Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why Does the Right Hate Obama So Much? Part 2: Ultra-Nationalism vs. American Exceptionalism

I asked for Conservatives to explain the seeming-hatred directed at President Obama from the Right in this country, and I got some great, detailed, thought-provoking responses. I could quibble about little things (Is it Obama’s fault that Congress choose to pass a law that essentially gives law-making power to the Executive branch? That seems more like a good reason to detest a Congress that has been consistently eroding its own constitutional authority for over a hundred years.) but I think it’s safe to say that the most fundamental objection to Obama stems from the belief that he does not ascribe ardently enough to the notion of American exceptionalism. (Correct me if that’s not the fundamental concern.)

I’m still not aware of any particular policy decisions which definitively prove this theory. Sure, Democrats are always for being multilateralists when they make use of organizations like NATO or the U.N. There’s a pretty distinct double-standard on these groups when it comes to the way they are employed by Presidents of different parties. Beyond those, I’m not sure what Obama has officially done. But I am aware of the things he’s said and written, and I think words matter and should fall into the “actions” category I asked for. These words also relate directly to the question of Obama’s interactions with our allies. One of the charges is that Obama has lowered our standing with them. I tried to find some data to back up this claim. It turns out that our standing, at least as measured by polling, has dramatically improved under Obama, at least in the numbers I could find. In the year he took office, we made dramatic gains. Check out page 5 of this report. A more recent article details the improvement based on polling data throughout the world. Part of this might simply be a reaction to the global antipathy toward Bush, a world-wide sigh of relief. But we should also be willing to consider the possibility that Obama’s speeches made in other countries, and his comments regarding our own which have been broadcast around the world, have increased our soft power, something Conservatives like Donald Rumsfeld reluctantly acknowledged is absolutely essential to defeating terrorism and undermining tyrants around the globe.

Take, for example, the situation between the U.S., Britain, and Argentina regarding the Falklands, pointed out by one of the commenters. Despite the anti-Obama slant to the article, it can’t identify any actual harm done by the Obama administration’s advocacy of diplomatic talks between the British and Argentine government over the islands. Perhaps it will tick off the British, but they remain among our strongest allies in the world and like Obama a lot more than American Conservatives do. But look at the flip side. Chavez is a nutjob. He’s on TV in his country for four hours or more a day, ranting about how the evil imperialists in America only want to destroy Argentina. He gets up at the U.N. and calls Bush names to increase his popularity back home. Now he’s been undermined in the eyes of his people. We’re not crazy. We’re also not capitulating or “tossing our allies under the bus as appeasement.” Chavez didn’t get the Falklands. He didn’t even get a sit-down with the British. He was just made to look foolish.

Or consider the case with our relationship with Israel. Obama has taken a beating for saying that negotiations related to the two-state solution should start with the pre-1967 borders and then be worked out in a series of land swaps. This is exactly what the Bush roadmap said, too. The problem is that the Israelis, though desiring the pre-1967 borders as a starting point and demanding land swaps in order to maintain control over Jerusalem, didn’t want their ultimate bargaining position stated aloud. They wanted to demand more, then work to the place that Obama announced. As someone who’s been involved in formal negotiations (of the contract variety, not the peace-in-the-middle-east kind) I understand not wanting to have your final position made public. I also understand that the President is rightly frustrated with the Israeli government’s continued construction of new settlements which the Israelis know they will just demolish later, and which rile up the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab word. Putting pressure on the Israelis might piss them off, but it won’t really diminish the ultimate settlement because the tough negotiating will be about the land swaps themselves, and they already knew we expected those as part of the Bush roadmap. Obama might have hurt himself with Conservatives, both in Israel and in the U.S., but he didn’t really give anything to the Palestinians and he undermined the Jihadist Imams who want to paint Israel and the U.S. with the same brush when Israel is doing things that the U.S. has long opposed. Creating a little political distance between ourselves and Israel is in our national interest, especially if it can be done so inexpensively; Israel didn’t really lose anything, Palestine didn’t really gain anything. The only losers were terrorists and Obama’s ratings in Florida. I’d call that a gutsy move. The Israeli ambassador might say that our nations’ relationship is in the worst shape it’s been in in 35 years, but at the end of the day Israel is still completely dependent on us for their security (their soldiers might be bad-asses, but they are bad-asses holding American guns) and we will continue to provide them with all the necessary security guarantees. Again, a net increase in America’s soft power.

