Tax and spend? Damn straight!

Last night I actually bothered to watch the Democratic debate. Often times I just rely on the reports, but next week I actually get to vote, so I thought it was high time to check in.

I thought both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did very well, and I’m still undecided. But for this post, I’m not going to dwell on the candidates themselves. Instead, I want to point out one of the questions and the responses to it.

As part of a question on paying for health care, Doyle McManus asked Obama:

The Republicans are going to call you “tax-and-spend” liberal Democrats, and that’s a charge that’s been effective in the past. How are you going to counter that charge?

First of all, why ask a question loaded with a conservative talking point at all? Couldn’t it simply have been asked, “How are you going to pay for it?” But I don’t want to dwell on that either.

“Tax-and-spend” liberal is a long-standing and, yes, very effective label used by conservatives. Personally, I felt that Obama did pretty well, calling the Republicans out on being the party of fiscal responsibility after all of the financial damage they’ve done. But his answer still felt to me like he was dancing around the phrase itself.

I’m sick of liberals having to tip toe around these conservative labels. It’s similar to the dance liberals have to do around the word “liberal” itself. I would much rather see something like this:

Hell, yeah, I’m a tax-and-spend liberal!

Look, taxes are the price to pay to live in a civil society. Government has a legitimate and important role to play in the nation’s life. “We the People” use government, though our democratically elected representatives, to achieve common goals and produce common goods. Taxes are the way we get together and pay for those goals and goods. So, tax and spend? Of course! Give me a break!

Now, we can disagree about how to structure taxes and how to spend the money. But for crying out loud, stop taxing and spending altogether? What do conservatives want? Anarchy?! I think conservatives should either get serious or get their heads examined.

One more point – I’d much rather be a tax-and-spend liberal – helping people who can’t help themselves to achieve as much in life as possible – than a tax-and-spend conservative helping my already wealthy cronies to the hard-earned tax dollars of the rest of the nation.

Now, I realize that a nationally televised debate might not be the best place to say all of these things in exactly this way. But I sure think that liberals can start using this sentiment and this attitude when attacked with the “tax-and-spend” label, as they surely will be.

By the way, I’m well aware of the research that shows, basically, don’t use your opponents’ labels. It’s only bound to backfire.

I agree. We need our own language and our own approaches. However, we also need to be able to attack and redefine their talking points, as well. It’s a two-pronged strategy.

Let’s face it. Rhetorically speaking, liberals and progressives are largely fighting on conservative ground right now. Conservatives have defined the cultural environment. I say let’s put up the best damn fight we can on their ground, thanks to Doyle McManus putting us there, then slowly shift the fight onto our ground.

At least then we can avoid the uncomfortable tap dance.

P.S.

Here was a another take on the debate that addressed the tax-and-spend question.

Light posting this week

Unfortunately, it’s likely going to be light posting for the first half of this week.

As for today, on the civil liberties front, there is a big showdown today over the FISA bill. Check out Glenn Greenwald for a rundown and ongoing coverage.

Update

As a follow-up to my earlier posts on the importance of morality and “moral talk” to the progressive movement, Media Matters has this item on the use of the “values voters” label. This media cliche’ is part of the problem.

Two great liberal quotes

As I move forward with this project of simply stating my liberal beliefs, it’s important to remember a couple of people who have done the job so ably before.

John Kennedy
, 1960, accepting the New York Liberal Party nomination:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” If by “Liberal” they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of “Liberal.” But if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.”

And Bertrand Russel, circa 1947, in “Philosophy and Politics”:

The essence of the liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment. This is the way opinions are held in science, as opposed to the way in which they are held in theology.

On progressive liberalism, so far

In two posts yesterday (here and here), I tried to lay out what I thought the conservative movement was all about. I also said progressive liberals needed to watch out because, to my mind, they still don’t have a simple, easy-to-remember, easy-to-repeat message on what they stand for.

