Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives and liberals’

The four main factions in U.S. politics

January 6, 2016

Going into the 2016 elections, I think the differences between the populist and establishment factions of the two largest U.S. political parties are as big as the differences between the two parties.  Here’s how I see the divisions:


Right-Wing Populists.  These consist largely of socially conservative white working people who think (with some justification) that government has turned their back on their moral values and abandoned them in favor of minority groups.  They’re against government bailouts and subsidies of big corporations, but their animosity is against the government, not the corporations.  They want to preserve Social Security, Medicare and other traditional New Deal programs, but they’re against governmental programs primarily aimed at helping minorities and the undeserving poor.  They are against the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements that limit American sovereignty.  Donald Trump and Ted Cruz purport to speak for this faction.

Right-Wing Establishmentarians.  These consist of rich and powerful people, and their dupes, who embrace what Les Leopold calls the better business climate model of economic policy.  They want lower taxes on upper bracket payers, fewer governmental programs for the poor and less government regulation.  Ultimately they’d like to cut back on Social Security, Medicare and other New Deal programs.  They favor the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pro-corporate trade agreements.  Jeb Bush speaks for this faction.


Left-Wing Establishmentarians.  These consist of rich and power people, and their dupes, who are a kinder, gentler version of the right-wing establishmentarians.  They want to govern basically in their own interest, but less harshly.   They are open to affirmative action, gay marriage, abortion rights and any other rights (except gun rights) that do not threaten the existing structure of economic and political power.  Hillary Clinton speaks for this faction.

Left-Wing Populists.  These consist of blue-collar workers, and their advocates.  Like the right-wing populists, they feel their government has abandoned them, but their animosity is directed against large corporations and Wall Street banks, whom they think (with some reason) have captured the government.  While they favor equal rights and opportunities for women, gays and racial minorities, they think the main issues are economic.  Bernie Sanders speaks for this faction.


Are conservatives mean-spirited?

October 8, 2015

There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.
       ==Ralph Waldo Emerson

Half the useful work in the world consists in combating the harmful work. A little time spent in trying to appreciate facts is not time wasted.
        ==Bertrand Russell

Liberals and progressives call conservatives mean-spirited.  Conservatives complain about this even as they speak and write about “bleeding heart” liberals and progressives.

The fact is that a large part of conservatism consists of warnings against acting on your generous impulses.

This can be mean-spirited.  It can be wise.  Sometimes it is both at the same time.

A basic conservative truth is that there are many more ways to make things worse than there are to make things better.  This is true no matter how bad things are.  Another is that people are much better judges of their own interests than they are of other peoples’ interests or of the public interest.

I don’t believe that being heartless makes you more realistic, but neither do I believe that good motives guarantee good actions.

Obamacare: conservatism as the new liberalism

October 24, 2013


Even though I think the Affordable Care Act is a bad law, I’m opposed to most of the people who oppose the law.

Most opponents of the law are against it because they don’t agree with having the government guarantee a minimum level of medical care to all.  I’m opposed to the law because I don’t think it will come anywhere near to accomplishing that purpose.

Defenders of the Affordable Care Act point out that it originated as a conservative Republican plan, drafted by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and first implemented by Mitt Romney as governor of Massachusetts.

From my standpoint, that is the problem. I am a liberal Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and I did not vote for him in order to advance a conservative Republican agenda.

I’m pretty sure that the Heritage staff did not offer up their plan because they felt an urgent desire to assure health insurance for everybody.  I think they proposed their plan as a way to avoid enacting Medicare-for-all, aka a single-payer plan.

The chief merit of the Obama / Heritage plan from the right-wing point of view is that it locks the for-profit insurance companies into the system and gives them a captive market, even though they add no value to medical care.  The threat of a universal system would be that there would be no role for the insurance cmpanies.

Back in 2008, the single-payer plan was the mainstream Democratic position. Both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards advocated it in their presidential campaigns.  Barack Obama offered a moderate compromise, a public option in which an affordable government insurance plan would be made available, which at the time that seemed reasonable to me.

