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Saturday, April 28, 2012
Politics ...

I had some impromptu rapport the other day with one of the trial attorneys at my office — actually, a trial supervisor. “Big Mike” wanted to follow up on a political discussion that he had with another fellow from my section, where I became tangentially involved in as an innocent bystander. Mr. RK, my brother-in-arms from the Administration Section, is a Democratic liberal for whom politics is an ongoing hobby. Mr. RK never ran for office, but he gets heavily involved in various local campaigns and rubs elbows with mayors, board members, assemblymen, campaign managers, etc. (but quietly, as not to violate any regulations against mixing government employment with political activism). Big Mike, by contrast, is more like me in that his political interests stem from philosophy and intellectual reflection, as opposed to actual involvement in turning out the vote.

The difference between myself and Big Mike is that he is quite sympathetic to the Republicans; and also that his philosophy is very conservative. So, you wouldn’t think that Mike and I would have had a very pleasant conversation, given my liberal sympathies. And yet, Mike is one of those Ayn Rand / Edmund Burke kinds of conservatives, the kind who has thought things through and has come to believe that law and order, minimum government redistribution, and maximum market freedom will lead to the best world possible, given the very imperfect world that we have to work with.

Mike is one of the classical conservatives, versus the political conservatives who adopt a variety of arguments and positions that are mostly knee-jerk opposition to any politician who favors social intervention measures and who demands more sacrifice from the rich and privileged. Those conservatives are a dime a dozen; just tune into FoxNews or most any radio talk show on any given night. Mike, by contrast, has studied history and can detail his fears regarding liberal interventionism and spell out why everyone is better off in the long run without it (although a few will be very much better, while most others are much less so).

The bottom line for me is that I enjoy talking with people like Mike. Well, to be honest, it’s more a case of listening. I let them make their case, because agree or disagree, you can learn a lot from them. These people have studied history, so they do care about the rise and fall of empires, the track record of socialism, the economic effects of taxes and regulation, Hayek’s arguments regarding the information deficits of central planning,and other stuff like that. Most liberals that I’ve spoken with seem to beat you down with righteousness (laced with liberal dashes of self-righteousness); OF COURSE we should do all we can to favor the poor, the oppressed and the disenfranchised, WE MUST LIFT UP those who have been denied the opportunities that the rich enjoy. If you don’t agree, you must have given in to the dark side of wealth and power and oppression!!! You greedy bastard!

OK, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but not without some truth to it. I still sympathize with the aims of liberals; I would like to see a more just world, a fairer world, a more open world, and a more sharing and caring world. But the thinking conservatives do have a point when they point out the sins of liberalism and the limits of centralized intervention. Liberalism can only be carried out through politics and government (as far as I can tell), both of which are extremely vulnerable to the many diseases of corruption and power-mongering.

People like Mike argue — not entirely speciously — that liberalism is the road to hell paved with wonderful intentions. They say that in trying to amass the power to impose their schemes of fairness and power re-distribution, they become corrupted by the taste of that power and never learn to let go, despite their initial intention to share. (Well, power does corrupt more and more effectively as it accumulates . . . ) They have historical precedents to cite, actually quite a few of them. And they (including Big Mike) contend that Barack Obama is heading down that royal road to hell and needs to be . . . voted against!! (Hey, Big Mike totally respects the law! He gets paid to make sure others follow it, and he seems to follow it himself).

Well, my own political philosophy is somewhat quantum. As with photons and quarks being both waves and particles, our political structures need to embrace two contradictory principles at once. I also embrace eastern philosophy, especially Taoism with its focus on the blending of yin and yang, the eternal inter-circling of darkness and light. As Aristotle said, we need to seek the ‘golden mean’. I personally think that Barack Obama realizes that, and is doing his best to find the right balance between liberal and conservative philosophies, realize the best values of governance and praxis.

So even if I’m not exactly ready to swallow Mike’s brand of conservatism, I do enjoy hearing him (and others like him) make the case for it (George Will is sometimes worth reading in this vein). Being polite, I don’t try to oppose every point that Mike makes (as Mr RK does in his admiration for Rachel Maddow), but I wait for the occasional opportunity to interject the need for public schools and market stabilization mechanisms and keeping the poor from getting so ticked off with the system that they start tearing it down (riots are not a nice thing, and there aren’t enough police and prosecutors like Mike to keep our civilization from collapsing if the anawim ever take to the streets en masse). I might gently remind Mike that market solutions are not a panacea for all social ills. E.g., when parents have children that they can’t or don’t want to raise, they don’t put them up for auction on eBay, efficient though that may be; we have protection agencies and adoption services, coordinated by THE GOVERNMENT — to protect basic human dignity!

