Defining Liberalism: A deontological account


Murali did his undergraduate degree in molecular biology with a minor in biophysics from the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then changed direction and did his Masters in Philosophy also at NUS. Now, he is currently pursuing a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Warwick.

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148 Responses

  1. sonmi451 says:

    This comes across as someone working backwards to deliberately exclude the things he personally doesn’t want in the definition of liberalism. You can camouflage it as first principle arguments all you want, but it always comes down to exluding the things you personally dislike.Report

    • Murali in reply to sonmi451 says:

      Have you addressed any of the  considerations I brought to bear on the issue? Or do you know me so well that you can safely ignore anything I say and just assume that I am out be redefine liberalism to be “just the kind of thing that Murali personally likes”?

      Also, your first comment seems to be a duplicate. Want me to remove it for you?Report

  2. Charlieford says:

    Gosh, I miss the days when publications had editors!Report

  3. Liberty60 says:

     “The core of the liberal objection to laws which establish religion is that it is wrong to impose your personal morality/conception of the good on others.

    The post seems to see liberalism as being libertarian-leaning in the personal sphere; I think contemporary liberalism is much more communitarian than you think.

    An example might be the contemporary advocacy of the LGBT movement; they aren’t arguing for unbridled sexual license; they are arguing for the right to marry, adopt, and form stable families. The most common argument put forward isn’t the libertarian “do as ye will unless it harms others” but rather, that marriage equality is better for the community.

    Actually I am hard pressed to think of examples of the contemporary liberal arguing for greater freedom in the personal realm; contraception maybe, but that is a defensive action- preserving existing freedoms against encroachment.

    The other classic of personal liberty, recreational drug use, is almost disappeared from the liberal world- can anyone name a liberal figure who is openly advocating for more freedom to use drugs?

    For the most part, the contemporary liberal is comfortable with morality based reasoning; we just embrace a different vision of morality than the social conservatives.Report

    • Peter Moore in reply to Liberty60 says:

      I think you are applying the LGBT example to the wrong side.  I mostly hear the communitarian argument used within the conservative ranks or by liberals trying to convince conservatives that supporting gay marriage is the conservative choice.

      And I have to assume that you are either only looking at liberal causes in the last few years or you have a very different view than I on the roles of liberals in the civil rights struggles.Report

      • Liberty60 in reply to Peter Moore says:

        I am careful to use the term “contemporary” wrt liberalism; So yes, I am looking only at liberal arguments of the couple decades. If you want to quote some “free love” rant from 1972, knock yourself out. I won’t argue.

        I may have missed it, but I don’t recall LGBT marriage equality arguments by liberals premised on the “do your own thing” ethic. The entire concept of wanting to get married draws from the idea of wanting to be a part of the community- buying property, raising children, joining the PTA, etc. It certainly doesn’t stem from the atomized “autonomy of the self” argument.Report

        • Snarky McSnarksnark in reply to Liberty60 says:

          Well, I’m liberal, and I look at LGBT issues from the “no compelling state interest” angle.    More specifically, to constrain someone’s rights, society better have a damn good reason.   I’m probably a bit older than you, but that seems to me to be a central strain in the thinking of all liberals of my acquaintance.Report

        • Peter Moore in reply to Liberty60 says:

          I have no idea if I’m a typical liberal, but for me, gay marriage has been overwhelmingly a civil rights issue: a significant set of privileges being withheld from a group for what seemed (to me) to be fundamentally bigoted reasons.

          I do think there is a communitarian argument, but I am emotionally  loathe to make it: it feels like an offensive reversal of the burden of proof.  Gays shouldn’t have to argue a benefit to society to simply get what is theirs already by right.  Instead the anti-marriage side should make the argument for significant harm resulting from gays being granted such a right




    • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Liberty60 says:

      This has been an area of agreement between Lib60 and meself, that our left and right are both communitarian, and it’s in fact libertarianism that has a great lacuna when it comes to the communitarian impulse.  Since man is a social animal, it’s perhaps a fatal lacuna, for any political philosophy that ignores human nature must fail.

      And for clarity’s sake, re the ***** in the OP, although I’m a small “d” democrat, I’m anti-majoritarian and pro-consensus. The Burkean in me insists we maintain the status quo absent a healthy consensus: radical change requires more than 51% forcing its will on the other 49% to be good governance.Report

      • MFarmer in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        There is no healthy community without individual rights. Individual rights promotion is not the same as libertine do you own thing self-centered atomistic lone rangerism. Human nature evolves, and I don’t think the tribal impulse is a leading aspect of human nature in 2012. As we learn and grow in the Information Age we need tribal protection and statist paternalism less and less. Educated humans become more independent and free-thinking, resisting control by the State or by the tribe. The principles of liberalism that have embraced statist paternalism and community dependence are reactionary.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to MFarmer says:

          I strongly question whether human nature “evolves.”  Over what period of years?  The mere 5000 years of human history?  How different we are from the Grreks of Homer, from the Romans who held gladiator games for sport!  Two great civilizations, China and India, continued to suck century after century.  In the 21st century, China still practices infanticide [esp girls] and India’s progress might just as easily be credited to the West’s Christian humanism from Britain’s empire days.

          And if and when the asteroid hits, we’d see just how long the West holds out before it’s Mad Max.


        • Will H. in reply to MFarmer says:

          I remember reading this from one of Burt’s clippings:

          The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close social cohesion.
          – Albert Einstein

          Immediately I thought of Left/Right distinctions.
          We need both a Left and a Right.

          This leads me to believe that Libertarianism is reactionary involving circumstances in opposition to principle.
          That is, were conditions not the way they are or were, there would be no need for libertarianism in the first place.

          Libertarianism is an opposition group to prevailing forces.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to MFarmer says:

          Human nature evolves, and I don’t think the tribal impulse is a leading aspect of human nature in 2012.

          Eh? Shouldn’t be, sure. But isn’t?Report

      • Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

        Well, the point of the OP was that there may be progressives and leftists who are communitarian, but liberalism proper is not.Report

        • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

          That may be the razor you need here, Murali.  However, it’s where “rights talk” turns into a muddle, rights being individual, duties being “communitarian.”  The twain seldom meet these days, and when they do, it’s along the lines of the conundrum Jaybird continuously poses:  YOU have a right to health care?  And WHO has a duty to provide it to you, exactly?

          Ask not what your country can do for you, blahblahblah…Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Murali says:

          Ugh. Please don’t indulge the left in their desire to be referred to by the self-congratulatory term “progressive.” There’s nothing progressive about leftism.Report

        • Chris in reply to Murali says:

          The problem is that American liberalism really is communitarian, though perhaps in a less dramatic way than European liberalism. In fact, it’s among the “progressives,” which is to say the further to the left members of American liberalism, that you’re most likely to find the more individualist arguments similar to what you get from libertarians (which is not to say that American “progressives” are similar to libertarians in other ways).

          I think what you’ve done here is to work it out ass backwards: you’ve developed a set of principles, or core values, and tried to work your way up to the actual beliefs of actual liberals. However, you’ve apparently developed that set of values without really considering the beliefs of actual liberals. Your set of values, then, may not completely map onto actual liberalism, not so much because liberals’ beliefs aren’t consistent with their values but because you’ve picked your values somewhat arbitrariily. It may even turn out that the set of actual liberal beliefs doesn’t fit with any easily articulable set of values (I suspect that’s almost certainly the case), but that’s just the messiness of people, particularly large, fairly diverse groups of people.Report

          • Murali in reply to Chris says:

            Chris, are you saying that american liberals do not appeal primarily to the following kinds of values/principles (freedom of conscience, association, speech, personal, agreement and contract as well as a concern for the worst off and equality of opportunity) when they are trying to justify their preferred policy options? That they dont think that that stuff is important, not necessarily in any absolute sense, but at least kind of very important?

            Are you telling me that liberals think freedom of conscience and speech and assembly ae just rubbish and irrelevant and can be thrown under the bus for some putative social good?

