Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Looking for common ground

"Sean" commented on my last post. You can read his comment in that post's Comments. My answer was too long to fit there, so I'm putting it here. Mainly I'm trying to lay out common ground between left-leaning centrists like me and right-leaning centrists like, perhaps, Sean. Not that we agree about everything by any means, but as Americans we should all have some common ground, and it behooves all of us to seek out that common ground when we argue with others about politics. So here goes:

Sean, let’s start by looking at where I hope we agree:

1. Deficits are generally bad (though I note that in the business world nearly every great corporation got there through heavy deficit spending at the beginning, then becoming more prudent once they’ve arrived—not many startups are self-funded);

2. Structural issues (such as the repeal of Glass-Steagall, gerrymandering and much more) cause much of the mischief we see in government—and many of these structural issues are fundamentally nonpartisan. I’d love to see a Republican-Democrat unity drive to clean up the structural issues that are nonpartisan—though we have to acknowledge that to a degree we’re really divided between incumbents of both parties on one hand and everyone else—because a lot of the shenanigans are designed to tilt the playing field in favor of incumbents of both parties. That’s the basis of California’s gerrymandering, for example.

3. Both parties have a conflict of interest between their rank and file voters and special interests who fill their campaign coffers. Big business leans strongly Republican, though they’ll unhesitatingly grease Democrats if they feel it serves their interests. Democrats in office are beholden to unions—particularly to public sector unions, and trial lawyers.

4. Both parties have partisan bases whose legislative/executive wish lists don’t entirely overlap with the general welfare of the Republic.

The GOP has a reliable constituency of older white male Southern (and like-minded) voters, along with single-issue zealots opposing abortion (including many older white women), and those with a focus on religious issues. The Republican constituency centers on smaller, more rural states (with the notable exception of Texas). These states receive more Federal expenditures than the taxes then sent to Washington DC.

The Democrats have a reliable constituency of Black, Hispanic, and other ethnic minorities, as well as urban Whites, and younger voters generally, along with single-issue zealots promoting women’s rights (including abortion rights), and homosexual rights. Democratic states are mostly large, very urbanized, and are “donor”states that send more money to the Federal government than they get back.

5. Both parties contain both crooked and saintly legislators. Both parties are susceptible to the influence of money in general, given that our elections are privately financed. The Republican Party positions itself as the party of traditional morality, while the Democratic Party positions itself as the party of “secular humanist” morality, though it always challenges this in public forums.

And because the GOP puts itself on a pedestal of personal probity, the character lapses of

Republican legislators (such as the handful of privately homosexual but publicly anti-homosexual legislators) leaves them open to accusations of hypocrisy.

But because the Democratic Party puts itself on a pedastel of defending the little guy, its frequent capitulations to monied interests leaves them open to accusations of hypocrisy.

There are ex-legislators of both parties currently in prison.

6. Both parties’ zealots have great difficulty discussing political issues in mutually acceptable terms. Partisans insist on tilting the playing field in their favor before debate even begins. “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” are typical—and typically egregious—examples.

Likewise, both parties’ zealots deal with political issues with the parts of our brains that we share with chimpanzees, rarely engaging the prefrontal lobes and the cerebral cortex (confirmed by MRI studies during the Bush-Kerry election).

7. People who are able to debate issues may issue fiery denunciations that seem identical to those from zealots who can only talk with those who already agree with them. You only really know which is which when you challenge them, however.

8. Only a tiny minority of the right and left are actually out to destroy the United States in its present form.

Some radical leftists are, and I’ve known some, who truly hate this country and in particular gloat over the white majority becoming a minority, want open borders as a way of erasing the nation, and in general root for our enemies. This is also true of some radicalized Muslims, who are highly conservative…but not Republicans.

