We’re Having the Wrong Argument – Opening Statement

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar DarrenG
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    says:

    Hmm. I’m interested in your future posts dealing with specifics, but color me skeptical about the general thesis.

    I think we’ve got some very big differences when it comes to opinions about specific policy:

    People who continue to believe in supply-side economics, particularly the cargo cult version where the Laffer curve peaks near zero, have *very* different ideas on taxation and revenue from those of us who accept the empirical data that suggests the Laffer peak is somewhere north of 60%.

    Quite a number of people are passionately in favor of the death penalty and/or torturing prisoners. Others of us passionately disagree.

    There are very active Dominionist factions who fervently support enacting their religious beliefs into law and making America a de facto theocracy. Others of us very fervently disagree here, too.

    Two words: Climate change.

    Some folks want to initiate military action at anyone who looks at us funny. Others prefer to only use the military for direct and immediate threats to our territory.

    These are just a few off the top of my head, and doesn’t even consider people who believe objectively crazy stuff like Birthers, Truthers, One Worlders, or eschatological militia types.Report

    • Avatar RTod in reply to DarrenG
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      says:

      I do plan on discussing these issues more over the next few weeks, but if I might quickly address the issue of climate change: I would argue that this is potentially a huge issue that neither side addresses in any significant way other than as a foil against the opposition. I do not believe that one side is anti-business, wanting to bankrupt all corporations; or that the other is against a sustainable environment. Issues of corruption and competence, however, distract us from having a meaningful collective public inquiry, however, as each party’s machinery is geared to the accumulation of power, not resolution; and having GW “wars” accomplishes this for both sides.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to RTod
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        says:

        That seems wrong to me.  The Democrats have a range of opinions on climate change, it’s true, but if you look at the median Dem representative, it’s pretty clear that there’s a desire there to do something about global warming (consider the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House in 2009).  The median Republican wants to not do anything about global warming (I’m not trying to be inflammatory with my language here). Yes, some presidential candidates will talk about it (e.g. McCain in 08), but does anyone honestly think that a GOP-controlled House or Senate would ever pass a bill explicitly addressing global warming?

        Now, you might have your disagreements about the substance of the bill, but it’s pretty clearly designed specifically to address global warming–and the GOP would never do anything of that sort.

        The same goes for the 2001 Bush tax cuts, to take another example: if Gore had won and Dems had controlled the House, those simply would not have passed–do you disagree?  This is a very large and very real difference between the two parties.

        I think you’re right that at the level of rhetoric in the presidential campaigns, the parties are pretty close together.  But that masks real differences in what they believe, and (just as importantly) what they’ll pay attention to once they’re in office.  If you think otherwise, you’ll have to argue that the Bush tax cuts and Obama’s health care bill are not big deals, because neither would have passed if party control had been switched.  And that’s a tough argument to make.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Dan Miller
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          says:

          Dan, Perhaps you can tell me how many degrees difference Waxman-Markey would have made to the planet? Bonus points if you can use Kelvin properly in the response but Celsius is perfectly acceptable.Report

          • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to wardsmith
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            says:

            Considering that 1K=1C, I’m not sure you could tell which one I was using.  But snark aside, I’m not even arguing that Waxman-Markey would be effective–I’ll leave that aside since it distracts from the main point.
            What I’m saying is that Waxman-Markey probably represented the outer limit of what Congress will do on global warming in the near future, and moreover authorized around $200 billion over the next decade or so in R&D, in addition to setting up a cap-and-trade system.  Will it solve the problem of global warming on its own? No.  But is it important? Absolutely.  Even if you don’t think it will have much of an impact, it’s still a large bill and whether or not it gets enacted is absolutely important.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dan Miller
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              says:

              “Global temperature changed from 25 degrees C to 27 degrees C” implies a ten percent change. that sounds like a lot! Clearly this is a big problem we need to solve right now!

              “Global temperature has changed from 298 degrees Kelvin to 300 degrees Kelvin” is a zero-point-six percent change. Which, even given the best measurements and models, isn’t as big as the error bars.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                LOL, no fair doing Dan’s thinking for him DD, but good job. Even worse when you consider global average temp is only 15C, not 25 and the delta is 0.6C even then. But as long as the discussion remains political and not scientific FACTS don’t MATTER.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Dan Miller
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          says:

          Re: Bush Tax Cuts.

          Obama had within his power last year the ability to let all the Bush tax cuts expire.  But he did not.

           Report

      • Avatar Max L in reply to RTod
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        says:

        The tax cut issue is an interesting one because it is super charged with ideology and harsh rhetoric but is ultimately just a game of pragmatic election politics.

        The only takeaway from our tax cut/budget balancing policy since 1980 would be this: Lowering taxes will get you reelected. Raising them will get you tossed out. Running a deficit might get you tossed out, but only if the economy shrinks and the denominator in the debt to GDP ratio shrinks. But, in that case, you’re probably going to get tossed out no matter what the deficit does.

        But the surest thing of all is that if you somehow manage to balance the budget, the next time there is a party switch, the new group will seize the chance to lower taxes and make sure they get reelected.Report

        • Avatar DarrenG in reply to Max L
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          says:

          I don’t think the assertion about taxes is true. Both Reagan and Clinton raised taxes before getting re-elected, and contra right-wing conventional wisdom, GHW Bush lost his bid due to recession and unemployment, not his small tax increase.

          Depending on which poll you check, somewhere near 70% of the public currently supports raising taxes, so any reluctance to raise taxes on the part of politicians isn’t (rationally, at least) based on electability concerns.Report

          • Avatar Max L in reply to DarrenG
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            says:

            Point taken but I think I can do a better job of where I was drawing my point from. It doesn’t occur every cycle and economic conditions will still trump any other factor, tax cuts included. .

            In ’84 Reagan was more associated with cutting taxes in his first budget than raising them incrementally later. He was certainly making the point – in a great example of combative rhetoric – that tax cuts, not fed action or lower energy costs, were the driver of an improving economy. Whenever tax cuts precede a good trend in the business cycle, they will be credited as the primary cause of the good economy. It’s a solid example of all smoke and no fire; the debate is over a few percentage points, in the middling range of 30-40%, and the likely effect on the economy is small or nonexistent.

            Elder Bush was brutally wounded by the tax issue in 1992 after his attempt to reign the deficit via a small tax increase 2 years earlier. He even drew a primary challenger because of it. Still, a weak economy probably had more to do with his loss than anything else.

            The landslide midterm election of 1994 is where the price was paid in full for balancing the budget through tax increases. I think that issue had been well vented by the voters by the time of Clinton’s reelection campaign of 1996, even if Dole tried to make the “liberal tax and spend” case one more time. If anything, 1996 is a good example of how changing tax rates in the mid range has virtually no effect on overall economic performance.

            It’s funny how it never works the other way around – a good economy and a balanced budget after a tax increase are only debated by candidates in theory (see 2010) but not linked much in debates when they actually happen. In 2000, a balanced budget was presented as evidence of the need for a tax cut by the winning candidate.

            2002 and 2004, though both cycles had the Iraq War and 9/11 as a tailwind, saw significant electoral gains for the tax cutter/budget balance erasers.