            Because golly, if it is true, this is big news to philosophers and I really mean publishable paper worthy news. Because I took Haidt semi-seriously and that self styled liberals really cared about things like fairness, harm and liberty and less about loyalty, authority and sanctity. i.e. presumably Haidt did have something going on right? Or is Haidt just so much bullshit?Report

            • Chris in reply to Murali says:

              I think the only one of those that you hear liberals talk about a lot is equality of opportunity, perhaps along with concern for the worst off (depends on which liberals you’re talking to). Freedom of conscience, association, speech, personal, agreement, and contract, to the extent that they are used by liberals, are used in the same way that they tend to be used by many conservatives. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a difference between the way most liberals (not progressives, necessarily, whom I consider America’s version of left liberals) use those values and the way conservatives who aren’t members of the religious right use them.

              Now, I understand that you’re taking a lot of flack here, and so you’re a bit defensive. I’ve been there myself, man. But this question is so incredibly inane that I can’t bring myself to answer it:

              Are you telling me that liberals think freedom of conscience and speech and assembly ae just rubbish and irrelevant and can be thrown under the bus for some putative social good?

              All I will say is, if you’ve become so heated that your sarcasm makes you say things like this, you might want to take a step back and let yourself calm down a bit before replying.

              On Haidt: I suppose if we stick very close to Haidt’s data, what we get is small differences in priorities between liberals and conservatives across the population on some loose measures of abstract values. I don’t know what that tells us of practical value, yet. I’d let the research accumulate for a few more years before trying to apply it to actual political discussions (I’d also like to see people outside of Haidt’s lab replicate some of it). If you want to draw major conclusions about political identities from that data, that’s your prerogative, but when it comes to research, I’m a bit too conservative for that.Report

              • Murali in reply to Chris says:

                All I will say is, if you’ve become so heated that your sarcasm makes you say things like this, you might want to take a step back and let yourself calm down a bit before replying

                Sorry, calmed down a bit.

                I think you’d be hard pressed to find a difference between the way most liberals (not progressives, necessarily, whom I consider America’s version of left liberals) use those values and the way conservatives who aren’t members of the religious right use them

                Well, once we get rid of the religious right (and with them the paleo cons), most of the heat of the culture war is gone and what you have left on the right are the libertarianish business faction and the neo-cons. But neo-cons are basically Wilsonian liberals. Given that my above classification doesnt really take into consideration foreign policy stuff we can ignore the wilsonian aspect of neo-cons.

                So, on a purely domestic policy front a large portion of people on the right are going to agree with a large portion of people on the left about a great number  of liberties and maybe even some of the equal opportunity stuff and benefitting the worst off stuff. Without the heat of the culture wars, whole swaths of american society can have useful and productive discussions about what the best means to achieve their commonly held ends are. i.e. your values are the same and you are disagreeing on empirics.

                Of course, all that assumes that the business and wilsonian conservatives do care about the worst off or equality of opportunity. Even if they did not value such things as much as liberals did, my point still stands. The extent to which liberals care about the well being of the worst off may be what differentiates american liberals from large portions of conservatives (I am reluctant to grant this because it might be uncharitable to conservatives).. But that doesnt mean that concern for the worst off and equality of opportunity are all that liberals care about.

                And my basic point is that liberals do care about the stuff in A1. Now, have I left anything out? i.e. is there any other dimension which self identified liberals think is important but I have left out? Maybe, but I dont think so. I am willing to reconsider though.Report

              • Chris in reply to Murali says:

                I suspect that with liberals and conservatives, the difference isn’t whether they care about the worst off and equality of opportunity, but a.) the priorty of those cares, and b.) the means through which we should address them.

                As to A1, I think those things are abstract enough that one could probably attribute them, as values, to most liberals (and conservatives), but I’m not sure how much explanatory power they’d have. Fairness, certainly, is a big part of liberalism, but does this underlie the desire for equality of opportunity, or is it a result of that desire? And is that desire itself a result of caring about the worst off? It’s here that I think you have to work backwards to understand the relationship between the values (and again, I don’t think this set of values is exhaustive, or anything more than a heuristic really: I suspect that the actual set of values underlying American liberalism is amorphous enough that verbalizing it is problematic, at least in a set of readily identifiable concepts).


            • Will H. in reply to Murali says:

              [L]iberals think freedom of conscience and speech and assembly ae just rubbish and irrelevant and can be thrown under the bus for some putative social good?

              Not really.
              Those are the progressives.
              Inasmuch as “progressivism” is a subset of liberalism, then yes.

              Haidt is a Leftist himself, and that colors his views a bit.
              I’m not saying that it’s fatally flawed or anything like that; just that some of his assumptions seem way off base if you don’t buy into it wholeheartedly from the get-go.Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Will, could you point to some progressives, and their positions, which suggest that those things are rubbish?


              • Will H. in reply to Chris says:

                Well, there’s the recent Limbaugh/Fluke fiasco which would take care of the first two.
                I’ll get back to you on the third.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Will H. says:

                Can you unpack that?  What does it say about freedom of speech?Report

              • Will H. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Calls for boycott?
                Was that really necessary?
                I would rather Rush have offered Fluke twenty bucks to suck him off.
                At least that would have given us something worthwhile to talk about.

                It’s not as if Gary Glitter called her a slut.

                Are some people sluts, yes or no?Report

              • James Hanley in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Come on, Will, censuring != censoring.

                Telling someone they have said something stupid and despicable is not being anti-free speech.Report

              • Will H. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I agree entirely.
                It’s the calls for boycott that went on and on that I was referring to.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Saying that you won’t pay someone to speak isn’t censorship.  MSNBC firing Buchanan wasn’t censorship either, though he’s calling it that.Report

              • Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                How does a boycott violate someone’s free speech? It sounds to me like how free speech is supposed to work: instead of making it a crime, we just react to speech with more speech. Sure, we may try to get rid of his sponsors, which gets rid of his radio show, but that doesn’t violate his free speech any more than the fact that I don’t have any radio shows violates mine.Report

              • Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                So, I’ll need examples of each othe claims, because you still haven’t given me any yet.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                For a while there, “I may not agree with what you say but will fight to the death for your right to say it!” was the go to argument against “censorship”. I think the last time I heard it said unironically was when Maher was being boycotted following the “people need to watch what they say” incident.Report

              • BSK in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                I would defend Rush’s right to say what he said.  What he does not have a *RIGHT* to is radio airplay in every market in America.  If his employer opts to stop employing his services, well, I’d defend their right to do that as well.  Rush can continue to say what he wants on the street corner or on a blog or on a podcast he makes in his garage.Report

              • Will H. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                I don’t think I will ever accept that the big hub-bub about Rush/Fluke was a matter of protecting free speech interests.
                In fact, the claim is ludicrous.

                I’m done.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Yeah… I have questions about this whole boycotting thing. Some of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Rev. Donald Wildmon- he does a lot of  these boycotts to try to make television more “family friendly”; he got a revived Mighty Mouse cartoon pulled because he thought it was alluding to cocaine abuse- granted, the creative staff included Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi, so it’s possible. He used to brag that he’d gotten the show Soap pulled- it was a sort of spoof soap opera and Billy Crystal played a gay guy, which was still controversial in the 70s. So, Wildmon’s group led a boycott and he claimed that they had gotten the show pulled due to lack of advertisers despite the fact that it was high in the ratings. This, apparently, is untrue- it was cancelled due to lack of ratings. But, the idea that you’d gotten a popular show pulled in spite of its large audience and high ratings…. well, it just doesn’t strike me as something to brag about.Report

              • Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Rufus, I understand your concern, and I think that if we’re going to boycott someone, we should make the decision to do so very carefully. However, I don’t think anyone who has considered the freedom of speech would believe that, because we value free speech, as employers we should be forced to pay for someone to say something we don’t like. This means that it should be OK to fire someone whose job it is to say stuff if we, the employers, don’t like what they’re saying. It should also be OK to fire someone if we’re paying them to say stuff, and their saying stuff is no longer making us money. The latter is what a boycott is all about: trying to make saying certain things unprofitable. There’s nothing anti-free speech about this. It is, as I said earlier, a form of speech itself. That some people have come, over the last few years, to believe that freedom of speech means the right to get paid to say whatever they want, is something I have a very hard time understanding.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Chris- let me try to work through my thoughts on this. I do basically agree that it’s fairly hard to criticize a boycott- if people have the right to by whatever consumer items they want, they should have the right to not buy whatever they want for whatever reasons they want. If you don’t want to eat at McDonald’s because of where they advertise, or because it creeps you out that their food is identical everywhere you go, or you disapprove of their use of the color yellow, that’s your prerogative. I suppose I worry that people will go nuts with the boycotts because they yield a much quicker and easier result than, say, voting in an election will. If you have the cultural right boycotting everything they find offensive and the cultural left boycotting everything they find offensive, after a certain point, the media is going to be even more insipid and anodyne than it already is.

