Saturday, June 19, 2004

Liberal Strawman

John Gallagher writes:

Bill, I think you have set up a strawman of liberalism. Your liberals want everyone to have an equal income, don't believe in freedom, cannot think clearly, cannot engage in rational discourse, insist that all their fellow liberals toe the party line, don't believe in morality and want to wipe out religion. In other words, liberals are mushy minded communists. This sure doesn't sound like most of the liberals that I know!

BV: Thanks for writing, John, but you are misrepresenting me somewhat. I said nothing about equal income; I was talking about equality of outcome. I don't believe I said that liberals are against freedom, but that they sacrifice liberty for equality. Nor did I say that they don't believe in morality, but that their animus against religion (Christianity in particular) has the effect of lowering moral standards throughout the society.

>>...the liberal tendency is toward bigger and more intrusive government<
There is a disturbing tendency to bigger and more intrusive government and recently this tendency has been driven by conservatives. Who gave us rampant corporate welfare and the Patriot Act? Hint: It wasn't liberals.

BV: I think it is self-evident that conservative doctrine calls for a limited government of enumerated powers. Liberal doctrine, on the other hand, does not involve the same sort of commitment to constitutionally limited government. Note that I want to keep the debate on the level of doctrine. Since all the momentum since the time of FDR has been in the direction of bigger government, you can't expect the likes of Reagan and Bush to do much to slow it down. But you want an ever-expanding government, don't you? If so, how can you liberals criticize Bush for not slowing its growth? There is something strange in the way liberals argue. You criticize Bush for not doing something that you wouldn't want done anyway.

As for the Patriot Act, it bothers me too. But we wouldn't need it if liberals like Clinton had taken the terrorist threat seriously back in '93 when the first WTC attack occurred. The trouble with liberals and lefties is they are soft on defense and tend to underestimate the nastiness of human nature. Hence they don't take threats to national security as seriously as they ought to. If it weren't for resolute Commie fighters like Nixon, Kennedy, and Reagan, we would still have the Soviet Union to contend with, and might even be speaking Russian now. (Kennedy was a Dem, but not a lib in the contemporary sense of the term.)

>>the liberal tendency -- a tendency exemplified to a greater or lesser degree in individuals who classify themselves as liberals -- is towards erosion of standards, confusion of things that are distinct (e.g., equality of opportunity and equality of outcome), absurd exaggerations of sound principles (e.g., taking freedom of speech to license any sort of speech)<<

Examples of some liberals who want equality of outcome? What sort of speech do you think should be banned? Pornography perhaps?

BV: Every liberal who supports Affirmative Action wants equality of outcome. For example, someone who favors racial quotas is committing himself to the notion that if Blacks, say, are 12-14% of the population, then they should be 12-14% of the professoriate. That would be percentage-wise equality of outcome. People like this often argue as follows: since there is no equality of outcome, then there could not have been any equality of opportunity. But that is an obvious non sequitur: such people fail to consider that outcomes depend on what individuals do with their opportunities.

Your second question shows that you are not reading me carefully.
I said that the liberal tendency is to take freedom of speech to license any sort of speech. I didn't say anything about banning any speech. When you fail to meet my point head-on, and instead impute to me something I did not say, then you reinforce me in my belief that liberals do not think clearly.

>>liberals have become extremists.<<

Funny, I feel the same way about conservatives many of whom want to dismantle the social safety net. Most Americans would consider this extremism.

BV: 'Dismantle' means to take apart. Name a conservative that wants to do this. Consider Social Security. I think it ought to be gradually phased out and replaced with something better, namely, a system in which each worker has his own IRA-type account. I wouldn't call that dismantling but improvement.

>>It seems to me that contemporary liberalism has little to do with liberty, and a lot to do with the enforcement of (material as opposed to formal) equality. Liberty and equality pull in opposite directions. Liberals and leftists make a fetish of equality.<<

Again, some examples please. Which liberals are advocating material equality as a principle?

