Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Connecticut Votes (Again!) to Repeal the Death Penalty!

Last night, Wednesday 11 April 2012, the lower chamber of the Connecticut legislature followed its senate in voting to repeal that state’s death penalty.  Again. CT voted to repeal the death penalty in 2009, but then-Gov. Jodi Rell (R-CT) vetoed the legislation.  This time Gov. Daniel Malloy (D) has vowed to sign the bill. This makes CT the 17th state in the U.S. to either abolish the death penalty or to forbid it from the time of statehood onward. It is also the 5th state in the last 5 years to abolish the death penalty.  We may get two abolitions this year since CA, with the nation’s largest death row, is attempting to repeal its death penalty by ballot measure this November.

Meanwhile, congratulations to CT!

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April 12, 2012 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics, human rights, Just Peacemaking, political philosophy | Leave a comment

My Liberal/Progressive Agenda II: FDR’s “Second Bill of Rights’

The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice.  FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor.  Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head.  But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.”  In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person.  In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress.  Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world.  This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.

As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda.  It certainly informs my own vision.  Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today.  Bold Face and Italics are my emphases.  Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.

11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

To the Congress:

This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.

We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.

But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.

We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.

When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR’s Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.

In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.

[snip]

The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.

And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations.  [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]

In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.

All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.

China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:

The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want.  [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war.  In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]

There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.

The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.

[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]

Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:

(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test.  [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would “pay for itself” and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars–with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]

(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]

(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.

(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.

We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.

(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.

These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.

[snip  FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping.  He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy.  Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service–as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families.  Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR’s day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash.  In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.  [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
  • The right of every family to a decent home.
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.  [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong “social safety net” that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

[Snip remaining.]

The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress.  But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:

  • The right to employment.  As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
  • The right to a living wage.  We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
  • The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
  • The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies.  Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters.  But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
  • Housing as a Constitutional Right.  This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing.  Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
  • Healthcare as a Constitutional Right.  This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
  • A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
  • Education as a Constitutional Right.  This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education.  All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers.  Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.

February 26, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

My Progressive/Liberal Agenda, I: FDR’s Four Freedoms

As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress  called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside.  I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.

Let me be clear:  I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.”  What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order.  I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.

I reproduce relevant excerpts of  FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform.  Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.

[Snip]

The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America.  Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.

Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.

The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:

Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.

Jobs for those who can work.

Security for those who need it.

The ending of special privilege for the few.

The preservation of civil liberties for all.

The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.

Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:

We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.

We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.

We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.

[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  1. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
  2. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
  3. The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.  [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
  4. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.

To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.

This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.

To that high concept there can be no end save victory.

_____

Freedom of speech and expression.

Freedom of religious belief and practice.

Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).

Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).

I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C.  But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.

In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”

February 25, 2012 Posted by | blog series, civil rights, economic justice, human rights, justice, political philosophy, politics, religious liberty, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

A (Politically) Conservative Argument Against the Death Penalty

In the wake of Illinois’ abolition of the death penalty, conservative attorney and author Scott Turow has written an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune called “The Right Has Reason to Applaud.”  In the article, Turow advances three (3) politically conservative arguments for abolishing the death penalty.