I don’t think I’ll reach a conclusion in this post, but here’s a first step. I’ll list what I think the progressive movement supports at this point. I’ll divide it into two groups:

Undoing the excesses of the conservative movement

  • Re-establishing the rule of law and checks and balances on power, both nationally and internationally
  • Re-establishing civil liberties protections
  • Ending the Iraq occupation
  • Encouraging diplomacy over militarism in foreign affairs
  • Turning away from the “war” model of fighting terrorists and extremists to a “police” model
  • Re-establishing the role for government in addressing social needs
  • Re-establishing “reality-based” policy making
  • Ensuring the separation of church and state

Moving toward a better future

  • Delivering on universal health care
  • Promoting equality of economic opportunity for all
  • Promoting equal rights for all
  • Addressing climate change and other environmental threats
  • Developing a sustainable energy policy that reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and the regimes that have them
  • Promoting fiscal responsibility and getting rid of pork barrel spending
  • Getting money out of politics through strict campaign finance reform
  • Ensuring fair trade, instead of “free” trade
  • Promoting science and science literacy
  • Addressing media consolidation and other media issues

So where does this get me in making a relatively short, clear, compelling statement on what progressive liberalism stands for? Well, not far, I’m afraid. I have more research and work to do. Look for the results over time. I’ll say three things for now though.

We need messages that are effective at the kitchen table. They need to be simple, truthful, morally satisfying, and accurate, all the while supporting the liberal cause.

The excesses of the conservative movement have plowed a wide path for progressive liberalism to take advantage of, but there remain two nuts to crack: national security and economic policy. Progressives need to prove that they can be strong on national security without being militaristic. They also need to better explain how and why the economy should be managed differently, both in the U.S. and globally.

And last, we need to remember that electoral politics is important, but changing the cultural environment is even more important. I’m not a religious person, but I think that Jim Wallis of the liberal Christian organization Sojourners has a great way of putting it:

“I have this metaphor of politicians with their wet fingers up in the air seeing which way the wind’s blowing. We think that by changing one wet-fingered politician with another you change society. But King and Gandhi and the great leaders knew that you change society by changing the wind. Change the way the wind’s blowing and it’s amazing how many people come along.”

And a final word to conservatives (well, maybe not, but for now anyway…)

As a final word on my two posts yesterday regarding what the conservative movement stands for, I want to reach out to people who consider themselves conservatives in the old-fashioned, mainstream way.

Do not continue to go along with what the conservative movement has become. Do not just follow these people out of loyalty to party, through inertia, or through dedication to a single issue. Please look back over my posts and remember what you are enabling.

I’ve often said I don’t blame people for voting for George W. Bush in 2000. His whole “compassionate conservative” deal sure sounded good. Gore had his own problems at the time. Heck, I was gearing up to vote for John McCain back then. (I wouldn’t vote for him now since he’s sided with the armchair warrior caste in his party and since he sidled up to the religious extremists just to have a shot at being president.)

But by 2004, the writing was on the wall as to where the creeps in the Bush administration were going to take things. Don’t make the same mistake and continue to enable these people that are running your movement, your party, and your country off the rails.

Bush administration “false statements”

Check out this report today from the Center for Public Integrity. It’s a systematic cataloging of the “false statements” made by Bush administration officials in the run up to the Iraq War. You can find lots of media coverage out there today on the study.

I haven’t had a chance to read the entire report, but from a quick scan, it is interesting how they call the focus of the report “false statements”, as opposed to “deceptions” or even flat-out “lies”. As a journalist, I can appreciate the difficulty in calling something a lie. A lie means that there was an intent to deceive – that the liar knew he or she was lying. But how do you prove that? No one can read minds, after all.

But as a citizen, I feel like I can say that the Bush administration lied, lied, and lied again to whip up support to go into Iraq. Okay, fine, it’s a sad but true fact that probably most (all?) politicians lie, but that said, it certainly matters what they lie about. They lied to push the nation into an unnecessary war, sacrificing other people’s children when they refused to serve themselves when their nation called, and depleted the country of resources necessary to fight the real enemy – Al Qaeda – and new crises, like the current economic meltdown that’s begun.

And let’s not forget the complicity of the national news media in adding to this push to war. Several, including “The New York Times” have published long analyses of and apologies for their credulous coverage. In fact, it was this colossal failure of the people at the supposed peak of my profession that contributed to my openly joining the progressive movement. As a citizen I saw that information will not set us free. Information needs a lot of help when it can be so well manipulated by power.

