Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Open source

What is a liberal? A conservative? A Democrat? A Republican?

And, assuming we can even begin to meaningfully answer those questions ("meaningfully" would be defined, in this case, as something more useful and sophisticated than "those who self describe this way, and/or register this way to vote in primaries", or, conversely, “a liberal/conservative/Democrat/Republican is whatever I’m pointing to when I say the word”, a definition that seems to have become more and more popular over the last several months in the blogosphere, but one that is less than useful in any kind of reasonable debate), this would lead to another -- if someone identifies themselves as one thing, but feels their participation in a political process will only be meaningful if they compromise the basic principles that they feel define their own values in order to cooperate with a larger group that will have more influence in that political process -- how accountable is that person, then, for the subsequent actions (and the values those actions reveal) of the larger group they have chosen to cooperate with, in order to maximize their own political influence?

Or, to put it another way, when my old buddy Opus gets in my shit for lumping all conservatives and Republicans into one big boat with undeniable asshats like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, George W., Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter... does she have a valid issue?

Or do you have to at some point, assuming you've got an ounce of integrity to your name, say, well, I voted for the fucker (maybe twice), I wear the same party pin as he does, he's my man and I bear at least some responsibility for every single shitty decision he's made or not made, and that's the way that goes?

At what point do you have to admit that if you’re marching in the same parade with all the people who nod their heads like Bobblehead dolls at every single thing Limbaugh and Coulter say, with all the people who want to drag illegal immigrants out to the closest curb and shoot them out of hand, with all the people who have done their damnedest every year to illegally suppress voter turn out in predominantly Democratic districts, with all the people who hate the people who don’t have sex the way they do, who don’t go to the same church they do, who don’t speak with the same accent they do, who don’t look like they do… well, honestly, at what point does it occur to you that holding your nose and trying to march slightly to the side of these people isn’t going to cut it, and, in the end, if you’re voting the same way as all these people, then, well, you’re as responsible as any of these people are for what happens as a result of your vote?

Or, to give equal time, I suppose, at what point do you realize, if you’re a liberal, that when you continue to compromise your own principles by voting for the most liberal candidate you can who is likely to win (i.e., the Democrat) instead of the actual candidate who actually aligns most closely with your own values and beliefs (for liberals, this is generally, these days, some third party candidate, usually a Green), then you must, however much you may dislike the idea, take responsibility for things like the steady erosion of civil rights and the concomitant rise of covert government surveillance power under the Clinton Administration that almost certainly would never have occurred if, say, Ralph Nader had actually gotten the votes of everyone who actually wanted to vote for him? When do you realize that as you continue to march shoulder to shoulder with these people who take just as much money from corporate donors as Republicans, who believe just as strongly in the national security state as Republicans, and who seem to firmly believe in the entrenched power elite just as much as the Republicans, that it’s not enough to say, ‘well, they’re better than the Republicans on at least a few issues’? When do you realize that, when you march hand in hand with the Clintonistas long enough, it’s not enough to say you’re doing it to get the Democratic Party strong again, and to move the country back to the left, and you just know that in another four years, or eight at the most, a reborn FDR will come along and be the liberal champion you’ve been waiting for all your life?

At what point do you give up that dream?

Obviously, I have my opinions, but I try to be introspective about these things, and one fault I do not have is an unwillingness to admit my own faults. If I come out on the other end of this with the sudden realization that I've been wrong all along, well, so be it; I’ll say so and apologize. But let’s wait and see how this goes.

So… what is a liberal? Conversely, what is a conservative? Get these two nailed down, and the subsequent definition of Republican and Democrat should be pretty easy.

Politics, it seems to me, comes down to a series of basic questions. The first one it seems to me would be: “Is government a necessary institution for humanity?” Answer that one no, and, well, you’re an anarchist, go throw a bomb at something. Answer it ‘yes’, on the other hand, and… well, welcome to the world of adult political philosophy. And move on to the next question, which is:

“Given that government is necessary, how would you describe its essential function – to keep things from growing worse, or to make things better?”

If you think government should essentially maintain the status quo, you’re a conservative. If, on the other hand, you feel government should actively attempt to improve the lot of the governed, then you’re a liberal.

This is the essential dichotomy that yawns like an abyss between conservatives and liberals, and it is almost certainly an insurmountable one. Conservatives love to quote the statement “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves." (They also love to misattribute it to Thomas Jefferson, but Jefferson never said or wrote it, and given that Jefferson did say “"The most sacred of the duties of a government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens", it seems unlikely that this exemplar of conservative/libertarian principle would have found a warm welcome from Monticello.)

Conservatives believe that, basically, things are fine the way they are, and while government is necessary to maintain society and civilization in their current state, government should do as little as it possibly can in order to maintain the current equilibrium. Thus it is that the answer to that basic question – government’s purpose is to keep things from getting worse -- evolves into what we think of in contemporary times as the typical conservative/Republican philosophy as regards “a government small enough to drown in a bathtub”. If things are fine the way they are, then there is actually very little for government to do. This means minimal taxes, minimal regulation, minimal oversight, minimal bureaucracy – conservatives inherently believe that the individual citizen should be trusted to make pretty much every decision as regards their own lives and their own families and their own communities, and that those individuals should be left alone to deal with the consequences of those decisions, too. Fiercely independent. We stand alone. We take care of our own. No government hand outs. These, and other similar phrases, are the words a true conservative lives by, and fine, proud words they are.