But did these increases in our soft power need to come at the expense of our projected notion of American exceptionalism? Perhaps. It depends on what we mean by that. I think that might be the crux of the conservative antipathy towards Obama. If I am understanding the conservative definition of American exceptionalism correctly, conservatives would prefer a weaker America as long as it fits into a very specific definition of “American,” to a stronger America which fits the definition of “American” actually held by the majority of its people.

My friend who comments as Green Globule writes that conservatives are “not looking across the ocean for a better model.” This is ironic, since the term “exceptional” was first applied to America by Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman. If he’s not a guy from across the ocean who is responsible for this particular model, then perhaps credit should go to the first people to use the phrase “American exceptionalism.” That would be The American Communist Party of the 1920s, who used it to describe why they thought the Great Leap Forward would take a long time to occur here. Only, their definition isn’t really the modern Conservative variant, because they believed it was our “natural resources, industrial capacity, and absence of rigid class distinctions” that would postpone the working class from rising up and offing the rich. When modern Conservatives talk about American exceptionalism, I don’t think they’re talking about our coal deposits or the fact that we don’t self-identify as working-class and aristocrats. Green Globule points to our freedom of speech and our right to bear arms. On these grounds, I think Obama fares very well. Though he talked about closing background check loopholes to prevent the mentally ill from getting guns in the wake of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting (any talk about guns from a Democrat raises red flags with some), he is also the first modern Democratic President, to my knowledge, to acknowledge the second amendment is an individual rather than a corporate right. That is huge, coming from a legal scholar who could tell you every argument from those who say it’s a corporate right based on the placement of a comma, and who often avoids politically impossible questions by laying out both sides, slowly, methodically, until the questioner gives up. Obama went out on a limb to say that, angering some gun control folks on his left, and has expanded the right to carry guns into national parks (a particularly big deal in Alaska, where much of the state is National Parks and where you really want to be armed). So if American exceptionalism is the right to bear arms, Obama should be in pretty good standing with Conservatives.

And what about free speech (my personal favorite of our rights)? I think this, along with the other rights guaranteed in the first amendment, is actually the most important element of what makes America great. I think the FCC should be allowed to regulate frequencies so my remote control car doesn’t show up on my radio and so my radio doesn’t control my remote control car. Beyond that, I’d get rid of it altogether. Want to burn a flag? Fine. It’s a stupid protest. It doesn’t tell me what you’re opposed to, specifically. Do you hate CIA intervention in Pakistan, or hate cotton? Mostly it just tells me you don’t like my country, which makes me less inclined to listen to what you have to say. But I love that we have the right to do it. Want to call the most conservative news network “fair and balanced”? Go right ahead, and if people believe that then maybe they’ll also believe I can bench 500 lbs., I’ve climbed Mt. Everest twice, and I have a credit score that makes me worthy of a loan of ten billion dollars. I love, love, love free speech. As an English teacher, it’s my livelihood. Without it, I’d be a propaganda teacher, and that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as my job. As a novelist, it’s my hobby. As a video game playing, novel reading, internet addicted movie buff, my life is pretty much free speech and sleep. So what has Obama done to diminish free speech? What has he done to diminish the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly, or the freedom of religion? Tonight, at the first Republican debate, the candidates fell all over each other discussing Islam, with one candidate saying no Muslim would serve in his cabinet (at least not the kind of Muslim who would want to kill us) and another comparing Muslims to communists and Nazis. And which party has been at the forefront of the movement to censor the arts? Or to pass laws preventing flag burning (which later had to be overturned by the Supreme Court)? In fact, aside from protecting the rights of corporations to donate anonymously to campaigns (Scalia says Democracy is a full contact sport when it comes to signing petitions, and I agree, but apparently the anonymity of a political donation is part of its “speech”) how have Conservatives protected the freedom of speech better than Liberals? This might be part of a libertarian’s definition of American exceptionalism (and is the place where I’m most on board with libertarianism) but it cannot be the bedrock of modern Conservatives’ definition.