            Finally, the 2008 elections occurred in the middle of the financial meltdown where the economy shrunk by something like 9%? in the previous quarter. Taxes schmaxes.Report

          • Avatar Max L in reply to DarrenG
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            says:

            I forgot to address your second point in my response: that 70% of the population approves raising taxes…but that’s mostly on other people, right?   I think that the support for raising taxes on wealthy individuals also has a lot to do with the fact that the reasons for keeping them low never materialized.  Neither the promised economic growth nor stability materialized as a result.

            In any case,  support for letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the middle class is a lot lower.  Its the same as how raising taxes on cigarettes is always popular among non-smokers.

             Report

      • Avatar Lyle in reply to RTod
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        says:

        The issue is one of what is the NPV of fixing things when they happen versus the NPV of taking measures today? Clearly if the NPV of fixing things when they happen today is less that that of starting today then its possible that the no action option makes some sense). Of course this critically depends on ones choice of a discount factor, a typical business case factor of say 5% makes it hard for something 50 years in the future to cost much today. The question of the value of the discount rate of course gets back to ethics and other issues for which a quantitative result is not possible.

        The rep arguement is that it would cost to much to apply the measures, and while the science can say what is likley to happen the economics involved are not science. In addition the evangelical part of the party is just following the sermon on the mount here, but of course not doing so on the deficit.Report

  2. Avatar Creon Critic
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    says:

    Look at some fights during the Bush administration, climate change (withdrawing from Kyoto), stem cell research (imposing restrictions), potential Supreme Court Justice Harriet Miers, eventual Justices Roberts and Alito. Now look at some Obama administration fights torture, gay rights (ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), universal health care, unemployment benefits extensions, prioritize spending cuts or stimulus, and Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. The competing parties have genuinely different, contrasting views. Though speeches during the general election campaign may appear interchangeably moderate because both candidates at that stage are appealing to the median voter, racing towards the middle, who was ultimately elected president is always an extremely important matter. The values underneath the labels are incredibly important, providing competing visions of what is wrong with the world and what is right with the world – now the actual arguments as manifested in the media can get into awfully unimportant stuff, but that’s another matter. Also, I don’t understand, principled pragmatism to what end? Several Republican candidates want to eliminate various federal departments, what does a focus on principled pragmatism tell us about these proposals?Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Creon Critic
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      says:

      Reagan said the same thing in the 80’s, which all you youngin’s can’t seem to remember. HIS “principled pragmatism” in shrinking government led to destroying one of the ONLY legitimate government agencies of the time, the Bureau of Mines. Why do I say legitimate? Unlike liberals who produce absolutely nothing but words, yet happily consume EVERYTHING, conservatives can understand the concept of producing something from something. Like minerals, which enable EVERY thing you have in your house, apartment, car, computer, cell phone and so on. Hypocrite liberals scream and yell about the environment but do absolutely NOTHING about their consumption patterns. [pause here while hundreds of liberals jump up and down and claim they really really really recycle and /try/ to burn less electricity by buying mandatory CFL bulbs – total net effect? 2% maybe?].

      Reagan said make gov’t smaller, the Democrat majority said put up or shut up, he offered Mines and was supposed to get to close another gov’t bureaucracy in return. Naturally he got snookered, and all we’ve seen since then are more and more unaccountable agencies that only consume resources produced elsewhere. This is the true pragmatism, and as Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money [to spend].” On the slippery slope to socialism (like the path to hell, paved with nothing but the best of intentions) as Europe is discovering to its dismay the party is over when the bill is presented.

      Ironic isn’t it that the only supposedly socialist country left standing, China is the one beggaring its own people to fund social welfare experiments elsewhere? Of course that spigot will soon be cut off and then those who have crushed all forms of production in this country for the past 30+ years are going to be truly sorry, all the while blaming the disaster on the Republicans mind you, but sorry nevertheless.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to wardsmith
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        says:

        Wardsmith, well there’s quite a bit to chew on there. My larger point is that principled pragmatism doesn’t mean much without fleshing out the values underneath the perspective. In another thread I’d highlighted Greg Mankiw’s post on how the left and right differ. Mankiw’s list is not exclusive of course, here in the League comment threads some additional core differences have come up: recognizing positive rights (social and economic rights) or not, a more communitarian outlook or a more individualistic outlook, a widely drawn circle of public goods or a few core public goods. Once principled pragmatism is given context like that, then there is some substance to the public policy choices being selected. But principled pragmatism gives me no insight into whether one is prioritizing smaller, less intrusive government, an unencumbered free enterprise system to release the entrepreneurial spirit of the nation or if one is prioritizing social justice, egalitarianism, and a broadly conceived notion of human rights. Obviously Reagan falls in the “unleashing entrepreneurial spirit” camp and FDR falls into the social justice, “freedom from want” camp.

        Now onto the partisan barbs.

        Unlike liberals who produce absolutely nothing but words, yet happily consume EVERYTHING, conservatives can understand the concept of producing something from something.

        The government produces something incredibly valuable, public goods. Liberals tend to draw the circle of public good rather wide, so publicly funded broadcasting and public funding for the arts for instance.

        Hypocrite liberals scream and yell about the environment but do absolutely NOTHING about their consumption patterns.

        Because the issue is not my individual consumption patterns, as important to the environment as those are. The issue is the community’s consumption patterns. Only the government can set renewable energy targets and devote the requisite resources to meet them, only the government can incorporate certain externalities into markets – or a less market friendly method, mandate certain changes, setting targets for renewable energy or recycling rates for instance and imposing punitive measures for failing to meet those targets.

        …as Thatcher said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money [to spend].” On the slippery slope to socialism (like the path to hell, paved with nothing but the best of intentions) as Europe is discovering to its dismay the party is over when the bill is presented.

        Various European countries have come up with social democratic compromises, with the Nordic countries epitomizing this approach. The recent crisis stems less from the social democratic model than from bubbles that have burst (Spain), taking on banks obligations (Ireland), and ineffective governance (Greek tax avoidance rates). Countries can have comprehensive social welfare systems, they just need to finance them sustainably. The issue, socialism and the path to hell, reminds me of a short Krugman post, in it’s entirety Socialist Hellhole Blogging:

        Stockholm

        Every time I read someone talking about the “collapsing welfare states of Europe”, I have this urge to take that person on a forced walking tour of Stockholm. If you believed what the right says, a country with Sweden’s level of both taxes and social benefits should be a wasteland. Strange to say, that’s not what it looks like, to say the least.

        Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Creon Critic
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          says:

          The government produces something incredibly valuable, public goods. Liberals tend to draw the circle of public good rather wide, so publicly funded broadcasting and public funding for the arts for instance.

          The government does NOT produce public goods. The gov’t takes money from actually productive producers and redistributes it to whom it pleases. Some of those redistribution targets are the two you named, mere blips on the radar but important for mobilizing the base (since the evil red team keep threatening to shut them down)..

          “Only the government”… is nonsense. This is just the bully on the block picking winners and losers. Bribe your local politician and receive markets open to you and closed to everyone else (or just steal free cash ala Solyndra). The other guy is efficient? Too bad, change the rules of the game so you can win on the un-leveled playing field.This is totally unsustainable.