But as soon as President Obama took office, he embraced the Heritage / Romney plan.   His staff ridiculed anybody who took his campaign promise seriously.

If Obama thought that this would bring the Republicans on board, he was sadly mistaken.  They reverted to what they really wanted all along, which is to do nothing or take away what we have.

In five years, the former mainstream liberal position has been taken off the table for discussion. The former mainstream conservative position has been redefined as the liberal position.  The extreme right-wing position which was not then on the table has been redefined as the mainstream conservative position.

Nobody really wanted Obamacare.  It was originally proposed as a lesser evil from the conservative point of view,  and it was enacted as being a lesser evil from the liberal point of view.   The right-wing Republican goal is to get rid of it altogether.   The liberal Democratic goal should be to replace it with something adequate.


Are religious people more charitable?

February 24, 2013

A Christian pastor asked a waitress, “I give God 10 percent.  Why do you get 18?”

Jesus of Nazareth might have answered, “Inasmuch as you have given unto the least of these, so you have given unto me.”

I frequently read that surveys show that conservative Christians are more generous than secular liberals in making tax deductible contributions.  I always wondered how religious liberals compared to atheistic right-wingers, such as Ayn Rand’s followers.  It turns out that religious liberals are somewhat more generous givers than religious conservatives, according to Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and co-author of American Grace.

wpid-xlarge-1What makes a difference, Putnam said, is not what religion you belong to, or how liberal or conservative you are, as how connected you are to a community.  If your closest friends are members of the same religious community as you are, you are likely to be strong contributor to that community.  If your ties are loose, then not so much.

But if you give only to members of your own group, how charitable are you?   Michael Lynn of Cornell University did a survey last year that indicates American Jews and people without religious affiliation are more generous tippers than the average American Christian.  Doesn’t that count as charity?

I myself contribute more to First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., than I do to all other tax-deductible charities combined.   I don’t regard this as charity, in the same way as I regard putting a $20 bill in a Salvation Army kettle at Christmas-time as charity.  I regard it as doing my fair share to support a religious community from which I benefit.

The great wisdom teachers have advocated charity that goes beyond your own community.  Rabbi Hillel, who lived at the time of Jesus, said the highest form of charity is when the giver does not know the name of the recipient, and the recipient does not know the name of the giver.  Jesus gave as an example of love of neighbor the Good Samaritan, who helped a stranger of a hostile ethnic group, while condemning outwardly religious people who were unwilling to help a stranger.

All this is true, but, on the other hand, if you don’t bother to help your family, friends and community, who are right in front of you, what does it mean to be concerned with people on the other side of the world whom you never saw?  It’s complicated.   There are many different ways of doing good.

My home city of Rochester, N.Y., is full of churches and other religious groups that collect food to give to the hungry, shelter the homeless, offer cheap used clothing and appliances in rummage sales and the like—all operated by religious people who, as Jesus recommended, quietly do good without calling attention to themselves.

Personally I agree with my friend David Malone that being a generous tipper to hard-working restaurant servers, taxi drivers or hotel cleaners is an excellent form of charity.  It does not compromise human dignity.  The recipient is not a beggar; the relationship is one of mutual benefit.  It is an efficient form of giving.  You know where your money is going, and you know it is all going to the person for whom it is intended.

Click on Busting the Myth That Christians Are More Generous Than Non-Believers for more.

Should you be a liberal or conservative?

May 17, 2012

Should you be a principled old-fashioned liberal who takes up for the common people against corporate power and wealth, or should you be a principled old-fashioned conservative who takes up for the individual against the abusive power of government?

My answer is: Yes.

Nuclear options, red and blue

April 27, 2012

American Extremists - Nuclear option (red edition)

American Extremists - Nuclear option (blue edition)

Click on American Extremists for more cartoons.