                Besides, one would think that democrats would want Limbaugh to be broadcast everywhere, given that he closely identifies himself with the republican party and has some repellent things to say.Report

              • Rufus, I’m going to go with the left-mainstream media suppressing the right’s POV, to wit the blackout of virtually every NYT bestseller list book that leans to the right—so much so that the  NYT itself seldom if ever reviews them.

                [Although if and when they do, they’re quite even-handed—when a liberal book comes out, it’s reviewed by a liberal; when a conservative book comes out, it’s reviewed by a liberal.]


                “See Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” which sat atop the best-seller list for 12 weeks in 2009. Network TV coverage or interviews? Zero, not even a mention of his name or book title.”


              • Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Rufus, I think we agree on this. I think boycotts can be an incredibly important and powerful tool for social change when elections are ineffective or inappropriate. Those used by the Civil Rights movement spring to mind. However, it can be a very blunt tool, and if used inadvisedly, can have all sorts of unwanted consequences. It is too often used these days as a way of scoring points in the political game.

                Also, I want Limbaugh and his ilk out there because I want it clear that there are people who think like that.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                It seems to me that there are two kinds of boycotts:

                1) Your company is doing bad things and I refuse to purchase your product until you stop! (e.g., non-dolphin-safe tuna fish)

                2) Your company is advertising on an evil television/radio show and I refuse to buy your product unless you pull your support of evil!

                The first makes a whole lot of sense to me and I remain a big fan. The second strikes me as somewhat troublesome.


              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to MikeSchilling says:


                Did he tour in support of his book?  Because I haven’t seen an interview with him regarding his book on any media source, and that includes Fox News and Hannity’s show, and Sean is reportedly a fan.

                If he didn’t tour in support of his book, it’s not really surprising that he didn’t interview in the mainstream media.  According to Mark Levin’s website, he has one of the most popular radio talk shows out there.  I’m having a hard time tracking down any articles regarding him turning down interview requests, or having interview requests turned down, because the google results are flooded with citations regarding his own show.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                One could start with the paucity of reviews for right-leaning NYT bestsellers, PatC.  As for the case of Mark Levin without getting into the tall weeds, it’s also customary for show bookers to contact the bestselling authors to ask for interviews.  Three months at the top of the NYT non-fiction list is downright newsworthy in and of itself. Indeed, “phenomenal” would be an accurate use of the word.Report

              • Tom & Pat – I think that you each are reading to much into the bestseller vs. reviewed by the Times parallel.  The NYTRoB is almost always a vehicle that reviews books that are either considered highbrow or a touchstone.

                Take any weeks list of top 20 NYT Best Sellers – populated not only by Levines and Coulters, but the Danielle Steeles, James Pattersons, Dean Koontzs, Suzanne COllins, Janet Evonoviches, etc., and see how many of them get reviewed by the NYTRoB.  Most NYT best sellers don’t get reviewed by the NYT.Report

              • Tod, if they can review Al Franken’s


                (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them)

                they can review a book that was #1 for 3 months.


                The What Liberal Bias issue is among the least rewarding on the internet.  If somebody digs their heels in, no amount of examples is ever sufficient.  Me, I’m used to the liberal bias, it’s the denying it that leaves me without hope for us.Report

              • CK1 in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                You know you just had to go back two decades to find your “they do it all the time” smoking gun, yes?

                Also, you’re confabulating two things. I’m not claiming that there’s no liberal bias at the Times. I’m saying that if your argument is that the only NYTBS books that aren’t reviewed by the Times are conservative tomes, then I’m going to start looking at all those books with women being carried away by Fabio in a very different light.Report

              • Rtod in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Also, that was supposed to be me, not my sister.Report

              • Al Franken’s was the first worthless book that came to mind, so I googled it and sure enough the NYT had reviewed it.

                 I’m saying that if your argument is that the only NYTBS books that aren’t reviewed by the Times are conservative tomes

                Now, now, you can phrase what I said more fairly than that.  You could also hunt down the truth of the matter a bit more conscientiously, were you interested in finding it, say, a quick survey of Top 10 lefty bestsellers that were or weren’t reviewed, that sort of thing.  Because I think my observation will hold upon closer inspection, which is why I wrote it.

                Certainly I’m really not trying to “win” here, because you can’t “win” against an Immovable Object.  The purpose here is to make the gentle reader consider the argument, not necessarily agree with it until she investigated further on her own.Report

              • Rtod in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                That seems a task worth doing just to see what I get. After dinner, maybe.Report

              • Chris in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Jay, I think there is a place for your #2, but it is, like I said, something to be used only after a great deal of careful consideration. Unfortunately, these days people scream “boycott!” anytime someone says anything they don’t like. It’s really quite stupid. But, you know, our political system right now is really quite stupid.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Yeah, but Tom, I don’t get what this had to do with what I wrote. I said the media is insipid and anodyne and that boycotts won’t help that and probably make it worse, so you say the NYTimes shuts out right wingers? Okay. Sure. But, it’s still anodyne and insipid and not likely to be made less so by boycotts. Right?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Aw, sorry Rufus.  I was responding to douchebagging on Limbaugh, et al..  The more “people” hear them, the more they agree with them, is the argument.  And I agree with it, which is why the left tries to squelch and demonize them.  The last thing they want is for people to hear Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin.

                Put Mark Levin on Charlie Rose and Levin will sell another 10,000 books in the morning.  That you can take to the bank.Report

              • Rufus F. in reply to MikeSchilling says:

                Actually, I’ve wondered that for a while, Tom, because you frequently bring up this point that the liberals here are insulated from the right wing media and haven’t heard about one story or another. So, is that your larger position- that if more people exposed themselves to the right wing media, they would, as a natural result, vote Republican or agree with you more? Is it really just a matter of information? Because I’ve been listening to AM talk radio regularly now and have read Drudge for a while, and I’m not really sure there are arguments there that I’m agreeing or disagreeing with, aside from, “Here’s this thing today that is outrageous!!!” It seems more like validation of existing beliefs than persuasion.Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Argh, Will, why are all of the radio stations in the world violating my free speech by not giving me a radio show?!

                Seriously, you’re smarter than that.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Chris says:

                They didn’t give Rush anything.
                He’s charging them for the service.
                Let the man make a living.
                Would it make you feel better if he belonged to a broadcasters’ union?
                I might have just found a way to make the Left feel better about Ronald Reagan and Charlton Heston….Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                How is it anti-free speech to boycott someone? That makes no sense. It’s sort of like saying, “Exercising your free speech is anti-free speech.” In fact, it is saying that.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

                I’m not saying it violated his right to free speech.
                I’m saying that it’s anti-free speech.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will H. says:

                A boycott is not anti-free speech.  It’s saying, “If you associate with dickheads, I’m not going to associate with you.”