  1. Capital punishment is one more government program that has failed.  Those of us who are not conservatives can safely ignore the conservative cant that implies that “government programs” usually or always fail–and that therefore we should just do away with government programs (and as much government) as possible.  Obviously, if one believes that government exists to make lives better, to promote the common good and help people do together that which they cannot easily do as individuals, then programs and policies are going to be experimental–and can fail.  Goals can need to be accomplished via different means.  A shift from an impractical approach to good ends (in this case, criminal justice) to a better one is no indictment against government. So, liberals, progressives, moderates and just people with common sense can safely ignore the “government is bad” conservative screed.  But we have every reason to agree with Turow that the death penalty is a “government program” that has failed–and failed rather spectactulary.  As Turow says, the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty (as then practiced) in 1972 as an unconstitutional violation of the 8th Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” due to the arbitrary and discriminatory way in which it was applied (Furman v. Georgia).  States scrambled to rewrite their capital punishment statutes and in Gregg v. Georgia (1974), the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty could be Constitutional if it could be applied in a just and fair manner.  Turow notes that this has been a giant failure of an experiment as states have completely failed to apply the death penalty in a just and fair manner.  Instead of death being the sentence for the worst crimes, it has usually been meted out to those represented by inept attorneys, usually  overworked and public defenders with little time and few resources to devote to the case  or court appointed attorneys  with little motivation.  Race continues to be a factor in who is and is not executed, especially the race of the victim. . And, as Turow found when he worked for then-Gov. George A. Ryan (R-IL), the innocent still end up on death row in a frighteningly his percentage of cases.
  2. The death penalty is a huge waste of taxpayer money.  As Turow notes, the death penalty is far more expensive than life imprisonment without parole.  This may be counterintuitive, but is nonetheless true.  It takes longer (and therefore costs more money) to prepare for a capital case.  All capital cases must go through two stages, one for finding of guilt and one for sentencing–and that costs money.  Usually, those indicted for capital crimes cannot be released on bail while awaiting trial because of flight risks and so must be housed at state expense.  Security for capital trials is higher.  Prisoners on death row must be housed separately from the general population and either given separate exercise facilities or separate times in the exercise yard while awaiting execution and this is expensive.  The appeals process, without which far more innocent people would be executed than even currently, is both expensive and time consuming–so that the average length of time from a death sentence to execution in the U.S. is ten years.  Conservatives concerned about saving taxpayer money from waste and inefficiency should naturally oppose the death penalty in the U. S. system of justice.  Thurow agrees that if the death penalty could be shown to save lives, by deterring violent crime, it might be worth it.  But there has been no credible study showing deterrence and many showing just the opposite, that violence increases in the wake of executions throughout the area in which the execution is published.  States and nations without the death penalty typically have lower violent crime rates than jurisdictions with the death penalty.
  3. The death penalty is incompatible with the conservative notion of limited government.  Here is a very strong argument that is seldom heard in conservative circles, surprisingly.  The conservative-libertarian view that the powers of government must be strictly limited supports drawing a clear line prohibiting a democratic government from ever taking the lives of its own citizens.  That way, a regime that vanquished its political enemies or executed despised minorities, no matter the legal rigamarole, as an outlaw.  (As a democratic socialist, I’ve always said that libertarians, while disastrous in their economic views, are excellent partners in the struggle for civil liberties.)

Here is one progressive who hopes that Turow’s arguments find a wide audience with his fellow conservatives.  As a Christian, I find the death penalty to be deeply immoral–and I welcome the help of political conservatives in the struggle to abolish this evil from our midst.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | capital punishment, civil rights, ethics, human rights, political philosophy | 5 Comments

Winning the Future or Building the Future? Which Image is Most Helpful for a Progressive Agenda?

George Lakoff, the communications expert who uses  brain studies to help progressives better sell progressive politics, has a column reinforcing what I said about Obama’s attempt to use center-right language to move the center back from the left.  Lakoff notes that for his first two years in office, Obama, with sizeable Democratic majorities in Congress, was all about policy and refused to sell those policies with any kind of image or narrative.  Now he has a narrative image: competition.  Lakeoff notes that the slogan “winning the future” looks to be helpful in splitting business conservative off from rabid, far-right, “Tea Party” types.  But “winning,” fits with either a war or a sporting competition and several things that progressives care deeply about don’t easily fit into either narrative.  Lakoff also has helpful suggestions for the way the Obama team can fit many of those progressive concerns into the “winning the future” competition narrative.

As I said in my earlier post, I think those of us who are U.S. progressives and liberals should try to help Obama move the center back from the right.  Bob Cornwall, who has been a more thorough Obama partisan than I am, reminded me privately that U.S. politics is always determined by who wins the center.  But, as I emphasized, it makes a difference whether one is winning the center by Clinton-style watching where the right moves the center and then moving there or trying to move the center back from the right. 