The geography of American conservatism

February 23, 2012

Self-described conservatives outnumber liberals in 49 states, according to Gallup.  That’s true even in the state colored light green on the map—all except Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.  Strangely, the poorest states are the most conservative.  Liberals are strongest in states whose residents contribute the most in federal taxes in comparison to the benefits they receive; conservatives are strongest in states who benefit the most from federal programs in comparison to the taxes they pay.

There are 26 states in which more than 40 percent of those polled by Gallup call themselves conservatives, including three (Mississippi, Utah and Wyoming) in which conservatives are more than 50 percent).  In no state do self-described liberals get above 40 percent, and only in Massachusetts and the District of Columbia do they get above 30 percent.

New York state, where I live, is one of the more liberal states.  It is five to three Democratic in registration and gives President Obama a net favorable approval rating.  Yet in a Gallup poll, self-described conservative New Yorkers outnumber self-described liberals, 32 percent to 26 percent.  (An additional 37 percent of New Yorkers polled told Gallup they are moderates.)

Gallup’s data indicate that:

• Conservative states are considerably more religious than liberal-leaning states, and the correlation between conservatism and religion is increasing.

• Conservative states have a smaller proportion of college graduates, a larger concentration of blue-collar workers and a smaller concentration of “creative” and “knowledge” workers.

• States with more conservatives are less diverse.  They have a smaller percentage of immigrants or of gays and lesbians.  However, it doesn’t seem to matter one way or the other what percentage of the population is black, white or Hispanic.

• States with more conservatives are considerably less affluent than those with more liberals.  Conservatism is correlated with lower state income levels and even more so with lower average hourly earnings.

Within states, the higher-income people tend to be economic conservatives and social liberals and the lower-income people tend to be economic liberals and social conservatives.

My guess is that the Gallup respondents defined themselves in terms of social issues rather than economic issues.  That is because they are offered a meaningful choice on issues such as gay marriage, abortion rights, prayer in the public schools and the like.  On economic issues, not so much.  Liberal Democrats are as much in thrall to Wall Street as conservative Republicans.  Neither faction offers any hope of doing anything about outsourcing, downsizing, foreclosures, declining wages or other material concerns of average Americans.  Only in the so-called moral and cultural issues is there a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

We don’t know that average-income voters necessarily consider social issues more important than economic issues.  They might or might not, if given a choice, but they are not given that choice.

The next charts show how ideological differences among the states and among voters within states.


The enduring power of conservatism

February 23, 2012

Self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals nearly two to one nationwide.  If you look at this graph, it is easy to understand why the Republican candidates emphasize their conservatism, while Obama and the Democratic leaders emphasize their moderation.    Republicans can win nationally if they get all the conservative voters and a third of moderate voters.  But Democrats can’t win unless they get a large majority of moderates.

In the long run, the perceived lack of appeal of liberalism becomes self-reinforcing.  If liberals insist that they’re really moderates, and not all that liberal, how can anyone take liberalism seriously?  The “movement conservatives” don’t do that.  Even in 1964, when American conservatism seemed washed up, they stuck to their principles and eventually came back.

Click on Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideological Group in U.S. for more from Gallup and the source of the top chart.

Click on State of the States for more from Gallup and the source of the bottom chart.


President Obama and his liberal critics

January 23, 2012

American Extremists - Disposable issues

via American Extremists.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a much discussed article for Newsweek defending President Obama from criticism by the “unhinged” right and the “purist” left.   He said the conservative critics who claim he is some sort of radical socialist are out of touch with reality, while liberal critics ask too much.  President Obama has accomplished as much as can reasonably be expected, Sullivan said; his critics from the left are like little children complaining because Santa Claus didn’t give them everything on their Christmas lists.  But for me, more fundamental things are at stake.

President Obama threatens the Constitution and the principle of the rule of law by asserting the authority to sign death warrants, to imprison people without trial or without charging them with a crime, to spy on American citizens without warrants and to make it a crime to reveal the government’s abuse of power, as well as committing acts of war on his own authority.  He has committed the nation to endless wars that can only result in endless suffering and endless enemies.  He has propped up a corrupt financial oligarchy rather than to try to reform it.

