“We sometimes think a dystopian future is terrifying without fully absorbing how so many already live in it.” – Andrew Sullivan
Seen at our local Ace Hardware in Napa. I don’t know what’s more disturbing: the fact that our hardware store sells pickles, or the fact that they are one shelf above the Spectracide and other toxic chemicals.
Today’s events have got me thinking, and I’d like to share my thoughts.
Before I start, I want to point out a deliberate editorial choice on my part. I am going to lump together the Republican Party, the “American Right”, the “Religious Right”, the “Tea Party”… in other words, what one might hastily refer to as “the right wing”… as “Conservative.” Note the capitalization. I am doing this because American Conservatism, as a brand, is anything but conservative (small “c”). There are many reasons why, but one big one is that conservatism, in the Burkean/Oakeshottean sense, is very much AGAINST rigid ideology. And that rigid ideology is what I want to talk about.
I want to start with an example of what many Conservatives would regard as a “liberal” cause: the legalization of marijuana. Most of the people I’ve read on the Internet who argue in favor of marijuana legalization also argue for a regulatory structure for the production and sale of the plant. Of course there are people who want no restrictions whatsoever, but these people are not the ones writing the initiatives and the bills that get voted on. Any time the issue is treated with any seriousness (which is rare, but getting less so), it’s discussed in the context of legalization with regulation. That’s moderate, right? That’s reasonable, I think.
Now contrast this with, say, the anti-abortion movement. This is one of the banner social issues for Conservatives. And their position is absolutist: no abortions under ANY circumstances. Paul Ryan (you know who he is) is opposed to any abortion, in any trimester, for any reason. He also, by the way, wants to outlaw birth control. Now, let’s just stop right there. If you were seeking to “reduce the number of abortions” being sought and performed, how would you go about doing it? Well for starters, how about making sure people have access to safe, effective birth control? I think that would help. How does outlawing birth control jibe with reducing the number of abortions? Conservatives are also having conniptions over the ACA (Obamneycare). I tweeted about this within the last month; I read a blog by an American Catholic woman who had lived in Canada for a few years. She was initially horrified about living under their “socialist, atheist” healthcare regime, but after having several children under that system, she “saw the light.” She saw that by providing free access to pre-natal care, free access to trained mid-wifes (wives?), free access to all of the resources a new mother might want, as well as 50 weeks of paid maternity leave (for EITHER parent!!!), Canada has created a culture where, even with abortion being legal, they have significantly lower rates of abortion than we do in the U.S. A young mother does not have to face the terrifying prospect of financial ruin if she becomes pregnant. She, and her baby, will be taken care of.
Now what is the lesson here? Why do Conservatives in America so vehemently oppose universal health care, by whatever means it may be achieved? Don’t they see that doing so is actually working AGAINST their efforts to reduce abortions? Don’t they see that opposing birth control (and making a spurious religious argument about it to boot) is counter-productive? Well of course they don’t. Because they aren’t really interested in reducing abortions. What they really want to do is reduce SEX. They want to control what people do in the privacy of their own homes and in the privacy of their most intimate human relationships. This is the vision of America that is most noxious to me and to a great many people who would otherwise be sympathetic to the idea of creating SOME restrictions on abortion. But can we have a reasoned, productive discussion about this? No, what we get is scary talk about the evils of socialism, and death panels. Death panels. Thank you Mrs. Palin for helping to elevate the discussion.
If I felt passionately about reducing abortions, my approach would be to put EVERYTHING on the table. Let’s find practical solutions that have been demonstrated in other countries to reduce the rate of abortions: birth control, sex education that actually talks about SEX and not the farce that is abstinence education (demonstrated time and again to be utterly ineffective at reducing teen pregnancy as well as the rate of abortion), and yes, universal health care, if only for newly-expectant mothers! How about that? Medicare for Moms! How about using public funding to promote a culture of adoption in this country? There are so many ways to go about this that would actually be productive and move this country forward on the issue instead of keeping us at the impasse we’ve been at for years.
And now I shall address gun control, a subject that has sadly been pushed onto the front pages of newspapers and news websites yet again. If I felt passionately about “protecting 2nd Amendment rights” (and I put that in quotes because I think there is a legitimate conversation to be had about the actual meaning of the 2nd amendment as opposed to what the Roberts Supreme Court says), I would ALSO advocate strongly for their responsible use. I would ALSO advocate strongly for keeping guns out of the hands of people who really shouldn’t have them. I would ALSO advocate strongly for public funding of mental health programs to keep the crazies off the street and in treatment. I would ALSO advocate for early education programs which have been shown time and time again to keep kids in school and out of gangs, resulting in lower crime rates. How many millions of dollars does the NRA spend on lobbying for the absolutist position of unrestricted gun rights? Don’t they see how counter-productive that is? Moderate people, like me, who don’t believe the government should take away all the guns, have a hard time with what the NRA does. They have made the topic absolutely toxic and off the table for discussion.
This I think is the source of the frustration that centrist and liberal Americans have with these issues and that results in so much snark. You don’t say “this is my goal” and then systematically shut down any discussion of ways to achieve that goal. Life is not black or white. Life is not either/or. And life sure as hell ain’t “my way or the highway.”
Now you may argue that the left does this too. Social Security has been called “the third rail of politics” for a reason, and that reason largely has to do with demagoguery on the subject by the left. Medicare too. But I ask you: when did President Obama declare Social Security to be off the table? When did he say that Medicare must remain untouched? Well never, I’d guess, since the ACA actually does address Medicare solvency through the ACA’s cost control measures among other things.
It has often been said that the best Republican president in recent memory has been Bill Clinton. Think of all the stuff that happened under Clinton that Republicans had been pushing for for YEARS: welfare reform, NAFTA, further deregulation of the financial industry (thanks Bill! Credit default swaps, anyone?)… the list goes on. It never fails to amaze me how the Republicans are singularly capable of refusing to accept “yes” for an answer. Obama came into office willing to work with the GOP and put everything on the table. What he got for his “naivetee” was Senator McConnell declaring that his number one legislative priority was to deny Obama ANY legislative successes whatsoever. But I digress. I really didn’t want this to become about Obama. It’s about the intransigence of Conservatives, and the utter frustration that I feel as a result. That frustration is perfectly summed up in a tweet that I recently saw and retweeted, which said, “the worst thing about the modern Republican Party is how they force millions of us to vote for Democrats.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
That’s why I’ll be pulling the lever for the D’s come November. I want to have a discussion about entitlements; I want to have a discussion about marriage equality; I want to have a discussion about adoption rights for same-sex couples; I want to have a discussion about universal health care; I want to have a discussion about true energy independence; I want to have a discussion about the very real and dangerous threat that is anthopogenic global climate change. And I refuse to accept “no” for an answer.
“But at every point, Romney has surrendered to the fringe of his party. Weak. And now in his first tough encounter with Barack Obama, Romney is being shoved around again. This is not what a president looks like – anyway, not a successful president.” – David Frum
Hey, Washington Post, do you know how easy it is to program your website to recognize what kind of browser I’m using? Hint: it’s really easy! So why is that you are showing me this:
…even though I’m using the the most up-to-date version of Google Chrome… ON A MAC?!!!