Monday, August 15, 2005

The War of Ideas

After yesterdays blog entry I decided that I wanted to find another quote that would inspire me to express an opinion on a matter. I again chose a quote from President Kennedy.

“If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I'm proud to say I'm a ‘Liberal.’”

It has been on my mind for a long time that I am a member of a political party that is mostly made up of wimps who fail miserably to clearly explain why they are liberal and why liberalism is clearly the better political philosophy for the society as a whole. Sure, if your goal is to improve your own station in life alone and you are not at all concerned with the success of others, libertarianism or conservatism are your best approaches. But these people who self-identify as conservative or libertarian believe that they live in a vacuum where the actions of others in a society do not affect them at all. They clearly have a distorted view of what it means to be a member of society. If you’ve come here to hear about how evil and selfish these people are, you’ve come to the wrong place. Many well meaning conservatives and libertarians give great resources to their church or charities. They simply feel that the government is not the best instrument to assist the disenfranchised with improving their station in life.

I disagree. I believe that churches and charities do offer assistance that is extremely valuable in assisting the poor or cleaning up blighted neighborhoods or patrolling neighborhoods to lower crime. Their work is noble and it is righteous, but so is much that the government undertakes. Remember that many charities receive a lion’s share of their funding from the government. The reason I do not support the same funding for faith based initiatives is because of the invariable proselytizing and conversion that occurs as a result of the efforts. I do not believe that these religious organizations are out of line in this course of action, I just believe that it is an inappropriate use of government money in a nation that has no official state religion.

Clearly JFKs quote is intended to imply that liberals, unlike conservatives see the world in shades of grey. Things are not either black or white as conservatives, including our current President, would have you believe.

The definition of the term liberal in the American Heritage dictionary is: “not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.” Clearly liberals believe that there is more than one good way to achieve a policy objective and that the best approach is an enlightened and engaged debate where society chooses the public policy which will best achieve the goals that they judge to be in their national interest.

On the other side of the coin are conservatives. The word conservative is defined as: “favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.” I believe that the last part is most telling; tending to oppose change. I believe that conservatives want to see things through rose colored lenses. Everything in our society is as it should be. Of course, it is hardly shocking that a majority of fiscal conservatives are rich and a majority of social conservatives are religious.

Unfortunately our society has not reached a place where our traditional views and values are sufficient to ensure that all in our society have equal opportunity. Racism is still rampant in the United States. Not everyone is judged equally by all people. Therefore policies which are inherently racist, such as affirmative action, are necessary to level the playing field. I don’t think that anyone believes that affirmative action is an ideal public policy. If you asked African Americans, I believe that they would tell you they would prefer a society where they are judged by who they are and what they know, not what they look like. As a true liberal I must concede that affirmative action creates contempt in certain segments of our population. As someone who is willing to consider other options I would willing engage in a policy debate with people who view the issue differently and try to find a better policy. But conservatives are not interested in the debate. They simply want to do away with affirmative action. Conservatives demonize the policy to breed fear in white Americans by calling it a quota system and telling whites that they will not get this job or into that college because of the color of their skin.

Conservatives in this country have become very adept at cloaking their agenda in the guise of compassion. In the late 90s they spawned a whole compassionate conservative movement claiming that George W. Bush was their standard bearer. This type of subterfuge is not uncommon. You will all notice that this is not a title that conservatives use anymore. Do you know another name for a compassionate conservative? They are called liberals, because compassion walks hand in hand with open-mindedness.

You will notice that I did not mention political parties in today’s piece. That is because there are liberals and conservatives in both parties. I did choose to single out George W. Bush, because I believe he is a particularly good example of a conservative without a shred of true compassion in him, at least not for anyone who is remotely different than him. I, like many observers, see the Democratic Party as the liberal party and the GOP as the conservatives, but it wasn’t always this way. As I stated several days ago, a higher percentage of Republicans voted for the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts in the 60s than did Democrats, but that has shifted and when that shift occurred progressives in the Republican Party were replaced by the likes of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. The disappearance of progressive Republicans did not happen overnight and they are still out there. They are a stunned and silenced segment of the Grand Old Party that needs to awaken and reclaim the party that was stolen from them 40 years ago. Until they do, a fruitful and constructive debate on any public policy in this country is an exercise in futility.

Of course, there is no incentive for these progressive Republicans to re-assert themselves while the opposition Democrats appear weak and unable to defend the liberal ideologies that they hold dear. More on that in the days to come.

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