To my mind, none of these issues ought to divide liberals and conservatives.  Both should defend basic constitutional rights.  At different times in American history, both have opposed foreign interventions.  Principled liberals and principled conservatives should both oppose use of government funds to protect big Wall Street firms from the consequences to their constituencies.

But in fact, the majority of self-identified liberals and the majority of self-identified conservatives are anti-Constitution, anti-peace and pro-Wall Street.  That is why I have a good word for anybody, liberal, conservative or libertarian, to takes a stand against the country’s slide into authoritarianism, militarism and kleptocracy.

These are not questions of whether President Obama has been fair to various constituencies.  They are questions of the continuation of the United States as a free, democratic, sovereign and prosperous nation.  If my fears are wrong, show me how and why they are wrong.  If my fears are not wrong, it is a mistake to pin any hopes on Obama.

True, President Obama is on roughly the same path as his predecessor, main rivals and likely successors.  Since everybody in authority is doing the same bad thing, the problem is systemic and it is futile to blame it on a single individual.  What makes Obama worse than Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich is that he appealed to the hope and idealism of young people that constructive change could be accomplished through the political process.  That hope has been dashed, and it will be a long time before it is recreated.


The left, the right, libertarians and Ron Paul

January 9, 2012

As I look at this Venn diagram published by Mother Jones magazine, I see myself in the middle of the Left circle, but I don’t see many national political figures on the circle along with me.

I’d put Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the Democratic congressional leadership in the Right circle than the Left.  President Obama claims the right to commit acts of war without authorization of Congress, and has acted on that claim.  He claims the right to imprison people without trial, to sign and execute death warrants without due process and may well be authorizing torture on as wide a scale at President Bush’s administration.  He supports NAFA-style treaties with Colombia and South Korea.  His administration is deporting unauthorized immigrants in larger numbers than the Bush administration.  He does not support reproductive rights.  He does support repeal of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, but as part of a package of economic austerity and cutbacks in the social safety net to taxation of the middle class.

President Obama and the Democratic leadership did enact the Affordable Care Act, which may turn out to be a net positive, and repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which I agree with, but not at the price of endless war and suspension of basic Constitutional rights.

All this makes me more open-minded about the Libertarians and Ron Paul than I otherwise would be.   Even though I can’t agree with them on important  matters of policy, they at least support the core values of American freedom and democracy.  I admired the way Al Gore and Howard Dean spoke up against abuses of power during the Bush administration, but they have nothing to say about the equal or worse abuses of power going on now.

The great merit of the Libertarians, and of Ron Paul, is that they have principles that are not held hostage by any political party or powerful vested interest.

Click on The Venn of Ron Paul and Other Mysteries of Libertarianism Explained for the source of this diagram and background on Libertarianism in Mother Jones.

Why I call myself a liberal

March 10, 2011

A century and a half ago, there were three main political philosophies – the liberals, who said the most important thing was individual liberty; the socialists, which said the most important thing was equality; and the conservatives, which said the most important thing was to preserve the social order.

A century ago, there were progressives, who thought the most important thing is to create new good things, as distinguished from conservatives, who thought the most important thing is to preserve existing good things.

These distinctions were pretty clear until Franklin D. Roosevelt called himself a liberal, in order to distinguish himself from the progressives of an earlier era.  But Herbert Hoover and Robert A. Taft called themselves liberals, too.

By the standards of European countries, the vast majority of Americans are liberals.  Our self-described liberals are socialistic liberals and our self-described conservatives are conservative liberals.

My political philosophy is to strive for as much equality as is consistent with essential individual freedom, and as much individual freedom as is consistent with preserving the moral foundations of society.  I want to preserve existing good things and restore previous good things, most of which were the progressive goals of an earlier generation.


Conservatives and liberals: the difference (4)

October 28, 2010

Liberals are like a doctor who tells somebody with cancer of the brain to go and take two aspirin.

Conservatives are like a doctor who tells somebody with cancer of the brain to go and shoot himself in the head.