Obama is trying the right strategy, but I wonder if “winning the future” is the right narrative image to do this.  Lakoff is right that Obama had been neglecting the necessity of selling his policies–he let the right define him–a mistake made by Jimmy Carter to disastrous results in 1980.  But Obama had been toying over the last 2 years with a different metaphor: “A New Foundation.”  That’s not the metaphor of a war (which can be used for progressive ends, as with LBJ’s”War on Poverty”), but of construction.  What if Obama, or progressives independent of him, talk not of “winning the future,” but of building the future?”  That fits with the desire for investment in infrastructure, education, innovation and green energy, but it also allows more concern for the common good.  “Winning,” competitions can reinforce rightwing social Darwinist narratives of “ruthless tooth and claw” competition, which doesn’t do much for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, universal healthcare, ending the Afghanistan war, etc.  (Yes, Lakoff shows how Social Security can be defended in Obama’s image as something already earned by competitors and other ways of defending progressive programs in the competition narrative, but some of it is forced and can be easily hijacked by conservatives.)   “Building the Future,” allows us to see society not as a fierce competition, but as a web of connection or as a home (images which help bring back concern for the environment).  It also helps us forge a foreign policy that is more about cooperation than competition.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | political philosophy, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

Anatomy of Modern Movement Conservatism in the U.S.

In my previous post, I tried to rehabilitate the demonized term “liberal” in U.S. politics and locate myself as a part of this vital political tradition.  Here, I want to try to disect the anatomy of modern movement conservatism in U.S. politics.

Remember, “conservatism” as a personal temperament or orientation refers simply to a preference for the way things are and a desire for change to be slow and orderly when it must come. It is a focus on treasuring the good things of the past, of celebrating heritage. This kind of conservative is a traditionalist and it is vital that all societies have conservatives in this sense of the term.  In fact, seen as an orientation, we are probably ALL conservative about some part of our lives.

But what I want to describe is modern movement conservatism, conservatism as a political philosophy in the U.S. context. Once (before 1964) dominant among Southern Democrats, this is now the controlling force of the Republican Party in the U.S.–lately leaving little breathing space for other traditions within the Republican Party.  Movement conservatism as it exists today is a fairly recent ideology (ironically), first appearing after World War II and not really getting started until the 1950s–it’s early founders were William F. Buckley in his book, God and Man at Harvard and in the founding of The National Review, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, philosopher and bad novelist, Ayn Rand, her disciple, economist Milton Friedman (who began the horrible “Chicago School” of economics), columnist George Will and a few others.  Goldwater was the first presidential candidate of movement conservatives (1964)–and he lost in a landslide.  That landslide loss to LBJ could have crushed movement conservatism, but the youth movement’s unrest with LBJ over the Vietnam War added to Southern white dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party because of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, led Richard Nixon (who was authoritarian, but not really a movement conservative) to adopt “the Southern Strategy” of winning elections through thinly disguised appeals to white racial resentment.  Ronald Reagan was the first movement conservative to adapt Nixon’s strategy as a way, not just to win the White House, but to roll back the progessive and liberal gains of the New Deal and the Great Society.  Reagan was only partially successful in terms of legislation passed, but he changed the terms of debate from 1981 until now. (Liberals and progressives began to reframe the terms of debate in 2006 & 2008, but, beginning in the summer of 2009, conservatives have almost completely taken back the framing of political debate in mainstream circles in the U.S.–though whether this will lead to electoral or legislative success for these conservatives remains to be seen.)

As it has taken form in the post-1980 Republican Party coalition, movement conservatism is made up of three strands or streams–sometimes in tension as they do not really form a logically coherent governing philosophy.