It’s also important to understand that conservatives basically distrust government. Conservatives believe in the worth of the individual; that each and every person is put here primarily to take care of themselves and their dependents – and those dependents should very much be limited to kids who cannot fend for themselves as yet, and tribal elders who have been pensioned off on the basis of past performance. Conservatives believe that the best social units are small ones; they instinctively distrust large, “soulless” groups. Conservatives pride themselves on their individuality, which is in and of itself a primary conservative value. Conservatives don’t mind the word ‘community’, but nearly any conjugation of that word – communal, commune, collective, or, God help us all, communism -- raises their hackles high.

One can certainly make an argument that this distrust of large, well organized groups, united to one particular purpose (and, therefore, probably more powerful than any individual or small family unit) is logical and valid, given the fact that human history is full of examples of such large groups coercing the behavior of non-affiliated individuals or smaller, less powerful organizations.

Liberals, on the other hand, have no truck with the idea that “That government is best which governs the least, because its people discipline themselves”. This notion of good government being small government is one that liberal thinkers dismiss rather derisively. Making the world a better place for all is hard work; you don’t get there by ‘governing least’, however attractive that notion may be to anyone who has ever had to pull a permit, get a license, register for the draft, or pay taxes. And while it’s wonderful to think that the people will discipline themselves, unless you’ve found a magical doorway to the enchanted non-kingdom described in John Lennon’s slacker anthem “Imagine”, you have to know that this simply has not, does not, and is not going to happen. Leave people to discipline themselves and they’ll end up sacrificing goats to the graven image of Paris Hilton… or, more likely, with a yoke on their necks plowing the fields for some guy bigger than they are, while said bigger guy fucks their good looking teenage daughter in his fortified enclave.

Man is a social animal and refuses to exist in a political vacuum; try to build a social system without a government and you’ll simply end up with the strongest guy at the top of the pyramid flailing holy hell out of everyone else… which, by the way, is why I answer that very first question – is government necessary? – with a sad but grimly realistic ‘yes’.

Liberals believe that making the world a better place requires great effort, and more than that, it has to be a mass effort. Everyone is going to have their own idea of what ‘better’ actually is; let any single individual, or small group, set out to make the world ‘better’ and you will inevitably end up with something that is better for that individual or small group, and almost certainly worse for everyone else. That’s how human nature works. To make things better for everyone, you need to get everyone involved. You need to have a participatory system, into which everyone has some input, in which everyone’s voice is heard… and in which everyone is held responsible for any individual excesses they may commit.

So, the first thing you need to make the world a ‘better’ place is a consensus on exactly what ‘better’ means. Once you’ve got everyone organized to create your vision statement, though, you need to put that organization to practical work. You don’t make the world a ‘better’ place by issuing position papers. You make the world a better place by (a) figuring out what makes it suck so profoundly and (b) finding a way to resolve that problem. This is a huge undertaking, because, essentially, what makes the world suck so profoundly is inequitable distribution of wealth.

Inequitable distribution of wealth has existed since the dawn of human history and seems to be a problem as eternal as rats; if you’re going to tackle it, you need a BIG organization.

And this, essentially, is what government does in every form it has ever had – it collects and redistributes wealth through taxation. Bad government collects and redistributes wealth towards actively anti-social ends (like war, or building a big temple to sacrifice slaves in) or just socially inert ends (like the endless cycle of meaningless, conspicuously consumptive and enormously wasteful ceremonials used only to liven up the otherwise intolerably tedious existence of France’s noble classes for centuries prior to the French Revolution), while good government spends its tax money on programs and projects that will, hopefully, in the end, help everyone… or at least, everyone that needs help. But either way, this is what governments have always done… take money from there and reapply it to here.

And, getting back to our muttons, conservatives want governments to collect and redistribute the smallest amount of wealth possible. Liberals, on the other hand, want to collect and redistribute a great deal of wealth… enough to, eventually, eliminate the difference between rich and poor and average out the entire human race into one big, reasonably comfortable and affluent ‘middle class’.

This is why that conceptual gulf between conservative and liberal is so unbridgeable. Conservatives intuitively distrust big government, liberals know big government is necessary to accomplish big goals. Conservatives think things are pretty much fine the way they are, and if any changes need to be made, such necessary changes will derive (slowly) from the output of creative individuals whose useful, worthwhile innovations will be met with approbation and adoption by the grateful masses. Liberals believe the world pretty much stinks the way it is, and that while individual inventions are great, in the end, real social progress comes from everybody pulling together towards a common goal.

Conservative ideas are powerful, persuasive, vastly appealing. Who among us doesn’t want to think of him or herself as a rugged individualist, a man or woman who thinks for themselves, who has their own ideas and their own values, who walks their own road, who did it their way? And who among us doesn’t get pissy when we’re faced with yet another apparently unnecessary and utterly aggravating government regulation about something that, honestly, really isn’t anybody’s business but ours, anyway? Who among us doesn’t think about just how much better our lives would be if we could actually spend that sixty, seventy, eighty, hundred dollars or so a week that gets chonked out of our paychecks before we ever see it? Who among us wouldn’t love to drown our government in a bathtub, especially if ‘our government’ was personified as whichever politician we dislike the most at any given moment?

Liberalism, by the same token, seems almost essentially a cheat, somehow. There is no inherent nobility in mass achievement or group success; ballads and poems may be written about the victories of entire armies, but only an individual can be a hero. Human beings are naturally afraid of losing their identity within the impersonal ranks of an organization or mass movement. We want to stand out, we want to be noticed, we want attention for ourselves and our achievements. We don’t much care if our department at work wins a free pizza party; we cherish, however, distinctions like ‘employee of the week’. An award won by an entire battalion is not as sweet to us as a ribbon, or a medal, or a citation denoting our distinctiveness and superiority over the rest of our unit.