I don’t believe I’m usually so partisan in my posts, in the sense that I’m specifically calling out the Bush administration. But the Bush administration for me is not necessarily a Republican problem. It’s just the natural extension of the modern conservative movement. The conservative movement – with its radical views on national security, religion, and the economy – is the problem. And for a long time it hasn’t had any effective opposition. That’s why I support the growth of a strong, liberal progressive movement. Everything is riding on it.

More on libertarianism

Shows you where I’ve been the last couple of years – up to my eyeballs in multiple moves and raising kids. Apparently there was a dust-up over liberals and libertarians back in the summer of 2006.

The other day I linked to a post from a libertarian leader who looked at ways that liberals and libertarians can have common cause. I have to admit, there’s a lot about libertarianism that’s attractive to me.

I’m not alone in this. In June of 2006, the founder of the liberal web site dailykos.com, Markos Moulitsas, caused quite a stir when he described himself as a “Libertarian Dem”.

I’m largely on board with his view. I’m all for maximizing individual freedom from government intrusion. But to my mind, there are some important components missing from this simple idea, some of which kos gets at in his post, I should say.

First, its strikes me that freedom is more than just being free from interference. It’s also having your individual capacities developed to the point where you can lead as free of a life as possible. Without a solid education, your prospects of getting paid well are much lower, which in turn lowers your ability to enjoy the fruits of this life. Without your health and the healthcare to maintain it, you could very easily end up terribly sick or just plain dead – not very conducive to leading a free life. I think government can play a role in guaranteeing these prerequisites to a full and free life.

This leads me to my second point. Some might argue that it’s the responsibility of parents to guarantee these things. I agree, up to a point. We can never forget the role of sheer, dumb luck in our lives. Not everyone has the advantage of a supportive home life. Do we just condemn these children to a less fulfilled and free life? No, of course not. Can government alone do the job? No. But can parents alone to the job in every case? No.

Last, nothing in traditional notions of libertarianism seems to me to deal with the freedom lost to concentrations of economic power. Power not only comes from the government, with its legal monopoly on the right to use force to compel you to do something. The whims of great economic power can also dramatically alter the freedoms that people enjoy – jobs can be sent overseas, products can be kept off the market, and do I need to point out how the money tends to open lots of doors with politicians?

For a great discussion of the role of luck, check out Matthew Miller’s book, “The Two Percent Solution”. And for a great discussion of the roles of government, private enterprise , and civil society (meaning parents, family, communities, etc.), check out a book called “The Radical Center”.

Here’s some more reading. A fellow writer at dailykos responded to kos’ original post – watch out for the profanity, by the way.

More recently, columnist Michael Kinsley wrote just the other day about the virtues of libertarianism. A libertarian writer, Brian Doherty, soon responded with his own thoughts.

And just for the record, here’s that essay, “Liberaltarians”, I linked to in my first post on libertarianism.

Don’t call me a centrist

Yesterday, I quickly outlined some of my political beliefs. In total, according to my reading of current political definitions, they make me a liberal. But admittedly some of those beliefs tend toward the traditionally conservative side.

So, doesn’t that make me a centrist?

No. I absolutely reject that label.

First of all, it’s meaningless. Supposedly a centrist is trying to pave the way between two competing sets of political beliefs – the idea being that they borrow the “best” from each set. But on what grounds do they choose what to borrow? Being a centrist, per se, doesn’t say anything about what principles you’re trying to put into place or who you are trying to serve.

Second, centrism might be viewed as simply a willingness to rationally compromise on contentious matters. That’s fine as far as it goes. But what defines a compromise – a meeting in the center – is determined by what other political actors are able to accomplish. The conservative movement has pushed political life in this country so far to the right that meeting them halfway still leaves you leaning right.

Third, being a centrist – being willing to compromise – is not necessarily a good thing in and of itself. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to ending slavery. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to giving women the right to vote. Liberals were not about to compromise when it came to ending the American version of apartheid in the South.

