I used to be a liberal
by SevenStrings, Wed Apr 23, 2008 at 09:27:12 PM EDT
There have been several fault lines in this election: young vs old, black vs white, conservative vs liberal, conservative vs progressive, men vs women. But amongst all those, one fault line is crucial to Republican hopes in the fall: conservative vs. liberal This is a fault line that favors the Republicans ~ always has, and always will. This is a fault line that Democrats do not "get" ~ why does it favor the Republicans when we are clearly the good guys ? .
I used to be a liberal, and I am not anymore so I believe I am qualified to answer this question.
First, a primer on who is a liberal ?
You can find extensive discussions on the liberal philosophy here and here A major component of liberalism is social liberalism, which contends that society must protect liberty and opportunity for all citizens. This is a fine goal, but becomes unattractive when discussed in detail, specially when it is pushed to the extreme.
So let us break this down: Our overall goal is to foster "equal opportunity" for all. What metrics should we use to measure our progress towards that goal ?
After all, the availability of "equal opportunity" is harder to quantify, results obtained as a follow on to that "equal opportunity" is easier to quantify. Therefore, in order to measure our progress towards the overall goal, we have instituted measures that supposedly quantify "equal opportunity", but instead quantify the result of that opportunity. Such measures are diversity in the schools, for instance. But what constitutes diversity ? In the absence of any societal interference, the Ivy Leagues would be dominated by Jews,legacy students and Asians. This is not permissible from a diversity viewpoint ~ so what fraction of Jews would be acceptable ? Would that fraction correspond to the fraction of Jews in the world ? Or the fraction of Jews in Boston (if we are discussing Harvard and MIT) ? Or the fraction of Jews in Boston plus an arbitrary allowance of some sort ? What, exactly, constitutes diversity ?
Let us stop here and consider what happened: we started with a very commendable goal (protecting opportunity for all) and quickly started discussing some ridiculous questions. It is here that liberalism gets into trouble.
Let us now consider the motivation for protecting opportunity for all. I think even most conservatives believe that every man/woman/child should be given some basic human rights, including the opportunity to pursue a productive life. The difference crops up when considering the question: what happens when an individual (or a group of individuals who are concentrated in a particular demographic) do not pursue productive lives? The liberal will argue that the context matters ~ prior history of abuse, or discrimination, makes it hard for this particular individual (or demographic) to pursue a productive life. The conservative will agree, to a point. The liberal then goes onto argue that, given the prior history of discrimination, we should provide enhanced opportunities for that particular demographic. The conservative will agree, to a point.
The difference between the liberal and the conservative is simply in the metrics: how much history of prior discrimination justifies enhanced opportunities for a particular demographic, and how much should those opportunities be enhanced by ? Conservatives tend to emphasize individual responsibilities ~ "it is your job to stay in school, even if your grandfather was horribly treated by my grandfather"..they say!
Unfortunately, liberals in the US have come to be associated with "contextualizing to the extreme". Contextualizing someone else's problem can be boneheaded for several reasons: (a) we may get the context wrong, and really offend that person (b) we may get the context right but still offend that person ~ because we come across as too intellectual (elitist) (c) we may get the context right, not offend the person, and still be wrong ~ the issue that should have concerned us was the lack of individual responsibility
I believe that there is a time and a place to examine the "context" for one's predicament, and there is also a time and a place for individual responsibility to be emphasized. And that is where I parted ways with the liberal philosophy.
If I am not a liberal, then what am I doing on this blog ?
I consider myself to be a progressive ~ one who believes that the goal of society should be to redistribute opportunity (and wealth) from those that have it to those that do not, regardless of the context.
I believe that those that have wealth (and opportunity) do so largely because they are born into it, and rarely because they have truly earned it (I was myself born into more opportunity than most people in the world). I believe that those that have wealth and opportunity do so largely because of the sacrifices made by those that came before them (MLK, Einstein, FDR etc. fro you; Gandhi/Nehru etc. for me), and consequently owe it to them to help those that are less fortunate.
And how does one redistribute wealth and opportunity without getting bogged down in the "how many Jews constitute diversity" type questions ?
If one is discussing this within the context of a nation, then you do it simply by having a progressive tax policy (taxing the rich at a higher rate) that funds societal goals (creating opportunity for all). The goal should be to open more schools and colleges, such that everyone (Jew and gentile) who wants to go to school can go to school. The goal should be to make it affordable for everyone who cannot currently afford it.
And if one is discussing this globally, then you do it by banning the sales of weapons, and by negotiating truly free trade agreements (free trade agreements always favor the less well off since they are less able to "protect" their markets in the absence of a free trade agreement).
What does liberalism have to do with the present election
It is simply this: we have had several opportunities to discuss "contextualization" in this election cycle. And in each case, the progressive side (us) has also shown the "liberal" face (contextualizing things to the extreme). This is a fault line that loses elections.
Successful "liberal" politicians (Pres. Clinton, for instance), have known when to stop talking about context. Unsuccessful ones never do ~ the most famous example of this was Gov. Dukakis when he was asked about his wife being raped.
Your comments are welcome!!