Humans are social creatures, and beyond that, we are herd animals, and while we enjoy the sensation of belonging to something, of being an insider, at the same time, we want to be noticed individually when we excel, rather than simply having our work credited off to the department we’re assigned to.

And yet, in addition to the simple fact that the act of government is just too big for any one individual (even a strong arm boss needs thugs to keep the peons in line, after all), there is the even simpler fact that humanity has a predator class. Left to its own devices, this predator class will kill every single human being on the planet that it cannot enslave, including other members of that same predator class.

This predator class is made up of individuals who are physically more powerful, or more strong willed and ruthless, than most of us, and as individuals, we cannot successfully resist or oppose them. These are individuals who do not respond to civilized constraints and who take advantage of those of us who comply with such. Whether these people are outlaws, gangsters, political bosses, military leaders, members of the wealthy elite, elected representatives, or actual tyrants matters very little. At heart, they are all the same – they are largely sociopaths who do not feel empathy or sympathy to any meaningful or significant degree, who regard moral restraint, sentiment or physical inability in others as weaknesses to be exploited, and who will do whatever is necessary to coerce the kind of behavior they desire from their chosen victims.

It is only when ‘weaker’ (more civilized) folk organize together that such human predators can be curbed. Individuals and small groups generally cannot resist the dominance of such people, and, sadly, those who often speak up the most loudly against ‘government oppression’ are exactly such types of people, who prefer it when there is no powerful organization around to keep their depredations in check.

The simple fact of the matter is, if we want to live together in some measure of common comfort, with our basic social behavior governed by civil customs, we must have a government of some sort or another. Otherwise, we are either dominant or dominated – master or slave.

For me, it’s enough to understand that the underlying presumptions of conservatism, no matter how emotionally appealing they may seem, are essentially negative – selfishness, tribalism, xenophobia, distrust, fear. Liberalism, on the other hand, derives from the honest desire to help those who need it, to make the world a better place, not simply for those who are already doing well, but for everyone… in short, liberalism springs from that much abused word, ‘altruism’.

Despite the many, many attempts by conservatives and libertarians over the years to spin the word ‘selfishness’ into something noble, and ‘altruism’ into something detestable, I myself know full well that many people – I would venture to say even, most people – feel altruistic impulses quite often. Altruism does exist, regardless of how much those who prefer to embrace selfishness insist on sneering at it. We may not practice altruism as much as we should – but the impulse is real, and that impulse is largely what inspires the idea that we can actually make a difference in this world if we work together.

For myself, I’d rather be motivated by a desire to help others than by selfishness, distrust, and fear. Both sorts of motivation can, and have been, and are being, manipulated by those who merely seek power over us – which brings us back to that predator class I was discussing earlier. However, the fact that these emotions allow the ruthless to deceive us into working for their betterment and our own detriment, does not invalidate the motivations themselves. It just means we should be more careful how we listen, and who we vote for.

Which brings us back to, what is a Republican, or a Democrat – and if you identify with one group or another, or cooperate with one group or another even to the degree of casting your vote for that group or this group’s candidate, how responsible are you for the actions and decisions and behaviors of the candidate you voted for? How much moral responsibility does someone who voted for Bill Clinton twice have to take for the lack of character Clinton undeniably displayed with his marital infidelities, some of which were committed in the Oval Office itself? And, similarly, how much responsibility does someone who voted for George W. Bush have to take for the all but unbelievable levels of hubris, duplicity, mendacity, corruption, and the appalling, shocking, ruinous, near immeasurable extent of sheer, raw human waste that can, should, and must be laid directly at the feet of Bush and his cronies?

There are many reasons why someone might choose to vote Republican or Democratic today, and unless you’re simply a straight up old school party line hack, pretty much all of those reasons are going to involve some kind of compromise. Many voters end up following the classic Heinlein advice – even if there isn’t someone they want to vote for, there is nearly always someone they want to vote against. In fact, just as TV schedules were for a long time guided by the principle of ‘least objectionable programming’ (before an ever increasing multiplicity of cable channels gave viewers the option of generally seeking out something they actually wanted to watch at any given time, instead of simply setting the dial to whatever program they could find that didn’t drive them batshit insane), so too are most elections these days seemingly decided by negative campaigning designed to get voters to not so much vote FOR one candidate, as vote AGAINST his or her opponent. (The unfortunate effectiveness of this kind of campaigning is one of the many, many inherent flaws in an electoral system that basically limits its menu of choices to one of two major parties. But that’s another essay for another time.)

Whether you vote for someone because you like their stances, or vote against someone (by voting for his opponent) because you really intensely dislike his or her viewpoints and announced intentions, there is still always an element of compromise. No matter how carefully a campaign crafts its candidate’s image so as to avoid offending any potential voters at all, still, a candidate who managed to take no positions whatsoever would offend people simply by being noncommittal. Candidates are obligated to say what they believe in, what they are against, what they plan to do when they’re in office, what they certainly will not ever do… and whenever such a statement is made, it’s going to piss somebody off.

The informed voter has always had to pick and choose – “well, I may not like John Smith’s position on abortion much, but, on the other hand, he’s going to make the public education system a priority, and he’s promised to do something about the health care system”. Or, “okay, Lisa Jones wants to rename Main Street after an ethnic activist I can’t stand, but, on the other hand, she says she’s going to increase mandatory prison sentences for drug users AND do away with all gun control laws.” So we end up voting for the person we either like the most, despite some disagreements on issues that are less important to us, or the one we dislike the least, again, with some reservations.