  1. Business Conservatives.  This strand was once dominant in the Northeast (especially New England) and in some parts of the West.  It comes in 2 forms:  a) Protectionist crony capitalism, which is older, argued for tariffs and other trade deals which would support U.S. business against businesses located in other countries. It loves government corporate welfare in terms of defense contracts or sugar subsidies, etc. (or, in the West, free use of federal lands for mining, cattle grazing, etc.) b) “Soft” libertarianism. Pure libertarians are relatively rare in movement conservatism (but see Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Rep. Ron Paul, his son Rand, former U.S. Rep. from GA Bob Barr & a few others), but “soft” libertarians like Goldwater, former MN Gov.  Jesse Ventura, former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson are much more numerous. They argue for small government with little help or hindrance to business–and they tend to be socially moderate, having a “live and let live” attitude about people’s personal lives. (I can still remember Goldwater yelling at Jerry Falwell that abortion was NOT a conservative issue!) The soft libertarians tended to be strongest in Western conservatism and the crony capitalists (think George H.W. Bush ) stronger in New England.
  2. National Security Conservatives.  This strand is found geographically dispersed nearly evenly across the U.S.  It came out of the Cold War with the U.S.S.R.  After the imperialist Spanish-American War and prior to WWII, most Republicans were isolationists who were critical of internationalist Democrats for getting the U.S. involved in wars. But the Cold War stand-off forged a bi-partisan foreign policy of “containment of Communism.” Among liberals (especially in the Democratic Party) this took the form of “Cold War Liberalism” until the Vietnam War destroyed that form of militarized internationalism–although Pres. Barack Obama seems to be forging a new version which I fear will do to his presidency what Vietnam did to LBJ’s.  But in the Republican Party (and, for a time, with Southern Democrats) this bi-partisan policy of containment led to what I am calling “national security conservatism.” Again, this comes in two forms:  a)Traditional Nationalism.  Ronald Reagan, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), Colin Powell, George Schultz, and even Condaleeza Rice all fall into this strand.  They want a large military that can dwarf any conceivable foe, but are mostly wary of rash military adventurism–especially after Vietnam.  They want to use military force sparingly, only when what they consider to be “vital American interests” are threatened (and these can be economic–including another nation’s oil or a key strategic location for a military base) and with overwhelming force when it is used–and because wars are expensive, they usually want clear goals, and clear exit strategies before engaging. (Major example: The first Gulf War–1990-1991).  b)Neo-conservatives or Neo-cons.  These are people, following the collapse of the USSR, who wanted the U.S. to be far more aggressive militarily as the sole remaining superpower.  Some were involved in the administration of George H.W. Bush–although Bush I himself wavered between traditional nationalism and the neocon view that he partly inspired with his talk of a “new world order” after the Cold War. But they were far more dominant in the administration of his son, George W. Bush–including Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Donald Wolfowitz and many others. The neo-cons took the old liberal theme of spreading democracy and changed it to a belief (the “Bush Doctrine”) that the U.S. had the right to invade any country anywhere that might one day conceivably be a threat and impose a U.S.-friendly democratic regime by force. The architects of the invasion of Iraq were neo-cons and Afghanistan seems to be evolving that way–despite the official repudiation of the Bush Doctrine by the Obama administration.  Whereas traditional nationalists want to use the military sparingly, neocons think the road to peace (an openly imperial peace) is perpetual war.  National security conservatives originally had a love/hate relationship with business conservatives–it takes big government to have a big military and wars tend to get in the way of free trade.
  3. Social Conservatives.  When added to the mix that forms modern movement conservatism, social conservatives were predominantly found in the Old South (Dixie), though there were outposts in the Midwest (e.g., Grand Rapids, MI, the entire state of Kansas) & the West (e.g., Colorado Springs, CO; Orange County, CA).  Today, social conservatives are more geographically dispersed.  a)A politicized form of Christian fundamentalism is the primary strand of social conservatism with echoes in Mormonism. Although it has learned to echo the terms of the business conservatives (“small government,” “low taxes,”), and eventually take them on board, the original issues of the social conservatives had nothing to do with such matters, but were about using (Intrusive Big Government) federal and state power to enforce traditional morality–banning pornography, gambling, banning or restricting liquor sales, opposition to the sexual revolution (including, after about 1979, opposition to legal abortion–and eventually adopting the conservative Catholic opposition to artificial birth control methods, too), opposition to women’s rights and gay rights, enforcement of prayer and Bible reading in public schools–all things that REQUIRE the big government action that, theoretically, business conservatives oppose. b) A second stream of social conservatism that is less religious is white racial resentment of the growing social, political, and economic power of non-whites, especially African-Americans and Latino/as.  There is overlap, of course, since neither private Protestant schools nor the phenomenon of “homeschooling” existed until the desegregation of the public schools.

Many times these different strands come to similar conclusions through different routes:  A Western soft-libertarian Goldwater conservative would oppose Medicare, Medicaid, and, eventually, universal healthcare because of a belief that government has no business interfering in the “private business” of healthcare–seeing healthcare as a commercial commodity instead of a basic human right.  A Southern social conservative may oppose the same things because of a belief that liberal Yankees will use all their tax money to help “undeserving” poor blacks instead of poor working class whites.  And militaristic nationalism has been widely shared throughout the history of the U.S.A.–but positively fetishized in Old Dixie where Civil War memorials are found every other mile and there are more military bases (and military highschools!) than in the rest of the nation and where, since the end of the draft, a greater than average number of military recruits are found.

