Posts Tagged ‘Liberals vs. conservatives’

Why can’t we Americans get what we want?

June 2, 2021

Here are some bits of information I pulled from a post by a blogger named Benjamin David Steele.


Columbia law Professor Tim Wu wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy.

The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support.

Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws.

Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

The list goes on.

Michael Moore included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

Here are the facts.

The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]

They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]

  • stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
  • legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
  • a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
  • Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
  • tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
  • free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
  • support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
  • a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
  • break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]

Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]

And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]

And on and on and on.


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?

Does the Democratic Party have a future?

April 16, 2013

Democrats are gloating over the divisions and self-destructive path of the Republican Party, but their own party’s leaders are equally divisive and self-destructive.   President Obama and the rest of the party’s top leadership are dismantling everything that would give an ordinary working person or middle-class person a reason to vote Democratic.

I have in mind Obama’s attacks on the social safety net, his “too big to fail” and “too big to jail” policies toward lawbreaking Wall Street banks and his support for treaties that would give corporate-friendly international courts the authority to override U.S. laws protecting workers, public health and the environment.

Newsweek - Obama - The Democrats ReaganI voted for Barack Obama in 2008 when he promised to seek a public option for health insurance, to defend Social Security and Medicare, to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement to protect the interests of workers, to support “card check” to protect the rights of workers to form labor unions, to bring the national security apparatus under the rule of law and the Constitution and to keep the United States out of “dumb wars.”

I voted against him in 2012 because he did just the opposite of these things.   He never even considered a public option.  He has repeatedly offered to cut Social Security and Medicare.   He supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now being negotiated in secret, which is worse than NAFTA.   He did not support card check, nor has he done anything to defend the rights of labor to organize.  His record on civil liberties and warmongering is worse than that of President Bush.

For quite some time progressives have ceased to defend President Obama’s policies on their merits.   They say we should support President Obama because his policies are not as bad as Paul Ryan’s or Darrell Issa’s.  This puts President Obama in a position to offer what the blogger “Digby” called a Sophie’s Choice.

The White House and the Democratic centrists are holding hostages. … [T]hey’re basically telling the progressives that a hostage is going to get shot no matter what:  Head Start and food inspections today or the elderly, the sick and the veterans tomorrow and they have to choose which one.

via Hullabaloo.

As she wrote, sometimes the best choice is to just say “no”.

Back during the Bush administration, I read What’s the Matter With Kansas? by Thomas Frank and Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant, which were about why working people in Kansas and southwest Virginia voted Republican when the Republican Party pursued policies counter to their interests.   Their answers were not so much that these voters gave priority to cultural and moral issues over their economic interests as that neither party championed their economic issues.

turn-rightNow cultural and moral issues are working more to the advantage of the Democrats than the Republicans, but it is still the case that (with a few honorable exceptions) neither party’s leaders defend the interests of working people.  The Democratic leaders hope that people will vote for them because they are the party of abortion rights, gay rights, gun control and affirmative action (I agree with the first two, but not the last two) and forget about jobs, wages and the social safety net.   I think this is wrong and, on purely pragmatic grounds, I don’t think this is sufficient for a winning electoral coalition.

Public opinion polls show that the majority of Americans blame the Bush administration and not the Obama administration for the Great Recession.  But the fact is that the Obama administration’s economic policies are continuations of the Bush administration policies.   What has President Obama done or proposed that will help wage-earners and the unemployed, or prevent another and worse Great Recession?  I can’t think of anything except the stimulus package, which did not achieve its object but may have prevented an even worse decline.

For the past 20 or so years, the Democrats and Republicans have alternated in power.  Just 10 years ago, the Democratic future seemed as bleak as the Republican future does now, but they quickly came back.  The Republicans could do the same.  I think the American people are not satisfied with either party.  That is why neither one stays in power for more than a term or two.  Eventually either one or both of the two parties will change direction, or one or both of the two parties will break up.   I have lived long enough to know I can’t predict the future.  The only thing I am sure of is that things can’t go on the way they are now.


Liberals and the wisdom of conservatism

April 2, 2013

Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, wrote in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion  that good people are divided because liberals and conservatives fail to understand the moral foundations of each others’ values.  Haidt identifies as a liberal, and yet says the conservatives typically have a broader and better understanding than liberals do.

Haidt and his colleagues created what he called a Moral Foundations Questionnaire, which were intended to show how strongly people felt about moral behavior in five categories: (1) Care vs. harm, (2) Fairness vs. cheating, (3) Loyalty vs. betrayal, (4) Authority vs. subversion, and (5) Sanctity vs. degradation.  Later they added (6) Liberty vs. oppression.

righteous.mindThey found that self-identified liberals and progressives cared most about Care, a lot about Liberty, some about Fairness and very little about anything else.  Conservatives, on the other hand, cared about all six Moral Foundations in roughly equal measure.  Libertarians, who don’t fall into either category, called most about Liberty, a lot about Fairness and very little about anything else.

Haidt said that while American liberals care about individuals and their welfare, American conservatives balance this with concern for the virtues necessary to uphold social order.  You don’t help the bees by destroying the hive, he said.  He said libertarians are even more limited; they are liberals without bleeding hearts.