          I’m very good friends with a Swedish economist who teaches at Uppsala University who would disagree with Krugman’s assessment. Sweden’s tiny population relative to her resource base allowed her to get ahead of the curve, but demographics are working against her even with only 9.3M relatively homogeneous populace.Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to wardsmith
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            says:

            WSmith, our gov’t certainly does produce “public goods” that the private sector cannot.  You need to walk this one back a bit, if it’s not already too late.

            Even NPR is unquestionably a “public good,” but not good enough for me or us to pay for, because it’s a greater public bad.

            😉Report

            • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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              says:

              TVD, I envy the UK’s absolutely outstanding public broadcaster. American culture is poorer for not having a public-minded broadcaster of the BBC’s scale on the media landscape.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Creon Critic
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                says:

                CC, I’m not a big Auntie Beeb fan for obvious reasons like this

                http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1308215/Yes-BBC-biased-Mark-Thompson-admits-massive-lean-Left.html

                and I’m pretty underwhelmed by what I see on BBC America.  We forget they do their share of crap too.  It’s not all Masterpiece Theatre.

                Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                TVD, do you have a particular opinion of the quality of news delivered by PBS and the BBC?

                I don’t think BBC America is representative, there are several channels and radio stations in the UK. Off the top of my head I thought four channels, five radio stations, and probably a bunch of regional bits and pieces I’m forgetting – Wikipedia adds in a lot of stuff I hadn’t counted three more channels, five more radio stations, and a bunch of regional bits and pieces. No not all Masterpiece Theater, but I think we’d get more Ken Burns level stuff with a better funded public broadcaster in America. And high quality journalism may be more of a public service than a business.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Creon Critic
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                says:

                CC—dude!—American TV has Game of Thrones.  Set, and match.

                The link I provided has a BBC official admitting their bias.  Dunno what else I can say, and it wouldn’t matter what I did say anyway. Because I’M biased.  😉

                I still catch BBC world radio on Sunday nights; I’m a radio freak.  I give BBC and our public radio A+ for international reporting wherever there’s no opportunity to push the EuroLeft agenda.

                But I’m listening to NPR last week and there’s a painfully long interview with a Spaniard about the “great” interest in Spain about #Occupy.  Two days before the election there that tossed the Socialists for a centre-right government, and no mention of it?

                That’s WTF time, man.  The true bias in the news is about how they frame the national debate, what they cover, what they emphasize, what they ignore.

                As for PBS nightly news, I admit I haven’t watched since Robin MacNeil died, so you’d have to tell me.  Solyndra, Fast and Furious? A dozen other things you’ll find on Drudge or Instapundit that you’ve probably not heard about unless you accidentally hit Page A32 of the NYT, if at all?

                But I do appreciate you asking for my take, CC.  I’m a cricket lover, and listen to Aggers’ Oxford accent and Test Match Special on BBC via the internet.

                Or at least I did until I discovered Test Match Sofa, a bunch of foul-mouthed Englishmen sitting on a couch hilariously calling the game.  Nobody pays a licence fee to hear them; they take donations for the pizza and the beer.

                The libertarian ideal.  It’s a beautiful thing.

                testmatchsofa.comReport

              • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                TVD, I see your Game of Thrones and raise you, Monty Python, Blackadder, I, Claudius, David Attenborough, and the BBC Proms. Comedy, drama, natural history, and great music.

                In the BBC I joined 30 years ago [as a production trainee, in 1979] there was, in much of current affairs, in terms of people’s personal politics, which were quite vocal, a massive bias to the Left.
                ‘The organisation did struggle then with impartiality. And journalistically, staff were quite mystified by the early years of Thatcher.
                ‘Now it is a completely different generation…

                Bias 30 years ago. I’m 29, so 30 years ago may as well be the Paleozoic (I’m a Calvin and Hobbes fan, ). Also, no reference to the Daily Mail should go without a link to this.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                Aw, CC, you got me with the I, Claudius.  But it’s impolite for us to converse in a foreign language, so I used the lingua franca.Report

              • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                There are plans for a BBC HBO co-production of I, Claudius (Hollywood Reporter). So I guess the free market can do something right every now and then.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                Semi-free market, CC, since the BBC half is government.  Like Britain itself, occasionally taking a stab at recapturing its past glory?

                I remain skeptical, and expect something more like the Falklands than Trafalgar.

                Although Graves’ source material [and his source material, Seutonius] should be un-screw-the-poochable, the American producers’ Rome was worthless.  As it’s HBO, we are assured of more tits and blood and likely some jarringly anachronistic dirty words.

                As with the original, it’ll rise and fall on its cast.  If they can’t get—or don’t look for—the cream of our younger actors, it’ll be crap.  Me, I’d start with James McEvoy as Claudius and go from there.Report

          • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to wardsmith
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            says:

            Wardsmith, I understand that public arts and public broadcasting are targets of conservatives and that they are a very small portion of federal spending, I brought them up to demonstrate the fact that liberals draw the circle of government provision of public goods rather wide. Clearly I disagree with your comment that government takes from the productive and redistributes where it pleases. There’s an “of the people, by the people, for the people” point to be made, in a great deal of the cases where the government pleases is where the people please (though I understand there’s a principal-agent issue).

            You are correct that redistribution is one thing government can do with money, take from current workers and give to the elderly with the understanding that when current workers become elderly they’ll be recipients for example. But a core role of government is to do stuff: the judicial system, the national defense, intelligence agencies, environmental protection. I don’t understand how those could be placed under the category redistribution.

            “Only the government”… is nonsense. This is just the bully on the block picking winners and losers….

            Efficiency is one metric, but not the only metric. What are the consequences for the environment? Are we using a given resource in a sustainable way? What does reliance on a resource mean for our international relationships? All questions worthy of attention. To be sure, waste, fraud, and abuse afflict the government as well, I don’t ignore the pitfalls of government directed action. But I weigh them differently. As Mankiw says,

            The right sees externalities as an occasional market failure that calls for government intervention, but sees this as relatively rare exception to the general rule that markets lead to efficient allocations. The left sees externalities as more pervasive.

            […]

            The right sees government as a terribly inefficient mechanism for allocating resources, subject to special-interest politics at best and rampant corruption at worst. The left sees government as the main institution that can counterbalance the effects of the all-too-powerful marketplace.

            Mankiw discusses this in the linked post and maybe we’re just playing out his descriptions true to form, I see issues of fairness throughout assessments of the US versus nearly any other developed, more social democratic country.Report

            • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Creon Critic
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              says:

              Yes I read Greg’s piece and enjoyed it. Thanks for the link. I agree with his definition specifically concerning the “right” viewing government as terribly inefficient etc. I would also like to apologize for my rather strident language. I was a bit in the cups as the bard would say, but have discovered an excellent hot buttered rum recipe that I had perhaps over-enjoyed prior to posting.

              As f or public goods, we need to agree on definition. I’m more inclined to side with the economists who deny their existence, but am willing to accept some a priori with sufficient justification – again, as long as Samuelson’s key tenets are satisfied.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Creon Critic
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      says:

      @CreonCritic: “Also, I don’t understand, principled pragmatism to what end? Several Republican candidates want to eliminate various federal departments, what does a focus on principled pragmatism tell us about these proposals?”

      As to what end, a functioning society that is as just and fair as possible- which I dare say is the objective of any political philosophy.