But there remain tensions between the strands of modern movement conservatism–tensions wide enough that, in a parliamentary system, the Republican Party would be split into 3-4 parties.

I think the movement is incoherent and I think it is dangerous.  In the presidency of George W. Bush we finally saw what happens when (for the first 6 years anyway) movement conservatism dominated all branches of the federal government.  The result was 2 endless wars, a corrupt Justice Department, federal departments like FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Administration) that were completely inept (run by a horse trainer!), Katrina, a huge budget surplus turned into a skyrocketing deficit and, finally, complete economic collapse.

That legacy haunts the Obama administration because, as Naomi Klein shows in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, movement conservatives during the Bush administration deliberately weakened government’s ability to be a force for good and then undermined the public’s faith in government, creating a vicious circle.  Ronald Reagan had said that the scariest words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” But most people want government to help–especially during crises. But movement conservatives spent decades weakening the capacity of government to help–becoming a self-fulfillment of Reagan’s prophecy.  If you deregulate the markets, for instance, and then understaff regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), you make it next to impossible to avoid economic meltdowns such as happend in 2008–and you make rebuilding and prevention harder.  If you shrink the budget for toy inspectors, it’s hard to keep lead toys from China from poisoning the nation’s children. If you weaken safety regulations in the mining industry, then spend years underfunding inspectors and enforcement mechanisms, you make it difficult to prevent mine cave-ins and difficult to hold companies accountable for unsafe conditions when such cave-ins happen.  The same process is at work in the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Government can never do everything, nor should it try–such an attempt would lead to tyranny.  But, from the perspective of anyone who is not a movement conservative, government exists to enable people to do together what it is difficult or impossible to do by themselves.  Government has been and can be again a force for good. (And one needs only look at some place like Somalia, which hasn’t had a functioning government for twenty years, to see that the lack of government is no libertarian paradise, but a very bloody anarchy.) Rebuilding OUR government’s capacities for good–and public trust in government as a potential positive force–will take some time. In my view, that is reason enough to keep the reigns of government away from modern movement conservatives.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | civil rights, ethics, History, political philosophy, pop culture, race | 3 Comments

Why I Am a Political Liberal (U. S. Context)

Unlike my former blog, Levellers, Pilgrim Pathways is not primarily about the intersection of faith and politics and I don’t want to focus much on U.S. electoral politics–although one cannot write about Christian theology in an apolitical way since themes of peacemaking, social and economic justice, racial justice, the equality of the sexes and much else are rich biblical/theological themes.  But because of the widespread assumption in the U. S., especially in the media, that all or most Christians are political conservatives (or even reactionary rightwing zealots), I thought I would write this testimony about why I have always been a political liberal. (I am also a political progressive–the terms are not interchangeable and I may write a subsequent post on being a progressive.)

First, let us distinguish “liberal” and “conservative” as tendencies or orientations vs. these terms as the names of  particular politicial ideologies or movements.  A person who is conservative by orientation or temperament is a traditionalist who likes things to change slowly, if at all.  By definition, he or she is more comfortable with the status quo (or an idealized form of such from his or her remembered childhood) than with movements for change.  A liberal by orientation is less satisfied with the status quo and embraces change–is future oriented rather than past oriented.  In this sense of orientation, rather than ideology, all societies need both conservatives and liberals–in order to avoid chaos or dissolution any period of rapid or massive change needs to be offset or balanced by a period of “normalcy” or rest or regrouping.  A society will have good things that need to be preserved from the past as a heritage and those of conservative orientation are the champions of such heritage and tradition. But a society, any society, will also have negative features that need to be overcome (in the U.S., think of slavery, segregation, the times when women couldn’t vote, own property their own names, own businesses, work in “men’s jobs,” hold political office, or have any voice in whether or when they would get pregnant, etc.) and left behind.  Liberals will always lead the charge for such changes.

