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Principles of a liberal

Reddit.com, that peculiar cesspool of socialism, libertarianism and lolcats, alerted me to a site purporting to establish “conservative principles“. Some choice excerpts:

This is what tricks the unreflecting mad Libs: they don’t understand that Conservative principles are just that — principles. Principles are like natural laws: they don’t change with time. Yes, indeed, all kinds of changes spin and weave all around them. But Liberal are always looking for a new system. Well, all systems break down sooner or later. But principles never break down. They always work in any context to which they are relevant. Again, these are like natural laws. They are even like immutable spiritual laws.

I agree wholeheartedly. This inability to think in terms of values, rather than effects, is the biggest reason the right remains so inscrutable to the left. It’s why every democratic presidential candidate since Reagan has had such a hard time: the left’s inability to weave a compelling, coherent moral narrative. I often hear statements from friends on the left such as, “Don’t like abortion? Don’t get one!” I’m tired of translating this for them into what the right hears: “Don’t like murder? Don’t kill anyone!”

You see, Liberals hate that. They have no core, no center — and so, as another great poet said, “Things fall apart, The center cannot hold.” Liberals pervert the concept of being unlimited, as they pervert every concept they come across. That which is ageless and timeless means nothing to their limited minds. If it’s not new and always morphing into the next new thing, it’s no good for them.

This is obviously a false charge — the left has many guiding principles, such as civil liberties, social justice, and economic equity. Maybe it’s the fact that so few of these principles have ever been attempted in this country that leads the right to believe they aren’t held. In fact, the moralities that drive liberal and conservative values have much more in common than you might think.

So to return to conservative principles: just what are they? The site enumerates the usual hard line about immigration, Judeo-Christian tradition, military spending, and opposition to gay marriage that doesn’t even bear mentioning. Here are the principles I found interesting (emphasis theirs):

Private industry understands how and why do to (sic) things in a superior and more cost-effective way than anything the government can do, with the exception of military and law enforcement protection, emergency protection (such as local fire departments), and handling foreign affairs including immigration regulations. Therefore, private industry and private initiative must be allowed to run all affairs in this nation, including education and health care, with the exception of those few things enumerated here.

The federal government as it currently is, is a bloated joke. Conservatives must immediately begin screaming for it to be shrunk by not less than 75%.

The welfare state is to be abolished. People who are down on their luck can look to charities.

Keep in mind the sentences in bold above are not to be considered policy summaries, fed by reasoned analysis of the facts on the ground. They are, themselves, axioms in this worldview. By the site’s own assertion, these beliefs about what government is and what it can do are natural laws. They’re as unassailable as a triangle’s three-sidedness.

Is it any wonder that these people show up to town halls to shout down congressmen, rather than to engage in sober debate? There can be no debate on government-run health care. It’s not listed as one of the exceptions to the private-industry-knows-best axiom, and so it is simply inconceivable — literally, unthinkable — that it could be more effective, more equitable, more beneficial to society than private insurance. It doesn’t matter that Medicare has 3% administrative overhead, compared to 17% for private insurance. It doesn’t matter that insurance companies are obligated by law to maximize shareholder returns, which means denying care whenever possible. It doesn’t matter that “death panels” and forced euthanasia and rationed care are entirely fictional. Pointing out these objective facts to someone on the right won’t change their mind. At best, they’ll think you have been lied to. At worst, they’ll consider you part of the liberal conspiracy.

When you understand that these complex statements of policies are axiomatic to the right, it becomes easier to understand the man who yelled at his congressman during a town hall meeting to “Keep your government hands off my medicare.” It makes it easier to understand why scientists are seldom Republicans.

Only 12 percent of scientists in a poll issued last month by the Pew Research Center say they are Republican or lean toward the GOP, while fully 81 percent of scientists say they are Democrats or lean Democratic.

It’s not that scientists are smart and Republicans are dumb. It’s that, to practice science, you have allow the possibility of being wrong. You have to allow evidence to change your mind. The Republican party in its current form brooks no self-doubt, will suffer no evidence to alter their timeless, ageless principles.

Faith

Faith, as I’ve always understood it, is the belief in something despite a lack of evidence. To make sense of the current conservative mindset, you have to pervert that definition to include belief in things despite evidence to the contrary.

Our country is in dire need of evidence-based debate around federal policy, but all we get is shouting and sensation. How could it be otherwise, when one side is covering their ears so that inconvenient facts don’t cloud their world view? Now we get word that Obama is giving up on the public option, despite solid majorities in both houses of congress, in order to appease a bunch of shouting yokels who think he’s a foreign-born usurper. Obviously, this choice is infuriating to many on the left, myself included, who can’t help but feel that to allow Republicans any say in the process, when their reasoning is based on lies, distortions, and timeless, unquestionable beliefs, is a perverted, twisted definition of “bipartisan.” It’s letting bullies and demagogues have their way, despite their contributing nothing of substance to the debate. It’s a betrayal of the progressive movement that put him in office. And, despite what Senate Democrats might say, it’s a victory for the status-quo that’s funding so many of these astroturf protests, the same broken status quo that conservatives are defending as an ageless principle. And that’s really a shame.

Posted in Politics.


4 Responses

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  1. Bryan says

    Very well put. But which “natural laws” are supposed to remain fixed over time? I can’t think of a single one. For example:

    - 330 BC. The mass of an object determines its speed in freefall.
    - 1600 AD. The intrinsic “impetus” of an object determines its speed in freefall.
    - 1687 AD. The earth’s gravitational force acting on an object determines its speed in freefall.
    - 1916 AD. The curvature of spacetime around an object determines its speed in freefall.
    - 2050 AD. Quantum gravity…?

    Of course, someone might reply that there has been just one correct natural law all along. In that case, we’re just really, really prone to believing incorrect laws. Either way, the argument for immutable Republican principles looks grim. I wonder if they sell clothing to emperors, as well…

  2. Joel says

    I found your blog via your brother Alex.

    I’m sure you’ve read it but if not “Moral Politics: How Conservatives and Liberals Thinkg” by George Lakoff. He further explores the underlying world view that leads Conservatives to build up a “my view is absolute – any challenge to a part is a challenge to the whole” set of values.

    • Zach Musgrave says

      All I’ve read of his is Don’t Think of an Elephant. Thanks for the tip!

      • Joel says

        “Don’t Think of an Elephant” is the “playbook” that has come out of the much *much* larger body of work. Moral Politics is the thesis behind DTOAE and well worth the time reading it. 2/3 is dedicated to apolitical exploration of the two “sides” moral frameworks that guide them and the last third is really Lakoff’s personal view (as a progressive) about why the conservative framework is flawed and how to “pitch” progressive ideas to the centre :)

        Keep up the good work :)



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