                I think it’s pretty tough to make the argument that freedom of association equals being anti-free speech, but I’ll defend to the death your right to try to make it.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:

                Well thank you, James.
                But I think that would be a bit much for me to ask of you.
                But thank you just the same.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will H. says:

                Well, it doesn’t seem that I run much risk of being called upon to do it, since you don’t seem interested in actually making the argument.Report

              • MikeSchilling in reply to Will H. says:

                I say that advocating a boycott is an example of free speech. Do *not* trample on my First Amendment rights by disagreeing.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Will H. says:


              • James Hanley in reply to Will H. says:

                Sure, I gotta sign off for the night anyway.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Will H. says:

                I think there’s something to this. If a bunch of people choose not to listen to Limbaugh, and as a result his ratings decline and he loses ad revenue–maybe even to the point where his show is no longer profitable and gets taken off the air–that’s fine. If the market for his show isn’t there, it isn’t there.

                But when people use what would otherwise be apolitical spending decisions to pressure Limbaugh’s sponsors into dropping him in an effort to drive him off the air even in the presence of a market for his show…that kind of is anti-free-speech. When you’re actively trying to shut someone up, that’s anti-free-speech.

                Which is not to say that they don’t have a right to do this. They do, certainly. But there’s a huge intersection between the set of things that you have a right to do and the set of things that are kind of sleazy.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Will H. says:

                E.g. calling a young woman a slut and a prostitute for the sin of disagreeing with you.Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                As I said before, I don’t understand why you are not all outraged that I don’t have a radio show, a television show, and at least 3 newspaper and magazine columns. Clearly, every media out there is violating my free speech by silencing me this way. I think we should start a campaign. Maybe we can boycott someone.

                By the way, I think the most pernicious effect of our broken political system, as well illustrated by some of the people in this comment thread, is the need to politicize everything. It would be amusing if it weren’t so pervasive and if it didn’t actually have an effect on our society. Sometimes I really miss the 90s, when no one gave a shit about anything really (except, perhaps, to the extent that you could talk about it over weed and some pizza pockets).Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Will H. says:


                As I said before, I don’t understand why you are not all outraged that I don’t have a radio show, a television show, and at least 3 newspaper and magazine columns.

                Weren’t you aware of our boycott?Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Ah, a pre-emptive boycott. It’s a good idea, really. God knows what I might say.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Will H. says:


                You don’t have a radio show because you haven’t demonstrated that there’s a market for it. That’s not the same as not having a show because people pressured your sponsors into dropping you in an effort to get you taken off the air.


                Rush Limbaugh did not “[call] a young woman a slut and a prostitute for the sin of disagreeing with [him].” First, it was a metaphor. No reasonable person could have listened to his show and come away with the impression that he was serious alleging that she had ever engaged in prostitution. Moreover, it was a metaphor in service of a legitimate point about externalizing the costs of private benefits.

                Admittedly, it was not a terribly classy metaphor, nor particularly apt–Limbaugh spent a minute trying to work out the particulars and then backpedaled on it–but your description is misleading to the point of dishonesty (much like your description upthread of libertarians as people who believe that liberty begins and ends with property rights–I guess that’s kind of your thing). The metaphor was a response to the specifics of what Fluke was advocating, not just a random insult he decided to throw at her for disagreeing with him.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:

                There’s the old “chilling effect” argument.

                Does a chilling effect violate free speech? Hey, there’s some speech that respectable people agree *OUGHT* to be chilled, am I right?Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Brandon, what you just said, in essence, is that I don’t have a radio show because there’s no market for it, and that’s just fine, but if someone gets fired because boycotters have reduced or eliminated the market for their radio show, then that person’s free speech is violated.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:

                I don’t know that “eliminating advertisers for a show” is coextensive with “eliminating a market for said show”.

                I’m actually pretty sure that it’s not.Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Given that it’s the advertiseres who pay for the show, I’m quite certain it is. If I could get advertisers to advertise on my show, it wouldn’t really matter whether anyone was listening (I know, advertisers only advertise when people are listening). It’s the advertisers who matter to the radio station, and the listeners are only a means to get advertisers. Hell, they don’t really even need listeners. They just need Arbitron.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will H. says:

                There’s no such thing as an underserved market? There’s no such thing as an unserved market?

                One of the arguments given for why AM Talk Radio was so wildly successful is because there was an entire untapped market out there.

                This argument is bunk, then? Markets is about the advertisers who support the shows that have the X millions of listeners?Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to Will H. says:

                First, it was a metaphor

                Really.  What’s the metaphorical significance of “She’s having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk”?

                Limbaugh spent a minute trying to work out the particulars and then backpedaled on it

                Three days later, after extending the “metaphor” to demand she make a sex tape for him.

                Truly, your excuses for him are misleading to the point of dishonesty, or would be if they were plausible enough to mislead anyone..Report

              • Chris in reply to Will H. says:

                Jay, oh there are under and unserved markets, of course, but the only way you get a radio show, the only way you keep a radio show, and therefore the only market that matters in the end, is the advertisers. This is not to deny that the listeners aren’t a market as well, but again, I could get a radio show without listeners, and I could keep one without listeners. Really, all I have to do is fool Arbitron (which is pretty easy, apparently).

                Look at it more broadly: my boycott of advertisers is only effective to the extent that I can (potentially) hurt their bottom line. If I can do that, am I not the relevant market?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Chris says:

                Ah, Mr. Schilling, you were on hiatus.  Limbaugh had a point, a joke.  $! American cash money if you can explain it fairly.  It wasn’t a very good joke, but it was not the same as Ed Schultz calling Laura Ingraham a slut, Bill Maher calling Sarah Palin a twat, and David Letterman mocking Gov. Palin’s appearance as a “Slutty Flight Attendant Look.”


                Can you tell the difference?  How much American cash money will it take for anyone to state the issue fairly?


                Bueller?  Anyone?  C’mon, RTod, you can do this one.  You are neither stupid, ignorant or disingenuous, this I believe surely.Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

                Heh. I think you’ve hit on an optimal solution, Chris.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                It probably should be explained. I’ve said several times recently in comment sections here that I actually like it when people say things that show who they really are, because it’s good to know a.) who you’re dealing with, and b.) that people like that really are out there. So I said yay because I was happy to see Tom defend Limbaugh’s slut-shaming of a woman (it had an important message, it just wasn’t really very funny!) for days because she talked about birth control, because it shows who Tom really is. In the previous threads, there was some defense of Limbaugh, but it was all pretty slippery. Now Tom is openly defending him. So yay, we know who we’re dealing with.Report

              • Chris in reply to Chris says:

                That parenthetical is oddly placed: I mean Limbaugh slut-shamed Fluke for days.Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Chris says:

                Limbaugh’s slut-shaming of a woman (it had an important message, it just wasn’t really very funny!) for days because she talked about birth control

                Tom’s right. That simply isn’t an accurate description of what he did. Do you really think that Limbaugh, who has been married four times and has no children, is against birth control? His criticism of Fluke was based on the fact that she was asking the government to force someone else to give her contraceptives for free.

                I’m not sure whether you genuinely don’t see the distinction, or have simply decided that since Rush Limbaugh is a Very Bad Person you needn’t let bothersome things like facts get in the way of the Truth.Report

              • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Can you tell the difference?  How much American cash money will it take for anyone to state the issue fairly?

                Why don’t you state the issue fairly, Tom?

                I can see a lot of differences between those four examples, sure.  I can also spot a lot of similarities.  The two that seem the closest to me are Ed and Rush, and both were out of line, all the way.  They both pretend to have something serious to say about politics, and said what they said in the context of their show about politics.Report

              • Peter Moore in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                So let me be clear on your point:   Ed Shultz called Lauren Ingraham a slut (twice, but in a single sentence), and the next day he both promptly  apologized sincerely and profusely (calling his remarks vile), and was suspended for a week (allegedly at his own request).

                Whereas Limbaugh was just making a failed joke?  A joke he repeated 53 times in one form of another across 3 days? And when he first apologized, it was a mealy mouthed:I acted too much like the leftists who despise me“.

                And you contend that Ed’s conduct was worse than Rush?