Now, more specifically, about U.S. liberalism as a political philosophy that I largely share.  It champions individual freedom (both the conservative and progressive traditions add a concern for the common good that is needed to balance the liberal focus on the individual) , is suspicious of concentrations of power (and wealth is power), trusts in reasoned debate and an open society and marketplace of ideas.  It is democratic because it trusts in people to govern themselves.   It is not overawed by traditional authority.   The roots of liberalism are found in the radical Free Church strand of  Protestantism ( with maybe some earlier roots in Medieval nominalism) and the 17th C. Enlightenment philosophy.  In the Free Church tradition, I would highlight especially the thought of  Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676), John Milton (1608-1674), William Penn (1644-1718), Richard Overton (c. 1631-1664), & Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683).  The Enlightenment political philosophers most influential on the U.S. liberal tradition are the Englishman John Locke (1632-1704),  the Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), and the Americans Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), & James Madison (1751-1836).

Contemporary defenses of politicial liberalism that I find helpful (although not agreeing with every part of any of these sources) include: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice Political Liberalism;  Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice; Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family;  Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, & Postmodernism in Ethics; Democracy and Difference; Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism; Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal; Paul Rogat Loeb, The Impossible Will Take a Little While; Soul of a Citizen; Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism; Robert Wexler, Fire-Breathing LiberalThose are a good start.  I was also inspired by the fiction of Flannery O’ Conner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Les Miserables,  & the utopian liberalism of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” universe.

But the roots of my political liberalism are not just historical, or derived from books–it is wrapped up in my autobiography.  I am a liberal (in the U.S. sense) because, first and foremost, my family supported desegregation. If you were a white person growing up in the South in the 1960s and stood against segregation, you were a liberal–plain and simple. (Actually, “liberal” was one of the nicest things we were called. Other terms included “race traitor,” “communist,” and much worse.) In fact, when my parents were young, any white person in the South who even wanted decent treatment for African-Americans (a term that didn’t yet exist) WITHIN the Jim Crow segregation laws (instead of regularly demeaning, terrorizing, and lynching them) were called “liberals.”  I am a liberal because liberals stand for a world not just of individual liberty, but of equality of persons, the common good, and environmental caretaking.

It was American liberals (known as abolitionists) who worked to end the scourge of slavery in this country–a country founded as a slave republic. In the original, unamended, U.S. Constitution, enslaved persons of African descent are only counted as 3/5ths of a person (for the purposes of census).  The abolitionists tried to abolish slavery legislatively–and through Constitutional amendment, only to be constantly thwarted by Southern senators. (A senator from KY used a walking cane to bludgeon an abolitionist senator from New England to death on the floor of the senate!)  The slogan “states rights” was coined to mean the right of slaveholding states to keep slaves without interference from the federal government.  But these same “states rights” conservatives had no philosophical problem with passing the Fugitive Slave Law usurping the rights of other states and using the power of the federal government to force the return of their escaped human property.  The Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, so frustrated with attempts to end slavery within our original slave-loving Constitution burned a copy of it at a 4th of July speech while quoting anti-slavery passages from the Bible.  Another abolitionist (and former slave), Frederick Douglass, gave as one of his most powerful anti-slavery speeches, “What, to the Slave, is the 4th of July?” Arguing that it was a day of supreme American hypocrisy. Douglass contrasted the Christianity of the Bible with the false Christianity of white slaveholders, too.  Liberals defeated slavery; conservatives defended it.

Liberals fought for 70 years to win the right to vote for women. Liberals ended child labor. Liberals created the public school system, arguing that democracy requires universal education–that only an educated electorate can decide intelligently about the issues.  Liberals (and progressives) fought for the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively for fair wages, times of rest, safe working conditions and benefits.  Liberals (called “muckrakers”) exposed the dangers of tainted meat and other food and created government safety inspections of food and medicines.  Liberals created Social Security (greatly decreasing poverty among the elderly–old age had been a time of absolute fear and horror beforehand), Medicare, Medicaid (and,now, the first steps to truly universal healthcare). Liberals ended segregation (American apartheid) and have continued to work for racial equality and justice and a multi-cultural society where difference is celebrated rather than demonized.  It was a liberal Republican president (Teddy Roosevelt) who broke up the corporate monopolies and created the national park system. It was liberals who began the environmental movement and passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Liberals began the modern tradition of international law, forged international organizations that would help the relations of nations be decided by other things than naked force. Liberals strive for the codification and protection of universal human rights.

