Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Political Confusion

While I await my colleagues further response, I would like to make a comment on what he terms cognitive dissonance -- i.e. the stronger tendency of Republicans to toe the line on matters of party doctrine. Having attended Swarthmore for 4 years, I am familiar with having been told what to think, and with having been attacked for having a particular interpretation of The Tempest (during which my upper-middle class white heterosexual professor actually called me "The Man" and not in the flattering way). While I cannot deny, having seen no evidence either way, that some Republicans may spout the party line because they have been inculcated to the party's beliefs, I view such ideological loyalty differently.
In short, I am willing to toe the line because I recognize what my colleague has already acknowledged -- American political parties are most electorally successful when they keep their collective action problems to a minimum. I toe the party line on almost all issues not because it is always my personal belief, but because in the Republican's electoral success I see the best chance of political success on the greatest number of issues about which I care.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It has been suggested throughout our history, most recently by former President Clinton as the reason why the New Democrats and old-line liberals needed to band together to oppose Republicans. They failed to heed his advice, and as a result the Republicans gained control in 1994. I will end with this rhetorical question: From a policy perspective, do you think those old-line liberals who refused to support Clinton in 1993 were happier with the state of government then, or now?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Don't blame me, I voted for Kang.

Dave, you're absolutely right about the counter-intuitive nature of my position. We can save the argument about the two-party system being an inherently right, natural, or inevitable status quo for later; for now, the bottom line is that you play your hand. If you throw your chips and run away crying, nothing gets done. I think it was Benjamin Disraeli who said, "'Tis better to rage with the machine, than to rage against thy'n self". But this is a wasteful, unwieldy, exhaust belching, machine pieced together with parts from many different decades. In short, the Democratic party is a beat-up '76 Lincoln Town Car with two different colored doors.

In my opinion, it's time to molt, to shed the flaky, ugly exoskeleton that couldn't win a losing contest with the Chicago Cubs. Think of it as new growth after a forest fire, or like "creative destruction" in the business world. Rapid defections in political parties happen overnight- after twenty years of sub rosa machinations. The DC apparatus is a lost cause. So we are waiting in the shadows, ready to jump out and bludgeon the DNC/DLC to death at the precise moment the GOP finally steals enough rope to hang itself. But fear not my friend, for you will be on the protected list when my people enslave devout Christians to build temples to Dionysius and till the marijuana fields.

Essentially, I believe what I believe, and the Democratic party believes in...something, I guess. You guys, on the other hand, believe what you're told to believe. Which is why so many pro-choice Republicans, and so many whose instincts run counter to our foreign policy toe the line anyway. Your party loyalty requires you to cope with an enormous amount of cognitive dissonance, which inevitably backs you into untenable positions. Hence, long term advantage. I've gotta run, but I promise you a more comprehensive response (read: an actual answer to your question) in the near future.

Third party? Go ahead, throw your vote away...

Point 1: democrats vs. Democrats
Let me begin with what may be arguably the greatest political commentary ever authored, from that fine source of popular culture "The Simpsons" --
Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're
nothing but hideous space reptiles.
[audience gasps in terror]
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about
it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.
[murmurs]
Man1: He's right, this is a two-party system.
Man2: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate.
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.

Now I will in advance agree with my friend and colleague that it is a sad state of affairs when our own system can be parodied in three or four lines on an animated show. But it also forces me to ask him how he can so easily distance himself from the party that represents "his half" of the political spectrum. It is something I have never understood about the left -- that they will self-identify as liberals instead of liberal Democrats.
For all that I would love to get rid of the fringe of my own party to present a more electable face, the half of the political spectrum has always understood that within a two-party system, there really is no place for an "Third Way" unless you can supplant one of the existing parties (absent the defection of a former president, that is). Policy change comes from electoral success, and electoral success comes from drawing your party together, not distancing yourself from your party's electoral strategy.
Gabe, how does speaking for a movement, rather than a party, constitute a "long-term advantage"?

