Monday, October 18, 2010

wag more, bark less, part three - progressives

Okay, now for the other side. I see my views as having morphed over the last decade or so. I was never a hard-right conservative, just grew up with Republican voting parents. Politics was very attractive to me, thus I was a history/political science major in college, but people always took precedence over political debate and policy matters. I was raised to treat people right, no matter who they were , what they looked like, or where they were from. That was a matter determined by family and faith.

I remained fairly conservative throughout college and beyond, but bit by bit I began to change. I began to challenge the status quo assumptions that I had about government and how it relates to various groups in society. My circle of friends and associates grew more diverse - I was exposed to people from a greater variety of backgrounds and experiences - and I began to rethink issues in light of that. I realized the importance of our social responsibility to care for , as the Bible states, "the least of these". It was taking the mantra that I had learned as a child in interpersonal relationships and extending it to society at large and advocating for its application to the context of "We the People", in other words, government, which is all of us collectively.

So, here are the progressive/liberal answers as I see them, to the questions I have listed.
1. Worldview. See the world in terms of haves vs have-nots, or better yet, the fortunate and the less (or un-)fortunate. There is a sliding scale of need, and each one higher in fortune has a duty to help those less fortunate no matter where they are on the scale. As the Bible states we are "blessed to be a blessing"

2. Theology - Seeing the God of grace and forgiveness. The message of the Cross is all about grace. Law is not unimportant, but we must always remember that we are all human and flawed and that should temper our justice. This is a view that says you do good things because you are forgiven, not to be forgiven. There are a limited amount of things God has specified - some to do , some to avoid, but the majority of life is to be lived by principles, freely. God wants us to live freely, use our minds and hearts, and not be beggars fearing a lash if we step out of line. If we live this way we will treat others better, even when someone has made terrible choices -because , as the old saying goes "there, but for the grace of God , go I" .

3.Role of government . We are the government, not separate from it. Government is us acting as a whole to bring solutions to society. As the Preamble to the Constitution states, we the people established the Constitution to among other things , promote the general welfare, the common good.

4. Interpreting the Constitution: It is a living document , set up to be adaptable to changing times. Why do you think they included an amendment process, if it was to be set in stone? One of the key passages is the "necessary and proper" clause at the end of the list of Congressional powers. It was meant to be flexible.

5. Things government should be involved in. That is for we the people to decide. The size of government is not the key issue, effectiveness is. There are things which are better handled at a state or local level, and things that are better addressed nationally, so that there is a universal standard. We saw that dangers of states going their own way during the Civil Rights battles - individual liberties were protected only when we acted nationally.

6. The Branches of government: The courts should stick up the individual, to protect all rights (not just guns), and not just defer to established authority. The courts should act as a restraint against legislative or executive branch over-reach. Justice is about clearing the innocent, just as much as punishing the guilty. And criminal justice is about restraint , restitution, and rehabilitation, not just punishment. We have a system of checks and balances between our three branches of government and the Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) is not inferior -even though it is insulated (for good reason) from the popular will. Justice and civil liberties should never be up for a vote.

7 and 8 The relationship between the government and the people is a social compact. We agree together to work for the betterment of all. As Lincoln put it we have a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people"

As you can see there are real differences here. Maybe if we know more where we are coming from we can begin to see areas where we agree or we can compromise. We are one people, not split into opposing camps. Leave that to the shouters. Let us really debate and grow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

wag more, bark less, part two...the cons

In part one I talked about the divide I see politically on a national scale, and some questions that may shed light on why those differences exist. In this part two I will attempt to give what I think are the typical conservative answers to the questions.

1. World view - they view the world in terms of good people and bad people, with very little, if any, gray in between. They see that there are good people (themselves included), bad people, and then anyone that has not been firmly established in either camp. Those in-between are seen as suspect and presumed to be bad unless verified as good. They believe that people have to prove their innocence and they see life as a constant battle between good and evil, no rest for anyone.

2. Theologically they tend to be legalistic....believing that God is as strict as they are...ready to bang heads of those who step out of line...scripture is just a list of dos and don'ts and anything not clearly marked as either is off limits or must be individually checked out with God through prayer. This fear carries over into their political beliefs- hence the emphasis on law and order.

3. They view the government's role as protecting the good people from the bad people, and maintaining good social order, nothing more. They see it as the problem (to quote the conservative hero , Ronald Reagan), or the enemy , or as a necessary evil, separate from the people, not a part of it. In essence they see government as a hired gun, nothing more.

4. They are strict constructionists as far as constitutional interpretation. They share some version of the view of Supreme Court Justice Scalia, who has stated that the Constitution should be viewed through the original intent of the founders and that it is fixed in time. Their focus is on the enumerated powers and not allowing Congress to expand beyond what is expressly listed. They also put great weight on the 10th Amendment, that all powers not specifically designated to the federal government or prohibited to the states, are reserved for the states and to the people . They argue for a smaller and very much limited government.