      As to what would the principled pragmatic response be to eliminating a federal department, it would be the same as the response to forming a department: What department? Why and to what end? Are there other options? What will the gold of that department be, and how will they be measured – or – What will be the outcome of eliminating that department, and how will me measure the success afterward?

      This last part is actually a good illustration of the point I’m trying to make about asking the wrong questions: when was it decided that the definition of an underlying working political philosophy has the existence/elimination of a specific governmental department as its cornerstone?  Is that a good thing, or the result of back and forth He Sadi/She Said of the two controlling parties?Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        Tod Kelly,

        when was it decided that the definition of an underlying working political philosophy has the existence/elimination of a specific governmental department as its cornerstone?

        There is little room for being pragmatic about things that one thinks are wrongheaded in the first place. I favor strong support for public broadcasters like the BBC, I’d like to see the US have a cabinet level department for culture, media, and sport like the UK. That view stems from values about public goods, community cohesion, accessibility of arts and culture, and so on. Now, someone who favors market based systems and sees, in Mankiw’s words, “government as a terribly inefficient mechanism for allocating resources” will object; they may argue the public should be free to purchase the kind of media that the public wants, taxing people to fund a public broadcaster is unjustly coercing them, voluntary exchanges are more legitimate, and so on. How does principled pragmatism get us through this impasse in values? (Or another example during the discussion about establishing Department of Homeland Security: Does the US need a domestic intelligence agency along the lines of MI-5? Where one sits in civil liberties debates informs the space of what is considered pragmatic and not.)

        And this is one of the less problematic conflicts, things like more or less progressive tax rates, affirmative action, gay rights, abortion, torture, and the death penalty – all implicate values. The label vs. label fights have a great deal of meaning in those debates. I don’t fully understand how principled pragmatism gets to the “I’m cool with that” cited in the original post. The competing sides in the culture wars are not ready for peace talks, let alone a ceasefire, just yet.Report

  3. Avatar Renee
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    says:

    Tod,

    Although I think there exist real differences between the left and right, I think overall I agree that those differences are magnified way out of proportion into stereotypes for our mental convenience.

    You start to hit on a very important point in your response to Creon Critic above:  we focus so much on the left/right difference that we ignore the actual workings of the system regardless of who is in control.  April 2009 was the last time congress passed a budget.  Since I started paying attention (~2001) I don’t think there was a single year that congress passed a budget before the start of the fiscal year in question.  This has nothing to do with left/right, but we don’t give the feds a budget in any reasonable time frame to be executed and are surprised about gov inefficiency?  I had a friend who worked as a congressional staffer – I was floored by how congressional offices really work.  How much information actually gets to the congressperson, etc.  Having worked for the feds, I can attest to the fact that most federal employees I knew were hard working, diligent people whose legitimate efforts were undermined by bureaucracy.  But presidential candidates have no incentive to campaign on actually executing the government.  They have every incentive to put forth their vision of their grand societies.  And so that’s what we debate.

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  4. Avatar Tom Van Dyke
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    says:

    I think all this applies better to 1990-2000, at a better arm’s length.  In ’92 the DLC-centrist Bill Clinton wasn’t that big a difference from Bush41; in 1994, the GOP took Congress and was by most conservative accounts more like what the GOP should be, rather than what it became in the 2000s—a typical political vote-buying machine devoted only to its own survival.

    The latter type of party was easy for a centrist America to throw out in both 2006 and 2010.Report

  5. Avatar Max L
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    says:

    Interesting piece.  I take your point that political speech directed toward the median voter and any policy that is actually achievable is debated inside a very limited range of outcomes. That is more a function of checks and balances and is generally a process argument,  and I am still chewing on 2 things: First, if we think like we talk, – in extreme political language – does it follow that that we would arrive at more radical conclusions? Second, does the over the top political language mean the same thing to both parties in the conversation and do we even have the same understanding of the terms?

    To the first question, I submit that in so far as we think about politics inside the harsh and extreme language of conflict then, inside the camp or just in one’s own thoughts,  actual extreme positions can sound very typical and ordinary.  There is at least one well respected budget guru trotting out Atlas Shrugged regularly, for example.  And he is not being ironic.

    On the second question, I think its the norm for any two camps to be exaggerating their language in varying degrees.  I also think that it rarely if ever happens symmetrically.  What one side is indulging as frothy rhetoric,  the other might be hearing as entirely sincere.  For example, were Glen Beck’s listeners in on the joke?  Politics as a fight or even as entertainment is all well and good as long as we ALL know it’s just a show.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Max L
      Ignored
      says:

      MaxL illustrates the futility of these discussions.  The right is the far right, the left denies it’s even left.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
        Ignored
        says:

        No Tom. Left wingers are more than happy to say they are left wingers. Its just that Democrats and Liberals are typically actually all that left wing in any meaningful sense of the word. Hell a lot of D’s would be in the right leaning party in most other western countries. What is considered acceptable policy in the R party now has moved far to the right of what was R policy just a couple decades ago ( see insurance mandate, cap and trade, EPA, higher tax rates on the rich)Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak
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          says:

          Yeah, Greg.  Obama’s a centrist, and Bob’s your uncle.

          That’s why these things are dead before they start: no common language.  The GOP congress of the late ’90s is where the GOP’s right is trying to take it back to, and no further.  To say the party has drifted rightward in the past 15 years is simply unfactual.

           Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
            Ignored
            says:

            To say the party has drifted rightward in the past 15 years is simply unfactual.

            How would someone go about demonstrating that this claim is unfactual?Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
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              says:

              Demonstrate it’s factual, then, Mr. Stillwater.  The point is that that’s why these things never get anywhere. Everybody has to score their partisan points first and by that time, who cares?

              Fine, the right has become even crazier, the Dems more centrist and sane.  Whatever.

               

              http://newsbusters.org/blogs/clay-waters/2011/11/17/nytimes-again-finds-far-right-wing-gop-yet-locate-democratic-far-left-wReport

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Demonstrate it’s factual, then, Mr. Stillwater.

                Ahh, I was hoping you’d go this direction, Tom. Greginak offered an opinion which you said is ‘unfactual’. I don’t think anyone needs to demonstrate that their opinion is factual, since their merely expressing an opinion. But someone who claims that an opinion is unfactual does.

                So, show Greginak why his opinion of things is factually wrong. Educate him – and me – on the subject.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                I made a counterassertion, Mr. Stillwater.  I gave you a target to take potshots at, and one w/more substance.

                ” The GOP congress of the late ’90s is where the GOP’s right is trying to take it back to, and no further.”

                Go for it.  Substance of any kind, please!  Basically, this has sunk again into attacking the GOP, and proves my other assertion that people are more interested in scoring their partisan points than actual discussion.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                 I gave you a target to take potshots at, and one w/more substance.

                I appreciate the kindness. Lard know I love easy targets. But I’m more interested in you backing up the claim that greg was making false claims. You said it with such conviction I couldn’t help but get the feeling it was easily refutable.

                Still, I might take you up on the offer in subsequent comments. If it’s still open, ‘course.

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Hang on–an opinion does not need support, but a claim that said opinion is incorrect DOES need support?