Is a Conservative’s definition of American exceptionalism based on our freedom from government intrusion into our lives? That depends on what you want to be free to do. If Brian wants to marry Larry, even if most Americans want these guys to have this right, even if the state can show no definitive reason why their marriage should be prevented which is not based in a particular religious ideology, even if Brian and Larry live in a different state that wants to give them permission to do so, it’s Conservatives who want the government to step in and tell them they can’t. And if a woman and her doctor decide she needs an abortion, Conservatives want the government to step in and stop that. In fact, when the Supreme Court says the government can’t stop that, Conservatives busy themselves passing state laws that tell the doctor he has to wait a period of time, show her an ultra-sound of the fetus, give her a lecture filled with demonstrably false information about the dangers of the procedure, and then complete the procedure before the delay they caused! Want to buy some marijuana for the pain from your chemotherapy? How about an OD on opiates because you’re in misery from an untreatable illness? No, the Conservative’s definition of American exceptionalism can’t be based strictly on freedom. Just some freedoms. The ones they like.

Maybe it’s based on our wealth. We are the richest nation in the world, in total terms. That means that we’re the richest people, on average. Of course, that is of great consolation to people who don’t know the difference between a median and a mode. But if you try to do anything to help more Americans enjoy that wealth, you are a socialist or a communist, a redistributor of wealth, an oppressor who makes slaves of the poor through the soft bigotry of low expectations. (Modern Conservatives do not like this kind of slavery. They did protect the other kind, though, because, as Green Globule points out, Conservatives “first concern is against new mistakes, especially those at the national level which are hardest to undo.” You know, like the 13 Amendment barring slavery. Somebody had to make sure we didn’t jump to that decision too hastily, right?) But some Conservatives are threatening to refuse to up the debt ceiling (in exchange for concessions to limit a woman’s liberty to get a Pap Smear at a Planned Parenthood, no less) and that is the single quickest way to make sure the U.S. is no longer the wealthiest nation in the world, so this can’t be the foundation for Conservatives’ definition of American exceptionalism, either. Oh, and if our wealth were the measure of American exceptionalism, Conservatives would feel lukewarm about Reagan, the first Bush, and Obama, hate George W. Bush, and their favorite President of the last thirty years would be Bill Clinton.

Or maybe it’s our military might. This strikes me as unlikely, since there’s a great deal of dispute within the Conservative movement about whether we should be isolationists, shoring up our military defenses, or neo-conservatives, flexing our military muscles abroad to protect our global interests. Regardless, Obama seems to have split the difference. He hasn’t over-extended the military the way the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict have, but did double-down on Afghanistan and has shown he’s perfectly willing to use the military in Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan. You can take issue with some of those choices (I certainly do), but I don’t see how he could generate such hatred by splitting the difference in the other side’s internal debate.

So, if it’s not our 1st or 2nd amendment rights, it’s not our freedom from government intrusion into our lives, it’s not our wealth, and it’s not our military might, what is the definition of American exceptionalism which Obama lacks? I have a theory.

I think the Conservative definition of American exceptionalism is tautological. In essence, they believe America is better because it’s America, and Americans are better because they’re American. Only, their definition of American is only the Conservative they see in the mirror. This can be pretty easily demonstrated. Conservatives do not like it when you point out that America has made mistakes. Liberals get pilloried for this. But ask a Conservative if the majority of Americans were right to cast a ballot for Barack Obama, and they’ll tell you it was a mistake, that we are “on the wrong track.” If you talk about how we were wrong when the CIA assassinated Allende, the democratically elected leader of Chile, they’ll call you unpatriotic. But the Bay of Pigs Fiasco? A Democrat’s mistake. The whole Constitution should be read from the floor of Congress because it’s perfect, right? Now, who wants to read that 3/5ths part?