BV: Every liberal who is a socialist is an example. The socialist ideal is equality of outcome, equality of condition, a society in which there are no disparities in wealth and power. Note that contemporary liberals are not classical liberals since their main commitment is not to liberty but to material equality. This comes out in the things they say. Ralph Nader and so many others will often start our their talks with some such statistic as that 10% of the people control 90% of the wealth -- or whatever. The assumption here is that there is something wrong with some having more than others, that there is something wrong with economic inequality AS SUCH. But that is not self-evident; indeed, I'd say it is false. The net worth of Bill Gates vastly exceeds that of my own; but where is the problem with that? In fact, I hope he becomes trillionaire. For then he will pay even more in taxes, contribute more to charity, provide more jobs for people, etc.

If socialism is defined as government ownership of the means of production, then only some liberals are socialists. But all contemporary liberals want to move in the socialist direction, while people like me think we have gone too far in the socialist direction.

>>slandering your a liberal-leftist tactic.<<

Perhaps, but it's also a extremist right tactic. Witness any of the recent books by Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity where liberals are called treasonous slime or worse. Listen to any right wing talk radio host.

BV: I've read both of Coulter's books, Treason and Slander, albeit quickly and not completely. She is an extremist, no doubt about it. But I'll buy you a pint of Hefeweizen if you can find one place where she uses the expression 'treasonous slime' or something worse. She does use the expression 'treasonable' which sounds like a lawyerly weasel-word, and she implies something quite absurd, namely, that every Democrat is treasonable. The obvious counterexample to that is JFK, and of course there are others.

So we are going to basically agree about Coulter. But a mistake you and many liberals make is to lump all conservatives together. There is a difference between Coulter and Hannity. What's extreme about Hannity? I'll buy you a quart of Hefeweizen if you can find 'treasonous slime' in his book. And surely Al Franken is far nastier than Coulter. Have you looked at his book? He is a despicable person. He slanders people, then tries to excuse himself by saying it was meant as a joke.

Another mistake you guys make -- which also reinforces my allegation of sloppy thinking -- is that you cannot see the difference between Bill O'Reilly and conservatives. He is not properly classifiable as a conservative. Why not? Well, he has some liberal tendencies and positions. For example, he doesn't have the problem with pornography that Mona Charen does. He is also soft on the gun-grabbers. He criticizes Bush and Ashcroft. I've never understood why libs and lefties hate O'Reilly so much. He is a national treasure. He has balls of brass and takes on powerful corporations that promote thug rappers like Ludacris. O'Reilly hatred is irrational, like liberal hatred of Bush.

Some pundit brilliantly quipped: "If Bush walked on water, liberals would complain that he swaggered."

Now John, do you really want to commit yourself to the claim that ALL right-wing talk show hosts slander their opponents? O'Reilly, who is on the radio now, doesn't.

>>Imagine a disease one of the symptoms of which is that its victims routinely deny that they suffer from it. Political correctness is such a disease. It is a disease that makes plain talk and clear thought well-nigh impossible, including plain talk and clear thought about its own existence and nature.<<

Again, use of misleading language is not unique to the left. Bush and Cheney's recent assertion of "contacts" between Iraq and Al Queda, to suggest that there was some cooperation between the two groups is intended to confuse, not inform.

BV: The misuse of language is systematic on the Left, only episodic on the Right. But I can't trot out all my evidence at the moment.

>>Libs and lefties are quite confused when it comes to moral equivalence. They see it where it isn't, and fail to see it where it is. To illustrate the latter point, they cannot see, pace Slavoj Zizek, that National Socialism and Communism are morally equivalent.<<

Are there really any liberals who support Communism left? I thought they were all in museums.

BV: Yes, they hang out at publications like The Nation. Try to get any of those people to admit that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were atomic spies, when it is now known that they were. Ron Radosh, former Commie, is the man to read here. Try to get them to admit that Whittaker Chambers has been vindicated, and that Alger Hiss was a Commie and a spy.

>>Consider the free speech provision of the First Amendment. The Left, distorting this provision, uses it to justify every manner of cultural pollution. The reason we live in a toxic society teeming with hordes of barbaric idiots is because of liberal policies in education, entertainment, the criminal justice system. For example, consider the moral boneheads who oppose California's entirely reasonable 'three strikes' provision. You don't oppose that, do you?<<

Of course I oppose 'three stikes'. It eliminates judicial disgression [read: discretion] and loads up our prisons with people who don't belong there. I don't want my tax dollars used to lock up petty drug offenders. Even many conservatives are recognizing the need for sentencing reform now.