And, so, people end up being Republican, or Democrat, for a wide range of reasons, and when one political organization or the other has been in power for a lengthy period, and been subject to intense media scrutiny, and been the source of what seems to be an unprecedented and apparently unending series of illegal acts, moral transgressions, and policy failures, it is only natural that some people who self identify with that political affiliation should become disgusted with all these goddam shenanigans and start loudly declaiming, to everyone within earshot, that they’re tired of being judged by the antics of THOSE Republicans/ conservatives/ Democrats/ liberals /whatevers, THOSE people aren’t true Republicans/conservatives/ Democrats/ liberals/ whatevers, those people are ward heelers and layabouts and reprobates and scoundrels, and they’re bringing shame to a party that has served America well for decades if not centuries, and it’s time for all true loyal Republicans/conservatives/Democrats/liberals/whatevers to rise up and take the party back in the name of the people who really believe in its essential values.

We are seeing this now, as the Republican Party is starting to reap the whirlwind of scandal, indictments, press inquiries, legal actions, and Congressional inquiries, from the wind of bribe taking, ho-chasin’, pageboy seducing, illegal surveilling, rancidly corrupt political manipulation, deliberate sabotage of American civil liberties, torture, embezzlement, invasion, and murder that it has sewn. ‘True conservatives’ are denouncing every suspect elected and appointed official as being ‘neoconservatives’ or outright ‘liberals’. Every registered Republican not currently under indictment is loudly clamoring that the latest man or woman to be investigated is ‘no true Republican’ or ‘no true conservative’.

A guy I used to know in college once said after Mondale lost the ’84 Presidential election, “Democrats are burning their uniforms on street corners”. Well, right now, effectively, Bush Republicans are burning their uniforms on street corners… or, at least, while they’re keeping the basic Republican uniform, they’re burning their Bush League membership cards, their BUSH/CHENEY campaign buttons, and they’re doing their best to scrape all those BUSH/CHENEY bumper stickers off their SUVs, too.

If you can be a Republican for a great many different reasons, and some of those reasons are certainly less noxious than others, is it fair, then, to lump all Republicans in together? Yes, the Republican Party forged a mighty voter’s coalition by deliberately going out and crafting a message of fear and hatred that resonated in every narrow minded pointy head in America, and they rode those fearful, hateful votes to vast political power for close to thirty years as of this writing, and then they abused that power to an extent unprecedented outside George Lucas movies about evil Empires.

But not everyone who has cast a Republican vote since 1980 was a hater. Some people may have simply felt their taxes were too high, that America’s global influence had been frittered away under a weak executive, that our social fabric was in tatters due to a lack of fundamental national values as regards basic moral issues like drug abuse, teen age sexuality, and abortion, and that the Democratic Party, with all its goddam liberal permissiveness and all those fucking free love hippies, could never possibly lead America out of the rotten cesspit of licentiousness that it had somehow fallen into.

These particular Republicans have nothing against the blacks (well, not against the quiet, clean, well behaved ones who dressed in decent clothes and spoke proper English, anyway) or the Hispanics (if they learned to speak our language and they had their green cards) or the women who wanted equal wages in the work place (although it should be noted that any woman in the work place at all was either too homely to land a man, or a lesbian, but still, hey, the Republicans have nothing against them, just telling it like it is, dude) or the atheists (although, you know what, America is one nation under God, and Republicans often have a great deal of difficulty understanding just how an atheist can even want to live in America, and feel they should probably all move to Sweden or something). And they have nothing against the gays, as long as the gays shut up about being so goddam gay and don’t make demands or act all fruity in public places when there are decent folk around, anyway, because God knows how it would warp your kid to have to see that kind of behavior, right?

No, these Republicans were economic conservatives. They were voting for lower taxes and smaller government. That’s what they were promised. All that other stuff – the War on Terror, Homeland Security, warrantless surveillance, CIA black sites, the abuses of prisoners, the roll back of basic civil liberties, ‘free speech zones’, the suborning of the Justice Department to rancid political purposes… no, no, just hold your nose and lift your chin above it all, that’s not what you voted for and it’s not the sort of conservative/Republican you are. And God forbid someone, anyone, lump you in with all those neo Nazi skinheads and crazy ass Christian Dominionists and border patrolling militias and fag hating rednecks, because that’s not you. It’s not. You vote the same as they do… but for different reasons.

You’ve never spent a dime on a book by Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, you think Bush and Cheney and Rove are the assholes of the Western World, you have nothing against non-whites or women or non-Christians… you don’t hate anyone, you just want, y’know, lower taxes and less government interference and a world where you don’t have to get a permit before you fire up your back yard barbecue, y’know what I mean? And, yes, the Republican Party has come to be synonymous with fear and hatred and military fascism and greed and corruption and hypocrisy, and you hate that, but you know what?

You hate the Democrats worse. You just can’t bring yourself to ever vote for a Democrat, you’d put your eyes out and swallow shellfish toxin that would turn your hands in grasping withered nublike claws before you’d ever pull a voting lever for a Democrat, because Democrats are the worst, Democrats tax and spend, Democrats are all about big government bureaucracy, Democrats want to build a permanent government welfare state that feeds you, houses you, provides you with medical treatment, and wipes your ass from cradle to grave, Democrats want everything to have a number and they live and die by their polling data and oh my God HILLARY CLINTON AAAAAUUUGGHHHHHH!

You’re not a hater, you’re not afraid, you don’t want to oppress anyone or deny anyone their civil rights, but, Jesus Christ, you just can’t stand the Democrats, you can’t EVER vote Democratic, the Democrats suck, the Democrats are trying to turn the United Nations into a New World Order, they’re selling out old fashioned American values of self reliance and independence and oh my GOD it’s a nightmare, and, and… that’s why you’re a Republican.