OTOH some radical right wingers also hate the federal government, and while they claim fealty to something they call the United States of America, they gave rise to Timothy McVeigh and the Atlanta Bomber and others. And you have popular preachers like Pat Robertson, who said after 9/11 that America got what it deserved because we tolerated ho-mo-sex-u-als and a-bor-shun. You also have Dominionists who strive to replace our government with a Christianist version of an Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

But overall I’d guess that only a few million Americans are like this.

9.A larger group is those who don’t hate our country, yet whose activities are dangerous to its wellbeing and its future.

On the left, the most dangerous group is public sector union employees who have gamed the system so much that their lavish wages and pensions and medical benefits are literally bankrupting government from the city level on up.

I’d also include the millions of Americans who are either immigrants from or the children of Mexicans, who identify themselves as Mexican, not Mexican-Americans or Americans, according to a nonpartisan Pew survey. Plus illegal immigrants, many of whom actively dislike America and only want citizenship to get benefits their government has told them we owe them because we stole the Southwest from Mexico, so it’s actually theirs and we should leave (but keep providing them benefits, of course).

I’d also include those who regularly write wide-ranging diatribes against America in newspaper comment threads—often combined with diatribes against Israel (but never against Burma/Sudan/Saudi Arabia/Iran/China/Zimbabwe and other oppressive dictatorships).

On the right, the most dangerous are the very rich who I believe don’t have national affinities because they’ve decoupled their own prospects from those of the nation. Whether America suffers or thrives just makes no difference to this group, because it doesn’t affect them and their lives are highly insulated from those of the rest of us. They need almost nothing from our infrastructure for themselves personally. They live in enclaves and travel by private jets and choppers and yachts. And they’ve insulated their business activities from even the welfare of those businesses—even if the businesses fail and the stockholders lose their entire investment, this group gets away scot free. That’s why they indulge in such risky business behavior.

And they pay Republicans (and to a greatly lesser extent Democratic) legislators and government apparatchiks (such as MMS operatives) to help insulate them, as part of their schemes to outsource risk.

These people don’t belong to some secret organization; they just have common interests: that is, obstructing and if possible removing all forms of government regulation, maximizing corporate welfare, eliminating taxes, and spending as little as possible on social welfare, infrastructure and the like.

Since there are so few of them, they also need some way to get voters to act against their own interests and vote for their people in government—nearly all Republicans. This is done through sophisticated marketing aimed at polarizing the country instead of forging centrist coalitions, and getting their side so angry and fearful that they’ll vote for those who are robbing them.

That is, they’ve turned the Republican party from an organization with an actual political philosophy into a tribe, with the Democrats identified as the enemies of Our Tribe. So instead of seeing themselves as Americans, they’ve redefined “American” as “Republican” such that Democrats aren’t actual Americans.

10. The cause of the current economic crisis isn’t one “cause” it’s a list of factors, some Democrat, most Republican. For the details, look up the economist who accurately predicted the current debacle. His latest book is Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance by Nouriel Roubini.

11. All economists are alarmed by the current deficits of many countries. But deficits aren’t the only issue, and many mainstream economists point to an overemphasis on deficit reduction in 1937 being responsible for prolonging the Great Depression, as well as for the 1932 plunge after the Hoover administration. I realize there’s a revisionist history denying this, but that seems more like partisan history rewriting than authentic scholarship.

There is serious thinking today that Chinese financial manipulation and co-opting of governments worldwide has fostered China’s success at everyone else’s expense—including ours…and that this may be more responsible for the current downturn than factors internal to various countries including ours.

That line of thinking doesn’t let us off the hook. But it does indicated that globalization has become so entrenched that we must look beyond our borders to understand and tackle even issues that once would have been strictly internal matters.


I’m not substantiating a lot of things I say in my blog because I’m not writing academic treatises and no one’s paying me to crank out the footnotes. I’m most interested in helping centrists refute the logic of both sides’ extremists, which doesn’t require original research. Thus I’m trying to stick to assumptions that could be backed up by mainstream authorities—like Dr. Roubini.


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