My friend Derek wrote, “Conservatives hold America as a country and an ideal in the absolute highest regard. We do believe America is exceptional. We do believe in a Divine blessing on this nation. Therefore we reject anyone who would do any thing to diminish that exceptionalism as Obama has by apologizing for America…” First of all, even when I was a Christian, I found that notion of a Divine blessing abhorrent. The idea that God prefers Americans not only shows a lazy or willful misreading of scripture, but it’s offensive not just to people outside our borders, but to Christians here, too. It reminds me of those post-game interviews when the reporter stick the microphone in the face of the star of the winning team and he thanks God for the victory. Yeah, because God preferred your team. And you’ll lose next week because God is wishy-washy. If this is the bedrock of the Conservative definition of American exceptionalism, then that God prefers the country where one of the founding principles is that the government of that country shall establish no religion which might acknowledge His preference. That God is either very humble or quite stupid.

As for apologizing for America, Green Globule echoed this sentiment somewhat when he wrote, “When I read Dreams from my Father, the one thing I was looking for above all else was that he loved and respected this country and that he believed in it. I found nothing of the sort, and generally only the opposite.” Here’s the lynchpin of the difference between the Conservative definition of America and the Progressive’s: Obama is considered un-American because he points out that America isn’t perfect. That’s considered “apologizing for America.” I shouldn’t have to write this, but for an African American growing up in the 60s in America, the country wasn’t perfect. Men were being lynched for having skin the same color as his just when he was trying to figure out his racial identity. Acknowledging that doesn’t mean a person hates America, or is apologizing for it. Recognizing that fact, and many other negative facts about American history, is part and parcel of the Progressive’s definition of American exceptionalism: America keeps getting better! We started out with slavery written into our Constitution, but we got better. Women couldn’t vote, but we got better! Children had to work twelve hour shifts, seven days a week, in dangerous conditions, but (thanks to Big Government nanny-state regulations) we got better! Somebody else invented the automobile, but we built it cheaper, faster, and better! Somebody else made it into space first, but we got to the moon! We mistreated lots of different groups of our fellow Americans for a host of deplorable reasons, and we still do, but to diminishing degrees because we keep getting better! Hell, Democracy was invented by other people, and, Green Globule, they lived “across the ocean,” but they are dead and gone and we are still here making it better. And someday we will take gay marriage and some variation on national healthcare and we’ll just keep on getting better.


But it’s not a fait accompli that we’ll just go on making it better. The single biggest threat to what really makes America great is the idea that our greatness is finished, that we don’t need to look across the ocean for new ideas to take and improve because we can just sit on our hands as Americans and God’s divine blessing will keep us on top. This, I think, is really at the heart of the hatred of Obama, and it’s also the origin, at its extreme, of the whole “Birthir” movement. It’s not that Obama was born in Hawaii and spent time overseas. McCain was born in Panama and nobody found that disqualifying. It’s that Obama is willing to look at other models and listen to other ideas. He’s not blinded by the kind of ultra-nationalism that says that everything foreign is inferior and suspect and probably evil. I may disagree with him on the conclusions he comes to about half of those ideas. I may even find some of his policies infuriating. But when I have to choose between Obama and someone who is trying to placate a constituency that sees any recognition of our country’s mistakes as a sign of a lack of patriotism and any idea from any other country as dismissible, I will choose him. Odds are, most Americans will make the same choice.

And maybe that’s a mistake. We do make those.

But I vote that we keep getting better.


Derek said...

Without addressing point for point your reply, I did want to submit additional thoughts I have had on this exchange.

One explanation given to me about the difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats don't care what you think, but want as much of your money as they can get. Republicans on the other hand want you to keep as much money as you can, but want to control or influence how you think. In surveying recent history and exchanges such as these, I find this (albeit simplistic) descriptor to be fairly accurate.

Carrying forward to tie in my earlier statements (and Ben's reply) regarding the role of the Divine in America's founding and history, it occurred to me that while conservative and liberal are one set of labels, traditionalist and progressive are equally applicable. As traditionalists, conservatives look back on the first principles of Judeo-Christian morality and believe that a society following these ideas is a happy, cared-for and safe one. They believe that the slow erosion over the past say, 40 or 50 years is due largely to abandoning the kind of simple moral boundaries our grandparents held to.

Progressives (I assume) want progress - and they seem to not care if that progress results in the degradation of the moral fabric of our society as long as they can spend other people's money in excess. (Cue question to Ben to explain why Progressives think this way.)

So yes, Conservatives make a huge deal out of moral issues like abortion and gay marriage, based on the belief that as goes the family, so goes the neighborhood, city, state and country.