                I think you don’t know as much about logical argument as you think you do.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                I think it was Tom’s assertion that it was “unfactual” that is at issue.  Saying he disagreed is fine.  Saying it is unfactual, which isn’t even a word but which I assume meant that there exist no facts which could support such an opinion is different.  Using this definition, it would be impossible for Tom to prove such a position, since one can’t prove a negative, so asking him to do so is unfair.  As such, I think it is fair for say that Tom’s response was unfair and, ultimately, empty and hollow.  As is par for the course for him.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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            says:

            Tom- The GOP wants to go back to the GOP of the 90’s..huh. Lets see, the national health plan the GOP pushed in the 90’s involved an individual mandate. Is that what the GOP is for now?  Liberals have been asking for tax rates to go back to Clinton era rates. Is that what the GOP is for now?Report

            • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak
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              says:

              No, Greg, some Reps mebbe–otherwise they kicked HillaryCare to the curb.  So did the Dems: it never even got a final bill or a vote.  So what we have today is the Dems pushing Obamacare through and the GOP still against the nationalization of health care.

              The diff between Bush rates and Clinton’s remains small, and raising them is just as ideological as opposing them.  In fact, IMO, raising them is more ideological, because although tax cuts don’t pay for themselves completely [a GOP ideology], neither do higher rates realize their projected revenues and will retard growth and investment to some degree.

              I’m willing to yield a push on ideology anyway, which is sort of my point.

              But really, just repeating the talking points out there is pointless. Obama opposed the individual mandate at one point.  So what?

              http://reason.com/blog/2011/11/13/obama-2008-opposed-to-health-care-mandat

              The GOP hasn’t swung in any substantial way since the Gingrich Congress.  The Dems have, about which I may post later.  [Kyoto was rejected 95-0 in the Senate in 1998, right?]

              But even if they have swung left, I’m not insisting its a bad thing: critics call it ideology, allies call it principles.  Go for it.

              Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                “I think all this applies better to 1990-2000, at a better arm’s length.  In ’92 the DLC-centrist Bill Clinton wasn’t that big a difference from Bush41; in 1994, the GOP took Congress and was by most conservative accounts more like what the GOP should be, rather than what it became in the 2000s—a typical political vote-buying machine devoted only to its own survival.”

                -and-

                The GOP hasn’t swung in any substantial way since the Gingrich Congress.  The Dems have, about which I may post later.  [Kyoto was rejected 95-0 in the Senate in 1998, right?]

                How exactly do you hold both those positions at the same time without developing a migraine?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to BSK
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                says:

                BSK, please rephrase your question in the form of a question.Report

              • Avatar BSK in reply to Tom Van Dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Tom-

                Please add something of substance to the conversation, please.  Stop dodging.  You’re good at it, but it is no less unbecoming.Report

  6. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    I agree with what you are saying here Tod. I’ve found there is often a lot less practical disagreement on specific issues then the bombastic arguments often suggest. In many of our various threads the liberal types will talk about being pragmatic or move the discussions to specific context or issues. To often i find the libertarian and strident conservatives tend to talk in generalities and abstract philosophies. Not that those things are good grist for the mill or interesting but there are limits to how useful those discussions are. Specifics and facts matter.

     Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak
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      says:

      In many of our various threads the liberal types will talk about being pragmatic or move the discussions to specific context or issues. To often i find the libertarian and strident conservatives tend to talk in generalities and abstract philosophies.

      This gets pretty close (for some reason?) to an evolving  theory of mine. It goes like this: pragmatic decision-making is inherently anti-libertarian and anti-conservative since it accepts that no single principle is beyond violation (except some basic ones that are commonly shared, – or maybe not even those, really). And given that liberalism is closer to pure pragmatism than the others, it follows that libertarians and conservative would, from a functional pov, view liberals as advocating an ideology which is anti-thetical to libertarian/conservative principles, even tho liberals might be basing their views on primarily, or even exclusively, on pragmatic (hence, non-ideological) considerations.Report

      • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        Another illustration why these things go nowhere:

        “And given that liberalism is closer to pure pragmatism than the others…”Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
          Ignored
          says:

          Dude, don’t leave me hanging! Why do you think that’s wrong!Report

          • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
            Ignored
            says:

            Mr. Stillwater, there’s nowhere to go when someone denies their ideology is even an ideology.

            “Ideology” is a pejorative as you use it here:

            Ideology … is usually taken to mean, a prescriptive doctrine that is not supported by rational argument. [D.D. Raphael, “Problems of Political Philosophy,” 1970]

            By claiming you are “pragmatic” instead—i.e., rational and backed by facts, you claim the debate merely by arrogating and defining the terms. Thus, there can be no discussion: it’s over before it starts.  That was my original point, and you illustrated it perfectly.

            Me, I have no problem with “ideology.”  Communitarianism is just as much an ideology as the libertarians’ elevation of individual liberty as the greatest good.

            As for the issues, painting President Obama as a pragmatist and not an ideologue is simply rhetorical strategy.  [It worked once, I suppose; it may work again.]  But the Keystone XL pipeline and its sorely needed jobs are being hamstrung for the sake of environmental sentiment, not a hard-headed cost/benefit analysis.

            We all have our ideologies, because they’re framed by our hierarchy of values, or whatever term fits.  It’s valid to value liberty over communitarianism, or vice-versa.  I don’t mind stipulating that, to try to get to a clear-headed arm’s length.

            “When you look at the Republicans you see the scum off the top of business. When you look at the Democrats you see the scum off the top of politics. Personally, I prefer business. A businessman will steal from you directly instead of getting the IRS to do it for him. And when Republicans ruin the environment, destroy the supply of affordable housing, and wreck the industrial infrastructure, at least they make a buck off it. The Democrats just do these things for fun.”

            —PJ O’Rourke

            Unfair, perhaps.  But mebbe true anyway, and if so, reason enough to go GOP just for pragmatic reasons.

            😉Report

            • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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              says:

              Tom, this would be a really good argument to hang your hat on if I in fact claimed to have no values or underlying ideology.  But since I claim neither, you’ll have to find another tact.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly
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                says:

                Tod, I was responding to others.  To the OP, whose thesis I think is that we all a consensus on ends albeit not means, I think it was more true in the 1990s, esp the Clinton-GHWB election.

                But I think global warming-green energy, taxing the rich, and cutting entitlements are more pressing, and the difference in means shows.

                [I’ll add that ‘income inequality” is not even an issue for the non-left and there are likely other such issues.]Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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              says:

              Tom,

              There has also been a long string of discussion on unstated/unrealized ideology in the Democracy coercion thread (which is now 600+ comments and rising). In short James and I have been saying something quite similar to you.

              We all operate under an ideological worldview. For some it is more explicit and rational (or rationalized?) than others.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Roger
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                says:

                Aye, Roger.  “Non-ideology” is used as a rhetorical trump card: you’re ideological, I’m “pragmatic.”  Since “ideology” is inherently bad and/or irrational, I win and you have to shut up.

                But that’s a sophistry.

                http://www.ideasinactiontv.com/tcs_daily/2004/08/the-myth-of-libertarian-neutrality.htmlFReport

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                Okay, Tom, you must remember this though- there was a long time in which conservatives made it a point of pride that they were not ideological. I mean like for decades. The whole problem with the left was supposed to be that they were ideological while conservatives were clear-eyed. The argument that we’re all ideological was, if anything, the stock in trade of the Marxists.