                I have to give it to you Tom: that takes partisan hackery to a breathless new height…Report

              • Brandon Berg in reply to Peter Moore says:

                Whoa. I was only aware of a few of those comments. Sandra Fluke is richly deserving of criticism for asking the government to violate the rights of others on her behalf, but the vast majority of those comments are way out of line and don’t directly relate to Fluke’s mooching. And I find it troubling that Limbaugh managed to reach his advanced age without acquiring even a basic understanding of how oral contraceptives work. Or that promicuous women presumably use condoms due to the fact that the pill doesn’t protect against disease.

                I apologize for the comments I made in my ignorance of the full extent of Limbaugh’s remarks. I could give a qualified defense of the ones I knew about before, but I’m cutting my losses now.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Peter Moore says:

                You don’t get it, Peter. Schultz just engaged in straight-up ad-hom. There was no subtlety or grace in his actions, just a spittle-flecks on the camera lens. Rush, on the other hand, employed a hackneyed tho widely utilized and somewhat inflammatory rhetorical device (slut-shaming) to bring attention to a bigdeep point no one was paying attention to. And he employed this device, much to his credit (critcizisms from the left notwithstanding), in an innovative and humorous way: he equated the cost of oral contraceptives to the cost of a single rubber, and then worked backwards from there. He then wonders (and here’s where the genius of it all really shines thru!) how she can even walk around after having all that sex! I mean, $1000 annually = 1000 rubbers = 1000 lays! Per year! Holyshit! What a slut! Hah hah. ANd then he hits you with the punchline: as if that this slutty behavior isn’t bad enough all on it’s own, slutty Fluke wants other people to pay for her disgustingly slutty ways! Hah hah hah. Hee hee. Don’t you get it, bro? Rush isn’t a misogynist, or political opportunist, or even a liar. It was all just good fun to make a bigdeep point that no one else other than him was paying attention to!A point that couldn’t have been made without the slutshaming!

                To deny Rush is a genius is to reveal yourself as a partisan hack. That’s all there is to it, really.


              • Chris in reply to Peter Moore says:

                Brandon, how has Fluke asked for others’ rights to be violated on her behalf?Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Peter Moore says:

                $1 American cash money to Mr. Stillwater.  Well done, sir.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Peter Moore says:

                Thanks Tom. I had to reach way outa the comfort zone for that one.

                Just keep the greenback. I’ll let it ride. Let’s go double or nothing whether the SC overturns the PPACA.Report

              • I have no clue, Mr. Stillwater.  Justice Kennedy asked one question that leaned one way, than another  the other.

                I’m not even sure how I feel about it as a constitutional question.  The slippery slope is valid, that letting the mandate stand means there’s virtually no limit to the Commerce Clause’s reach.

                But Kennedy also hinted that health care may be sui generis and that this need not be a precedent for a Congressional carte blanche for every other damn thing.

                As one who is cautious about the overuse of analogies to derive truth, I’m also sympathetic to that angle.

                And I hate reasoning the constitutional questions by looking at the outcomes.  I do however, foresee the destruction of private health insurance, and then the government increasingly asserting the state’s compelling interest in the health and therefore habits of individuals.  I also foresee that we shall end up spending every spare dime on health care, a hungry mouth that can never be filled or sated.

                Some wag said that America will become an HMO with a military, and I think that’s about spot-on, except that the left quite contemplates shrinking the military to insignificance in world affairs—not as a negative unintended consequence, but as a happy two-for-one.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Peter Moore says:

                Yes, us dirty liberals only want us to outspend countries #2-9 in defense spending, not #2-19. The horror.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Peter Moore says:

                TVD, I agree with your take on it. But I’m so far outa the loop on this stuff I’m still stuck in the days when everyone agreed that the mandate was a tax on the uninsured (even the smart guys a Balkinization thought that). So I gotta do some reading before any of the arguments make sense to me, let alone get a feeling for how the justices will decide.

                One thing tho: I don’t think they can reject the mandate and sustain the rest. There’s just no way to coherently make that argument. So if the mandate goes, so does everything else.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Bueller? Anyone? C’mon, RTod, you can do this one. You are neither stupid, ignorant or disingenuous, this I believe surely.

                I feel like I’ve said this about a million times over the past month, but since you asked by name….

                I think that there are different ways to frame this issue, and that you (and Ward) are framing it differently than I.  The way that (I believe) you wish to frame it has to do with content:

                Compare the statements which Ed Schultz made with the comments that Rush Limbaugh made.  Which is the more offensive?  Why?

                There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but since I think that shock-styled political talk show hosts are all clowns it’s just not that interesting to me.  While others might glean wisdom from this approach I find it a bit vacuous; what’s more, I suspect any analysis is either going to be “they’re both God-awful” or some knee-jerk variation of “my side is better than your side!”

                In my mind, the more interesting question is this:

                To what degree has the right tied itself to a media machine that may or may not have political power as its primary goal, and is that a good thing or bad thing for them politically?

                In other words, the interesting part of the Limbaugh hubbub isn’t that he sometimes says things that are stupid or offensive, it’s that when he does the right’s leadership is put in a bind that the left clearly isn’t when, say, Ed Schutz puts his foot in it.  As others here have pointed out (most notably was a pretty great comment by Pat), when Shultz said what he did he was quickly panned by the left, and in order to save his career was forced to publicly grovel and take a sabbatical.  Again, not because the right was upset with him (though they were), but because the left was.  Rush did apologize for the Fluke stuff, but that alone was a little surprising.  Over the past decade, he has made leaders of the Republican party beg his forgiveness when they have publicly disagreed with him.

                The media machine the right has in place now is far, far more effective than what the left has – and I don’t think that’s for the lack of trying from the left.  In some ways it strengthens the right, because they are able to mobilize with simple, universal coherent messages that resonate with people in very little time.  Though I think the Tea Party was a grass roots movement, I would argue it never would have become the force it was two years ago prior to this set up.  But in every political advantage, there is also a potential disadvantage.  In this case, it is that the primary needs of the media are not the same as the primary needs of a political party.  As I said in my own post, I think Birtherism is a pretty good example of this: When you have something that pumps the TV and radio ratings, but it does so at the long-term expense of your political party, which wins out?  With Birtherism, short-term ratings won out over long-term political gain.

                That is the framework I find interesting.  If it were just a “he said/she said” thing, I would ignore Rush altogether and focus on Michael Savage, who not only says things as offensive as what Rush (and Bill Maher!) have said, but does so every show – and is clearly bats**t crazy to boot.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Tod, the left enjoys the idea that Birtherism had great currency among conservatives, but it just wasn’t so.  You’re quite right to invoke Michael Savage, who’s a pariah in real world conservatism.  Would that Bill Maher were equally so, instead of a $1 million donor to Obama.  And again, glossing over Ed Scultz’ gratuitous use of “slut” vs what Limbaugh was attempting is to miss the proper analysis of why each side did what.

                Limbaugh didn’t gratuitously call anyone a slut.  In fact, even Michael Savage doesn’t do that.  Indeed, David Letterman’s “slutty flight attendant look” slag on Sarah Palin was completely out of line, and let’s not be obtuse and say that leftpersons didn’t laugh at Letterman and Maher’s [“dumb twat”] gratuitous disrespect.

                I’ll take as a given that Ed Schultz’ clumsy and brutish use of “slut” offended everyone regardless of party.  [Did you know he was taking payoffs from the unions as a “consultant”? Just checking, mind you. I honestly don’t know what gets through to the leftosphere.]  When Doug Bandow of Cato was similarly uncovered some years back, they were obliged to bounce him for awhile.


                I’d use a “mainstream” source, but I can’t find any.  Curious…Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Actual polling, including Donald Trump jumping up to 30% in polls based almost entirely on asking for Obama’s birth certificate, shows that birtherism had a whole lot of current, and indeed, even has a lot of currency today.

                As for the rest, everybody else in this thread has pretty much successfully shown the difference between Schultz’s one outburst which he apologized for and went off the air without pay for a period of time compared to Limbaugh’s continued planned attack.

                Finally, I’m going to guess that the guy from CATO set himself as an impartial arbiter. Schultz doesn’t do that. You mean a guy that talks about the importance of unions is consulting for them? I’m stunned.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                The subject was talk radio, and birtherism had no currency there.  [Mebbe with Michael Savage].