When conservatives were asked to fill out questionnaires based on what they thought a typical liberal would think, they were reasonably accurate.  But when liberals were asked to put themselves in the place of a typical conservative, they failed utterly.   That finding startled me, and I wonder how many Fox News and Rush Limbaugh fans were included in the survey.

But his basic point is correct.  The liberal virtues of freedom, reason and tolerance can be practiced only in a stable society, and a stable society requires the conservative virtues of duty, authority and tradition.

Just as liberals are outliers within American society, Haidt wrote, Americans are outliers among the people of the world.  Americans value the well-being of the individual over all else.  Most other cultures set a higher value on community and divinity.   Haidt became aware of this on a visit to India, where he came to appreciate the virtues of a hierarchical, tightly-knit society in which people weren’t treated equally or even justly, but everyone had a place in society with its duties.

He cited an article on cross-cultural comparisons by Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen, which coined the acronym WEIRD—Westernized, educated, individualistic, rich and democratic—to define what sets Americans apart from the rest of the world.

Haidt participated with Brazilian psychologists in a survey of moral values of rich and poor people in Recife and Porto Alegre, Brazil, and in Philadelphia.  Interestingly, they found that the richer and more educated Brazilians and Americans had more in common with each other than they did with the poor and working-class people of their own countries.  The poor people thought breaking rules was wrong regardless of circumstance, while the educated people said that it depended on whether breaking the rule did any harm.

I wish Haidt had followed up on that finding.  What it suggests is that so-called WEIRD values are a natural consequence of wealth and education.  I would like to believe that liberalism represents the direction of human progress, rather than a fair-weather philosophy that goes overboard in adversity.

Click on YourMorals.Org to take Jonathan Haidt’s Morality Quiz

Click on Of Freedom and Fairness for Haidt’s article in Democracy Journal about the current political situation.

Click on Why Americans Are the Weirdest People in the World for a feature article about Joe Heinrich, Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayen and their cross-cultural research.

Click on The Knowns and the Unknowns for a criticism of Haidt’s philosophical assumptions by John Gray in The New Republic.


A vote for the “idea of Obama”

November 9, 2012

idea of obamaThe cartoonist Tom Tomorrow used to draw cartoons showing the disconnect between the actual Barack Obama and the “idea of Obama” in the minds of his core supporters.   The “idea of Obama” is a cautious progressive who favors peace, civil liberties, full employment and health insurance for all.   Even though, in my opinion, this view does not reflect reality, I’m glad that a majority of voters apparently favor the “idea of Obama,” or at least think it is better than the alternative.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote the other day:

The greatest and most enduring significance of Tuesday night’s election results will likely not be the re-election of Barack Obama, but rather what the outcome reflects about the American electorate.  It was not merely Democrats, but liberalism, which was triumphant.

To begin with, it is hard to overstate just how crippled America’s right-wing is.  Although it was masked by their aberrational win in 2010, the GOP has now been not merely defeated, but crushed, in three out of the last four elections: in 2006 (when they lost control of the House and Senate), 2008 (when Obama won easily and Democrats expanded their margins of control), and now 2012.  The horrendous political legacy of George Bush and Dick Cheney continues to sink the GOP, and demographic realities – how toxic the American Right is to the very groups that are now becoming America’s majority – makes it difficult to envision how this will change any time soon.

Meanwhile, new laws to legalize both same-sex marriage and marijuana use were enacted in multiple states with little controversy, an unthinkable result even a few years ago, while Obama’s late-term embrace of same-sex marriage seems to have resulted only in political benefit with no political harm.  Democrats were sent to the Senate by deeply red states such as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, along with genuinely progressive candidates on domestic issues, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.  As a cherry on the liberal cake, two of the most loathed right-wing House members – Rep Joe Walsh of Illinois and Allen West of Florida – were removed from office.

via Glenn Greenwald

The actual differences between Obama and Mitt Romney were less than their campaign rhetoric indicated.  I think both candidates are aligned with Wall Street and the military-industrial complex, both accept perpetual warfare as a necessity which supersedes the Bill of Rights.  Within that basic framework, Obama will try to appease poor people, minority groups and feminists while Romney would have scapegoated them.

In their campaign speeches, Obama and Romney were very different.  We might have been back in the days of Johnson versus Goldwater.  The election outcome was highly significant as an indicator of what the voters want, although not necessarily of what they’re going to get.

I think that President Obama’s priority is to make a Grand Bargain with the Republicans on balancing the federal budget, which will involve compromising Social Security, Medicare and other historic Democratic social safety net programs.

But maybe I am wrong (which I certainly have been in the past) and the President’s supporters are right.  Either way it is important for Americans to let their elected representatives know what they think about important issues—preserving Social Security, not going to war with Iran, preventing Wall Street banks from gambling with the U.S. economy.


The life cycle of political beliefs

April 8, 2011

Folks on a web site called OK.trends produced some interesting graphs on how political beliefs change over time.  The data comes from 172,853 people who answered questionnaires on a dating site called OK.cupid.  Maybe they’re not a representative cross-section of the population.  Take it for what you think it is worth.

They then took the data and applied it to Democratic and Republican party affiliation.  The results appeared to be good for the Democrats, but the OK.trends folks say that closer analysis gives the advantage to the Republicans.


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.


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.)


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.

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.


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

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.”