                When did that change and why?Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Rufus F.
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                says:

                Rufus, I don’t recall Reagan being accused of being non-ideological, or claiming it.  Perhaps you want to pick through the archives to claim otherwise, but I don’t see it as worth the effort.

                Now was there a claim that modern liberalism is ideological?  I’d think so.  Because it is.

                Which I don’t have a problem with.

                Why we just can’t allow that communitarianism is an ideology and so is the free-market libertarianism that stands in opposition to it?  Then decide which we prefer?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                I mostly agree with Tom here, and particularly about Reagan.

                At some point I may want to write about what work “ideology” even does as a word.  It’s slippery as heck, I think.  And it’s revealing  that we have ideologies in politics, but not in very many other subjects, and even in those, it’s still arguably just politics in different garb.

                 Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                Why we just can’t allow that communitarianism is an ideology and so is the free-market libertarianism that stands in opposition to it?  Then decide which we prefer?

                Why do we only get two choices?

                Okay, so, maybe the Republicans were ideological. Regardless of whether the claim was accurate or not, I still seem to remember the argument you’re talking about: They’re ideological; we’re pragmatic being made by conservatives in places like National Review and maybe even Commentary. Here’s an article, for instance, claiming that Hume was an important figure in the conservative tradition because conservatism is “essentially a critique of ideology”. I just remember a time when that was a pretty common claim and it was meant to be a compliment.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                Rufus, I acknowledge yr Oakeshott-Russell Kirk in my note to Mr. Stillwater re Burke, just below this.

                We need a lot more quiet to stay at that level, but even in the most philosophical of forums, partisan politics makes minds go kerblooey.

                😉

                Further, contemporary  “conservatism”—Reaganism, for lack of a better term—isn’t merely Edmund Burke,  and is certainly more ideological.  Nixon-Kissinger’s realpolitik and detente gave way to an active opposition to the Brezhnev Doctrine.

                And of course Reaganomics takes a side in the communitarianism-libertarianism dispute.  i have difficulty imaging a gentleperson of the left [I don’t include Bill Clinton] ever formulating

                “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

                Can you?

                 Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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              says:

              Tom,

              We all have our ideologies, because they’re framed by our hierarchy of values, or whatever term fits.  It’s valid to value liberty over communitarianism, or vice-versa.  I don’t mind stipulating that, to try to get to a clear-headed arm’s length.

              I have to pick on this a little, since I think this collapse of useful distinctions makes discussion of some topics impossible. So, for one thing, a collection of opinions does not an ideology make. If so, then all talk of categorical ideological distinctions would need to be replaced with other words since the topic of discussion would no longer exist.

              At a minimum, on the ideology-as-worldview conception, an ideology is a collection of beliefs which is minimally constrained by something like coherence – those beliefs can’t flat out contradict each other. At another level, the realm of political theorizing, a political ideology is a robust theory of political economy derived from initial premises and entailing prescriptions and justifications for certain policy views.

              On that score, I think that conservatives fail to have either an ideology as worldview or at the political theory level since the contradictions and ad hoc nature of the beliefs fails to systematically cohere. Instead, its my impression that they merely hold an inconsistent set of (often unjustified) beliefs. Liberals have an ideology as world view, but fail to have a robust political ideology. And libertarians have both a worldview ideology as well as a robust political ideology. Insofar as conservative adopt some libertarian principles in their economic theorizing, their economic views might constitute an ideology, but again their replete with inconsistencies and ad hoc-ery.

              (Think of this comment as returning the favor of providing easy targets. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Mr. Stillwater, if we could drop the table-thumping as to which “side” is better or more coherent, we might be able to have a productive discussion.

                It has been said by some thinkers that “conservativism” is not an ideology or a philosophy atall: it defends the status quo, and what it’s defending was once a new idea. Therefore “conservatism” is foundationless.

                I think there’s something to that, but that also means that the Burkean defense of tradition [against radicalism] is pragmatic and born of simple prudence.  [Prudence is a good thing.]  We are cautious of change because of the Law of Unintended Consequences, and Mr. Burke was vindicated with the horror that the French Revolution became, the re-invention of society and government from scratch.

                As for statements like

                Liberals have an ideology as world view, but fail to have a robust political ideology.

                it depends on what we mean by “liberal.”  I prefer “left” or “radical” when making a contradistinction with libertarian and conservative respectively, as the differences stand out in better relief.  The left has quite a robust political ideology.

                 Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                The use of the word “left” as a descriptor for the liberals in a the US always sounds either meaningless or clueless. There is somehow the suggestion that liberals in the US are commies or socialists which is not reality based. It always sounds to me like its just an attack term not a word related to what left wing policies would actually be or what left wing parties look like in other countries.

                Radicals want a massive systematic change. Libertarians are the most radical of the three groups we have debating here since the changes they suggest are much farther from what we have. After that who else is advocating major changes in government or gov policies. That would be the people endlessly advocating for ditching 1 or 2 or 3 or 5 depts of gov and massively changing/ending keystone programs like medicaid and SS. I’d add that radical is not necessarily good or bad on its own. Its a description of the amount of change someone is advocating.

                 Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak
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                says:

                Well, that’s a breath of clarity, Mr. Gregniak.  But if “left” is a pejorative as well, we run out of necessary vocabulary quickly.  Which is sort of inherent in my point: Obama’s a centrist and Bob’s yr uncle.  We have no tools to make necessary distinctions, and it all gets thrown into an undifferentiated soup.

                Because after all, we’re all liberals here.  We all like freedom and security and taking care of the poor and clean air and water and apple pie and Chevrolet.

                Come to think of it, just getting to Chevrolet becomes problematic…

                http://money.cnn.com/2011/11/18/news/companies/gm_bailout/index.htm

                 

                 

                 Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                But if “left” is a pejorative as well, we run out of necessary vocabulary quickly.

                The complaint isn’t that the term ‘the left’ is used as a pejorative, it’s that it’s descriptively innacurate. US liberals are solidly in the middle of the political spectrum.Report

              • Avatar greginak in reply to Tom Van Dyke
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                says:

                I’m not sure why its so important to call out peoples labels. Why is that needed to carry on most conversations about a subject? Left is, in most US contexts and discussions, equivalent to shouting “soshulist” or “commie.”

                Ahh yes bailouts. R’s hate them right? Well accept the airline bailouts after 911 or the other various bailouts of industries in the last few decades.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tom Van Dyke
                Ignored
                says:

                Messrs. Stillwater & Gregniak, you’re again illustrating my initial point, why these things never get anywhere.  You claim you’re the center and by the time you’re done, “left” doesn’t even exist.  [But I’ll bet you have no prob identifying the right, and a “far” right at that.]

                Hey, I’m a gentleperson of the right, and a Republican at that.  I don’t mind and I don’t mind saying so.  I hope 2012 proves that I represent the center a lot more than you do, but we’ll have to see. I’d hoped to look at the 1990-2000 period just for semantic clarity since the results are in from that.

                I’m not calling anybody a commie.  But if I can’t use “left” or “communitarian,” I really can’t bend over backwards any further .

                Or forwards.  ;-O

                 Report

      • Avatar Max L in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        Greg, I would add that these things swing back and forth; imagine this discussion thread say, 45 years ago.

