I’m so so tired of the notion that one group or another has the market cornered with regard to things like Liberty, Personal Responsibility, Economic Growth, and Ethically consistent behavior and policy.
Yes, I’m framing this in the political sense, but it certainly isn’t confined to that arena.
I’ve made no secret of that fact that I picked my team. The thing that bothers me is the seemly closely held belief that one party has a monopoly on core ideological principles that are considered cornerstones of American thinking. That just isn’t the case.
As I have argued in the past, both parties fail and succeed in a variety of ways when it comes to supporting or undermining these core principles. Some of the more hard line republicans are working on convincing themselves that they are the party of American values. That the democrats are the party of some other values. They are just reinforcing a narrative that isn’t defensible given the variety of hypocritical positions they have. Now, it isn’t like the Democrats don’t also have contradictory positions, but they are harder to point at as hypocritical because the general party line isn’t so specifically defined.
I suppose the democrats have benefited from this clear definition. They can often just take an alternate position and assail the republican position and collect the vote run off. This is why the democrats are so diverse and ultimately fractured as a party. They can come together when big things are happening, but the breadth of ideology in the democratic party makes it hard to generate consensus.
This is a valuable thing for the Republicans, I can see where they have an advantage. When it comes to matters of policy, they can much more easily close ranks around a specific position. But it still bothers me that Republicans want to frame the narrative around this idea of Republicans being the only party that supports American ideals.
For example, I think the religious fundamentalism that pervades the Republican party is a very serious flaw in their approach. I understand this is part of many in their parties core belief structure, but it doesn’t play well with the rhetoric of small government and really it isn’t an American ideal. When we talk about religious freedom, it is easy to point to the fact that many of the original Americans were some form of christian. This doesn’t mean however, that America should be governed by christian dogma.
That is the beauty of secularism. It allows you to choose the things that make sense for the most people. It doesn’t bind you to a specific position if it is not in the best interest of the most people. Government is the practice of defining the outer boundaries of our laws. When there are dives to minutia, they must be well reasoned and well supported by data. We might look at the wedge issue of abortion as one example of this.
There are many arguments both for and against safe and legal abortion access. Unfortunately, this is an area where the republican mantra shows its hypocrisy. In this frame, the social cost, economic cost, and impact on personal liberty is starkly different than the espoused positions on other issues. This gives the impression that Republicans are only interested in these “core principles” when they are trying to prevent Democrats from getting something they want. I can’t even give them an edge on economic issues here, because there is certainly a reasonable argument to make that more babies in the over burdened system only adds cost in the short term. In addition, it’s reasonable to assume a larger percentage of babies either given up or kept in a hostile and/or impoverished home will eventually end up in prison and continue to cost more.
So on the wedge issue of abortion, there are several inconsistencies with the hard line principles. This is a version of my big government nightmare, where government makes a law based on religious philosophy and causes untold amounts of damage. We need look no further than prohibition to find an excellent example of why this is important. Now, that isn’t to say we shouldn’t stand on principles.
We should be able to stand on our principles, but the ones that government should stand on must be more widely held and accessible to people of a much wider variety. Sometimes the government must also fight against the tyranny of the majority. It’s a moving target because it means the government ends up in a position where it has to be able to look at where people might be in the future and understand hard and fast the difference between right and wrong in a broad sense.
We see that in the civil rights movement. Religious leaders came down on both sides of this issue, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly popular among the electorate. The rights of people isn’t something we should be fighting against and it was good that enough politicians were able to break from their constituents and do the right thing. Now, I am a supporter of the individual mandate. I realize this might come across as an inconsistency. But this is where I seem to differ from Republicans or hard line conservatives. I don’t see these things as black and white. For me, the right of you to be free to not have health insurance isn’t as important as the personal responsibility that you have to the rest of us to not over burden the health care system with unpaid medical bills, bankruptcy, non-preventive care, etc.
Now, I can see the argument that it’s wrong for the government to require anyone to purchase a product or service from the private sector, but this is where rigid ideology fails us. Each of these things should be weighed against one another. How wrong is it to compel the purchase of insurance from private industry. How right is it to support personal responsibility and social responsibility. How important is the individuals right to personal freedom compared to their obligation to the rest of us to not negatively impact our lives (they do when they don’t have insurance).
Now, if someone has gone through each of these in this case and determined that the wrongness of compelling the purchase is more important than the personal responsibility, well I can’t argue too much, but I will be interested to see how that flows because that would seem to contradict some of the closely held principles.
Now, I feel like I’m not making this case as clearly as I’d like. My point is basically this. I see the Republican party, and by extension hard line conservatives, as holding closely very specific principles. Those principles get trotted out often to shout down democratic policy items and as an attempt to define the democrats as something other than supportive of those principles. So it lends itself to much less flexibility when attempting to split the gray hairs that are necessary to split when figuring out a good course forward.
Because of this rigidity, I don’t see a genuine attempt to consider an argument that supports the democrat position. I see more people in the democrat party more willing to consider a more conservative position than I do people in the republican party willing to consider a more liberal position. The rigidity of the principles is the difference between the parties, this doesn’t mean that democrats are morally ambiguous, but it does mean they are more flexible when it comes to weighing their principles against each other and determining a governing position that is better for more people.
There are also many examples of scary policy that betray both groups and I don’t think they are right no matter where they come from – the patriot act, NDAA, PIPA/SOPA, to name a few. But the fact of the matter is, these come from both groups and they are examples of weighting certain needs much higher than other needs. I’m hesitant to attempt an argument in support of these, but one certainly exists. Unfortunately, it does fly in the face of some core American principles and there are many among us who would weight things much differently in these matters.
Suffice to say, I don’t think democrats are perfect. There are many things I dislike about many democrats, but right now, they seem to be the party that is more capable of making decisions that are right for a larger number of people. American values are not owned by any one American. They are owned by all Americans and we must closely consider the importance of each value in the context of the issue we are fighting for or against. It’s a tall order, but this is the minimum we should expect from our representatives.