Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives vs. Liberals’

The trap of Red vs. Blue thinking

February 5, 2014

The fundamental fallacy which is committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”
==Bertrand Russell, in 1956 letter

One of the big obstacles to rational discussion of politics is the notion that you’ve got to sign up for Team Red or Team Blue, and that on any given question, the criterion is which answer helps your team and which helps the other team.

Let me give a couple of examples.

I once argued with a Republican acquaintance about the need for filibuster reform in the Senate, so that bills and appointments could be approved by a 51-vote majority rather than a 60-vote super-majority.   His rebuttal was that Democrats benefit from the filibuster as much as Republicans, and would favor the filibuster when they were no longer in the majority.   This probably was true,  but the question was not what is in the interests of  the Democrat or Republicans, but in the interests of the USA.

Obama.TeaPartyA Democratic friend once said that it was a mistake to “fetishize” the Constitution, because that is what Tea Party Republicans do.  As I see it,  support for the Constitution is the basic social contract that binds the United States together as a nation.  Without it, Americans are no more than a collection of contending ethnic groups or the world’s biggest mass market for advertisers.  Maybe my thinking is wrong, but, if so, what Tea Party members do or don’t think has nothing to do with the case.

I disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, a Tea Party Republican from Michigan, on many issues, such as his role in the irresponsible government shutdown,  but I think he is worthy of praise for co-sponsoring legislation to curb abuses of the National Security Agency.

I have been enrolled as a Democrat since I first registered to vote.  I once thought there was an intrinsic difference between the two political parties.  I agreed with the historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote in The Age of Jackson that the Republican Party and its predecessors, the Whig Party and the Federal Party, represented the interests of Wall Street and big business, while the Democratic Party, going back to Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, was a coalition of everyone who might be harmed by the abuse of business power.  Schlesinger thus rationalized the fact that the Democratic coalition in the 1940s and 1950s included Southern white supremacists.  The interests of the Southern planters were not the interests of Wall Street.

I see now that this is an oversimplified view of history.  From the Civil War to the Great Depression, there were as many progressives in the Republican Party as in the Democratic Party.   The Republican Party was not merely the party of William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge; it was the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, George W. Norris and Fiorello LaGuardia.

And as political scientist Thomas Ferguson has pointed out, the Democratic Party is as much beholden to Wall Street and corporate interests as the Republican Party.

I agree with the Democrats more than the Republicans on most, although not all, issues on which the two parties differ.  But I am much more concerned about political continuity and bipartisan agreement on questions such as propping up Wall Street, extrajudicial killing, preventive detention and warrant-less surveillance. , a consensus that seems to endure in Washington regardless of public opinion. And I am pleased when people from either side of the political aisle dissent from this consensus.  If we Americans want a free, peaceful and prosperous country, we’ve got to get beyond limits of Blue vs. Red.

No political party is worthy of loyalty in and of itself.  No political label is worthy of loyalty.  The only things that are worthy of loyalty are certain principles and certain human beings.  A political party, like a corporation or a union, is merely an organizational structure in which individual people can do certain things.  But if the people are replaced, and their principles and purposes are lost, what is there left to be loyal to?

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Those lazy unemployed

February 10, 2011

A meme is going around which that the reason the unemployment rate is persistently high is the extension of unemployment compensation benefits.  Here are some quotes I found in a brief Google search on “lazy unemployed.” [1]

Republican Sharron Angle, running for Senate in Nevada: “[W]e have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said, you don’t want the jobs that are available.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona): “[C]ontinuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): “We shouldn’t turn the safety net into a hammock. It should actually be a safety net.”

Rep. Dan Heller (R-Nevada): “Is the government now creating hobos?”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah): “You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to blow it on drugs.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis), giving the official Republican reply to the 2011 State of the Union address: “If government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged …… we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”

And here is a comment about free school lunches.

South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer: “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

A difference between self-identified liberals and self-identified conservatives [2] is that when they see somebody in trouble, the former tend to think the person must have suffered some kind of misfortune while the latter think the person must have done something wrong to bring the problem on themselves.

That is why liberals call conservatives “mean-spirited,” and conservatives call liberals “bleeding hearts.”