All of these things were strongly, often violently, opposed by conservatives.  Sometimes they were later accepted by conservatives–few would argue for a return to segregation, for instance. (However, see Republican  candidate for U.S. Senate from KY and Tea Party hero, Dr. Rand Paul, who would allow segregation in private businesses.) At other times, such as repeated attempts to abolish Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (and, now, to repeal Health Insurance Reform), the conservative opposition to the progress made by liberals has never died.

(I have not talked about war and peace because these issues do not easily chart along a liberal-conservative axis. There have been forms of liberal internationalism that have resulted in very militaristic outlooks–from Teddy Roosevelt to Woodrow Wilson to FDR, JFK & LBJ–“Cold War liberalism,” to the pro-war views of Clinton and Obama.  Likewise, there have been conservative outlooks that led to anti-war views–especially in the libertarian strand of modern conservatism.  What is true is that liberalism’s international outlook usually works against military unilateralism–but not always.  My own commitment to pacifism and nonviolence is rooted deeply in my Christian faith, not in political liberalism. )

I have been working lately to formulate my view of political liberalism into a few major principles.  This is my latest attempt:

  • People matter more than profits.  Profits matter in most cases. I am not a Marxist (though I have learned from Marx and find the conservative fear to even read Marx or consider the areas in which he is right to be ridiculous). Most businesses will not be non-profit or not-for-profit and without profits few businesses can survive.  But for liberals like myself, unlimited profit can never be the bottom line.  Profits cannot come at all costs.  People matter more than profits.  If a person or company must make less profit for the sake of people–in making a safe product or having safe working conditions or making sure one’s environmental impact is as little as possible, for instance–then the welfare of people trumps higher profits.
  • Corporations are not persons–despite the stupid ruling of the Roberts Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC.  The preamble to the Constitution begins “We, the people,” not “We, the corporations.”  The fiction of corporate personhood undermines the human rights of actual persons. 
  • Money is not speech.  The rightwing Supreme Court has been striking down campaign finance laws by claiming that restrictions on campaign donations by individuals or corporations stifles free speech. But if money is speech then there is no free speech.  The person or corporation with the most money can buy the most speech.  Banning corporate financing, publicly financing campaigns and giving each campaign equal access to free media promotes better democracy:  It means that people with great ideas who would make great elected officials can run even if they aren’t rich or supported by the rich. More ideas can be debated in the public sphere than just those approved by the narrow range of the corporate media. And elected officials won’t be owned by the big corporations who fund their campaigns.  If a rich person wants to own more TVs or i-Pads than others, liberals have no complaint–but they must not be allowed to use their money to purchase “more democracy” than others.
  • The Earth is meant to be humanity’s home–not our toilet.  We must care for this planet. Sure, from the beginning we have adapted our environments to suit ourselves. And this is not bad in itself.  But, too often, we have destroyed our environments–turning forests into deserts, wiping out whole species of plants and animals, poisoning our air and water and threatening the survival of our own species with our greed.  To the liberal, there is an ethic of “enough.”  Consumption has limits.  (Why do conservatives never want to conserve anything?)  To a liberal, a responsible ecological ethic is not necessarily anti-technology–but we recognize that technology is not a god and not all technological advances are truly “progress.” We have to care for and adapt to the limits of our environment because we are not separate from it. We are all connected in a great web of life.
  • Individual liberties are balanced with concern for the common good.  Authoritarian societies–whether fascist, communist, or theocratic–oppress all individualism for the sake of (the authority’s view of ) the common good. So, a particular society may decide that homosexuality threatens the common good and thus may have various penalties for gays and lesbians–sometimes even the death penalty. Others may believe that society functions best with women in clearly subservient roles to men–and may disallow women the right to vote or to be educated or to be seen in public, etc.  By contrast, libertarians defend only individual rights (or the rights of corporations).  But the U.S. liberal tradition, influenced by the democratic socialist tradition (a very strong influence on me), works to balance individual liberty and the common good–and recognizes that this balance is not always easy and that errors are made in both directions. (Example: Religious liberty means that all are free to worship the divine as they understand it–or to live without worship if they are atheists. We protect minority religious viewpoints against the tyranny of any religious majority. But there are limits:  If one’s religion demands human sacrifice, concern for the common good must trump that.  One’s religious convictions cannot be exercised to the degree that they represent a threat to others’ wellbeing.)