5. Understandably they focus on:1.war and national security(protecting against those bad outside the country); 2. law enforcement (national, state, local) protecting against those bad within the country); and , 3. gun rights (making sure that when the other two entities break down that there is personal protection against the bad). Anything else is out of bounds. While they say they want government out of their lives they make exceptions and these are all in keeping with their worldview. Drug laws are okay, including policies against medical marijuana, because they see those who use drugs as bad. Laws that discriminated against gays, like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DOMA (against gay marriage) are see as okay, because they view gays as bad people. Union restrictions are seen as okay because they basically want businesses left to do whatever they want because they see business as good and as the fountain of freedom and democracy.

6. They elevate the elected branches over anything or anyone appointed - courts are seen to function only as an arbiter for good people and a punisher of bad. Thus mandatory sentencing guidelines are popular, since they don't want judges to have leeway , that would let bad people get away. They see criminal justice as being "lock away the bad guys for as long as you can", "anyone accused of a crime is automatically guilty". They view the courts as inferior to the legislative and executive branches. They accuse justices of being activist if they attempt any sort of judicial review -elevating the "peoples' will" over the rights of minorities.

7. Their view the relationship between the people and the government as a contract. This is not just because of their general pro-business outlook (stating "government should be run like a business) . But also because they view government as a necessary evil , a hired gun brought in to confront and control the bad in society. And hired help need only a contract - one that can be abrogated at any time when the hirer decides the hired is not performing his or her duties correctly. Basically an an employer/employee or master/slave relationship. Hence the"Contract with America".

8. They use the term "we the people" to denote common folk, people like them, but then describe anybody different as "out of the mainstream"...in other words, abnormal. So it would seem to me that when they talk about we the people, they only mean the "good", not everybody.

I know this is in some respects a broad generalization. I have seen trends and common themes come up in conservative talk throughout my life, from Nixon/Agnew, through Reagan, and again under Bush I and II. Recently there has been a lot more fear talk, which I think re-enforces the good/bad conflict that they see in society - including references to the "culture wars" (a term I particularly hate). This is why I believe these are their answers to the questions I have raised. And it explains some of what may at first appear to be inconsistency in their statements -like in terms of personal freedom (it is freedom for the good only, it would seem)

Does this describe you? It's not me...more on that in part 3.

Friday, October 15, 2010

wag more ,bark less..part one

We are a very polarized nation right now. Not just because there are differences between us but because many of those differences have been reduced to slogans, signs, and shouting. There is a wide chasm between those on the right and those on the left, with many feeling they have been dropped into the abyss between. And while some would attempt to build a bridge others (on each side) are trying to burn it down. Did we forget we are all Americans, members of one nation?

Part of the reason is that we see political differences as having moral components - a right and wrong answer, and no room for compromise or accommodation. We have let our emotions run wild and put our minds on hold. Not that passion is not important. But without a rational/reasonable mind to establish boundaries our political discourse runs amok.

It is time for all of us to go back to basics and figure out what we believe politically, why we believe it, and realize that in our pluralistic democracy it is okay if we disagree, as long as we do it peacefully. I will attempt, in this three part blog series, to outline what I see as the two major current lines of thought on politics, and the reasons why. This is not to say that these are the only ways, since I believe that there is a continuum of thought that stretches from one side to the other. But it is meant as a starting point for discussion. I will also let you know where I stand and why.

I believe that most people see government in one of two ways,conservative or liberal/progressive, generally. I believe this is based at least in part on their worldview - how they categorize people. This is formed partly from personal and family experience and partly from their spiritual views, whether individualistic or organized-religion based. Their worldview influences how they view the role of govt,interpretation of the Constitution,the functions and limits of govt,and their involvement in it.

I believe there are several questions that we need to ask ourselves to examine the foundations of our own political philosophy. Ask yourselves these questions and then in the next two parts I will discuss how and why I see the two sides answering these.
1. Worldview...how do you view the world,specifically how do you divide up or categorize the people in it? Is it good vs bad? Have's vs have-not's? Fortunate vs unfortunate? Or something else?
2. What is your concept of God/higher power? For those who believe in God,we see an ultimate authority and the way we view God influences how we view our relationship to any other authority. Legalism or grace, justice or forgiveness, what is the attribute that predominates in your mind?
3. Role of government -what is it , a separate entity, or part of or an extension of us(we the people)?
4. How do you interpret the constitution..is it fixed in time, or a living document that flexes to handle the changing times?
5. what areas do you see the government having a proper role in , what not, and why?
6. what role do you see for the different branches of government , especially the courts?
7. what is the relationship between the government and the people...is it a contract or a compact?
8. and, finally, just what do you think is meant by "we the people"?

Most of what we see in political debate today would have us believe that there is a fixed wall between left and right and no way to bridge it. I believe, however, that most people are somewhere in the middle and don't know what they believe or why. There is much passion without thought, which some use to their own ends. There is hope for dialogue and solutions if we first understand where we are coming from and try to work things out instead of always fighting inflexibly.

To quote a recent bumper sticker "Wag more, bark less"....it's not just for dogs:)