Consider eduction. In this blog post from an unashamed Conservative source, http://blog.heritage.org/2011/06/14/fathers-matter-involved-dads-get-an-a-for-increasing-academic-achievement/, a comparison is put forth between the impact of a sound family unit vs. lots of spending on the academic achievement of a kid. Punch line: kids with fathers who engage in their learning yield better academic outcomes. (Cue question to Ben on his experience to confirm or refute this study.) If fewer children come from broken homes, and if those children perform better academically, and if those academic results create opportunities for those kids to be productive engaged citizens, wouldn't we believe that our overal society would be better? I perceive that members of all political strata would say yes.

But the means and methods vary radically. Progressives create big bureaucracies to shuffle billions of dollars around. Conservatives fight like hell to maintain the integrity of the family unit amidst a storm of threats.

And yes, I know that W did the whole NCLB thing and it's been a disaster. But it was in union with one of the most leftist Senators we'd ever had, may he rest in peace.

Freedom cuts both ways. If you give people the Freedom of Speech, some of them will say ridiculous, offensive and stupid things. But we believe that is their right, and the courts (like it or not often times) uphold that right. Likewise, the Freedom to Assemble means that people of all theologies can gather and do what they do (or don't do) as the case may be. No American should take these freedoms for granted, nor should we forget that people seeking these freedoms got on boats and sailed West looking for them.

Anyway, I digress - but since Ben was seeking insight into the Conservative mind, I thought I'd throw this out.

Benjamin Gorman said...

I just wrote a long reply and it ate it again. I think the length is actually the problem, so I'll try to post ideas in chunks. But not tonight. Arg.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Okay, Derek, let me take another whack at this: First off, I think your characterization of Democrats and Republicans is a popular one. I also think it’s innacurate. Democrats care deeply what people think. There are so many of them devoted to ideas and persuading people to those ideas that Republicans (despite tauting their Newt Gingrichs and Paul Ryans as intellectuals) like to use “intellectual” as a slur, and paint all of academia and journalism as inherently liberal. While that’s demonstrably untrue, it does mean you can’t say Democrats don’t care about people’s ideas. Where Democrats really struggle is with people’s feelings. Republicans are far better at tapping into people’s emotional responses to issues, and because Democrats tend to be idea people, when we see a disconnect between feelings and ideas, we get frustrated and come across as dismissive or snooty because we just can’t understand why a person would do something based on their feelings rather than cold rationality. Only cold rationality, in the form of academic research, tells us that people are actually far more motivated by their feelings than by raw data.
Also, to say Republicans want you to keep more of your money is also untrue. Republicans want the government to get less of your money. That’s not the same thing. As Bruce Bartlet, economic advisor to Ronald Reagan and the senior Bush, recently pointed out, in other industrialized c ountries, where services like higher education and healthcare are part of what you buy with your tax dollars, the taxpayers come out ahead of us. The notion that the government is always inefficient has become such a religious dogma for the right that even when it can be clearly shown that people would save money and get better service from the government, the Right chooses lower taxes. So Republicans not only want to influence how you feel, but also want to push you into the hands of the private market even when it will cost you more and offer you less.

Benjamin Gorman said...

As far as education goes, the data that fathers who spend time with their children have children who have better educational outcomes is no surprise to me, though that’s not necessarily causal. In my experience, involved parents almost always correlate with successful students. But another thing that correlates is those parents’ incomes. This could be because poor parents don’t care about their kids. I think that’s unlikely. It could be that they have less education themselves, which not only causes their poverty but also gives them less background with which to help their kids. Or it could be that it’s really tough to read to your kids at night when you’re working a swing and a late shift at your two jobs. If we were really serious about encouraging the kind of society which would lead to more fathers involved with their kids, railing about the lack of moral fiber in this country while making it harder and harder for the poor to catch up with the wealthy would be the absolute wrong way to go. We can blame the poor parents, or blame the failing schools, or blame the teacher’s unions, or the media, or video games, or El Nino weather patterns, but none of that will change the fact that poor parents have lower performing kids in school, and people who perform more poorly in school have less buying power, meaning they’ll be even poorer and this even less supportive of their kids. Sure, there are great exceptions to this rule, and patting them on the back and touting the “pulled himself up by his bootstraps” story is inspiring, but since we know it’s the exception rather than the rule that’s a bad way to come up with good public policy. Maybe the solution isn’t changing the tax structure. Maybe it’s supporting institutions outside the family, like schools or universities which help level the playing field. Maybe it’s something else. But I don’t hear many Conservatives coming up with solutions to the problem of generational poverty, because I’m not convinced they see it as a problem. The poor will get poorer and the rich will get richer, and it seems conservatives accept this with a shrug and would rather spend their energy denigrating anyone who wants to address it as a communist rather than acknowledging that it makes us all, rich and poor, citizens of a weaker, more unjust country.