                And yes “everybody” can ignore the distinction between Schultz and Limbaugh, but “everybody” ignores a lot of truths they don’t like.  Leave Schultz out of it—you won’t find a righty using “slut” gratutiously like Letterman did or Maher used “twat.”  That’s the poinjt, and burying the point is not to refudiate it.

                As for Shultz’ payoffs from the unions, obviously this is going nowhere and he’s going to get a pass, unsurprisingly.  Neither is it worth the time & trouble to explain the Bandow thing and why his reputation took a deserved hit.  I point it out for the neutral reader.

                As for the Obama-Muslim thing, I’ll hide behind Chuck Todd’s skirts

                NBC and its hard left cable network don’t seem to be on the same page. The morning after MSNBC bomb-thrower Ed Schultz condemned Republican voters for thinking President Obama is Muslim, on Tuesday’s Today, NBC’s political director Chuck Todd discounted the Public Policy Polling survey: “I think this question was designed to get a higher percentage in the answer than maybe what’s actually true.”
                Todd explained the problem with the automated poll: “…the way the question was asked, I think it just was designed to get a higher number. Because there are some Republicans who…may not believe he’s a Muslim, but like saying it because it’s a way to attack him. It’s sort of a way to needle him….it’s certainly created a buzz among liberals who are trying to create a stereotype among base conservative voters.”

                Read more:

                PPP is just stirring up shit, trying for meaningless points.

                ..and I’ll add that as recently as 2010, only 46% of Democrats said Obama was a Christian.


                According to Pew, respected in most quarters.

                But these things lead nowhere, and Todd was right in the first place.  This is grenade toss.Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Shorter TVD: It’s the pollsters fault that they ask people what they believe.

                As for the Pew Poll, probably most of the Democrat’s secretly think Obama is agnostic/atheist, not a Muslim. But, to be perfectly honest, even though Pew is respected, I find something off about any poll showing a large amount of non-conservatives confused about Obama’s religion. I’d want a secondary poll because it’s entirely possible that Pew’s methodology might be completely off for some weird reason.

                And again, Schultz is an advocate. Schultz advocating to unions upsets me about as much as if I find out if Maddow was consulting the Human Right’s Campaign or if I found out some conservative talk show host was consulting with the K-Lo’s group about gay marriage.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Enough with the “shorter.”  I was quite brief enough to be quoted directly, as was Chuck Todd: ” It’s sort of a way to needle him.”

                As for Schultz getting payoffs from the unions, I’ll take your word for it that you don’t attack global warming denialists for taking oil company money and the like.   But clearly these concepts are getting too complex to continue.


                EXCLUSIVE: Abramoff Regrets Paying Writers For “Placed” Columns

                December 08, 2011 7:34 am ET by Joe Strupp

                Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff expressed regret for paying columnists on multiple occasions to write articles favorable to his clients.

                During a recent interview with Media Matters while promoting his new bookCapitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist (WND Books 2011)Abramoff said in the past he would find columnists who agreed with his positions and pay them to “place” articles in newspapers.

                “Normally what that means in a lobbying context is that you have a friendly writer who is somebody that the major papers are willing to publish and you get them to focus on your issue and write a piece about it,” Abramoff said in a phone interview, later adding, “It just happened when it had to happen. When it did, we would find somebody who agreed with us, a writer, and we’d usually pay them to do it, but they would be in charge of getting it placed. And that probably still goes on. I can’t imagine it doesn’t go on.”

                If this sort of thing is OK with you, Jesse. we have no beef. But clearly it upsets some people’s sense of propriety.


              • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                OK, to avoid a string of me going “Rush!” and you saying “that’s not conservative” and me saying “FOX!” and you saying “that’s not conservative, I’ll just ask up front…  What mainstream news or infotainment source would you categorize as popular mainstream for GOPers?Report

              • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Somebody saying they’re a non-biased source of information and it coming out they’re getting paid off = Bad.

                Advocates who happen to host an opinion-oriented talk show helping the causes they advocate = Great!

                It’s a nuance thing.Report

              • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I’m not saying any of that, Tod.  I’m separating the Toy Dept. of infotainment from the real world.  And since your and most of your brethren from the left get your concepts of the right from Media Matters and other such caricaturists, you gotta ask someone like me for what’s really going on.

                If Rush or anybody used “slut” gratuitously like Schultz did, they would be in big trouble with their audience.  I can speak for myself here, I’m not good with that atall and why I’m discontent with the attempts to blur the distinction between what Rush said and what Schultz and Maher and even Letterman said.

                I wrote over @ Dr. Saunders’ blog while it was happening—Rush was doubling down on his junky riff, and that he was going to try to brazen it out.  It didn’t work. [As I recall, I compared it to Bill Clinton trying to brazen out l’affair Lewinsky, which sort of worked in that he kept the presidence, and sort of didn’t because he got busted.]

                Now then, Brother Tod, what’s the “mainsteam” of the GOP?  The ballot box, first and last of all.  From the first, I urged folks not to take those polls seriously, with Trump and Bachmann and the Hermanator all leading at some point.  And if I may return again to the Chuck Todd remarks above, it’s been my point all year, that responses to these polls are “signalling,” and half the time it’s a big middle finger.  Is Obama the anti-Christ? Sure, mark me down for Strongly Agree.

                Even some of the actual votes in the actual primaries for Santorum at this point, with Romney so clearly inevitable, can be seen as signalling.  I voted for Alan Keyes in 1996, I think, based on hearing one moving speech on abortion. [I had no idea he was such a nutburger at the time.]

                Dole had it in the bag anyway, and actually I was a Lamar Alexander man.  In fact, I just got rid of my 1991 Civic last year, and you could still read the faded Alexander sticker [“Come on Along!”] if you squinted real hard.

                So what’s the answer to your question, RTK?  Depends on what you’re asking me to do—paint a bullseye on somebody’s back so they can be personalized and demonized?  So we can ignore 99% of what they say and then nail them on the last 1%?

                At this point, in the real world, the GOP is Mitt Romney. Paul Ryan.  Eric Cantor.  Speaker John Boehner we’re stuck with, that’s the real world, but he doesn’t seem that bad atall when compared head to head with Speaker Pelosi.

                Shall we run that one?

                The GOP’s next generation, Sen. Rubio; Bob McDonald, doing a bangup job as Gov of VA; Piyush “Bobby” Jindal of Louisiana, vastly more qualified than Barack Obama ever was [congressman, governor, awesome exp], more qualified at his age of 40 than almost anybody ever was]; my old favorite John Kasich, still underwater in the polls in Ohio as governor, but pulling it out of its fiscal mess.

                And Gov. Jeb Bush, who left office with over-the-top poll approval and who’d have coasted to the presidency this year if only he had a different last name.

                That’s the real world.  I’m very unhappy with Barack Obama’s record as president and am confident that Mitt Romney will be a good president.  Tellya the truth, I think the last thing we need right now is somebody with the ambition of being a “great” president.  We desperately need a good one.

                Whoever the GOP runs as VP [Mitch Daniels is my call] would have to be pretty bad to not be batter than Joe Biden.  [Sarah Palin was such a person, that bad.  It is possible.]

                As for the leadership in Congress, it was John Boehner who upped my estimation of Harry Reid.  He told a skeptical Rush Limbaugh that he could work with Reid, and if you followed the recent WaPo story [and I’m sure you did], Congress had a deal framed out until BHO came in and disrupted it.

                How shall I answer your question then?  You want to know the conservative mind?

                Well, I already have a bullseye on my back, personalized, demonized, you might have noticed, so there’s me.  And I’ll take Charles Krauthammer over anybody else out there regardless of party or network.  So much so, that National Review’s “The Corner” quotes Krauthammer’s remarks on the Bret Baier Fox News every day.


