A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Liberal Life Stories?

This is a post by Timothy Burke, linked to by Matthew Ygelsais. It speaks to the difficulty, as I have below, of educated and intellectual Liberals coming to terms with how to speak honestly about our views:

Rather than telling the story of their political values as a kind of moral fantasy of their own compassion and boundless emotional commitment to selflessly aiding the less fortunate, perhaps they could say more, and say it more authentically, about the roots of their social vision. At the very least, this might prove a more potent and honest—if not particularly democratic—reply to the kind of anti-intellectual populism that is embodied in something like the resurgence of creationism in many parts of the United States. It might also reconnect educated liberal Americans with a hopeful, progressive story of American life as opposed to a bitter story of alienation from America.

Okay, I'll give it a try. Boundless emotional commitment to selflessly aiding the less fortunate was never my narrative anyway. It has always struck me, frankly, as a fatuous projective fantasy on us by our rather anti-intellectual Conservative friends, a straw man to oppose their attitude of realpolitic, good common sense, and moral superiority (the keywords here are "taking responsibility" and "knowing the difference between right and wrong") to the less fortunate.

I stand for the Public Interest. Let's give an example: in my state, Ohio, there has been no real "economic recovery" from the downturn of 2000, particularly no recovery in the form of an increase in new jobs to replace those lost. It is also a largely Republican-run state where the demands of "workfare" that people find work where it does not exist, and the continuous slow squeezing of the poor, the sick, the mentally ill, and the disabled out of the benefit system has been refined to a fine art practiced with gusto and relish from the Ohio Statehouse.

It is in the Public Interest for Americans not to be unemployed or underemployed. It is not in the Public Interest for those who are, and have no way to create employment for themselves, to crowd the entrance ramps of the freeway in the driving rain or snow (as they do now and as they did through much of the Reagan/Bush One years, too) with cardboard signs reading: "Homeless, Starving, Will Work, Please Help".

This is NOT a matter of charity and sympathy in a country of citizens with "liberty and justice for all", however much it would be so in a country of subjects, serfs, slaves, "separate but equal" races, or biological robots whose only purpose in life is to make someone else money, and then decently die (knowing the difference between right and wrong, and doing so responsibly, of course) when they are surplus labor and thus no longer needed.

It is a matter of the Public Interest to "promote the general welfare" and "secure the blessings of liberty" not to have this happen. Those are the roots of MY social vision as an intellectual Liberal: they call it the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

Philosophically at least, I think my Conservative friends stand for the denial of the existence of a Public Interest, however much they have a sentimental and lacrymorse fondness for things like a strong military of fine, upstanding, and brave citizen/soldiers, called upon to give "the last full measure of devotion"-- which is also part of the Public Interest called "providing for the common defense".

Show them a flag-draped coffin, and, even if they are not willing to pay more taxes for it, they are certainly willing to borrow more money on the behalf of all of us for it--as well as borrow the money for any special little projects for their own State or Congressional district.

Why is it so difficult, for example, to convince them to believe that breathing dirty air, drinking dioxin flavored water, eating mercury-laden fish, and eventually losing our great agriculture to global warming, is bad for everybody? And this despite that fact that it makes a few of us richer, and gives a large number of us the comforting illusion that, somehow, our "freedom" has increased, or at least our income has not diminished, because of it.

It does not form a more perfect Union to have these things happen. It does not promote the general welfare to have these things happen. It does not provide for the common defense to have these things happen. And it does not secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity to have these things happen.

Isn't there really a Public Interest? And isn't it in that Public Interest for this not to happen?

How's that for a Liberal Life Story, an honest narrative of the authentic roots of my intellectual Liberalism, Mr. Burke?


Blogger The Anchoress said...

Sigh. Come on, Joe, the homeless only existed during the Reagan and Bush administrations? Puh-leese, sir, you know as well as I that they existed in the Clinton administration as well...the difference was, the press didn't HIGHLIGHT them.