To me, this is what it comes down to. This is what I see everywhere. The conservative impulse is essentially a selfish one – “I got mine, now you get yours -- elsewhere”. The Republican Party is a big tent, and it’s got room in it for every one, as long as they hate someone else that isn’t likely to vote Republican. And, in the end, if you’re not a Republican because you hate the niggers, or the gooks, or the spics, or the wetbacks, or the fags or the lezbos or the goddam commie hippie pinko atheists… well, then you’re a Republican because you hate the Democrats, weak ass, silly, limp wristed, decadent, San Francisco values, tax and spend liberals that they are. Wanting to take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance, I mean, oh my GOD that’s so insane rashen freshen fricken fracken…

The conservative impulse is essentially a selfish one. It is deeply rooted in xenophobic tribalism. And the Republicans are the political organization that caters to this impulse.

I simply cannot see how anyone can take any pride in being a Republican. I mean, you can disavow all the scandals – that’s not you, YOU didn’t offer or take any bribes, YOU weren’t running a Republican program to protect children from child predators on the Internet while preying on 16 year olds on the Internet, you didn’t try to use the entire Justice Department to throw the next election your way, you didn’t blow the cover of countless American covert operatives in a fit of political pique, you didn’t shoot some guy in the face and then delete or alter official Secret Service logs to cover up why, you didn’t invade a country for spurious reasons, you didn’t murder several hundred thousand foreign nationals and torture a few thousand more, you didn’t build the secret CIA detention centers, you didn’t repeal habeus corpus, you didn’t think up the egregiously noxious concept of “free speech zones”, you haven’t spent the last several weeks desperately trying to come up with some line of bullshit that will keep the American public from understanding that seven U.S. Attorneys were fired from their jobs because they had too much integrity to be part of the normal, ongoing moral corruption that is the Bush Administration, you aren’t part of a government that routinely lies and hides behind spurious claims of national security and that refuses to take responsibility for its own mistakes and that frantically dodges all attempts to pin them down to the truth on anything. You didn’t put on a military uniform you have no moral right to wear and strut across an aircraft carrier you should never have been allowed to set foot on under an enormous painted lie. You didn’t do any of that, you’re a prince among men and a gift of the Magii, you are.

No, all you did was vote for the people who did all that. Probably more than once. Not because you really like them (although you used to kinda like Bush, back before, you know, everybody hated him) but because, well, you believe in small government and low taxes and you just can’t stand those goddam Democrats, I mean, Jesus, you got Bush and he’s so good looking and buffed up and he’s got a tan and he owns a ranch in Texas and he’s plain talking and trustworthy and, sure he’s an emotional moron who has failed spectacularly at everything he’s ever set his hand to, a coward who pulled strings to avoid duty in Vietnam and a slacker who didn’t even bother to report for the last year and a half of his Air National Guard service, and you know all that, too, but, what the hell, he looks good and you like him a lot better than that stiff Al Gore guy, who says he invented the Internet and who did… something, you don’t understand it, but Rush says it was corrupt so it must have been, involving raising money from Buddhist Temples or something, and the media just makes a lot of fun of him, how he’s in a suit one day and wearing jeans the next day and he can’t make up his mind!

And then four years later, there’s Kerry, and, well, he’s a flip-flopper. I mean, sure, Bush basically stole the last election and we all know that, and Bush presided over the worst terrorist atrocity on American soil in history, and then let the guy who was responsible for it get away, so he could invade some entirely different guy’s country, and the economy sucks, and there’s some guy in jail right now who hasn’t been charged and who can’t see anyone, not even a lawyer, and we have no idea what the government’s doing to him, and, hmmm, wow, we’re torturing prisoners in Iraq, but… no, Kerry’s a flip-flopper, can’t vote for him.

But still, goddamit, you’re a good Republican, a decent Republican, one of these salt of the Earth types, who just wants lower taxes and smaller government and no budget deficits and no taxing and spending our way out of messes that could have been avoided with a little bit of common sense. Let’s run this country like a business! Let’s get our schools back to teaching the basics! Let’s all pull together and win this thing! Let’s all be proud to be Americans again! That’s what you believe in, not all this… whatever, nonsense, bullshit… that these bad Republicans have done and are doing. That’s not you. And you’re tired of being lumped in with them. You are.

It’s not fair.

But here’s the thing… if I vote for a candidate that I think has a sensible economic agenda and who seems to be generally tolerant of stuff that grown ups are supposed to be tolerant of, and that candidate cheats on his wife with any decent looking (if emotionally imbalanced) head case that comes along, well, I feel upset and a little bit ashamed, because the guy I voted for made the Presidency of the United States a worldwide laughingstock.

I voted for that guy. He represents me. When he lets the country down (and he did), well, I take responsibility. I’m not a registered Democrat by any means, but, still… I voted for him. I take responsibility for his failures of character. (I reserve the right to believe that his failures of policy, which is to say, where’s my goddam universal health care coverage, Bill?, are more important than where he sticks his dick, but, still, I voted for him. He screws up, it’s at least partially on me.) Maybe I only did it because I couldn’t stand the other guy in the election, or maybe I did it because I honestly liked his positions on various issues that were important to me. Doesn’t matter; in the end, I registered to vote, drove to a polling place, walked into a voting booth, and pulled the lever with his name on it, and he won.

