Page Two: Righting Wrongs

A position checklist of pragmatic politics

Page Two
Last week, this column was about the almost bizarre idealism of some right-wingers – certainly of many of the neocons who have convinced themselves that their take is realistic and clear-eyed, unafraid of political correctness, and hardcore. Really not based in much of any kind of reality, this view has consistently proved to be one of nostalgic, utopian fiction. The Iraqis did not welcome us as heroes, greeting us with flowers and kisses in the street. An inordinately large range of government failures clarified that basing hiring on ideological orientation rather than any professional skill plainly doesn't work. Sadly, the nostalgia of this view has more to do with the most depressing America-, Anglo-, and Christian-centric attitude than with any historical realities.

This self-glorifying perception is grounded in the certainty that its holders are neither blinded by rose-colored glasses, restrained by any naively misplaced humanist and/or biblical compassion, nor so weak-willed as to deny the gut-wrenching truths of life involving other peoples' ambitions, desires, unexplained hatred toward us, and, not so rarely, actual evilness. Even more ironically, those characterizations of "what they are not" also define the "crippling" beliefs of liberals/leftists/progressives. A core assumption of many right-wingers is that those on the left are inherently impractical and foolishly utopian – that even admitting to any kind of liberal/progressive beliefs evidences an unrealistic view of the world and a refusal to understand that people are neither saintly nor all "sisters and brothers."

Amazingly, in the wake of the staggering failures of ideologically based decision making, such right-wingers demonstrate not a doubt or hesitation about their beliefs. The failures are explained away as being due to poor implementation, overt left-wing sabotage, Democratic legislators' stonewalling, or the weaknesses of allowing "humanist" considerations to get in the way of going hardcore conservative enough.

While I in no way mean to suggest that many lefties are not too idealistic and unrealistic, the Bush administration's philosophically based actions not only clearly show that the right has lapped the left when it comes to delusional impracticality but suggest that several new generations of hallucinatory drugs have been developed and imbibed.

Writing a column like this one, for as long as I've written it, I've found that readers are often certain that they know my opinion on something – either from ideological context or because they are sure they've read it in my column. Their convictions are often not borne out by the printed record.

Sometimes this is because some of those with widely differing opinions are convinced that the beliefs of those on the left are monolithic, dogmatic, and universal, and thus easily "known," even by those who don't agree. Sometimes even some of those more sympathetic to the views expressed in this column are certain I've endorsed certain positions I haven't. It is not uncommon to read about my take on global warming (it, of course, being the leftist/Al Gore position), for example, when I've never expressed one. This is because I really haven't done enough reading and study on the topic to have a strong opinion. Certainly there is an enormous amount of reporting, discussion, and debate on this topic, so I'm well aware of the territory – but too much of the information in every direction either subtly or overtly evidences a bias and/or agenda. I suspect my take will be that both extremes – the sky-is-falling, humanity-is-at-an-end true believers and those who know that global warming is a complete hoax being perpetrated by environmentalist/fascist, one-world-government types as another means to rule – are way over the top. Such extremism on all sides distorts much contemporary political discussion.

I've read that I'm a communist and/or a socialist and that I'm an enemy of the free market system, opposed to making money. Again, as I disdain both socialism and communism, there is no way I ever advocated them, nor have I ever expressed any opposition to making money.

Truth be told, I think of my politics as very pragmatic and practical, based less on ideology and more on my real-world sense of things. Obviously strained through my sensibility, they are still just one person's opinions, but I have at least tried to come to my positions less through ideology and more by way of history and contemporary events. Below I will touch on the reasoning behind certain of my positions. Usually in this column, I at least try to cover every minor thoroughfare branching off from the highway of the main idea, mostly to protect the argument I'm making from being dismissed too easily because of a factor not considered or a potential not discussed (of course, many of my ideas are dismissed, so the emphasis here is on the "too easily"). What follows is just a brief checklist on some positions, so no discussion is fully rounded or being too carefully presented.

Iraq: I was against the invasion of Iraq not because I love tyrants or want to sit in a circle with my beautiful Islamic terrorist brothers and sisters singing "Kumbaya," nor am I a coward or a die-hard pacifist convinced that love will triumph. Instead, I found our focus on Iraq was confusing in that none of the 9/11 terrorists was in any way tied to that country, there was no significant evidence of any kind of strong relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and it seemed likely that the sanctions on Iraq were working. Even if there had been proof-positive that Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, there was virtually no evidence indicating if, how, and when he would use them. Toppling a sitting government without having lined up any native citizen leadership with the respect and power to replace it is sheer and obvious idiocy. Finally, a Christian nation invading a Muslim one seemed more likely to encourage and fertilize generations of terrorists than to dissuade them (see the end of this column).