Benjamin Gorman said...

But that’s not my biggest quibble with the worldview you describe. I think you’re right about the fact that Conservatives want to protect the family from the erosion that’s gone on over the last fifty years. The problem is that this “erosion” has produced a populace that is healthier, wealthier, lives longer, and is in just about every measurable way better off than people were during the Eisenhower years. Back when the post-war family was seen as the bedrock of social stability, a husband could beat his wife or kids with impunity, a gay person would be forced to hide their identity and create a miserable family of lies, a mixed couple would be prevented from marrying, and people were still being lynched because of the color of their skin. And that’s just fifty years ago. Societies adhering to the Judeo-Christian values (or at least claiming to) committed some of the greatest atrocities man has ever known. Even on the family level, the Judeo-Christian tradition doesn’t have a great track record, whether it’s on polygamy, slavery, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, colonialism… I could go on and on. Conservatives like to credit to Judeo-Christian tradition with producing the family of Beaver Cleaver, but don’t like acknowledging that it also produced the Conquistadors who raped their way through the New World, or the American Colonists who gave the natives blankets they’d rubbed on babies with smallpox. Heading into a pregressive future might seem dangerous, because we don’t know exactly where it will lead, but trying to go back to the past will not take us to the family of Father Knows Best, because that was fiction. The truth worse, and sometimes a while lot worse.

But Father Knows Best felt good, and Republicans know how to motivate with feelings.

Taking off our rose colored glasses when we look at history produces facts, and often unpleasant ones.

Wendy Kirsch said...

Derek, I'm not understanding how you can make the leap from moral issues like abortion and gay marriage to education and lack of fathers in children's lives. How do abortion and gay marriage affect the number of fathers in kids' lives?

I agree with Ben. I am proud to be progressing forward as a country and not backwards. Traditions are for holidays and high school pep rallies, not government policy.

Derek said...

Not much time to respond - but wanted to pose back a few questions:

1. What I have most readily observed in liberal thinking is that the 'intellectual' regard is centered primarily in believing that they know better how to run your life than you do. It is gross elitism.

2. If poverty is a root cause, then I assume the liberal solution is to continue to redistribute wealth from one end of the income spectrum to another. Unfortunately, that simply has not demonstrated any net gain for those in poverty. Rather, we pay people not to work, and deliver disincentives to break out of generational poverty. Why try to do well in school when I can do nothing and get endless government assistance. Further, if the escape for poverty is employment, then endless policies that negatively affect the ability for employers to create jobs is not the way to promote upward mobility. A trillion dollars spent on stimulus - an do we see any measurable improvement in people in poverty? Nope - just the opposite with now 1 in 7 on government assistance.

3. I have a terribly hard time keeping a straight face when you suggest that it is "clearly shown that people would save money and get better service from the government". Here's where I begin to ask you for specific examples. Whatever can be said about other countries, in this country, efficiency in government is the exception and not the rule, particularly where there is a government monopoly such as Amtrak or the US Postal Service.

I think the hardest thing to understand for me in liberal thinking is that while you are quick to quote how wonderful socialized education and medicine are, you seem to ignore the fact that they are economically unsustainable - and turn a blind eye to the end of the progressive road where economies collapse, austerity measures kick in, and riots break out. How can you not recognize the situations in Greece, the UK, France, Spain? What makes you think that the US can dodge this bullet? While the ideas from the Conservative end are boring, often repeated and seem to lack innovation, they are rooted in a set of enduring fundamentals of liberty, opportunity, and most important, freedom.