Similarly, if I vote for a guy who feels it is his God given mission to champion his religion over all others, keep the faggots in their place, and kick the living shit out of those goddam dirty foreigners with his gigantic cowboy boots on, and he ends up bombing one of the most technologically advanced countries in the Middle East into bloody chaos for no morally or ethically acceptable reason, and is gearing up to do the exact same thing to another Middle Eastern country much like the first, well, I’m responsible for that, too. It doesn’t matter if I didn’t vote for him because he was an insane bigot of monstrous proportions with delusions of messiah-hood who shouldn’t have been entrusted with the keys to a sports sedan, much less ICBM codes. It doesn’t matter why I ignored every blinding red light that flashed before my eyes during his first campaign, first term, and his second campaign as to his lack of intellectual capacity, integrity, moral courage, compassion, empathy, tolerance, civility, or even basic sanity and voted for him anyway. All that matters is, knowing full goddam well what a fucking head case that dumb ass posturing wannabe macho hick motherfucker was, I went ahead and voted for the bitch anyway, because, y’know, somebody told me that Kerry was a flip-flopper.

If I do that, guess what? The whole assload of sad, sorry baggage that follows is mine to carry. All of it. Because I voted for it. And I can scramble around frantically trying to wipe the slime of Karl Rove off my lapels all I want, screeching to the heavens that it’s not fair to lump EVERY conservative or Republican in with all those bad boys and girls who somehow, through no fault of mine, got into high office and then abused their authority, but, y’know, I’m gonna sound kind of lame when I do that.

In fact, I’m going to sound exactly like the current administration, and all its toadies, sound right now, as they frantically try to spin away from the various scandals that are threatening to engulf them. Well, we didn’t fire those U.S. Attorneys for political reasons, it was all performance related. Uh… okay, it wasn’t all performance related but we don’t know why the Justice Department fired them, ask Alberto Gonzales. Well, okay, so it looks like Karl Rove initiated the whole idea and Karl doesn’t do anything without our permission but, um, no, Karl can’t testify in public under oath about it, and talk to Alberto about it. And every President fires U.S. Attorneys! Clinton did it too! And there’s nothing wrong with firing U.S. Attorneys for political purposes, because it’s a political system! And Bush is the Commander in Chief and these people serve at the pleasure of the President and the White House didn’t have anything to do with it and we’re invoking executive privilege and taking the Fifth Amendment! So there!

So, here I am, back at the same place I started out, saying the same thing. If you want me to stop lumping you in with all the BAD Republicans... then, for the love of Christ, stop voting for them.


At 12:16 PM, Blogger Pantagruella said...

I think your argument is undermined by what you have to say about liberals.

You generalise about liberals but I'm not sure if you have a grounded view about what a liberal is, should be, usually is or defined by.

Take the word 'liberal' out of its political context in America. It has a much broader set of meanings.

In most, if not all, countries where political discussion is allowed, tolerated or even encouraged, there is a right wing and a left wing, and some ground in the middle which is usually ascribed to the liberals.

My perception of the United Sttes is that you haven't had any kind of left wing since 1945. You even regard your right-leaning centre political groupings as 'left-leaning' when they are not.

Your idea of a Liberal is close to your idea of a Communist. And when we say Communist you mean Stalinist.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Highlander said...


Thanks for the comment, and welcome to the blog.

I suspect few people in America have a 'grounded view about what a liberal is'. In fact, I suspect few people in the world have such a 'grounded view'. That was, in large part, what the article was about -- trying to present my definition of the words 'conservative' and 'liberal', as a basis for everything I said beyond that.

For all your criticism of me on this point, I notice that you yourself have offered no particular definition of liberal, either. You say that "In most, if not all, countries where political discussion is allowed, tolerated or even encouraged, there is a right wing and a left wing, and some ground in the middle which is usually ascribed to the liberals", and, well, that's all fine, but I have no idea what it actually means, and I suspect you don't, either. At least I provided a definition, and discussed it at length, which is more than you've done in your response.

By my definition, certainly, Communism is a 'liberal' political philosophy, in that it attempts to make the world a better place. However, should Communism become the status quo, then those who would attempt to defend and maintain that status quo would be the new conservatives, and those who tried to tear down Communism and set something else up in its place would then be 'liberals'.

Again -- conservatives largely want to keep things the way they are, because they benefit from the status quo. Liberals want to make changes, to transform the world into a better place for everyone. If that's a moderate position throughout the rest of the world, as you seem to argue, well... okay. But honestly, I think I have spoken much more precisely to my point than you have to yours... whatever yours is, besides, you know, the usual, which is, I'm full of shit.

Which I hardly ever argue with, you just need to come right out and say it, if that's what you mean.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger AaA said...

"Again -- conservatives largely want to keep things the way they are, because they benefit from the status quo."

Are you sure? It's not possible that we want to keep things the way they are because while they may suck quite a bit right now, we can easily see how much worse they can get if some well-meaning but clueless yutz starts trying to tweak things?

I am a conservative. I do not apologize for it in the slightest. I agree that there is a sharp dichotomy between rich and poor, and I'm on the bad end of it, and I still don't want someone taking even more of my already inadequate money to 'equitably redistribute it', because I have no faith whatsoever in anyone's ability to spend my money effectively but ME.

"Again -- conservatives largely want to keep things the way they are, because they benefit from the status quo."

No, not all of us. Some of us are willing to accept things the way they are because we have a really good idea of just how much more badly fucked up they can get, and we want no part of it. And right now, we don't even have a candidate to vote for. The Republican party is a fully-owned subsidiary of Police State Inc., and has completely sold conservatism down the river. They are expanding the government in leaps and bounds, they are creating a massive public debt that is more pernicious than any tax could ever aspire to be, and they've mired and they're miring us deeper and deeper into an idealogical imbroglio with an entire culture, just to facilitate their efforts to enslave us and grow fat.

Seriously, it's a great time to be a Democrat. The Republican Party is about to lose its conservative spine, and when that happens, expect it to do what any boneless creature does when you stand it up on solid ground: expect it to collapse. All the Dems have to do is stand together and support their guy longer than the rapidly fragmenting alliance of conservatives and neocons can.