And last, using the label “centrism” is exactly what the conservative movement wants. As I said before, they’ve stacked the political environment in their favor, and they’ve managed to demonize the word liberal itself. That has the effect of neutralizing their true political opposition. It’s better for people whose sympathies are with liberal causes to stand up and proudly proclaim it. That’s the way to political strength and viability. (See one of my first posts here.)

So what makes me a liberal?

I got to thinking more yesterday about how Google Adsense has connected the content of my blog to conservative advertisers, here (scroll down to the bottom).

Maybe the machine is on to something. So what makes me a liberal?

Well, as I’ve explained earlier, some things that I think are classically conservative have ended up in the liberal camp. But that’s not the whole story. Here’s some more:

I am opposed to religious fundamentalism, no matter what the religion is.

I support the separation of church and state.

I am opposed to free market fundamentalism. The so-called “free” market is not the solution to all of the world’s ills.

I think democratically elected government has a legitimate and important role in our society.

I support civil liberties as defined by legal tradition and Bill of Rights. I oppose the development of a police and surveillance state.

I support the rule of law.

I oppose militarism, which I define as an ultra-nationalist, “America right or wrong!”, violence-is-the-best-solution view of the world. Related to this, I oppose the idea that America has become and needs to act like an empire.

I think there are goods we hold in common in our society, and taxes are the way we pay for some of them.

I support campaign finance reform. People might have a right to earned wealth, but no one gave them the right to buy our politics, too.

I support expanded gay rights.

I oppose making all abortions illegal in this country.

Now, to my mind and by my reading of the current political climate, there’s stuff in here to satisfy both liberals and conservatives. “Aha!” you say, “So you’re a centrist!” Oh, no. Don’t pin that one on me. But that’s tomorrow’s post. And over time, I’ll write more about these ideas, so some of it might make more sense.

A note on the proper use of the English language

I looked at yesterday’s post and found that I had used an “a” where I should have used an “an”. Man, that drives me crazy. That’s why newspapers have copy editors. Anal? Sure, but my apologies anyway for mistakes made in haste as this blog rolls along.

Political lines continue to blur

Today I found an interesting article written more than a year ago by Brink Lindsey. He’s the vice president for research at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute.

This is normally not a person, nor a organization, that I would have found myself agreeing with. For a long time now, libertarians have been avid supporters and enablers of the conservative movement that has run this country off the rails. However, in this article, he finds commonality between libertarians and liberals and even suggests places where the principles and policies of the two groups can intersect. The title of the article is even “Liberaltarians”.

I’m not prepared to buy into the entire Washington D.C. libertarian agenda, which to my mind, still favors corporate and monied interests. However, it does make me think again, as I wrote in this post, about how labels are changing, and it’s up to the Progressive Movement to seize upon the opportunity to go on the offense, instead of always being on the defense.

A couple of follow-ups

Torture is immoral and more

Referencing my earlier post, torture is immoral. Period.

But on top of that, it’s ineffective and illegal.

Oh, and it’s simple to define, too. Just listen to the head of U.S. intelligence.

And on what I see as a related note, the head of the U.S. military wants to close down Guantanamo detention center because it’s damaging our reputation worldwide, which presumably is undermining our efforts against terrorism.

More science of morality

Digging through some stuff I had saved awhile ago, I came across more on the science of morality here and here.

And one last thing…

First let me say that what I’m about to write is not in any way intended to ask you to click on ads displayed on my blog. I’m not allowed to do that under the terms of the contract with Google Adsense. Only do so if you really want to.

That said, you’ve probably noticed that I use Adsense to post ads on my blog. As I understand it, Adsense periodically analyzes your posts and serves up ads that seem to correspond to the content.

Just now I spotted a simple ad that reads, “Hall of Shame: A list of companies that undermine traditional family values.” It’s for a collection of mutual funds that offer “a biblical choice when it comes to investing.”

I’m just guessing, but I think that the Adsense robots linked all of my morality talk with a religiously conservative advertiser.

That right there tells me that the Progressive Movement and liberalism have a long way to go with laying out our moral case in opposition to the conservative movement. At best, progressivism might have “socially responsible” investing, but that’s not the same thing as saying – and meaning – morally responsible investing.