I had a good conversation with a right leaning friend of mine who is leaning libertarian. He thinks government action always causes negative consequences, but he is FAR from a Rush-head right wing talking points person. Bachmann and Cain are embarrassments to him and he would like to see Glass Steagal reinstated as well as setup the consumer finance bureau. He liked the Tea Party at the beginning and I think he still likes their libertarian wing, but he doesn’t think I’m trying to burn down America and he will listen when I explain liberal viewpoints. I’m not highly liberal myself, but much more liberal than what he has to deal with on a regular basis. I often read comments left on websites for political articles and have heard a lot of right wing arguments and viewpoints. He always lets me know how liberal stuff sounds to a conservative, so today, I thought I’d return the favor by listing some talking points/philosophical points and showing how my brain processes the same information.
1. Personal Responsibility
I put this in the category of right wing phrases that sound so obvious they don’t require saying. It’s why when I hear it I give a blank look. Everyone is responsible for their actions, both in a legal sense and in a cause and effect sense. The legal sense being if I go out and shoot your parents, then the police will catch me, I will be brought before a judge, and then punished. If I don’t study hard in school and get really poor grades, I might not make it into a first rate college and have to settle for something third rate. Job prospects, marriage prospects, where I live, etc. will hinge on these decisions as a natural course. I know many Teabaggers immediately bring up affirmative action, but in most cases, schools only give a few extra points on the basis of race if you happen to list it on your application, and you still have to get through school and graduate. Even if you were surrounded with liberal professors who don’t fail minorities (which is a total myth) if you go to a job that requires a GPA then they still may/may not bump you up even in that regard. Even without equalizing factors my future would look pretty bleak, and I might leave college and find myself flipping burgers or working 80 hours at 30k a year job. Conservatives in many ways, I think, relish the thought of someone they deem to be incompetent being punished by this imaginary meritocracy in their bid for pure social efficiency. Herman Cain is a living example that we do not live in a meritocracy.
Personal responsibility is not something you have to go out of your way to say; it’s a part of everyone’s existence. You cannot be a slave to efficiency to the point where you are willing to sacrifice people who are able and willing, but need a leg up, to get your revenge on a person you deem a failure. Government intervention can cause inefficiency, but so what? Removing hurdles is not a bad thing. Hurdles aren’t necessarily holy, and to be honest, if a person is of the mind to jump over them, no one is going to stop them.
I know, you are dreaming of the welfare queen with her 3 children she had to get more money for child credits, who gets her heat bill, gas, and lights paid at the local welfare office and figures she’ll never work a day in her life. Well, guess what, that’s fine for several reasons. #1 I don’t see churches helping people on a regular basis with their bills. I understand they have budget restraints, but I have gone to a church before and they are not reliable, because of funding or many times because the church is about enriching itself. If churches did a better job of doing their job, then there wouldn’t be a need for welfare, but since so much of their money is diverted to stopping gay people from being married or the next personhood bill, it looks like a lot of those funds won’t make it to feeding, clothing, and keeping people warm. #2 Telling her to get married to her father is not going to work. You can’t force people to marry. You can minister to them to let them know how to make better choices. The Catherine Ferguson academy in Detroit does an excellent job of this, and does it without arrogant Christian admonishment! #3 She might decide to work later. Heck, it’s happened right before my very eyes. I’ve seen people who used welfare later decide that they needed a profession, because they knew the money wouldn’t last forever, and because they had their own dreams and ideas. They had a basis to do this because of the help they received. Besides, a lot of people use federal programs to help them, just ask Michele Bachmann!
2. Liberals want to punish success.
We must have completely different definitions of success. I don’t judge people by how much money they make. That would be absurd. That would make Rupert Murdoch better than the Dalai Lama. Elizabeth Warren put it best when she said no one ever made it in this country on their own. I think most conservatives have an atomized view of the individual with Ayn Randian libertarians at the furthest extreme. You have a hard time seeing success, even in monetary terms, in context. Again, we come to a crossroads where you argue something liberals don’t even think about saying out loud: people are individuals. No duh. Even in highly collectivist cultures like S. Korea or Japan, people have lots of individuality and their experiences in life are defined by their characteristics. I’m not trying to change that because I know there is no changing that as long as humans are humans. However we also exist as groups within groups, each interconnected. Liberals think in context. It’s the way we’re made. We know that in order to be rich you had to have a society of people willing to buy your product and could afford it. I write books. I need a literate populace filled with intellectually curious people who have the time to read books! You have parents, a neighborhood, a school, the media, books written by other people, a vast interconnected world of human beings both living and dead in a constant conversation. The atomized individual becomes blurred in this context, so when conservatives set themselves up as better based on the amount of money they make, it comes out as you thinking of yourselves as autocrats with the peasants below, and even more arrogant, thinking that those roles could never change!