Notwithstanding that, for now, me and Big Mike are friends.

Unfortunately, conservatism as it is actually practiced in American politics has relatively little to do with guys like Big Mike (other than to take his money, give him a bumper sticker, and be glad for his efforts to convince people to vote for Romney or any other candidate running against a liberal opponent). Let’s face it, Mikes message would never fly with the voting public. It is too pessimistic (even though it is probably quite realistic).

Mike would tell the masses that things will be messed up one way or another, that most people will get the sticky end of the stick whoever is in charge. He won’t deny that the rich will get richer; he only says that most of the poor will be a little better off if the rich get away with what they want and the “trickle down effects” aren’t hampered by high taxes and onerous regulations. When the liberals get their way, they themselves eventually spawn a privileged class while the masses remain poor (even bigger and poorer than the poor masses are under ‘conservative oppression’). Instead of the privileged class being the daring captains of business and commerce, they will instead be highly educated professors and social activists (like Barack Obama, for instance).

Mike would tell the voters that things are going to stink one way or another, but under his system, they will stink a little bit less. In pointing to this conclusion, he requires voters to perform some rigorous mental gymnastics, as to deny the basic intuition that social programs meant to help the poor will . . . help the poor. (Yes, Mike did bring up the old conservative chestnut that LBJ’s Great Society programs only made things worse overall for poor urban blacks; now, I just can’t swallow that one). So, let’s face it, the voting public is NOT going to embrace such gloom. That is why political conservatives are generally NOT true, classical conservatives like Mike. (And by the same token, why political liberalism is not as pure and saintly as those who espouse the preferential option for the poor). Political conservatism, like any other political thing, is a sausage mix of all sorts of contradictory things that come together in a tasty enough fashion to win the next election.

But hey. Mike doesn’t need me to tell him that. He has probably already figured it out. So he’s welcome to stop by my office and explain why Mitt Romney should be the next president. Because even if I don’t entirely agree with Big Mike, what he says will be well thought out and grounded in important facts and ideas. If only the political and theoretical liberals would get over their condescending “it should be obvious” attitude and do a better job, in that regard.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:28 pm      

  1. Jim, I tend to agree with you here on all this. In general I lean toward thinking that those who go into politics (or those who really take politics seriously) really like to debate. And here I use the word “debate” in the sense that one takes any side of an argument and defends it.

    I’ve noticed that there is more than one reporter who in any reporting on politics has a smile on his face. (Yes, both of these individuals I am talking about here are men. I HAVE noticed that women get very serious about their positions–whether they be conservative or liberal.) I find myself wondering if what men really like is the argument for argument’s sake–the debate for debate’s sake. Let’s see who can “win”; rather thank duke it out, let’s use words.

    I have found myself always interested in anyone who can support his/her positions in poliltics, whether they be conservative or liberal. After all, there’s something good to be had on both sides. YET, I also almost always notice that it’s the rich people who generally come out for the GOP and the conservatives. People like me (those who had little money) generally tend to be Democratic and liberal. The only people who had no money who were Republicans that I’ve known in my life have been my own parents. And they were against the Democrats (they basically didn’t “argue” liberal/conservative in those days) because FDR “got us into the war”, that being WW II.

    And yes, you are right: When/if the liberals ever “get their way”, they themselves will become the “privileged class”. ‘Twas ever thus.

    One last point: Yes, I agree the liberals often have a “condescending ‘it should be obvious’ attitude”. But I also notice the conservatives tend to have a mean and nasty attitude toward those who disagree with them–or so it seems to me. I realize I’m generalizing here, but it does seem to me that those conservatives on TV who are very prominent could use a little less just plain anger and nastiness; yet there are some who certainly are not that way.

    I’d say it’s a good thing that you have two gentlemen in your office who can discuss (notice I did not say “debate” or “argue”) two sides of politics without getting down to what amounts to verbal fisticuffs. That’s a good thig, I’d say, and worthwhile discussing with them. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — April 29, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

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