I understand your point: you believe that liberals want to improve the average person's living conditions by redistributing wealth. You also believe that this goal can be achieved. I do not. Point to a country on the globe that has tried and succeeded. Sweden? Where the government is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, since all of its citizens went on welfare? Try again. Maybe Canada or Great Britain, with their wonderful socialized medicine? Except that while they have socialized medicine, so that everyone has the right to see a doctor, no one seems to actually get to see one, because the line to see the doc for a cough is six months long, and you're either better or dead by then.

Show me the money. Show me a successful example of wealth redistribution. Show me an attempt that has materially improved anyone's lot, without ruining the lots of ten times as many if not more.

Liberalism, if it is 'you feel government should actively attempt to improve the lot of the governed', should seriously consider the somewhat well-known phrase: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." To put it bluntly, when liberals stop trying the same methods that have failed since the dawn of time to achieve their goals, I'll at least consider the possibility that they might someday succeed. But if they're just gonna try the same failed ideas again and again, thanks but no thanks. At least right now I can still pay rent and feed myself, and get to work and home. I can't afford to lose any of those things gambling on yet another iteration of a failed experiment because some dedicated 'liberologist' thinks one more run will yield different results from than the last billion runs.

So, while I agree that the Republican Party is a bunch of sorry excuses for assholes indeed, it's mainly because I regard them as the worst sort of criminal pieces of shit, and even worse, they're a bunch of police-state forced-redistribution-of-wealth liberals. Only difference between them and communists is where they want the wealth to get redistributed to.

So I respectfully maintain my right to strongly disagree with you vis-a-vis liberalism vs. conservatism. Still friends?

At 6:25 PM, Blogger Highlander said...


Of course we're still friends. However, I simply cannot countenance your argument that liberalism is wrong, and foolish, and futile, because, you know, I can't point to a single instance in the history of humanity when redistribution of wealth has been successful.

Nate, the history of progress is entirely comprised of things that never worked for thousands of years... until suddenly they did, and the world was changed.

Why fight a civil war to end slavery? Mankind had always had slavery. By your logic, mankind would always have slavery. Ooops.

Why attempt to force a monarch at swordspoint to sign a charter giving away some of his absolute powers and guaranteeing the nobility certain inalienable rights? Monarchs had always had absolute power. By your logic, they would always have absolute power. Ooops.

Why fight a revolution against an oppressive distant government? Why attempt to create a previously unheard of, utterly unique form of government? Such revolts are inevitably put down, such attempts at creating new utopian republics are always unsuccessful, and by your logic, always will be.


Capitalism had never happened before it happened. The right of habeus corpus had never happened before it happened. "All men are created equal" had never happened before it happened. The Bill of Rights had never happened before it happened. The Emancipation Proclamation had never happened before it happened. For that matter, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER had never happened before it happened.

Mankind innovates, Nate. We progress. You've added another motivation to conservatism's lexicon here... in addition to suspicion, distrust, and hatred, conservatism is also motivated by fear.

You don't want to try to change things because you're afraid we'll make it worse? Is that the attitude that gets special needs kids sent to summer camp? Is that the attitude that discovers penicillin, that invents air conditioning, that puts men on the Moon? Your ancestors would be ashamed of you, Nate.

Humans are explorers. We are discoverers, and we are inventors... or we're nothing. That's what conservatism is about, Nate... making us into nothing. I don't think that's who you really are. I just think you're confused on your verbiage.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger AaA said...

Ok, let me refine that.

I don't want a particular method of "changing things for the better" that has repeatedly and spectacularly failed every time it's been tried to be used again.

In science, an experiment is tried a few times, and if it fails, you change something, and then try again. Socialism has been tried by force of arms several places, its been tried by democratic choice several places. It's failed in spectaular ways, and with catastrophic results, both ways.

We have two ways of introducing government types: at the point of a sword (totalitarianism), and by will of the people (democratically). Socialism has been tried both ways plenty of times, and has failed every time.

Don't forget, while you're (justly) lecturing me on human history, that history's pace is accellerating as our technology allows us to spread new ideas faster and farther. Trying out a new governing style used to take millennia, now we can do it in decades.

I suppose I'm not totally conservative: I don't mind changing the way things are now. I agree that they need to be changed. What I don't agree with is that the people offering to change them are at all qualified to undertake the task. Until I hear a new idea being put forward on how to do this (like, say, actually making rich people pay some taxes, IE closing a few billion loopholes), I'm just not interested in anyone offering to tear the whole thing apart and start over.

Again, in a scientific experiment, you don't change the whole thing at once, you change one thing at a time. So let's hear from the group that just wants to make rich people pay the existing taxes, and see what happens when the government actually has some money to spend on social programs. Until we have some money to spend on the social programs, I have no interest at all in creating them. And until the rich people are paying at least the same percentage of their income as I am now, I have even less interest in increasing my own 'contribution'.

'Flat tax or eff off' is my message to Washington.

Crap, that's a fairly substantial change, isn't it?

Fine. I'm a liberal. Brr. Anyone else feel a sudden chill in the air?

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

I'm probably going to hate myself for getting involved with this, but:

1. I am registered "independent" and I've never once voted for a Republican for a major political office. So, with all due respect, stop getting into my shit about that.
2. In the adult debate on politics, I believe there are shades of gray, not the either/or world you've created.
3. I'm all about taking responsibility for my actions. But when I vote for a guy, and he screws up, why is that my responsibility? I didn't know, didn't have a clue that he'd do x or y or whatever. I may regret voting for him, but it's his responsibility, and he should own up to it as a moral human being and apologize for letting we who trusted him down.
4. I'm also open minded and while I might disagree with others' opinions, and engage in a healthy debate now and then, I don't call them names for having a world view different from mine.