I think of myself as a liberal.  When I see somebody in trouble, I tend to imagine myself in their place.  I admit this is a bias, but I don’t think you have to be a liberal to find the above statements mean-spirited.

(more…)

What’s the matter with liberals?

December 21, 2010

The reason self-described conservatives have the support of so many white working people is that they are working for a coherent program in a committed, disciplined way.  The reason self-described liberals are losing support is that very few of them have the same commitment, discipline and clarity.

Idaho Tea Party protest

The conservative message is that government as such is evil and counterproductive, except in regard to social order, national security and internal security, in which case its powers should be absolute.  Also, liberals are cultural elitists whose aim is use the powers of government to impose their crazy ideas on ordinary people.  People hear this day in and day out in talk radio and Fox News, with very little push-back in the so-called mainstream media.

I have to respect members of the conservative movement for keeping their eyes on the prize. The present makeup of the Supreme Court and federal courts, as an example, did not just happen.  Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict (2007) reports, admiringly, on 40 years of effort, going back to the Nixon administration, to pack the court with judges who could be counted on to vote reliably conservative and yet get past the liberals in Congress.

Self-described liberals for 30 years have lacked a coherent message.  As somebody said, a conservative will tell you how conservative he is, while a liberal will tell you he isn’t all that liberal.  The so-called mainstream news media are not a counterbalance to the right-wing media.  As an alternative to propaganda for an ideology, you have hip jaded cynicism.  (That’s an overgeneralization; good reporting is still being done, but you have to look for it to find it.)

(more…)

Abusive conservatives and battered liberals

October 1, 2010

It is bad enough when 41 Senators block action supported by the other 59, but there is something worse – a single Senator blocking action supported by the other 99.

Senate procedures allow for up to 30 hours of debate on bill or appointment that comes before it, even with cloture.  Currently the Senate has before it more than 100 appointments and more than 350 bills passed by the House, most of them noncontroversial.  There aren’t enough hours in the day or days in the week to debate all of these.  So routine, noncontroversial business requires “unanimous consent” to waive the rules.

In the past, Senators have sometimes refused unanimous consent – put a “hold” on a bill – when they have some objection to it.  But in the current Senate, the “hold” and other procedural technicalities are being used not because of specific objections, but for the purposes of obstruction and blackmail.

What surprises me is not so much that these abuses take place as that there is no outcry against them by the Democratic leadership.  The whole thing reminds me of the relationship of an abusive husband and a battered wife.  It takes two to maintain such a relationship, an abuser and an enabler who tolerates the abuse.  The battered wife keeps deluding herself that if she just finds the right approach, the abuse will stop.  But in fact it won’t until she finds a way to walk away from the relationship.

I have great sympathy for actual battered wives who are trapped in abusive relationships and see no way out, I agree there is a need for battered women’s shelters and other services, and I certainly do not blame the victim in such circumstances.   I do, however, blame the battered liberal Democrats who accept the abusive relationship.

(more…)

Is the country shifting to the right? or left?

September 20, 2010

Chris Powers writes on the Daily Kos web log that the United States is moving to the left, not to the right as so many people assume.

As evidence, he points to growing tolerance of interracial marriage, growing tolerance of same-sex marriage, the narrowing of the male-female wage gap, growing tolerance of marijuana legalization and increased spending on social programs as a percentage of gross domestic product.

What’s noteworthy about all these is that none of them except maybe the last affects the profitability of corporations or the income of millionaires and billionaires.  And social spending is something that goes up when times are bad.

So is the country shifting to the right, or to the left?  It depends on what you mean by left and right.  If by left you mean more permissive social attitudes, we have moved radically to the left.  If you mean governing in the interests of working people, we have moved in the opposite direction.

Conservatives and liberals: the difference (3)

August 27, 2010

Liberal men pride themselves on being nice guys.

Conservative men pride themselves on being tough guys.

Conservatives and liberals: the difference (2)

August 20, 2010

Conservatives regard American politics as a game they want to win.

Liberals regard American politics as a game they want to referee.

Conservatives and liberals: the difference

July 13, 2010

According to blogger Freddie de Boer, the difference between conservatives and liberals is this: –

When conservatives argue, they say, “My position is the really conservative one.”

When liberals argue, they often still say, “My position isn’t too liberal. Don’t worry.”