Charles Pillsbury III

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Lesser of two weevils? (more politics)

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More political rambling ahead… beware!

I should clarify my earlier post. I don’t think either McCain or Obama are ‘evil’ per se, I do however have fundamental disagreements with their proposed policies and the way they’re likely to run the country. One of the brilliant and amusing people I follow on twitter posted this simple civics 101 description on her blog.

The conservative ideology is built on an idea of individual rights and responsibilities. Government should be small and as little as possible involved with people’s lives. Taxes and spending should thus be low. The people, unfettered by intrusive government, can succeed on their own merits and hard work, helping their neighbors without being compelled to do so by the government. People can manage their own money better than government can. Conservatives believe that power ought to be more concentrated in local and state government than federal.

The liberal ideology, on the other hand, is built on the idea that we have a responsibility to pool our resources via government to ensure that everybody has their basic needs met. Government should be bigger to enable it to provide more services, thus taxes and spending should be higher. Liberals believe that we don’t start out with equality of opportunity, so there needs to be some leveling of the playing field done by government, so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. Liberals believe in power centralized more in federal government than states or localities.

[From How are you today? I'm superfantastic.: Civics 101: Political Ideology and You]

Pundits and die-hards on both ends of the political spectrum like to make more of this difference than there actually is. While there are certainly crooked politicians, I believe it is prudent to remember the quote: “Never ascribe to malice, that which can be explained by incompetence.” (attributed to Robert J. Hanlon and others). More often than not when things go wrong because of somebody’s policy choices it not because they were ill intended but that they were either poorly executed, or poorly planned (meaning it is either a good idea poorly planned, or a poor idea planned as well as it could be). While I disagree with the idea the government should level the playing field, I can certainly see it as an understandable position.

The thing that gives me pause is not Obama (as McCain said, he’s a good family man with whom I have some policy disagreements), but a democratic super majority in the house and senate coupled with a democratic president (the later being largely a forgone conclusion, the prior just a possibility). I’ve said before I don’t feel comforted by a congressional majority and white house occupied by the same party, something to do with absolute power corrupting absolutely. Though the reactionaries on both sides would argue against their opponent having that sort of power, the saving grace of the situation is that the people who get in power won’t be able to keep it for long if they’re running things completely into the toilet. I know there are people (on both sides… do I need to keep saying that?) who would tell you if X or Y gets into power they will put things in place that won’t allow anybody else to get elected and America will become a dictatorship. *sigh* I’ve been hearing this since grade school when my teacher was sure that Reagan getting re-elected would bring about not only a dictatorship, but the end of the world. I didn’t buy it then. I don’t buy it now.

So VP candidates aside, while I think both candidates are ‘bad for America’ (as envisioned by the founding fathers in the constitution, etc) I don’t think either candidate will ruin the country forever (and will both probably be equally bad but in different ways). Whoever wins next week will make some good policy decisions, and some bad ones, and in 2 years we’ll elect new senators, and in 4 we can try for a different president if this one hasn’t panned out so well. This is the American way (of course it’s also the American way to keep attempting to choose the lesser of two evils, but I’m trying to be optimistic here… work with me).

I read an interesting article on politics recently by Jonathan Haidt. Haidt is obviously ideologically a liberal, who brings a certain bias to his piece, but who at least makes an effort to set it aside (though I think he fails at this, I applaud the effort in spite of his apparent contempt for the ‘other side’). I don’t think he hits the nail on the head for all republican voters, but I think he does for some. This blurb is from his section talking about the morality in play for a certain segment of the republican voting public.

Here’s my alternative definition: morality is any system of interlocking values, practices, institutions, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible. It turns out that human societies have found several radically different approaches to suppressing selfishness, two of which are most relevant for understanding what Democrats don’t understand about morality.

[From Edge: WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN? By Jonathan Haidt]

After reading Haidt’s piece I discovered that Edge had done a great job of collecting interesting and intelligent responses to it. One of my favorites is from Michael Shermer:

Two cheers for Jonathan Haidt’s essay. At long last a liberal academic social scientist has recognized (and had the courage to put into print) the inherent bias built into the study of political behavior—that because Democrats are so indisputably right and Republicans so unquestionably wrong, conservatism must be a mental disease, a flaw in the brain, a personality disorder that leads to cognitive malfunctioning. Thus, Haidt is mostly right when he asks us to move beyond such “diagnoses” and remember “the second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats ‘just don’t get it,’ this is the ‘it’ to which they refer.”

[From The Reality Club: WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN? Response By Michael Shermer]

One thing I’ve found interestingly absent from much of the commentary (at least what I’ve read) on self interest in tax policy (the “why would lower middle class people not vote for a candidate giving them a tax break but raising taxes on the richest of the rich?” question), is that perchance some people don’t actually view things in a black or white self interested way. While I don’t think the ‘working poor’ should have to pay more than I, in the middle class, or the wealthiest in society, I likewise don’t think that it is just to take extra from those who have attained wealthy status. I’ve heard conservative pundits rail on liberal’s use of “fair” and how taking more from the poor isn’t “fair”, but you don’t hear it stated as often that it isn’t “fair” to punish people for success (and yes, I’m using punish loosely there, it’s not like taxation is a sound beating in the public square). The nuance of a useful tax code that benefits society in the right way is not an easy issue (a truely oppressed working class is a good way to get a revolt after a time, but an oppressive one for those who drive the business and commerce is a quick way to lose in a global economy). It’s also wrapped up in how and what you spend that money on.

FWIW Addendum:

While I’m not certain it would be the best possible solution, I do think something like the “Fairtax” which does away with income tax, pre-bates the amount of tax expected to be paid for essentials (food, etc), and puts a national sales tax on all new goods (check out the Fairtax site for more information) has a shot at working. This should coincide with a drastic cut of federal spending IMHO as well, and a thorough review of what is and isn’t working as planned/advertised by uncle Sam.

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October 29th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

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