Wednesday, August 09, 2006

liberals and conservatives

Ottoman manuscript of the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum Secretorum. I had initially wanted to find an image of a manuscript of the Politics, but this is too pretty not to post.

Let me start this fragmentary blog post by saying that I am very happy Ned Lamont won in Connecticut and find Lieberman's reaction appalling.

I must be a liberal.

Last night, desperate to get news on the primary while cooking dinner, I tuned my radio to Air America for the second time since they went on the air. For the second time, I quickly turned it off. Instead of information, analysis, news, etc., I had to listen to some fool ranting for fifteen minutes about how Dennis Miller was joining Fox News again. Was this an intelligent discussion about why Miller's support for Bush and his policies are misguided or mistaken, a cultural analysis of what it means to be a "hip conservative," or anything, however humble, that could contribute to meaningful political discourse? No, it was a tirade about how Miller was a "failed comic," an "idiot" of "mediocre talent" whom the Air America commentator would relentlessly "mock."

Really, is this the best we can do? Copy Ann Coulter's style? I have not listened to much Air America and perhaps there are better programs than this, but I have no desire at this point to listen to find out.

I have no problem with using the most sophomoric of obscenities and insults towards our current administration when drinking with friends, but I think public discourse should offer a bit more. I have tried to avoid letting emotion get the better of me on the blog, just because there are too many blogs out there that are dedicated to showing how stupid/dangerous/evil the Republicans/Democrats/wingnuts/moonbats are, and there's no reason to add to it. Sometimes I've come close, but even then I've mentioned certain politicians by name. I have no desire to hate all Republicans and Republican voters. If you're reading this and you still enthusiastically support Bush, I don't hate you. I am thoroughly perplexed by you, but I don't hate you.

I believe the Bush administration, aided and abetted by a fawning Republican congress, has done irreparable damage to this country and to the world in general through debt, corruption, war, and environmental destruction (and that's the short list). The only short-term solution is a strong opposition, and this is why I support Ned Lamont. I don't see myself as "partisan," though, because I can't place a great deal of faith in the Democratic party. There are some Democrats I admire, and I sincerely think they would do much better than the Republicans at running the country, but I think the system itself is not working well. American democracy is dominated by sound-bites and cash, and it will need more than an election to fix it.

Am I a liberal? At dot.commonweal I found the following quotation from a conservative originally from First Things:
You know you are a liberal if you think that the poor need money more than they need moral discipline.
All this tells me is that I'm not a conservative, because the sentence makes very little sense to me. There's so much wrong, where should I start? The paternalistic tone so common to conservatives who believe that they themselves have moral discipline and probably don't know what it's like not to have money? The utterly simplistic notion that social programs (money) and "moral discipline" are mutually exclusive? The complete lack of understanding of the manifold social problems that are very real that many of the underclass face (cycles of violence and poverty, racism, a lack of education, etc.) that make preaching about "moral discipline" irrelevant if not insulting? I could go on.

Somebody left this comment on that post:
You know you're a liberal if you:

Hate Walmart
Wear Birkenstocks
Eat only organic foods
Think Al Gore is a great prophet
Think Hillary Clinton is too consrevative
Are rejoicing at Lieberman's defeat
Hate George Bush
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Hate Dick Cheney
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Hate Donald Rumsfeld
Believe hate is a very destructive emotion
Use the phrase "Speak truth to power"
Think all big corporations are evil
Believe that the monogamous hetereosexual family is the nest of fascism
Believe that terrorists' grievances are all legitimate
Believe that an angry conservative is full of hate
Believe that an angry liberal is passionate

I could go on (and on, and on...)

NOTE: One must believe at least 90% of the above list ;))

Hmm... Am I a liberal. Let's see:

"Hate Walmart... Hate George Bush... Hate Dick Cheney... Hate Donald Rumsfeld... Believe hate is a very destructive emotion."

This is, of course, a trap to show what hypocrites we are. I believe Walmart is a very negative and malicious influence on society. I have written about the Bush administration before. As a Christian, I do believe hate is a destructive emotion, though as a human (and a sinner), not one I can always avoid. But my political opposition to these men and that corporation is not based on hatred, just on the fact that they have perpetuated such a great amount of injustice on our society and on the world at large that they must be stopped. Many on the right talk about liberals' "obsessive hatred of Bush" (this after what they did to Clinton). If I had time I could list the hundreds of reasons why I oppose Bush. Calmly, without hatred.

"Wear Birkenstocks... Eat only organic foods." I have sandals I wear in summer. They are not birkenstocks. My personal style is very little hippy-influenced. I can't afford organic foods and I don't worry too much about that right now.

"Think Al Gore is a great prophet... Think Hillary Clinton is too consrevative [sic]." I think Al Gore (along with just about every responsible scientist) is right about global warming and that we ignore what he's saying at great peril. I don't know if Hillary is conservative or not -- she's a consummate politician and her ideology changes with the wind. She is not particularly progressive.