3. The government has invaded our lives
Sorry Mr. Tin Foil hat, but this one doesn’t scare me. I don’t think in religious terms about the government. I find many conservatives believe things as articles of faith. I prefer reason. The government as an institution can do a great deal of good, has done a great deal of good, and will do a great deal of good in the future. Is it running smoothly and perfectly? HA! However, I think your attitude towards it and your confusion about it is the reason why we’re having a hard time having a conversation. When a Tea Bagger is afraid the Democrats want to destroy Social Security, we have a serious messaging problem on our hands. When I hear you rail on the government I think to myself, “Does this person just want revenge on people he/she doesn’t like, or are they really concerned with how this country is run?” If you’re concerned that student loans are inflating the price of education and flood the market with too many college grads with majors that aren’t easily monetized, well, why don’t you put forth a means of making sure we can have a college educated populace without the six figure fees? When you take government out, you’re not doing it so that you can make sure that degrees are available to anyone that wants them, you just want to satisfy some puritan fantasy. Paul Ryan is a great example of this. He falls into the trap of seeing people as only atomized individuals. “I did it so why can’t you?” We live in different times, come from different areas of the country, and have different options available to us. Does he realize most college kids work and that many of them don’t have enough money left over to pay down their college bills? Does he realize the market requires a college education nowadays to even do 30-40k work? Does he realize that those loans help people who are dirt poor get into a college, and is an important step on the rung of making sure intelligent people aren’t working at McDonalds? Your answer cannot be “well some people don’t make it regardless.” I want a world where if you want to make it, you can try.
4. Liberals solve things with the government, they don’t rely on God
Oh this one steams me. I’m Christian, recently converted from being an atheist. I find it strange that self professed Christians who are supposed to give 10% of their income to charity, which is a handout, would hate that someone was getting assistance from the government. Especially with the amount of graft in churches! Maybe it’s a reminder that your charity is insufficient or misguided? You can feed kids in Africa and help to cure AIDS without lecturing their parents on working, but turn around and refuse to do the same in your own country? Geographical location does not link directly to how much opportunity exists. Besides, whenever I say why someone can’t do something, you have some logical quip about how person X could do Y and Z to clear whatever hurdle is in their path. Why don’t you do that when you give to charities in other countries? If you hate welfare so much, recognize that people are still hungry and start finding new ways to make sure people get food, clothing, and shelter and don’t have to fear for it. You’d be giving it away of your own free will, right, and that’s really the only part of this matter that makes you angry, since taxation in all forms is somehow a crime. You don’t want taxation to pay for welfare, then do a better job yourself. Oh wait, that’s right, your pastor is busy buying snakeskin shoes and building a new juice bar in his megachurch so people can chat about who they’re having adultery with. My bad.
In the end, I don’t think everyone is going to be a millionaire and financial inequality between people is not bad per se; again, natural consequences. There are plenty of people who work at Wal-Mart for 20k a year and that’s pretty much their speed. The future is not set though! Maybe they work there for 5 years, find out nursing is a much better field, and then try that out to raise the amount of money they make. I want people to have lots of options and markets shut people out after a certain point because they busy themselves servicing smaller and smaller parts of the population. It’s not their job to include people, so why not open the window? I don’t want to take everything you have and give it to someone you hate (although I do relish the idea of putting O’Reilly in a 100% tax bracket of 1), but even if you do hate them, because it helps the group, because I know it gives someone else a chance or helps them have a platform to be what they want to be, your hatred or dislike is largely irrelevant. Efficiency or adhering to your Puritan views is irrelevant.
Originally posted to sujigu on Sat Nov 19, 2011 at 10:56 PM MST.
Also republished by Community Spotlight.
I’ve seen many many screeds pushed by the various conservative blogs about what liberals say, and what they “really” mean when they say it.
It seems that “liberals” as defined in the overheated minds of some commentators are incapable of speaking plainly. Everything is code for the opposite of what it said. A sort of DoubleSpeak that these individuals have created. Demonizing your opponents is a great way to overturn said opponents, but it leaves no room for discussion or negotiation.
I think it’s useful to provide a calm, clear view of how things sound on the other side. Perhaps it will reach out to the vast middle ground of people who aren’t on either extreme and spend more of the day worrying about how to get through the week without catastrophe.
Thanks Sujigu for putting this post up!