                6PM Eastern: Special Report with Bret Baier [he took Brit Hume’s place as main Fox anchor] is my pick for “fair and balanced” news—and the field reporters like Carl Cameron and Wendell Goler and Jennifer Griffin play it as straight as it comes.  And Krauthammer on the “panel,” which is the last 20 minutes of the hour broadcast.

                The rest of Fox is opinion, unabashedly.  O’Reilly is an independent [self-described “independents” tend to lean right; “moderates” lean left];  Hannity is the GOP party line 98% of the time;  Greta is a Scientologist and a Democrat and gets stuck with a lot of the schlocky crime stuff.  Still, I wrote her a fan letter once on a great show on a thorny issue.  [I forget the particulars.]  She wrote back giving all credit to her staff.  Class.

                And Greg Gutfeld, a gem who’s on two shows right now, The Five and Red Eye.  Twice as funny as Maher with none of the filth, and a throwdown of wit with Jon Stewart would be damned interesting.

                [I happen to think Colbert is the best and sharpest, and is double-whammying you lefties, a rightie pretending to be a lefty mocking the righties.

                You fools!]Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Murali says:

              I took a look at the questionnaire Haidt used for his research, and it seems plausible to me that the differences he found are largely if not entirely due to bias arising from questions that appeal to ideologically specific manifestations of his moral foundations. For example, on the harm/care axis, there was a question about harming an animal (animal rights is a leftish issue), but not a question about harming a fetus.

              While most of the questions are abstract, all of the axes have one or two questions (out of six) tuned to a specific ideology. Given that the difference between extreme liberals and extreme conservatives was not greater than one on a scale of one to six on any of the five axes, this could account for most or all of the differences.Report

              • scott the mediocre in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Thanks for the pointer, Brandon Berg.  Looking at the questionnaire, I tend to agree that a fair number of the questions are written fairly bluntly/crudely, with terms which are effectively ideologically loaded (though I would pick e.g. “chastity” as more ideologically loaded than “defenceless animal”, which I find more treacly than ideological, but that’s just me), at least for statistically normal Americans.

                In defense of Haidt (for whom I hold no particular regard nor animus, other than some abstract interest in the research), when I was trying to write a psychology research questionnaire on a totally unrelated topic, I found it really, really hard to write questions that simultaneously

                1) contain concrete enough language and imagery to reliably activate the participant’s emotional responses without too much cognitive mediation.

                2) did not have a great deal of subtle bias

                Agreed, still, that Haidt and group could probably do some better research design (e.g. multiple versions of the various probes using different keywords, attempting to at least rotate the bias against the hypothetical principal components).Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    If you wanted to know what modern Liberals in America believe, you could do worse than to start with the proposition they actually agree to anything before saying they’re self-contradictory.  Liberals start at the bottom and work their way up.  That’s who we really are.

    Liberals are always on a sticky wicket since our causes are often embodied in manifestly horrible people.  We start at the bottom, the prisoner, the child, the woman, the poor, the alien, the disenfranchised, the mentally ill, the disabled:  their issues are our concerns.   God loves poor people, said Lincoln, for he made so many of them.   The poor are individuals and usually they do not vote.  They don’t vote for a variety of reasons, often because they don’t perceive the possibility that the state might act on their behalf. Because they do not vote, they do not have a voice in the body politic:  Liberals are as close as they will ever get to one.  Though the poor are plentiful, the Liberals of the USA are few.

    If we have a flaw as Liberals, we could be accused of condescending to the poor. At least we do not pretend they don’t exist. We have often tried to register the poor to vote and encountered many obstacles. We still do. At every turn, when we have tried to expand the voter rolls through registration efforts, organizations such as ACORN have come under attack. I do not propose to defend ACORN, merely to observe this has been the trend for as long as I’ve been alive. You don’t understand us well enough to even attack us with any stick worth swinging.

    IF these concerns seem contradictory, they are deeply muddled by counterfactual shibboleths about the poor.  If individuals, including the poor, make up a society, how can these concerns be addressed in any meaningful way?   They will not be addressed by persons who seem to deny their role in that society beyond filling our jails.

    Liberals would make the case, rather better than their enemies, that Individual Rights thinking has not led to any solution for this constituency and has therefore failed.  Individual Rights is a position chiefly espoused by those who have rights to protect, with the luxury of being able to make individual decisions.  The Individual gains most of his degrees of freedom in a society in which those degrees of freedom are possible: to better the lot of a Society, we would argue for a framework where our yards are not encompassed by barbed wire fences. The concerns of the mother with an autistic child are not Individual. The concerns of the drug addict are not Individual.  If society is to deal with these problems, they must be considered in toto:  we have seen the Individual Rights crowd ignore the poor and disenfranchised by simply denying their existence in their schemes.

    Nay, and do not think we have slandered you in so saying.  You simply have no vision for the poor and disenfranchised, beyond a little dutch uncle-ing.  Your philosophies do not encompass them, all this cheap talk about Pareto Superiority notwithstanding.  Which aspect of Pareto are we discussing here, that of Pareto’s Vital Few who better a corporation in their much-buying or that of Pareto Efficiency, which acts against monopoly power?  He who would invoke the august name of Pareto ought to recognize the difference.

    And do not beg questions about the Right Kind of Policy.   Correct policy arises from correct viewpoints.  Liberals simply do not require an overarching view which might encompass every possible issue.  If we see the poor, who are many, and the rich, who are few, we do not demand anything of the rich beyond consideration of their mere existence.  It is a fundamentally democratic viewpoint.

    You err very greatly in calling us Individualists.   Liberals have a different view of society, one which sees that curious bit of Latin, E Pluribus Unum, as a transitive phrase:  as close as it can be gotten into English, it reads “We are becoming one.”   We have not become one yet.   If we are to be encumbered with the freight of Andrea Dworkin, she believes the first and most fundamental improvement men might make toward equality for women is to stop raping them.  Liberals aren’t asking for the moon and a McMansion for every poor person.  We’re asking for society to quit raping the poor.  Rape is an act of aggression which only takes a sexual form.   The poor will progress, as they always have, if a few of the worst obstacles to progress were removed, chief among them the hatred of the poor which has always characterised the positions taken against them.   I might begin with the Libertarian and Conservative hatred of collective efforts, including collective bargaining.

    Murali, you don’t understand the American Liberal if this is any guide to your opinion.   You might have just asked us what principles guide us.   Hope this helps, just a bit.Report

  5. D.A. Ridgely says:

    Will Rogers — “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”

    Had Rogers been a Republican today he could as easily have said the same thing.  Not, of course, that in the U.S. one is a  “Democrat iff liberal” or “Republican iff conservative.”  But the underlying notion that either liberalism or conservativism (or, yes, even libertarianism) constitutes a coherent and consistent set of beliefs or principles seems to be easily belied by the facts if we take people at their word when they label themselves. (Not that such self descriptions are the last word on the subject, but it seems to me they should certainly count as evidence.)

    That’s not to say one can’t usefully indulge in proffering some useful rules of thumb (however much Andrea Dworkin might rail against such metaphors).  It is in general true that contemporary liberalism has embraced communitarianism to a greater degree than its 19th century and earlier counterparts.  Whether communitarianism is merely the current preferred term for collectivism or socialism or whether progressivism the more palatable word for radical,  I leave for others to argue. But concepts, like families, often have ancestral roots some of which they boast about and some of which they’d prefer forgotten. Does it even make sense to ask which generation embraced “true liberalism”? *shrug*  Regardless, I’m happy to report I’ve met no contemporary progressives who espouse eugenics or communitarians who think the Soviet Union would have created a workers’ paradise but for the machinations of the same sort of evil capitalists Captain Planet used to fight every Saturday morning.  And who could deny that’s, um, well, progress?