At 12:48 PM, Blogger Highlander said...


The Flat Tax, is, pardon my plain speaking, an economically retarded idea, and a blatantly immoral one. The wealthy should pay a higher percentage in taxes that support our civilization than the poor do, because our civilization provides a framework where the wealthy can enjoy better lives than the poor can.

A progressive tax system is exactly that; I am entirely and enthusiastically in favor of establishing a central authority to attempt to fairly redistribute wealth. I would make huge exceptions (in the form of tax deductions) to those who actually generate wealth through honest labor, but the Paris Hiltons of the world should be taxed at around 72% of every penny they inherit, and every penny of interest that that inherited wealth 'earns'.


1. Everytime I say anything remotely critical about Republicans, you jump in MY shit for doing it, apparently because you are married to a Republican and you feel he's a great guy. I understand the impulse and even respect your willingness to defend your lifemate, but I am not attacking your lifemate, I am discussing general issues. If you have to take my several thousand word articles exploring my perceptions of general political philosophies and specific political events personally every goddam time the word 'Republican' or 'conservative' comes up, you shouldn't read this blog. Capiche?

2. In the adult debate on politics, I don't believe a complaint about lack of nuance is particularly productive. There are shades of grey, but when you are supporting the current regime of murderous assholes with your vote, I am not interested in discussing the fine points. If you or anyone you know voted for Bush and you/they is/are still trying to rationalize that, we have nothing to talk about. You can apologize and move on, or, well, you can stop driving up your blood pressure reading this blog, but you will not convince me that your vote was in any way justifiable.

3. Voting for a guy who screws up and lets you down is one thing. Voting for the current regime is something else entirely. Anyone who ever honestly trusted Bush and/or Cheney was so goddam stupid that they should never have been allowed near a voting booth, and I suspect on some level you know that, it's just you need to keep peace with your own personal choices so you don't try to articulate it.

And I think this is an important point -- the current regime is an exceptional, and very nearly unprecedented one, in American politics. There have been bad, inept, corrupt, criminal, and even evil candidates for President before, and there have been bad, inept, corrupt, criminal, and even evil Administrations and Congresses before, too. But I cannot think of a single Presidential candidate about which so much negative information has been known prior to the election as Bush. Anyone who spent half an hour doing basic research in any public library would have learned endless things about this man that would have told anyone with sense that he should not be entrusted with decision making power over a kids' lemonade stand, much less the keys to the Oval Office. And yet, millions voted for him IN BOTH ELECTIONS, and millions still voted for the candidates he sponsored in the LAST election. It boggles my mind, and frankly, the willful, volitional refusal to face reality and vote responsibly that is represented by this is, to my perceptions, very close to criminal negligence.

There are good Republicans in the world (this Administration just fired seven of them, and Patrick Fitzgerald seems to be a pretty good one, too, as do a few Republican Senators and Congressmen). There have been good Republican Presidents and candidates in the past and there will be in the future. But this particular bunch... this Administration, this President and Vice President, and the last couple of Republican dominated Congresses -- these are simply vile. Anyone who voted for them needs to hang their head in shame, and that's how that works.

4. There are many things I am open minded on, and I try to generally keep a civil tone, too. And I'm pretty sure I haven't called you or anyone you personally know any names. But when evil shit is being done at home and abroad by evil motherfuckers that half the goddam country voted for again and again and again, I get a little pissy. If that is a problem for you, once again, I urge you to stop reading this blog, as I would not want to make you burst a blood vessel, and I'm not going to change my opinions simply because a beloved old college buddy happens to have married one of the few decent conservatives the world has ever produced.

At 7:13 PM, Blogger AaA said...

Well, look at it this way. We supposedly have a progressive tax system now. And the wealthy are paying almost as much tax as I do. And the ones that pay more fire their tax attorneys for incompetence, and hire new ones for next year.

The flat tax I propose is one they actually have to PAY. No loopholes, no deductions, just pay it or go to jail and the feds take everything you own.

Which would you rather have? The existing 'progressive' tax where the rich end up paying less than 1/10th of 1% of their income (but it's taxed at the 'progressive' rate of 56%), or one where they actually have to pay 15% of their income, for real, with no loopholes to weasel out of it?

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Highlander said...


It's not an either/or. You're assuming because you LIKE the flat tax that the flat tax is the only fair tax code imaginable or practical. It ain't. Tax laws are artifacts, we can change them however we like.

As to the flat tax itself, let's say we institute a flat income tax rate of 20% across the board. (It would actually have to be around 36% for the government not to lose any current revenue, but, let's say 20 to make the math easier.)

This means that someone making $20,000 a year pays $4,000 in taxes and has $16,000 a year left to spend on him or herself. On the other hand, someone making $1,000,000 per year is taxed $200,000, and has $800,000 left to spend on moon pies and pennywhistles. Which one of these people is going to enjoy the richer, more desirable life experience within the civil social continuum their taxes support? I believe it is the citizen with $800,000 to throw around. Therefore, I believe that person should be taxed a higher percentage than the poor schmuck making 20K.

The water may not be any hotter in the rich guy's house, and it may not come out of his taps any faster, but, nonetheless, his quality of life will be enormously greater, and he gets that quality of life largely from the civil structure that everybody's taxes support. Therefore, he should pay more for it.

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

Obviously I'm out of my element. I guess I don't have the detachment necessary to discuss politics.

But I agree with you about the present administration.

And if you don't mind, I'll keep reading.

Can we call a truce now?


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