Posts Tagged ‘Liberals and conservatives’

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.

Liberals still losing: Links & comments 10/28/13

October 28, 2013

Liberals in Washington can’t win for losing.   While President Obama and the congressional Democrats did stand firm against the blackmail threat of a government shutdown and debt default, merely keeping the government functioning is not a great triumph.  While the Democrats control the White House and the Senate and the Republicans only control the House of Representatives, it is the Democrats who act as if they are a defeated minority.

The Glorious, Futile Progressive Policy Agenda by Molly Ball for The Atlantic.

butwewon'tThe writer mocked the “fever dream bizzaro world” of a conference convened last Thursday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.  Among the “irrelevant pipe dreams” were a higher minimum wage, investing more money in education, infrastructure and scientific research and doing something about climate change.  She did not advance any arguments as to why these are bad ideas.  She merely took for granted that they are politically unrealistic.

Washington is still stuck in the wrong conversation by Ryan Cooper for the Washington Post.

Obama’s Top Economic Adviser Tells Democrats They’ll Have to Swallow Entitlement Cuts by Joshua Green for Boomberg Businessweek.

Sell-Out Alert: 9 Democrats Already Caving to GOP on Social Security Cuts by Steven Rosenfeld for AlterNet.

Maybe they are.  The default baseline position is the budget sequester, which locks in reductions in government spending across the board, which means less for scientific research, less for repairs of roads and bridges, less for school lunches and food stamps.  It’s hard to see how the Democrats can get out of this without giving up even more on historic liberal programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

And they may not see this as a dilemma.  President Obama has long hinted at his willingness to cut Social Security and Medicare.  This may have been a factor in the Republican resurgence in 2010.

President Obama’s top economic adviser appears to think that the economic recovery depends on restoring business “confidence” and confidence can be restored only by cutting social safety net programs.  And a significant number of Democrats in the Senate are willing to go along with this.

So the Democratic program consists of Obamacare, reductions in other social programs and a moderate increase in taxes for rich people.  I think most voters are looking for a program that will address falling wages and long-term unemployment, even though that may seem like an “irrelevant pipe dream” to Washington insiders.

Let’s Get This Class War Started by Chris Hedges for Common Dreams.   Hat tip to Mike Connelly.

President Obama early in his term of office told a group of Wall Street bankers that he was the only one standing between them and the people with pitchforks.  I think it is time to join the people with pitchforks.

There is a deeply entrenched financial and corporate oligarchy who for the most part do contribute anything anywhere near equal to what they take, whose interests do not coincide with the public interest and who do not feel any responsibility for the common good.  It is time to break their lock on government and end their special privileges.

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.


David Graeber on political polarization

October 16, 2013


In the current government shutdown and bond default crisis, the extreme left-wing position, the one that House Speaker John Boehner says would amount to “unconditional surrender,” would be to allow the government to function normally and pay its bills under the “sequester” budget.  This is the austerity budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, which at the time a surrender to the priorities of the Republican right wing.

Candidate Barack Obama, writing in The Audacity of Hope, criticized liberal Democrats for failing to give Ronald Reagan credit for his good ideas.  I should have paid more attention.  What the Tea Party Republicans do is to give President Obama cover for protecting Wall Street and the military-intelligence complex.

I intend to post a review of David Graeber’s The Democracy Project sometime soon, but in the meantime, here is a good quote on what the word “conservative” has come to mean.

DGCNowadays in the United States at least, “conservative” has mainly come to be used for “right-wing radical,” while its long-standing literal meaning was “someone whose main political imperative is to conserve existing institutions, to protect the status quo.”

This is precisely what Obama has turned out to be.  Almost all his greatest political efforts have been aimed at preserving some institutional structure under threat: the banking system, the auto industry, even the health insurance industry.

Not to mention the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and their contractors.

In America today, “right” and “left” are ordinarily used to refer to Republicans and Democrats, two parties that basically represent different factions within the 1 percent—or perhaps, if one were to be extremely generous, the top 2 or 3 percent of the U.S. population [in income].

Wall Street, which owns both, seems equally divided between the two.  Republicans, otherwise, represent the bulk of the remaining CEOs, particularly in the military and extractive industries (energy, mining, timber), and just about all the middle-rank businessmen; Democrats represent the upper echelons of what author and activist Barbara Ehrenreich once called “the professional-managerial class,” as well as pretty much everybody in academia and the entertainment industry.

Certainly this is where each party’s money is coming from—and, increasingly, raising and spending money is all these parties really do.

My Obamaphile friends rightly point out the delusions of the Tea Party Republicans, but they themselves are committed to the illusion that President Obama is a progressive who is on the side of the common people.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/1/13

October 1, 2013

A World in Which No One Is Listening to the World’s Sole Superpower by Dilip HIro for The Nation.

Back during the Vietnam Conflict, a friend of mine remarked that the United States government had the power to kill all the North Vietnamese and the power to kill all the South Vietnamese, but it did not have the power make Vietnamese obey it.  Mao Zedong was wrong.  Not all political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

The U.S. government still spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world put together, but it is less and less able to impose its will on the rest of the world.  As Dilip Hiro wrote, even nominal allies of the United States, even governments that were installed by the U.S. military, refuse to follow President Obama’s lead.

The willingness of a President to engage in military action does not give him credibility.  Instead successive military interventions have drained U.S. strength, and the rest of the world perceives this.  We Americans would have done better to hold our military strength in reserve until we really need it to defend the nation.

I don’t think this is due to weakness of will, and I don’t think things would be better if John McCain or Mitt Romney were in the White House.  I think it is due to long-standing lack of understanding by American leaders that power is not a substitute for understanding.

How a Shopping Mall Becomes a Killing Zone by Philip Jenkins for the American Conservative.

Philip Jenkins in this article described the ingenuity of Somali Al Shabaab terrorists and how they were able to hold out so long and kill so many people in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall.  Instead of attacking the mall, rented a store, built up an arsenal, scouted out the mall and only then began their slaughter.

Terrorism, whatever its roots may be, is a real threat.  It is just not the kind of threat that can be met by invading countries or firing killer drones at suspicious characters in remote villages.  It is a threat to be met by good police and intelligence work.

Science confirms: Politics wrecks your ability to do math by Chris Mooney for Grist.

A psychological experiment showed that not only does political bias cloud people’s understanding of statistics, and that a better understanding of statistics leads not to greater objectivity, but to a greater ability to defend their biases.  This is true of both liberals and conservatives.

Ground Gives Way, and a Louisiana Town Struggles to Regain Its Footing by Michael Wines in the New York Times.

A growing sinkhole, hundreds of feet deep and as large as 20 football fields, swallows up trees and houses in southern Louisiana.  It is like the opening scene of a horror movie.

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.

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.