There will always be poor among us. That's a fact. We're meant to help them. That's a fact, too. Where so many of us differ is in the means by which we help, or what we actually consider real help to be. The old Chinese chestnut may be an old chestnut, but it's a true one: You give a man a block of government cheese and you've sort of fed him for a day. You teach him how to make cheese, and you've fed him for life.

The elimination of want and need is not a "here, have this, aren't I great" instant solution. You don't eliminate poverty by saying, "here, I took this money from that guy over there - now you can have it, good luck..." You eliminate it through placing real value on real education (not sensitivity training) and on strengthening the structure of the family unit: responsible, committed adults raising up secure children.

You know all that. To see you simply throwing out the intellectually lazy and demonstrably false meme that homelessness only exists under republican administrations is disappointing, Joe. But as I said before - I'm cranky, today! :-)

You assessment of us conservatives as wishing to deny the concept of the "public interest" is not as annoying as the other, though, because I think an argument can be made that there are some - I say SOME - conservatives who have trouble with it. But my own sense is that conservatives simply have a different idea of what is in the public interest than do the liberals. Case in point: Newt Gingrich (of whom I'm not a fan) said some time back that we should perhaps look into the idea of reintroducing orphanages into society, given the really horrendous way most states run foster care, and the fact that these kids, schlepped from one place to the other or too often reunited with parents still not up to the task of parenting could be better served by being in a stable environment such as we see Boys Town and in other faith-based institutions. Were they perfect? No. No system is - but Newt was attempting to raise a discussion and possibly reform a policy that doesn't really work. For his efforts he got not dialogue but castigation, name calling, all the usual. "Public interest" too often these days, seems to mean "maintain the status quo, even if it doesn't work" to the reactionary left.

Our family has elderly friends who came up through some of those church-based, institutional orphanages, and they came out of them educated, socially grounded and willing to work hard to succeed and stand out. Newt was correct to bring it up and say "let's explore it." He was downshouted by the same reactionaries who downshouted Lawrence Summers last week ar Harvard, the same reactionaries whose whole response to the idea of change is hands over the ears, "lalala, I can't hear you...." Summers had an idea that deserved exploration, but the reactionaries on the left want no part of exploration; they want apologies and re-indoctrination. Because that all worked so well in the Soviet Union.

The revolutionaries of the 1960's have become the establishment reactionaries of the 21st century, and you see them stomp their feet at every suggestion of reform or improvement, at every request to dialogue, and then say the Conservatives are resistant to change. They are not the champions of "public interest" they portray themselves to be. What they are, quite simply, is entrenched, power-mongering socialist elitist who would NOT be the ones standing on line for shoes and toilet paper with the rest of us should all of their policies and dreams be enacted. You and me, Joe, we'd be on line, hoping for the scraps, and the limosine liberals would applaud us as they drove by to their next state dinner.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Rambling Rose Cottage said...

I stumbled upon your blog. Quite interesting! Thank you!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Anchoress, I have watched the waxing and waning in my town of the people with the cardboard signs on the freeway ramps over the past 30 years. I did not see them at all prior to 1980 and the "Reagan Revolution", I saw quite a lot of them throughout the 80's,they had virtually disappeared by 1993, and I didn't see them again 'till after the 2000 election.

I don't think that this is due to chance, I think that it is due to cause and effect. When the jobs are plentiful, people will take them, when they are not plentiful, they will not have them and they will live in penury. At the moment the jobs are gone and have been lost on a massive scale, they show no real signs of coming back on any scale equal to what has been lost, and the party in power shows no real signs of taking any serious action about these facts.

I do not speak for all Liberals, of course, but I do speak for me. This IS my intellectual basis for suppporting proactive government: not charity, but commonweal. I am perfectly content that others disagree about what commonweal might be. This is what I think it is.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

Well, once again I goof up on posting comments on my own blog! Years of practice in doing the wrong thing, I guess.

Since you were kind enough to stop by, Gina, I returned the favor and visited your nice little blog. I would have dropped a thank you comment there, but you do not have comments enabled.

Hope you check back and see this!

2:38 PM  
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10:42 PM  

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