Saturday, August 6, 2011

Don't call me a "liberal"

I try not to write about politics any more than I can help, but recent events have agitated me to the point that I can't actually hold my tongue (or my fingers, I guess) anymore.

It seems that every time I get into a discussion with more rightward-leaning friends or acquaintances, or witness such a discussion secondhand, the phrase "you liberals are all the same" will eventually be fired, turning the discourse from the topic at hand to a question of ideology. Of course, in this case the ideological divide is pre-framed between patriotic, God-fearing Americans who believe people should take responsibility for their actions and live within their means, and homosexual socialist muslim-atheist abortion peddlers who want to drown us all in crack babies, taxes, and bureaucratic red tape. An extreme -- though sadly not unique -- example appeared yesterday on in the comments to an article on the Texas drought.

As you can see, reactionary idiotic rudeness is not limited to any single political viewpoint.

This is usually the point at which I disengage from the conversation. But just to be on the record, I want to state unequivocally that I am not a "liberal." Yes, it's true that I am happy that government exists, that they make sure our railroad tracks are all the same size, and that no one feeds us dog meat and calls it beef.* I believe in liberal ideals like "science" and "education," and I somehow manage to see the economy as a part of our environment, instead of the other way around. I like roads, and bridges, and schools, and I think I'm glad they are not all built and controlled by private companies. At least not yet.

Speaking of roads, bridges, and schools, people build fortunes using our public roads and bridges, the government-developed internet, and labor from our public schools, colleges, and universities. Their overseas interests are protected by our federally funded armed forces. I take some issue with those same people acting like they did it all themselves, and that any attempt to reclaim some of their profits to continue funding that infrastructure is somehow immoral.

And admittedly I find it a little difficult to blame all of our problems on the poor. True, they did trick the banks into signing them up for those subprime mortgages and ruin our economy, but I think that may have been a lucky shot. Mostly they seem to work hard and die early. Oh, that's right. They clog our emergency rooms and raise health care costs. And fill our privatized prisons. I almost forgot.

On the other hand, I'm okay living in an armed society, but I don't try to kid myself into thinking that it makes us safer. I think people should work if they can, though I also think it would be great if we could help create jobs for those on the edges.

I think government is best that happens closest to the people. I don't believe that government -- especially central government -- should regulate our personal behavior, child-rearing, morality, or religion to the extent that they do. And I'm more than willing to debate what level of social safety net we will provide, and what level of food, shelter, and medical services should be guaranteed to those who cannot afford to pay.

But what part of thinking that government should stay out of people's medical decisions advances the idea of the nanny state? Why is government subsidizing higher populations, crappier food, or overseas companies in my interest as an American? Why is it so patriotic to give away our shared resources to multinational corporations, allow them to do whatever damage they desire exploiting them, and then socialize the cost of cleaning up their mess? And what part of "small government" requires us to maintain a military presence in over 130 countries?

European social democracies -- as we know, the most evil of all forms of government -- tend to have taxes about twice as high as what we pay (or are supposed to pay) in the U.S. But every business owner knows what they are getting in exchange for that money. They don't have to pay health insurance premiums. They don't pay for retirement benefits or disability insurance. They don't pay separately for infrastructure that the government provides. They pay less for well qualified workers than comparable American companies, even though the cost of living is higher.

What do we get in return for our tax money? The biggest chunk goes to hospitals and doctors who work around the clock to help eighty-eight year olds survive to be eighty-eight and a half. It goes to pharmaceutical companies that sell drugs here for ten times what is paid in other countries for the same compound, because insurance will pay it. The prices are justified to cover their R&D costs, because no one can live without a cure for Restless Leg Syndrome, Low-T, or any of the other made-up ailments about which we are supposed to "ask our doctor." The truth is that in their rush to be the first to market, pharmaceutical companies pay for full scale trials of huge numbers of drugs that turn out to be neither safe nor effective, instead of taking the slower but massively less expensive route of small preliminary trials. It's far easier to make up ailments for drugs that make it through the process than it is to create drugs from scratch that treat something we care about.

The next biggest chunk goes to defense contractors to develop advanced weapons that will never be needed, perform studies that show we need them, build computer and communications systems to control them, and (increasingly) provide private soldiers to supplement our depleted armed forces. We burn tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of gallons of fuel per day to drop $20,000 bombs from $50 million dollar airplanes onto sheep herders and farmers who live mostly without electricity. Increasingly, this work is done by fighter pilots in bunkers in the U.S. flying unmanned drones a world away. The percentage of our country's defense budget that goes to soldiers and their families is pitifully small.

For that matter, why is it only about money? Surveys and studies consistently find that -- beyond a certain subsistence level -- money is not what makes people happy. It's family, and fellowship, and good health. Safe streets and good schools. Culture, nature, and a sense of belonging. Why aren't we pursuing these things as a nation, as well as economic growth?

Please ask yourself these questions. I would love to hear any answers that don't involve personal insults or vague cultural stereotypes. Just don't call me a liberal.

* I'm disgusted enough at the stuff they do let people feed us.  Mechanically separated chicken anyone? I would hate to think what would happen if government were much smaller. Also, before the Civil War, every railroad company laid tracks of whatever size fit their own locomotives. It was only possible to drive to the edge of their territory without moving everything to a different train.


  1. nice rant. needs a broader audience... Newsweek "My Turn" comes to mind.

    i still believe that the 20% whacknuts on the extreme right and left drive much of the "stoopid" we see... maybe those numbers have grown over the past 10 years.

    but there are a helluva lot of us in the middle. i want my freakin' country back!

    oh, and people who can do some basic math... Do they really believe that the president and congress should take a pay cut to balance the budget?

  2. Sadly, I feel part of this is the result of our media-saturated culture. Moderate, sensible positions do not attract nearly as much attention or passion as extreme ones. Hence, the extreme ones get the play, and consequently gain steam among people who are more likely to go with impulse and emotion than well thought out common sense. I have long advocated that "media literacy" (e.g.-the skills required to interpret bias, spin, manipulation in the information we receive) needs a greater emphasis in our education system.

  3. I recall riding in cars in the 1970's with my Step-Dad behind the wheel. In traffic, he would scream and gesture and 'talk a blue streak' (Mom-speak) about everyone outside the car who were not driving (or walking) the way he thought they should. At home, he would occasionally shout at TV newscasters. In person, however, he was always a fault.

    Who was my Step-Dad? He was a reactionary idiotic rude old man who also was intelligent enough to know when to filter himself. No different, today, than those who comment on the internet.

    I think of all the people who thought they knew my Step-Dad but who never witnessed the guy who shouted, "Pick a fuckin lane you miserable cunt!" or "They otta throw all em longhaired draft-dodgein-fags in the slammer!" His filtered-self was who he really was. He was a conservative reactionary hypocritical asshole (who taught me at an early age what type of a person I didn't want to become).

    I'm fine with the 'liberal' label...I'm the same in person as I am (here) as a commenter.

    Never a hypocrite.

    Thanks for this post, it is what a good article should be: well written as well as thought and conversation provoking.

  4. Clearly you're a closet meteorologist.

  5. Thoroughly enjoyed the ravings of a closeted liberal. This needs a wider audience so I am recommending my friend Jane read it - her blog readership is huge -- loved the comment by the Chris above, and agree about the media deficit...I would be embarrassed to say I worked as a journalist today.

  6. I'm a "bleeding heart liberal" and proud of it. Amy sent me over. What a very well-written post. I'll be posting it to my FB page.