        Overheated rhetoric and lead footed ideology do make a difference on policy outcomes, if only because of the options the rhetoric takes off the table.  I’m not old enough to speak first hand about McGovern in ’68, but consider the debate that two centrist technocrats like Obama and Romney would have IF Romney didn’t have to navigate through the rhetoric of the primary base in 2011.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        “And given that liberalism is closer to pure pragmatism than the others…”

        Heh. It’s like those mopes who always say that “reality has a left-wing bias”…Report

      • Avatar Renee in reply to Stillwater
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        says:

        Stillwater,

        In response to pragmatic decision-making is inherently anti-libertarian . . .

        I would argue that governmental pragmatic decision-making is, in fact, inherently anti-libertarian. Libertarians would rather that the pragmatic decisions be made through cooperative societal means outside the government.  It seems to me that the libertarian argument is exactly that decisions made outside the — to use their language — coercive government are more pragmatic than those made within the governmental structure.

        None of this is to say that libertarians are not ideologues (there are plenty to be sure), but just because libertarians think government should not make decisions, doesn’t mean decisions shouldn’t be made.  They should just be more organic, less top-down.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Renee
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          says:

          Renee,

          It seems to me that the libertarian argument is exactly that decisions made outside the — to use their language — coercive government are more pragmatic than those made within the governmental structure.

          I’d agree with that as the ideal end-goal of libertarian thinking (and I don’t disagree with it as an ideal). But it presumes that all (well, not all, you know what I mean) social and economic injustices can be ameliorated by free exchanges between people. I think this view suffers from two criticisms. One is that it fails to eliminate  systematic social and economic injustices which already exist or may be fostered by the power imbalances within the community. Another is that there is no mechanism to prevent private power from imposing unjust arrangements which violate liberty or opportunity. In those cases, the pragmatic decisions people make might be constrained in ways inconsistent with the libertarian ideal of a society constructed around voluntary exchanges.Report

          • Avatar Renee in reply to Stillwater
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            says:

            Yup – I think these are absolutely valid criticisms of the libertarian system.  And many electrons have been spilled (by smarter folk than I) on this blog and elsewhere discussing them.  My main kickback was on your general notion that pragmatic decision making seems to you to be anti-libertarian.  But libertarians, i contend, can be as pragmatic as anyone else.  To the extent that pragmatic decision-making is viewed as the government ‘getting things done,’ of course it will seem like it is anti-libertarian.  But that’s a limited view of pragmatic decision-making.

             Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Renee
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              says:

              Renee,

              My main kickback was on your general notion that pragmatic decision making seems to you to be anti-libertarian.  But libertarians, i contend, can be as pragmatic as anyone else.

              Ahh good. I thought I missed on that one a bit. I’ll try again.

              Insofar as a Theory of Libertarianism is comprised of a set of necessary conditions which must be met in advance of realizing the libertarian social ideal, then I think it suffers from the exact criticism I’m making. The libertarian would argue against a pragmatic solution to social problem P insofar as it was inconsistent with those necessary conditions.

              On the other hand, the libertarian argument that their program, once instituted, will provide the greatest good for the greatest number (or maximize liberty, or whatever) and will be justified by empirical evidence and practicality is only a hypothetical argument in favor of its pragmatic justification.Report

              • Avatar Renee in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Stillwater,

                I think I get what you are saying . . . and perhaps this gets to the heart of what we mean by pragmatism.  Would you agree that a pragmatic outlook would say:  how can help in area P, given the current situation?  I.e you don’t get to dream up your ideal world before coming up with solutions to P?

                I still think that libertarians have pragmatic insights, whether it is school choice  or identifying the very real unintended/negative consequences of regulations.  These aren’t abstract/ideological issues.  So I would say that being against all regulation is, indeed, ideological.  OTOH, arguing that a government solution to P will result in negative consequences outweighing the positive ones is pragmatic.  But libertarians won’t offer up an alternate government solution to P as well.  And thus liberals tend to view them as dogmatic and ideological.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Renee
                Ignored
                says:

                Renee,

                Would you agree that a pragmatic outlook would say:  how can help in area P, given the current situation?  I.e you don’t get to dream up your ideal world before coming up with solutions to P?

                Yeah, actually I think that’s about right. It’s not so much that liberals don’t agree with the libertarian premise (of greater liberty actually leading to better outcomes, I mean, of course that sounds right!), it’s the inflexible nature in which libertarians view the proposed solutions to a social/economic problem wrt acheiving that goal. Or that libertarians skip right past current social injustices as merely a means or cost incurred in achieving a hypothetical and hoped for end of less injustice.

                Liberals, it seems to me, are more concerned with coming up with a solution to current problems than they are a preferred one. And I agree that some libertarian critiques of policy are accurate descriptions of the inherent problems in public policy.  At the end of it, tho, I’m a liberal because I don’t think there’s any way for the libertarian to get from here to their ideal, or for the ideal to sustain itself in the absence of a democratic government at least as powerful as private interests. But many libertarian criticisms of current institutional structures ought to be heeded by liberals, even if the proposed solutions are dismissed. Speaking as a liberal, I’m definitely comfortable saying at least that much.Report

              • Avatar Renee in reply to Stillwater
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                says:

                Stillwater,

                Liberals, it seems to me, are more concerned with coming up with a solution to current problems than they are a preferred one.

                I don’t mean to go round-and-round with you on this.  But insert ‘government’ before ‘solution’ and I agree with you.  Libertarians have a different solution space than liberals and so to each group the other seems inflexible.  Maybe it’s simply that we have different experiences with libertarians – but I have not found them to be inflexible, but rather consistent that decentralizing allows for more flexibility in the overall solution space.  I have read enough “get your laws off ___” to understand where you are coming from, but I think it is a pretty big over-generalization.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Renee
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                says:

                Yeah, I think you’re right about that. I don’t disagree. It’s a pretty clear statement of what differentiates the two thought processes.Report

  7. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    If you keep things very, very abstract, then I could see how it might look that way.

    But try asking specific questions, and the similarities vanish.  Questions I have in mind include but are not limited to:

    War on Drugs.  Keep it or end it?

    TSA:  What’s it good for anyway?

    Is it cool to kill American citizens without a trial, without charges, and without a battlefield?

    How bout torture?  Is that okay, or not okay?

    And do we really need to be spending vastly more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War?

    On each of these, I’d give an answer very proudly and very far removed from the American mainstream.

    At the end of the day, I don’t care whether most people mouth the same ideological principles.  I care about actual policy outcomes like these, because if you don’t care about them, then your claims to value individual liberty are pretty hollow.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      This.

      While I think the polarization talk is a distraction, it’s such for a different reason than usually acknowledged: it’s distraction from a sphere of consensus within the government which is dead wrong.Report

      • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to b-psycho
        Ignored
        says:

        I’d agree that there’s a sphere of consensus within the government encompassing a lot of the stuff Jason mentioned; but I don’t think we can therefore conclude that the stuff outside that sphere (e.g. the merits of the Bush tax cuts etc) is unimportant.Report

    • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      Jason, I’ll just ask YOU:

      Is it legitimate for the government to take property?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to debase its own currency?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to enrich itself at the expense of its citizens?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to lie to its own people?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to break its own laws?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to dictate morality?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to pick economic winners and losers?