  • The primary moral values of the political liberal are liberty, equality, & justice, & compassion.  From liberty, we get our concerns for freedom of religion (and it’s corollary, separation of religious institutions from governmental institutions), freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances (my only arrests have come from exercising this right in the form known as civil disobedience).  From equality, liberals do not derive the conclusion of “simple equality” that Marxists would (e.g., demanding that everyone have exactly the same money, property, etc.). Nor are we content with simply the libertarian insistence on “equality of opportunity,” but endorse a “complex equality,” that accepts differences in talent, etc. but works for “equal participation”  and the equal value of all persons.  In liberal perspective, there is nothing inherently unjust in one person making more money than another–as long as all have what they need for human flourishing.  The cumulative GAP between rich and poor (i.e., the erosion of the middle class) is unjust, however, because it represents the concentration of power in the hands of the few.
  • Government (of the people, by the people, for the people) exists not just for defense of property and the enforcement of contracts (the conservative view), but to enable people to work together to those good ends which are difficult or impossible to do separately. To the liberal, the debate over “big government” vs. “small government” is mostly misplaced–the debate should be over what constitutes good government.  Clean government vs. corrupt government, competent government vs. ineffective government, or responsive government vs. out-of-touch government–are all the kinds of debates that liberals find more helpful than simple “big vs. small” government debates.
  • Taxes are a civic tithe.  Yes, taxes can be too high and too burdensome.  And, especially in a nation like ours that began with a series of tax protests, no one is ever going to like paying taxes.  But taxes are not inherently evil, but rather the price we pay for civilization. In countries where the taxes are insufficient to pay decent wages to government officials, bribery and corruption is rampant. Taxes are the price for good governance. With taxes we get roads paved, bridges built and kept in repair, levees built and kept in repair–all the infrastructure needed for a healthy society–including a healthy marketplace.  Taxes pay for firefighters and police officers and public schools, Social Security, clean water and air, and much else.  The rich should pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes because they can.  Flat tax schemes are inherently harmful to the poor. (If you have $1,00 & I have $1,000 and we are both taxed 10%, I’ll have $900 left over to get through the month, but you’ll only have $90–and probably won’t make it to the end of the month.)
  • Regulations exist to protect the vulnerable.  No one likes red tape–and all bureacracies get tedious and need periodic reform. It is quite possible to over-regulate things.  But regulation and enforcement of regulation is necessary.  If you don’t want your food to poison you, it needs to be inspected by the U.S. Dairy and Agriculture dept. (USDA) or the restaraunt you’re going to needs inspecting by the health department. If you don’t want your kids to get sick from lead toys from China, then you need regulations–and enough inspectors to prevent this.  If you don’t want oil companies to ravish the planet, then you need strict regulations–and a robust enforcement regime.  With “deregulation” of financing comes risky behavior that results in a collapsed economy.  Regulations need regular reexamination to see if they need reform, but “deregulation” as a battle cry or a political philosophy is a cry for anarchy and a recipe for disaster.
  • Liberals do not worship the “good ol’ days.”  We value and learn from the best of our history and from the mistakes in our history.  But whether it is the “Leave It To Beaver” view of the 1950s or the triumphalist perspective of The Patriot’s History of the United States,  liberals do not have the conservative view of an idealized or perfected past.  Conservatives seem to believe that “the U.S. began perfect and only got better”–until the 1960s.  By contrast, liberals see the promise of the American dream as always being a struggle–“toward a more perfect union.” Liberals can be overly confident about the ability to forge a perfect society in the future–some liberals need a sense of human sin and finiteness. But liberalism is (rightly in my view) oriented to the future. We look to the past for guidance, but we are journeying together toward the future–not wanting a return to a past that wasn’t as good as remembered.

There may be other principles that could be added–and liberals have certainly often made mistakes or had blindspots.  Political liberalism is a tradition–and this is the U.S. strand of that tradition. Traditions are, as the decidedly non-liberal Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us, arguments or conversations over time.  For better and worse, this is tradition in which I stand in the American story.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | autobiographyu, civil rights, justice, political philosophy | 2 Comments