Friday, November 6, 2009

Do you? Do you really?

My father's favorite line, when talking politics, is, 'I'm a fiscal conservative, but a social liberal.'

My father voted for Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. He may have even voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Starting in 1984, however, my father has not ever voted Republican in a presidential election. Starting in 1994 (he voted for Pete Wilson for governor of California in 1990, something he tremendously regretted after he saw what kind of governor Wilson was), I don't believe he's voted Republican at all. Despite having never changed his party registration.

My father, like many people of his generation, does his best to say what he actually means and to actually mean what he says. Not everyone is so straight-forward in their thinking or communication.

From Bob La Follette (both of them), to Thomas Dewey, to Nelson Rockefeller, to John Anderson there has historically been representation for this view within the Republican Party. At some times, such as during the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy years, it has been the professed platform of the Republican Party.

This is no longer the case. The Republican Party has done its best to purge them. Arlen Specter, who once slapped Anita Hill around (figuratively) on behalf of the religious right, was driven out of the GOP earlier this year for compromising with Democrats on economic policy.

More recently, in the New York 23rd Congressional District, Dede Scozzafava became the figurative punching bag for the national conservative establishment... despite being the candidate endorsed by Newt Gingrich. Once again, the big issues on which she was attacked were economic... along with a ridiculous character attack with only a loose basis in 'fact.'

The economy is, naturally, an issue which concerns all of us quite a lot these days. We are in a major recession and may have only just missed (or still be teetering on the precipice of) a genuine depression. Does that make it the most important issue on the American table?

Barry Goldwater once said that American freedoms were far more important than security or life itself. He said that Americans would rather die than sacrifice their own freedoms. This turned out to be somewhat naive. It might be more accurate to say that some Americans would rather sacrifice the freedom and equality of others in order to save a few bucks on their taxes.

Or rather, some Americans would rather deprive others of their individual personal liberties than pass health care reform.

The problem is this: if you claim to be a 'social liberal' or to support equal respect for the personal freedoms of all Americans, what are you doing about it?

I don't like litmus tests and I am personally uncomfortable with abortion. However, I've written the frank truth on the matter. The only rebuttal as frank is the Phyllis Schlafly-esque argument that equality between the sexes is undesirable and the status quo is better for women. I can certainly appreciate the mathematics of that argument from a utilitarian perspective, but I believe this to be an issue of principle rather than utility. If one believes in gender equality then abortion (along with a slough of rights to which some feminists object, which are a topic for another post in the future if I don't just decide that Wendy McElroy explains it much better than I do) is a necessary part of equality of opportunity and choice in a free society.

Gay marriage in and of itself is arguably of little consequence. There are gay rights advocates who agree with me on this one. The greater issue of equal rights under law for all Americans, however, is a very serious issue indeed. Regardless of what you think about gay marriage, if you believe in equality before the law then you cannot legitimately argue against legal civil marriage for any consenting adults who wish to marry and understand the commitment. The popular moderate compromise of 'civil unions' might be unconsitutional, if one were to understand the basic premise of Brown v. Board of Education to strike down any discriminatory law that relies on the premise of 'separate but equal.' This is not to say that I don't believe civil unions are a valid option if this is what gets a consensus on the issue, but the difference between 'civil union' and 'civil marriage' is such a minor semantic that one has to ask one's self why a distinction would be necessary. The answer doesn't say good things about us as people.

Homophobes love slippery slope arguments. Here's one for them, and I really want to hear their answer because I think they have plans for the future: if we amend a state's constitution to deprive one portion of society of its personal freedoms, who is next?

There are Republicans (even conservatives) who say they support gay rights. There are Republicans (even conservatives) who claim to want to see abortion rights protected and even accuse the left of being the chauvinists and misogynists.

The problem with this claim is my earlier question: Well then, what are you doing about it?

If the answer is voting for strictly conservative primary candidates who virulently oppose such rights, then people are going to question your sincerity. If you advocate for reactionaries over moderates who share your expressed views, people are going to question your sincerity. If you express support for candidates or pundits who are entirely opposed to your expresed views, people are going to question your sincerity. If you subscribe to every right wing political and media trope and conspiracy theory, people will question your sincerity... and they will have a very strong basis for doing so.

The justification for laisezz faire economic policies expressed by its advocates is 'freedom.' Economic freedom, however, is not an obvious no-brainer. Freedom for business can mean restrictions on the freedom of both consumers and employees, while the protection of consumer and employee rights requires a framework of law within which corporations must operate. Much as we have laws against robbery and rape, we have (or should have) laws against larcenous or rapacious behavior in the business sphere. While the most hardcore anarchists and libertarians would say that laws against robbery and rape go too far (and that we should all just have the right to shoot anyone who tries to steal from us or assault us), most mainstream conservatives advocate a law and order stance based on the classical liberal notion that government should protect the property rights of private citizens. A law and order mentality of this sort is not any more restrictive of freedom because it protects private property from corporate criminals the same as private criminals.

Yet it is support for laisezz faire and the 'freedom' engendered by same that motivates these self-proclaimed conservative supporters in individual freedoms to vote and advocate for candidates and organizations totally opposed to their professed social beliefs. It is difficult not to interperet this as a mistake in priorities. One's mileage may vary to a certain degree, but at some point one believes in something or one does not. There are far more moderates who support laisezz faire and individual freedoms than there are conservatives who support individual freedoms with full-throated gusto. Indeed, most conservatives oppose them quite forcefully in practice.

If you've managed to bear with my rather disjointed rambling (which I hopes manages to convey a message which appeared rather coherent to me when I started writing) then I have a question I don't consider radical at all:

If you say you support a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, equality before the law, or any of a dozen more real issues of personal liberty in the face of intrusive government control and you don't ever vote for or support candidates who share that position I just want to know...

Do you? Do you really?

2 comments:

democommie said...

Chris:

I often have reactionaries (they are not "conservatives" in any recognizable sense) tell me that I should vote the man, instead of the party. What they mean, of course, is that I should vote for their candidate, even though I'm a Democrat.

First I have to tell them that I am not a Democrat but, rather, an independent--no party affiliation. Then I have to tell them that I will be voting for a GOP candidate when I'm quite sure that they are in a minority position that will constrain them from doing further damage to my nation. Then I tell them to go shit in their hats.

Chris Richards said...

I certainly can't disagree with you.

My main reason for writing this is anger, as an ex-Republican, seeing the kind of Republicans who claim to represent my former views driving the kind of Republicans who do represent my former views out of the party.

In the lack of viable multi-party system (which is not going to happen, due to the way we have allowed our major parties to become entwined with both the legislative and electoral processes)I think we need a viable two-party system. I would like to see a genuinely left-wing party and a genuinely conservative party, instead of what we have: a right-wing coalition of reactionaries with corporate fascists on one hand and a borderline conservative-centrist party on the other.

Not holding my breath, though.