      Is it legitimate for the gov’t to own commercial enterprises?

      Why play in esoteric land these are pretty legitimate beefs and ones that we might indeed find common ground on, instead of further argument? Or is gotcha the game here? Cause I know how to play that too.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to wardsmith
        Ignored
        says:

        I could give you my answers to each of these questions, but I’m not sure the good it will do.  At sufficient levels of abstraction, I could have virtually the entire commentariat rolling in the aisles at the righteous moral clarity I could laid down.

        And that is precisely my objection to the post.  I disagree with a lot of things.  I’m not even really a part of the congregation.  I can always pretend that I am, but American consensus agrees on a lot of things that are deeply repugnant to me.

        My message, here as elsewhere, is that the glowing generalities I might supply in answer to your questions also have real-world consequences that very few want to acknowledge.

         Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to wardsmith
        Ignored
        says:

        > Is it legitimate for the government to take property?

        Under certain conditions, yes.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to debase its own currency?

        Yes.  Proper, not necessarily.  But certainly this is well within the scope of activity.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to enrich itself at the expense of its citizens?

        The depends upon your definitions of “expense” and “its citizens”.  Generally, no.  But your definitions may differ from mine.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to lie to its own people?

        No.  Not ever.  Not even during war.  It is legitimate for the government to say, “No comment”, however.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to break its own laws?

        No.  On the other hand, there is principled objection as to what constitutes the law.  Generally speaking, I don’t find this to be an operational condition of any government, though.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to dictate morality?

        Not positively.  It is legitimate for the government to refuse to objectify a particular question of morality.  We can say, legally, “We don’t allow this.”  We ought not require the law to say, “This is immoral”.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to pick economic winners and losers?

        Show me a government that doesn’t.  No, it’s not “legitimate”.  However, the mere act of encoding any economic structure in law is going to give an advantage to those who can game the system.  It is probably most proper to say it is illegitimate for a government to continue encouraging winners when shown how they are currently doing so.

        > Is it legitimate for the gov’t to own commercial enterprises?

        Generally, I think this is a bad idea.  However, I think it is a worse idea for “too big to fail” to be allowed to exist, either.Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Pat Cahalan
          Ignored
          says:

          Patrick writes:

           Is it legitimate for the gov’t to pick economic winners and losers? Show me a government that doesn’t.  No, it’s not “legitimate”.  However, the mere act of encoding any economic structure in law is going to give an advantage to those who can game the system.  It is probably most proper to say it is illegitimate for a government to continue encouraging winners when shown how they are currently doing so.

          Yes, and I’d go even further. In a complex regulatory environment with various participants, values and positions, it is hard to change regulations without benefiting or harming one side or the other. Much of the struggle in the give and take of winners and losers is done through the surrogate of rationalized ideology. Rules get more complex, winning becomes more about changing the rules than producing anything of value. Harming the other side becomes a bargaining chip. The system can devolve into trule wrestling and privilege seeking.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Roger
            Ignored
            says:

            Excellent point Roger and Patrick, thank you for at least taking a shot at this. Jason et al want to keep the entire discussion in the realm of winning and losing points for the respective sides, rather than my approach which is more of a first principles method.

            If one of you OP meisters would simply put up a straw horse of questions such as I began here talking about basic principles rather than the morass of “this side did this and that side did that!” we’d be a long ways further towards coming to something resembling consensus, and if not consensus, at least an understanding of the guiding principles of various commenters’  ideologies.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki
      Ignored
      says:

      War on Drugs, eh?

      A: is Libertarianism right-wing or left-wing?

      B: is Libertarianism pro-Drug War or anti-Drug War?Report

    • Mr. Kuzinicki,

      The problem I see with many of the items in your list is that they, too, are also abstract.  A few that come to mind:

      The war on drugs:  what is it, exactly?  Is it the fact that marijuana is illegal?  Is it that it is illegal at the federal level and not only the state level?  Is it that the punishments are so harsh for simple marijuana possession?  Is it the entire complex of funding and incentives that encourage cops to nab drug offenders?  Is it the outlawry of the other drugs?  The specific issue, the one that a lot of people might actually agree on, would be:  is it acceptable to imprison person X for Y years simply for possessing Z amount of an herb that hasn’t been proved to be much worse than alcohol?  (Some people would still say yes, depending on who X is, how many years Y is, and how much Z is; but there’d be more agreement, I think.)

      TSA:  “what good’s it for?” is much more abstract than “should the TSA do that thing where they x-ray you and see you as naked as the day you were born?”  Again, there would be some disagreement, but even those who say yes, and are honest, would probably admit that it’s unfortunate that the TSA would have to(in their view)  take such measures.

       

       Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck
    Ignored
    says:

    Everything about modern politics can be explained by Mac-versus-PC flamewars. The most important thing is that the side you chose be the right one to choose, whatever that means and whatever that takes, because if you voluntarily chose the wrong side it means that you’re stupid.Report

  9. Avatar Rufus F.
    Ignored
    says:

    Hey, I’ve got a pretty easy way to distinguish the American left and right. Here goes- one of the big steel mills in my city has been closed for months due to a standoff between the workers and management. If, with no other information given, you side with the union- you’re most likely a left winger. If, with no other information given, you side with management- you’re most likely a right winger. Now, if you actually are in a union, my experience is you’re a right winger, but hey, ironies abound!Report

  10. Avatar greginak
    Ignored
    says:

    @Tom- I have never said i am in the center. The left exists accept its very marginal in the US. There are few actual socialists in the US or in many of the leftie parties in the west. You want to find a left winger look at the left side of the spectrum in the western european parties. Most D’s today would be relativity comfortable as Tory’s in england. And the right today would define Tory’s as communists. Your use of the term left seems unmoored from any actual policy or ideas. Or at least i can’t see where you are connecting them.Report

    • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to greginak
      Ignored
      says:

      Yes, Greg, Cameron’s Tories are closest  to Bill Clinton DLC moderates.  However, the DLC no longer exists; folded up shop.

      And the right today would define Tory’s as communists.

      I just can’t deal with this anymore, man.  You done wore me out.

       

       Report

  11. Avatar Tod Kelly
    Ignored
    says:

    REQUEST FOR FEEDBACK: OK, hive mind, I need your help.  I want to continue exploring these themes I have started digging into, specifically that the whole R vs. D/Right vs. Left are the wrong arguments, and that finding a way to work on the issues of corruption, competence, collaboration and communication might lead us to better solutions in public policy.  But the conversations seems to quickly turn into the same kind of “Blue Sucks!’ vs. “Red Sucks!” that I am trying to move away from.  So I ask you…

    Is there a way I could be setting the table differently to initiate such a conversation?  (TVD has already pointed out that me using snark, even when I mean it in a good humored way, does not help… and I think this is excellent feedback that I will try to fold into future posts.)

    Would my stepping in and steering threads help?  (I would prefer not to if I can help it; I prefer the organic results this group often comes to.)

    Is it possible that “Blue Sucks!’ vs. “Red Sucks!” is the argument people come here to have, and asking them to do otherwise is going to be fruitless?  I’d think not, because I like this group’s ability to think outside the traditional political boxes – but who knows?

    Thanks in advance for any feedback or suggestions anyone has.Report

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