Christianity will move left. It cycles on its own.

4. Yeah, okay, whatever.

5. Globalization of workers' rights and environmentalism requires somebody dictate how every country manages its manufacturing industries. A nice dream but impossible. And let it be noted, as countries develop a middle class thanks to the incremental growth of general wealth through offering cheap manufacturing, people there tend to start demanding the very things we want them to want. Look at China. Seriously. There is progress. (But it's China so it will be slo-o-ow.)

6. "... change the nature of corporate charters to make corporations more responsive to the public good ..." Ha ha ha ha haaaa! These people kill me.

7. "In the Right’s vision, America only needs enough courageous citizens to staff the armed forces." Utter bollix; indeed his Roman history lesson is more commonly used by conservatives. Also bollix is his assertion that there's no sure defense of terrorism especially in a free society with guns. Wha-a-a?

8. Interesting echo of conservatism ("To feel the full force of that framing, try the experiment of reversing it: our schools, government troops," is a conservative's nightmare more typically) mixed with the very scary "... want a government that will take good care of all of your property ..." I must be getting tired.

9. Fine. Wealth redistribution by any name is unavoidable.

10. Yeah, I'm tired. Or the writer's squirrely, whichever. Trust our Leader? No way. But the less we have to trust him the better. I mean, the preemptive strike thing wasn't based on trust, it was legalized by Congress.

Guess I'm feeling contrarian. But I agree with the bigger message, that the debate needs to be reframed and soon. A lot of GOP action has been dead wrong lately and the Dems have an opportunity to reshape themselves in a positive way. I hope the recent primary election in Conn. does not presage an inability to do so.

Steve T. said...

You're doing allright for closing in on 2 in the morning. Let's see.

"No, poverty, disease and health care are not moral issues, they are economic. And ideologies that link economics and morality as he would have a tragic history."

You can cast them as economic issues, or if you focus on unequal distribution you can also see them as moral issues. But trying to solve them with the heavy hand of government is problematic, as history shows.

But that doesn't mean you have to give up the langugae of morality. Both Gandhi and MLK effected change less by forcing the ruling powers to change, than by shaming them to change, by the power of their moral authority and, unfortunately, their own martyrdom. (Preferably one does not need to go that far.) Change is always best achieved by persuading people that the change is in everybody's best interests, and that it's the right thing to do. Framing all issues, not just sexual ones, in terms of what is morally right could be a good way to go.

"Globalization of workers' rights and environmentalism requires somebody dictate how every country manages its manufacturing industries. A nice dream but impossible."

And maybe not even desirable. He kinda loses me here, too. Any type of supra-national regulating body with real teeth to enforce its will -- militarily if necessary -- is scary. The dream of a benign world government is attractive, but it depends on getting everything exactly right on the first try. When has that ever happened in human history? For such a global government be definition could not be pressured to change by outside forces. And as for inside forces, what if it turns out to be not so benign as you assumed it would? Not so willing to surrender power and accept changes it doesn't want? The odds of that approach 1:1.

But the piece gotchya thinkin', didn't it?