The Social Safety Net: I strongly support it, but not because my heart is bleeding or I'm my brothers' keeper. Instead, it is that it is more than obvious that when there is a large socially, politically, and economically disenfranchised lower class that has no vested interest in nor identifies with the greater society, the potential for chaos is extreme. This isn't even speculation. Look at many countries in Central and South America: People live in gated communities and drive in convoys in cars with bulletproof glass. The children of the upper class face the constant threat of being kidnapped, and the easily corrupted, underpaid police leave civil society unbalanced. It is in the best interest of our grandchildren and their grandchildren to strive for an equitable, inclusive society in which opportunity for advancement is routine rather than extraordinary.

Although almost everyone, regardless of his or her own political ideology, may despise this idea, a multiclass society with an extensive and large middle class is inherently healthy in important ways. On the other hand, any society with a pronounced lower-class majority, not much of a middle class, and a distanced, relatively small upper ruling/owning class is almost destined for political chaos. Personally, I'm not as interested in the income gap between the poorest and richest as I am in the relationship of the lower classes' income to their basic needs. Regardless, the inclusion, enfranchisement, employment possibilities, education, and health of the poorest classes must be of concern to all, not for reasons of morality and compassion, but in the most practical way for the healthiest and safest functioning of the society.

Illegal Immigration: Again, no bleeding heart here. Instead, repulsion over a made-up, inherently racist, and unrealistic conflict. If the entire economics of the situation were considered dispassionately and not through the strainers of ideology, I suspect the situation will not be nearly as extreme, unfair, or dire as many suggest. Some state that illegal immigrants are largely criminals, exploitative, and dangerous, rather than useful, contributing members of society. The former view is based on exaggerated, anecdotal evidence, but if you want to see it become all too obviously true, go ahead with the consensus on what to do about illegal immigration. Labeling millions of mostly hardworking people as criminals as a salve to angry but mostly unaffected citizens, without any reasonable hope of or strategy for deporting them, has no other possible conclusion than to become self-fulfilling. Certainly, some will leave this country, but many will be forced to fulfill the legal recommendation by becoming criminals.

As with last week's column, this one is part of a strategy of exploring certain core ideas. Over the next months, there will be more to come.

I offer the excerpt below not to say "I told you so" or with any personal comfort or satisfaction but simply to argue that what has happened in Iraq was obvious and predictable to almost any observer before we invaded. Even the intense, ideological, bloodthirsty fervor, accompanied by tribal chanting and dancing, of the Bush administration, as well as its sometimes misleading and sometimes false analysis, still should not have been enough to convince so many observers. Yet when we invaded, as much as 75-80% of the population supported the president.

From one of the first "Page Two" columns following the invasion, March 28, 2003:

"The peace, unfortunately, is going to be more deadly and dangerous than the war, even if it were going as planned. The reverberations may well negatively impact world politics for generations to come. Instead of stopping terrorism, it may lead to more. Instead of ensuring our freedoms, it may cause them to deteriorate. Instead of protecting our grandchildren, it may expose them to greater danger. I pray these fears are unfounded. ...

"When I ask the question I keep asking, it is ignored. Nineteen men, most from Saudi Arabia, none from Iraq, boarded four American planes armed with box cutters: their short-term goal, to scar our nation and to destroy our sense of safety; their long-term goal, to bring our country down, to destroy our way of life, and to encourage an epic battle between the modern West and the Muslim world. Less than two years later, the U.S. has invaded two Muslim countries (one under religious leadership, the other secular), compromised our freedoms at home, and created the legislation and a government department designed to further eat away at the principles that define this country. What has happened that wouldn't thrill those terrorists, fulfilling their desires and visions? ...

"As terrible as this war is, the next chapter is scarier. Without even raising questions about Iraq, the Middle East, and the rest of the world, there are so many concerns. Which voices will predominate? What will happen after the next terrorist incident on our soil, and who will be blamed? How much will the war and its aftermath end up costing? How will this affect our already slowing economy, especially coupled with a deficit budget (that barely acknowledges those costs) and massive tax cuts? When the cherished right-wing goal of reducing big government is achieved, the social safety net mostly dismantled, public education and health funding severely diminished, what will the real-world consequences be for most Americans?"

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right-wing ideology, Iraq war, social safety net, immigration, Page Two

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