"Use the phrase 'Speak truth to power'." I don't think I have used that phrase, but many people left and right feel they are poor, oppressed and misunderstood because they dare to "speak the truth" (think David Horowitz). I do like Stephen Colbert, though.

"Think all big corporations are evil."

I think big corporations are profit-oriented, and profits are morally neutral. Many of them will do nasty things if they can get away with it, because they're not about good or bad, but about money. That's why the state needs to regulate them.

"Believe that the monogamous hetereosexual family is the nest of fascism." Right. That would include my family. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me, however, how gay marriages threaten straight marriages.

"Believe that terrorists' grievances are all legitimate." Once again, a trap. If you look for root causes, anything more sophisticated than "they hate our freedom," the terrorists win, you are blaming the victim, etc. We ignore the real reasons behind terrorism at our peril.

"Believe that an angry conservative is full of hate... Believe that an angry liberal is passionate." See above on hate and also above on Air America. If you're full of hate, you're full of hate.

I have to take filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis out for lunch, so there's no time to analyze this further right now. Am I a liberal?


crystal said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
crystal said...

Sorry - thought better of what I'd written :-)

Jeff said...

Great post, Liam

There's a lot to think about there. I agree with you about Joe Lieberman's decision to continue on as an Independent. Give it up, Joe. Can't any of these guys ever check their hubris at the door? Do they all have to feel as if their time in Congress is a lifetime entitlement? Are they that loathe to give up their invitations to Meet The Press and the Imus in the Morning radio program?

You know you are a liberal if you think that the poor need money more than they need moral discipline

Sort of a leading and condescending way to build a question, but as you pointed out, these rhetorical devices pass for reasoned discourse nowadays. All sides do it. Heck, even I just sorta did it. :-)

Brian Cubbage said...

Ditto on Lieberman, Liam and Jeff. His oft-replayed soundbite from yesterday said it all: He thinks of himself as having the exclusive right to speak for "Team Connecticut"-- the true Connecticut, that is, not the one represented by voters from his own party. It reminds me of Nixon's "silent majority" talk, and it's just as empty.

On moral discipline vs. money: This is a false dilemma. The poor need both. Also, the rhetoric of moral "discipline" bespeaks an unimaginable depth of condescension to my ears. It's yet another way of depicting the disadvantaged as inherently less capable of exercising autonomous judgment, so that it is our job-- we good non-poor conservative folks-- to step in and determine the moral facts of their lives for them.

I wonder, too, if this doesn't also bespeak the attitude towards poverty that Ronald Reagan, for instance, had-- namely, poverty as itself a sign that one is morally deficient. The flip side of that view, is, of course, that wealth implies moral virtue. Max Weber may have been wrong about some things, but his thesis about the Protestant work-ethic still explains a hell of a lot.

Liam said...

Hello Jeff, Brian, Crystal.

I believe that the conservative movement has been very good at dominating the discourse with some ideas: that government is not capable of doing anything right, that private enterprise is almost miraculously efficient and good for society. The result in 2006: a widening gap between the rich and poor, a third-world infant mortality rate (especially among African-Americans), the response to h. Katrina, Halliburton, Enron.

By the way, Lamont's win shows how the extreme left dominates the democratic party (WH spokesman Tony Snow) and is a comfort to the terrorists (Cheney). Like I said, my politics aren't based on hate, but these guys really do test my patience.

crystal said...

I just want to echo what Jeff and Brian said about ... You know you are a liberal if you think that the poor need money more than they need moral discipline ... it's written in a way that doesn't allow a responcible comment, and the contempt shown for "the poor" in that statement is really disturbing. It's obvious they believe the poor are beings so removed from themselves that there could never be a chance they'd be part of that group - "there but for fortune ..."

PrickliestPear said...

Someone once said that the real division is not between conservatives and liberals, but between those who think the world is simple, and those who know that it's not.

I think this is a better way of looking at it. The First Things quotation and the subsequent "Hate Wal-Mart" (etc.) comment on dotCommonweal, as you've sort of demonstrated, have their origin in a simplistic worldview.

Of course, the fact that both are from people who (presumably) think of themselves as "conservative" is probably not an accident.

Steve Bogner said...

It's not such a simple world, to divide it into liberal and conservative... most people are a mix of the two - and that's the great moderate middle.

For example, I wear birkenstocks, but I'm not liberal ;)

When people divide the world into two groups, they are not looking for discussion but only to prove their own point of view. It's an approach that plays well to the home crowd, but doesn't really accomplish anything of value.

Sandalstraps said...


Great post. I finally got to read it now that I am home from my vacation.

To all commenters,

Thanks for your insight. You've left me with nothing to say.