Friday, November 09, 2012

When did the labels switch?

kw: sociology, politics, economics, opinion

Around 30 years ago someone who had a lot of influence over me at the time, said he tended to have a liberal attitude towards domestic policy and a conservative attitude towards foreign policy. That describes my own political leaning, for the most part, but I've come to realize things are more complicated. There is actually no single "political spectrum". The traditional "radical-liberal-moderate-conservative-reactionary" labels are not all on the same line.

In the mid-1800s the social and political disputes centered on slavery. To be an abolitionist was considered a somewhat radical viewpoint, yet abolitionists were nearly all Republicans, at least from 1854 when the Republican Party was initiated by anti-slavery activists. Fifty years further along, Theodore Roosevelt, the leading Republican, led the way to establish a national presence in Environmentalism by creating the first national parks, and also practically re-created economic competition in an era of moneybags monopolies by "trust busting" and getting laws passed that still forestall the creation of economic monopolies. The Republicans had become the leading socially liberal party. Strangely, it was also a conservative party: for example, environmentalism, rightly construed, is a conservative value. I am staunchly environmentalist, though I am "conservative" in many areas.

After another fifty years, much had changed. The Republicans were practically left out of the debates over civil rights that led to landmark social legislation from 1964 to 1968. The fight was between "conservative" and "liberal" Democrats, and now "liberal" meant pro-liberation, pro-voting-rights, and "conservative", at least among the Dems, meant pro-Jim Crow. The only nod to Republican influence was the perceived need to modify the language of the original 1964 bill so that a greater number of liberal and moderate Republicans would be willing to vote with the liberal Democrats.

The labels are out of date. "Liberals" and "Conservatives" don't know what the terms mean. Both the Democrat and Republican Parties have a mix of positions that can be confusing. To be a "loyal" member of either faction, one has to pass a number of "litmus tests" and it is getting harder to do so with any consistency.
  • Bigger versus smaller government? Liberals are for bigger, conservatives for smaller, except conservatives are for a larger army, while liberals are the reverse. Here I am a moderate: enough government to do the job, but no more. We do need continuing debate over what "the guv" ought to be doing, however.
  • Capitalism versus Socialism? Conservatives are for unrestrained capitalism, and the more reactionary ones wish to reverse "trust busting" laws. Liberals are for increased regulation and restraint on "business", particularly "big business". Another element needs to be added here: Transparency. I am for less regulation but more "light", and thus very strong laws protecting whistle-blowers, perhaps even rewarding them, while I strongly support the efforts of investigative reporters to expose bad business practices. Remember Ralph Nader and Unsafe at Any Speed? Nader went nuts later, but in a way I still appreciate.
  • The Second Amendment? Conservatives tend to be led by the nose by the NRA. Liberals would wholly disarm us. I give great weight to the "well-regulated militia" phrase, and would require membership in the National Guard of all wishing to own non-sporting firearms. You don't need an Uzi to shoot deer. The NRA talk of "hunting" is a red herring. Make a gun license like a driving license: it expires and requires regular reinstatement, and gun-safety courses.
  • Abortion on demand? AKA a woman's right to choose? Libs pro, Consies anti. I favor abortion where it makes sense. I am opposed to abortion as a form of "birth control". I prefer conception control, so coming right up:
  • State-provided (or mandated) Contraception? Libs pro, of course. Some conservatives actually favor some form of this, but not the more religious ones, particularly Catholics. I favor a strong, well-funded research program to develop a means of contraception that is applied at puberty, works long-term (at least a few years but 10-20 is better), and requires definite action to reverse before the term expires. If women want a right to choose, it ought to be in favor of choosing to have a baby, rather than choosing to abort one. In a world of 7 billions, the default state of men and women ought to be "infertile."
  • Immigration, particularly amnesty (or "don't ask") for illegals? I'll abbreviate: L+, C-. I say pass a minimum wage law that mandates a truly "living wage", with the only exceptions being after-hours or summer jobs for dependent teens, and only dependent teens (who are in school) are allowed to hold such jobs. Then open the borders. If a Mexican or Canadian or Algerian or Kenyan or German or Chinese or Norwegian qualifies best for the job, let 'em have it. No "working visa" required. Ya wanna better job? Earn it. That is genuine conservatism!
  • Welfare, food stamps, WIC, etc.? L+, C sorta -. A tough one. Let's hark back to FDR and the CCC, and at least require anyone "on the dole" to do something productive, like sweep the streets or scrub off graffiti in their own neighborhood. The able-bodied non-parents can be sent farther afield, to undertake infrastructure repair, which is long overdue.
  • Foreign policy? L appeasement, C "big stick". Both are outdated. We presently occupy more than half the nations. Let's commit to a drawdown, to reduce all our foreign bases to zero American occupancy within ten years. That leaves us with the problem of a million or so soldiers to re-integrate into US society. Replace with contractual agreements with allies so we can use their facilities if needed to handle the logistics of any war we need to get involved in. I pray the need shrinks over time.
  • Legalizing illegal drugs? L+, C-. It is clear that the "war on drugs" is a colossal failure. The majority of those in our prisons are its victims, and have now been trained to live criminal lives. It can't be undone overnight, but steps must be taken to repeal the whole thing. This is the Prohibition of the 2010's and is just as misdirected as the prior one of 70-80 years ago. If you, Mr or Ms Pothead, want to screw up your brain until you are unable to work and die in the gutter, go right ahead. That's a kind of social Darwinism I can get behind. Maybe a soft-hearted politician or two will get a law passed to feed you in your gutter.
  • Separation of church and state? This is a misunderstanding of the First Amendment's "establishment" clause. Both L and D are confused about this. Many modern L's are anti-faith. Many modern D's push to inject religion into national policy. Both are wrong. Government ought to take no notice of faith or religious practice, except where it violates common morality, such as human sacrifice or ritualized theft or public fornication, for example. That could come to mean removing the tax exemption from church corporations. I think "non-profit" tax exemption is so misused it ought to be abolished anyway. Just think, Scientology would have never been founded by Hubbard if the exemption wasn't there.
I've gone on long enough for one post. I guess I can't be claimed as either a C or an L. I am for what is sensible, but "Sensibilist" is such a clumsy word!

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