Point 2: War, stem cell research, and the debate over life
I think this portion of the discussion is moving to that great trio -- war, the death penalty, and abortion, so I'm just going to jump right into it.
Let me start by saying that while I am open to persuasion, I think there are only two intellectually consistent positions in this debate: (1) Pro-choice, pro-death penalty, and "pro"-war and (2) the opposite (i.e. the Catholic Church's position).
My argument for this position would be this: Either the taking of a human life is sometimes justified, or its never justified. War and the taking of life that goes with it may be justified to prevent a current horror (think the Holocaust, etc.) or may be necessary to prevent such an action in the future (i.e. why the US should have gone into Rwanda sooner, Darfur sooner, etc.). Obviously, the first case makes an easier justification since the harm being prevented is immediately apparent, whereas in the second case it may never become apparent, since a disaster averted before it begins is a disaster that never occurs. (Why the film "Minority Report" presented such an interesting question)
As to the abortion debate: I don't agree with those who feel that life begins at conception. But in fairness, if I did, a pro-life stance would be the only defensible position. If a 2-month old fetus (first trimester) is a human life, than how can we countenance destroying it simply because its mother (or parents) aren't prepared to have a baby? I'm not saying I agree with that position, but how can one who believes as much have a different position? And as such, shouldn't we judge them if they didn't try to prevent what they see as murder?
On the flip side, the death penalty: These aren't innocent people. (yes, I know the debate about the number of people freed from jail and death row. But since there is no serious evidence that an innocent person has ever been executed in the modern era, I view it as proof that the system works, albeit sometimes slowly and imperfectly). I don't think I need to go too much further into it on this post, since I suspect we will come back to it in a while.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Jim Jeffords? That is so last term.

While I enjoy both devouring the veal-like flesh of the unborn and critiquing the grammar of others, there are bigger fish to fry here. I can count, and am well aware that the Democrats are not in the majority. But for the record, "we" are only democrats with a lower-case "d". I speak for a movement, not a party, not that party anyway. That's really the rub here; and that's our long-term advantage.

The Democrats in Washington have earned your incessant lampooning. You couldn't fictionalize a more vicious intellectual widow maker. They more or less stand for the right things, but only in opposition to you guys. They most assuredly do not speak for the Bush-hating demographic in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, just for starters. Basically, they suck, the writing's on the wall, and you can't regroup without cutting ties first anyway.

Mark my words, you guys will not sever well from your victory umbilical cord. See, your party's betrayed you too. Probably worse. You can't tell me part of you isn't seriously concerned about that guy, that our doubts aren't just a wee bit justified, no? And let me ask you this: what would've happened if Michael Moore had called for the assassination of Vicente Fox? What if it was 1999 and people in the Clinton Administration slapped him on the wrist with a wink and a nod? Just asking.

But seriously, the Republican Party is a trainwreck waiting to happen. You are trapped in the political parallel of irrational exuberance. The house I grew up in isn't worth $700,000, but it is; the Christian Right isn't right about everything, but it is. My point about the war versus stem cells wasn't about the nature of our particular parliamentary system, although I did appreciate your nod to the inherent messiness of this process. No, I'm talking about justification, not just winning.

It is, on it's face, absurd to declare war (war?!) a less pressing moral problem than stem-cell research. Y'all seemed to think that, if honest internal calculations rendered this war "just", you were entitled to surrender to your bloodlust and enjoy it like a football game. But even with honest internal calculations the only way to justify this war is if the potential long-term benefits outweigh the potential long term risks. Well, if there's a better candidate to pass precisely that moral standard than stem-cell research, I'd like to hear it. Everyone's "supposed" to find war lamentable, while at least 60% of this country thinks stem-cell research is probably a fundamentally good thing. Where do you get off even equalizing our respective outrages, let alone pretending your case has more gravity?

Political Confusion

Having just received word that my left-wing blogging buddy is ready to go, let the blogging begin. Our first topic, suggested from the left, is:
"Some people are so profoundly offended by
stem-cell research that the government can't even
help fund it, since there's no way to guarantee
that those peoples' tax dollars wouldn't be spent
on something they find so immoral. Yet the 40% of
this country that opposed the war from day one are
entitled to no similar recourse."

Unfortunately, this is just two examples of the many ways in which the oddities of collective action rear its ugly head. A few others: people who send their kids to private school have to continue to pay those part of their property taxes which fund public schools; the one U.S. Senator who voted against declaring war in World War II didn't have to go live in Germany; everyone who voted for John Kerry still has to have President Bush as their President (which I am sure will bring a bitter/sarcastic respone).
This isn't a good answer to the problem, except to say that sometimes that is how democracy works. However, I would note the difference between the two. The reason stem-cell research funding is being blocked is because a (apparently) majority is Congress is opposed. Though I am personally in favor of stem-cell research, with Republicans controlling Congress there isn't a majority to push for the funding. On the flip side, most of the people who are opposed to the war are Democrats. If Democrats were the majority in Congress, they could deny funding. (Though my guess is that wouldn't happen -- remember how many of them voted for the action in the first place, and how hard it is to get elected in most districts if you are perceived as "weak")
So, my answer to my very frustrated friend Gabe is -- get a majority elected, and you can kill all the potential babies you want!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

In the beginning...

Welcome to what will hopefully become a blog which crosses the aisle more frequently than Jim Jeffords when he has an agenda to push. For now, we have only two posters, myself and a very liberal friend of mine from Swarthmore. As time goes on, we hope to add even more from both sides of the spectrum, to both comment on current events and hurl abuse at each other. We'll see how it goes.