BV: Now I am willing to make a little concession to you here, just to show you what a nice guy I am, and how 'fair and balanced' I can be. The drug laws need reform. If one of the felonies (one of the 'strikes') is possession or growing of marijuana for one's own use,
then that should either not be a felony at all, or should not count as one of the 'strikes.'

But of course that is peripheral to the central issue. Suppose you've got a guy who has been convicted of rape, grand theft auto, and stealing $200 worth of merchandise from a Mom and Pop store. I say lock that SOB up for the rest of his life. Consider: a guy like this has probably committed hundreds of crimes before getting three convictions. And look: if you want a society worth living in, a society in which small businesses can survive, then you can't allow them to be nickeled and dimed to death by punks.

As you know, since 'Three Strikes' was enacted, crime in California has dropped dramatically. You don't think that it good?

The trouble with liberals is that they have such low standards. They make no demands on themselves or on others. Is it really too much to ask that people not rape, pillage, and drive while drunk?

>>Part of what disgusts me about liberals is their incapacity to think clearly. They seem incapable of seeing obvious distinctions. For example, to make a moral judgment is not to be 'moralistic,' nor is it to be 'judgmental.' To advocate a high standard of behavior that one only imperfectly satisfies is not to be a hypocrite. And so on, ad nauseam.<<

I agree, to have a high standard of behavior as an ideal does not make one a hypocrite. I just don't see this high standard of behavior on the right. I see justification for greed and corporate cronyism.

BV: One of my problems with the Left is that they will not stand up for high standards, partially becuase they lack them themselves, and partially because they think that doing so would be 'moralizing.' The way a liberal avoids the accusation of hypocrisy is by simply not espousing high ideals.

>>...there is not and cannot be a right-wing form of PC. PC by definition refers to left-wing positions and to a toe-the-Party-line mentality.<<

There is more of a toe-the-Party line mentallity among conservatives, than among liberals. Liberals are a diverse group, but you don't realize that, which is why we're having this conversation.

BV: Sorry, but I don't agree. Bill O'Reilly had Ann Coulter on the other night. He disagreed with her strongly about her assessment of the situation in Iraq. I've seen him disagree with Mona Charen. There are plenty of other examples. Yes, liberals are diverse; some are more extreme than others.

>>Don't confuse moral education with 'moralistic crap.' Now you are sounding like a hard Leftist: 'bourgeois' morality is just ideology in the service of economic and class interests. But that is Marxist rubbish.<<

Wow, you're really hung up on this liberals are communists thing.

BV: I never said that all libs are Communists, but only that there are Marxist elements in liberal thinking, e.g., the notion that moral discourse is mere ideology employed to legitimate existing socioeconomic relations.

>>There is plenty of high-level discourse on the Right. Read David Horowitz, Victor Davis Hanson, to name just two. But I agree that on the Left there is mostly just garbage.<<

I guess you would regard it as garbage with the strawman of the Left that you've constructed. It pretty much leaves out any intelligent liberals.

BV: It is just that liberals makes such absurd claims. For example, people like Brock deny that there is PC. Liberals typically deny that the major media outlets tilt to the Left, when they obviously do. That is not a matter of interpretation, but a matter of fact. Anyone who is objective can see it. For example, consider that the Abu Ghraib story has been on the front page of the NY Times over 50 times now, many more times than the Berg beheading story. That shows clear Leftist bias. Now, I have no problem with bias on the editorial pages; but this is on the front page which is supposed to be devoted to objective reportage.

Here is another example. Brock somewhere in his new book (I gave the citation before)characterizes as xenophobia opposition to failure to enforce immigration laws. That shows either stupidity, or willful distortion.

>>Lefties have lately been cozying up to Islamo-fascists - which suggests that their opposition to religion is not quite consistent: they are anti-religious, but make an exception in the case of Islamic fundamentalism. This is one of the reasons we speak of the 'loony Left.'<<

Man, I miss all the good stuff! Which liberals have been cozying up to Islamo-fascists? Give me their names. I'll revoke their liberal membership card for being un-PC!

BV: You are misquoting me. I said 'lefties' not 'liberals.' In any case, check out what has been going on on the campus of UC Irvine recently. People there have no problem with graduates wearing Hamas armbands at a graduation ceremony.