June 23, 2005

What's in a name?

Conservative? Liberal? Democrat? Republican?

I've noticed that when people I know want to criticize a position held by Democrats, they call it "Liberal." When they want to criticize a position held by Republicans, they call it "Republican." Similarly, when Republicans want to de-Republican something they support, they call it a "conservative" item and the people who promote it "conservatives" instead of Republicans.

Just this weekend, a close family member said, "I didn't realize how liberal you are." The term liberal in this use meant "anti-Bush." While I am vehemently, rabidly, unashamedly, frothing-mouth anti-Bush, I would hardly classify myself as a liberal. I believe in limited government. I believe in separation of powers. I believe in security and the role of a strong military as well as the need for spies, covert operations outside our borders, and spending on military technology. But mostly I believe that government would best serve the people by focusing on important things relating to governing such as security, commerce, and education. Stuck me with a liberal label yet?

How about this: I believe that while government should strive to provide an equal opportunity for all citizens, I don't believe government should be responsible for providing an equal outcome for all citizens. Government must make quality education available and accessible to all, but government is not responsible for giving them jobs or feeding them if they choose to eschew their opportunities. Doesn't sound very tax-and-spend, tree-hugging, welfare-state liberal, does it?

Furthermore, while government must set certain limits for the common good, government should not dictate any individual's decisions on personal things. This includes where they choose to live, what faith they choose to have, what friends they choose, what car they drive, what clothes they wear, what career they choose, what they do in their bedrooms, and whether they choose to procreate or not. Government should not be a vehicle for one group of people to impose their personal choices or beliefs on everyone else.

Government should be concerned with only a very few things: Protection of all citizens and property, enablement of commerce, provision of justice, and promotion of the general welfare. Oh yes: And protection from the government itself.

Am I a dyed-in-the-wool liberal yet? Or, would you say I was a conservative? I suppose neither at this point, as both terms really describe a person's approach to the goals outlined above, not the goals themselves. Very well.

I believe taxes are necessary. I believe people with more money should bear a greater burden than people with less money, though not a disproportionately greater burden. I believe that people who do not work should not be given money by the government, except as a short-term stopgap (i.e., I dislike welfare but think unemployment insurance is a good thing). I believe that all children should be ensured the opportunity for a high quality education. I believe that government should provide basic infrastructure (roads, telecommunications, etc.). I believe the tax code should be so simple it can be read in its entirety while sitting in a cafe on a sunny afternoon; tax subsidies and special classes should be eliminated. I believe the government should make commerce easy (reduced regulation) while ensuring corporations do not engage in fraud, chicanery, or predatory practices. I believe the government should educate consumers and citizens while staying out of their personal decisions, unless and until those personal decisions affect the overall welfare of the citizenry at large. (An example is the obesity epidemic--government should participate in education to change Americans' behavior but should not regulate industries such as fast food; an educated consumer will make the choices that are right for them, and industry will respond to market pressures.)

Am I sounding like a liberal yet? Or maybe a conservative? Democrat? Republican? Yeah, I can't decide either.

How about this: I am pro-choice. I think gays should be allowed to get married and receive all the social and legal status that heterosexuals get from the same ritualistic rite. I think it was a good thing to protect the spotted owl. I don't want to see oil drilling in new places such as the Alaskan wildlife area or the coast of southern California. I don't like the idea of allowing the Sierras to be clear-cut for timber. I think Social Security can offer a good way to achieve an economy of scale and provide a useful service to millions of Americans who otherwise would end up as old people with no money. I would like to see "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, and "In God We Trust" removed from our currency. I believe citizens should have the right to own and operate firearms and, with serious licensing, even assault weapons. I think marijuana should be legalized and taxed just like cigarettes and alcohol. (As long as you're not putting anyone in danger, you can use it.)

The point of all this is that while I am staunchly, rabidly, blood-boilingly, incoherently anti-Bush, I am not "A Liberal," as used by the Republicans who have read my blog or talked politics with me. In fact, if they could get past the fact that I think W is Bad News, they would see that they agree with many of the basic tenets that I use to define my political positions. And if they would stop categorizing everyone who is not a Republican as a Liberal, they may just see that I am not even anti-Republican. I am, however, completely opposed to certain planks of the Republican platform (the anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-choice ones in particular).

Furthermore, I think this is true with most of my friends and colleagues. We hate the approach that Bush & Co. are taking because he is a tool of the Christian fundamentalists and corporate robber barons, but we are not so far left that we consider ourselves liberals. And this is how Bush won reelection. He divided the country into Republicans and Liberals; one remains the name of a political party, but the other is a definition of one's character. If you identify with parts of both groups, which label are you more likely to bristle at? Obviously, the one that defines your character.

I am proud to be neither a Republican nor a Liberal. I am not required to follow in goose-step or lock-step to the drumbeat of some prescribed platform. Unfortunately, this limits the power of my vote because I am not part of any bloc. Therefore, I fight against the darkness that grows in the East by simply opposing it as best I can.

And still I shake my head and wonder how any self-respecting, educated person can allow themselves to be led by George W. Bush. He has lied to the American people, has spent billions on a tragic mistake of a war, has destroyed decades of environmental protections (within which business flourished quite fine, thankyouverymuch), has increased global terrorism, has jailed a reporter for refusing to divulge an anonymous source, and continues to attempt to codify discrimination against a legitimate minority class. This is NOT a president who is interested in the tenets of conservatives. This IS a president who is pushing a progressive agenda of the Christian far-right.

So, those of you who read this and still support Bush. Look at the facts of his administration. Job loss, crappy economy, growing world hatred of America, over 1,700 American soldiers dead and thousands others permanently maimed, growing world terrorism, billions spent on the war, a more divided country than ever before. Things are not going well. Bush has the lowest approval rating of any second-term president in a long, long time.

After you've looked at the facts, tell me why you still support him. I would bet that it's because you feel aligned to his faith. You like the fact that he has a strong Christian morality behind everything he does. And also, you're afraid. You're afraid that putting a Liberal in his place might cause Osama to blow up more American buildings. You're afraid that taxes will go up. You're afraid that America will turn into a hedonistic cesspool of porn, drugs, and fags and that corporate America will be taxed and regulated into oblivion. Because if a liberal is put in charge, God help us all.

I am willing to admit that I could vote for a John McCain for president in 2008, depending on the alternatives. Could you ever see yourself voting for a Democrat? Can you see the difference between a Democrat and a liberal? Can you see the difference between a Republican and the Christian far-right? Which one are you?

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