    I’m far less sanguine than Murali that Rawls’ work survives close scrutiny, let alone that it can serve as a basis for a better theory of justice than Rawls managed to eek out of it  But it does raise two interesting questions: (1) Was Rawls seeking to define and defend the concept of justice or the concept of liberalism, or (2) was he really ever capable of  completely distinguishing the two?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

      Rawls peeked through his Curtain too much to be taken very seriously.  Every time I hear the word Fairness I know I’m about to hear a Special Pleading hard on its heels.Report

    • Chris in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

      D.A., you bastard, where the hell have you been?Report

      • D.A. Ridgely in reply to Chris says:

        Well, you know, it isn’t as if I was all that warmly welcomed in my brief (nearly instantaneous) tenure as a blogger here, so I just pop in from time to time to check on old friends.Report

        • Chris in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

          I barely remember, so it must have been quite brief. I get the impression James felt similarly, at least as a front pager. It’s odd, because I always thought that with Jason, you were the three who made Positive Liberty what it was. Oh well, c’est la blogging.Report

    • Murali in reply to D.A. Ridgely says:

       Was Rawls seeking to define and defend the concept of justice or the concept of liberalism

      I think he wasdoing more of the former in Theory of Justice and more of the latter in political liberalism. But yes, Rawls does sometimes tend to run the two together.

      Whether communitarianism is merely the current preferred term for collectivism or socialism or whether progressivism the more palatable word for radical,  I leave for others to argue.

      By communitarian, I refer to views under which society can benefit in ways that are not reducible to its members benefiting. An egalitarian communitarian may view the whole of society being better off if there was a more equal distribution of material goods even though each individual member of society was worse off in terms of material goods. I’m supposing that some kind of welfare state/social safety net can be defended on individualist grounds. Similarly, a communitarian conservative may think that certain ways of living are in and of themselves worth preserving. Communitarianis is neither unique to the right or the left.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to Murali says:

        Ah, “egalitarianism” presents its own set of problems.  You can get to “equal protection of the laws” via “all men are created equal” via human dignity, but there’s more to the human equation than law.Report

  6. Rufus F. says:

    I should get back to posting about Zola (a subset of canon blogging, in my humble opinion). I started reading him because he was such a characteristic 19th century Liberal and I was hoping to understand more about the roots of liberalism and what they believed, in order to make some sense out of it- also because liberals so often seem reluctant to define liberalism these days. At any rate, Zola cares a great deal about the situation of the poor, which he does not, for the record, ascribe solely to the malevolent forces of capitalism, or to drink or genes for that matter. He’s keen to show us all of the forces (from within and without) that keep people rooted in the ghetto and make some sense of it. To my mind, this concern-in-itself is one of the nobler liberal impulses and seems fairly disconnected from “individualism.” If liberalism is, at its core, about individual rights, why should they care about the misery of others as such, or at least when that misery wasn’t caused by a violation of those rights? And, you know, many of them don’t care, but perhaps they don’t deserve the name.Report

  7. Murali says:

    @ Rufus: individualism (at least the way I use it and have seen it used) is not just about individual rights but also about individuals’ welfare.Report

  8. Patrick Cahalan says:

    This is a very well written comment, Blaise.  I liked this bit, in particular:

    Liberals would make the case, rather better than their enemies, that Individual Rights thinking has not led to any solution for this constituency and has therefore failed.  Individual Rights is a position chiefly espoused by those who have rights to protect, with the luxury of being able to make individual decisions.  The Individual gains most of his degrees of freedom in a society in which those degrees of freedom are possible: to better the lot of a Society, we would argue for a framework where our yards are not encompassed by barbed wire fences.

    Tom also, above:

    This has been an area of agreement between Lib60 and meself, that our left and right are both communitarian, and it’s in fact libertarianism that has a great lacuna when it comes to the communitarian impulse.  Since man is a social animal, it’s perhaps a fatal lacuna, for any political philosophy that ignores human nature must fail.

    I think (I think!) that the libertarians here on this blog would insist that they don’t have any such problem with the communitarian impulse, they just think that The State is a crappy mechanism by which to encourage the communitarian impulse.  Set up the laws such that the state empowers free thinkers to free think, and otherwise keep it out of the way.

    The fatal lacuna, if there is one, is that libertarians – espousing keeping the State out of the business of encouraging communitarian impulses – forfeits the right to play at the table where the State decides what bits of the “encouraging communitarian impulse” business it’s going to do today, and that table is dominated by the communitarians who are actively trying to use the State to encourage communitarian impulses, they’re just arguing over which ones are the right ones.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      The Libertarians do not like the State.   Who does?   But who else will enforce the laws?   This Free Enterprise system has proven a botch.

      Liberals don’t much like the state option: that’s why we want bureaucrats to enforce those laws humanely.   Bureaucrats do push back, often they’re the most effective voice of reason in the debate:  they get to see how these ill-made laws play out.   I repeat myself so often around here I really ought to just number the arguments.Report

      • Tom Van Dyke in reply to BlaiseP says:

        <em>”Liberals don’t much like the state option.”</em> Except “spontaneous order” always seems to get it wrong.  All that remains is politics.

        There may be a necessary distinction to be made between “left” and “liberal” here, though.  Although Edmund Burke was “the first conservative,” he was also a “classical” liberal.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

          How very right you are. Bringing Edmund Burke into the discussion makes me smile.   He once said when we try to separate liberty from justice, neither survives the operation.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      I might add, as a hasty caveat, Capitalism, for all its manifest faults, has proven to be the only viable engine of wealth known to mankind.   The State cannot solve all problems nor should it.   The Libertarians, had they the good sense to see it, are on the right track.   Their philosophy ought to be given a decent haircut and a shave and put in some clothes that fit, currently they look too much like unkempt Bearded Prophets on the streetcorner, hectoring folks.   All entirely unnecessary.   If only they would embrace the notion that risk must vary with regulation.   Their most powerful sermon is preached against Fraud.   Would that they understood the ramifications of that excellent doctrine.Report

    • Libertarians are comfortable with the devolvement [decentralization] of power, but that still leaves the problem of what that devolved power might look like, and the problem of anarchy.  [Yes, it is a problem, not a solution, at least historically.]Report

    • James Hanley in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

      Thank you, Patrick.  You are correct.

      I had contemplated making the correction about liberals and community myself, then I thought, “ah, why bother; no matter how many times the correction is made, the same people are going to repeat the same false statements about libertarians being purely and unadulteratedly individualistic.

      It seems strange on a blog like this, where real live libertarians do their best to explain themselves, that certain participants persist in making false statements about them.  It doesn’t do much for the quality of discussion, alas.Report

      • Chris in reply to James Hanley says:

        Why do libertarians want to kill puppies?Report

        • Tod Kelly in reply to Chris says:

          They’re delicious?Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

          It’s not that they want to kill puppies, they just don’t think that it’s appropriate use of state power to prevent puppy killing.

          “Pro-choice” is the official term, I believe. It’s the opposition that paints us as “Pro-puppy killing”.Report

          • Roger in reply to Jaybird says:

            I am for decentralized bottoms up solutions to the puppy killing crisis. Indeed, my sources reveal that puppy killing was 1400% worse prior to Adam Smith and Mr Ricardo proving property rights and comparative advantage are essential for the advancement of puppies. Furthermore, I believe so called “progressives” who preach to never kill puppies actually end up causing puppy deaths because of their inability to deal with complex cause and effect and the law of unintended consequences.

            After writing the above, I realize it can work as my template for every discussion on this forum.Report

        • Snarky McSnarkSnark in reply to Chris says:

          There is always a market solution.   If the puppies valued life all that much, they’d make the puppy-killers an offer.Report

        • James Hanley in reply to Chris says:

          Have you ever known a stray puppy that respected property rights?  My home (and yard) is my sacred castle and therefore I have a right to kill any and everything that comes on it without my permission.  (Moles, you’ve been forewarned!)


        • Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

          Excellent answers Libertarians! I’d just like to add that liberals also support puppy killing, when it meets the minimal requirement of convenience. But we’re also working on large scale government-sponsored puppy killing projects as well. We don’t want to. We just can’t help it.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Stillwater says:


            It’s all part of the regulatory package for puppy mills, no? We need to decrease the vast oversupply of puppies caused by the failure of the market to properly coordinate society’s needs and its production, which causes puppy prices to be artificially low, thus driving family puppy millers out of business.Report