Benjamin Gorman said...


1. How is it any more "gross elitism" for a liberal to tell a person that we shouldn't let old or disabled people die from hunger in the wealthiest country in the world than for a conservative to tell someone they can't have an abortion or be married to the person they love? And why is a college professor who makes 40k and wants the government to provide free higher education more of an elitist than a billionaire who wants the government to lower his taxes?

2. The notion that government assistance locks people into generational poverty is a common meme on the right, but it's not supported by the facts in the long term. Some government programs are ineffective, but when compared to the lack of government intervention which locked people into distinct social classes through the vast majority of human history, government programs, be they student loans, libraries, free healthcare for the poor, etc. have done more to close that gap than anything ever done by kings or aristocrats. You seem to be buying into the notions that a) government assistance to the poor is only in the form of welfare checks, and b)that people on welfare like to be there. That has not been my experience, and I would guess I've known a lot more people on welfare than you have. As for the ineffectiveness of the stimulus in elevating people from poverty, that's not a good measure, since it mostly went to banks and other large corporations, and because it coincided with the Bush tax cuts, a countervailing force pushing the wealthy and the poor farther apart than they have been in generations.

Benjamin Gorman said...

3. You ask for specifics. Fair enough. First, let's recognize that the lower taxes we pay are almost entirely consumed by our private medical premiums, so we really pay just as much as those countries you mentioned. (See here, second table: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/health-care-costs-and-the-tax-burden/
Since medical inflation is higher in the US than in those countries because of the cost controls placed by government run healthcare systems, when you combine taxes and private healthcare spending we will inevitably be paying MORE than they are for the same services. when you take into account the health outcomes for the uninsured in this country, dollar for dollar the Canadian and British health systems have better outcomes. People are healthier, live longer, there's lower infant mortality, etc. Despite austerity measures in the UK, the government is not cutting its healthcare system. Their conservative government is too liberal to be electable in our country; their stalwart defense of their health system would have them all branded as socialists here.

And since we're talking about straight faces, how can you site findings about the importance of fathers spending time with their children and then disparage countries like Denmark which afford fathers paid paternity leave and a lot more annual vacation so they can do the very thing you're saying is so important?

Furthermore, how can you be so certain of the unsustainability of the democratic-socialist model? You point to countries like Greece and Spain, but Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Germany are all just fine, and the UK, despite being pushed into the economic crisis by our bankers' irresponsibility, is faring better than we are. It's not like we're the model of stability, with our astronomical debt, and yet this debt is not created exclusively by social programs, but by ridiculously high military spending (Do we really need to outspend the whole rest of the world in order to be safe?) and a "Starve the Beast" approach by Republicans


which involved lowering taxes while maintaining or increasing spending, a far less sustainable model than anything every proposed by a liberal. If you just look at the relationship between taxes and spending in our lifetimes, no one who's ever voted for a Republican can claim to value fiscal responsibility more than someone who voted for Clinton, the only President in our lifetime to generate a balanced budget and a surplus.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Oh, here's another specific example for you: The Veteran's Administration provides healthcare to veterans in a way that beats health outcomes in the private sector and costs less. It's socialism, it's bureaucracy, and it's more efficient than the private health care market.

The Green Globule said...

Responses here:


and here:


Piece on American Expceptionalism is still in process.

Jed Carosaari said...

If America has been a great exporter of violence and murder and war, if their actions have directly or indirectly resulted in the death of some or most of one's family, I fail to see the problem with burning an American flag to symbolize that you don't really like what America has done. America does some good things, sure, but if you aren't aware of them because your family is dead, then it kind of makes sense to me that you wouldn't be proudly flying the flag- you'd be burning it.

Benjamin Gorman said...

Again, I don't take issue with that person's right to burn the flag, just the fact that the act won't let me know that their family was killed by the U.S. military, or a government trade embargo, or a government contractor, or an American corporation. If flag burning gets the attention of the media, fine, but protesters should accompany it with some other specific imagery (pictures of dead loved ones, signs with the specific symbolism of the Americans they're angry with) lest people twist the act to say they hate all Americans or some specific entity not related to the actual source of their anger. By itself, flag burning is just too vague.