Perspective on Conservatives and Liberals: An Addendum

Written by: Matt Seyer

I have two more articles for all of you lovely people!  They both specifically talk about conservatives, so you won’t gain a whole lot in the way of a better understanding of liberals, but they’re still solid pieces.

The first is an older article from Forbes that was posted a few months ago.  I felt it deserved reposting simply because it fit the theme of conservatives and liberals.  The article asks why Republicans are embracing intellectually-subpar candidates for the presidency, and attempts to give an answer.

“Why Do Republicans Gleefully Embrace Idiots as Presidential Candidates?…The question naturally begs a larger question: How can a country, with the world’s highest national GDP, and absurdly complex systems regulating everything from credit default swaps to nuclear missile safety, possibly allow onto its national stage men and women of such transparently inferior intellect?”

The second article is a blog post written by Corey Robin.  It is a summary/introductory post that discusses the major themes of his book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.  Robin takes a serious look at the claim that modern-day conservatism is some kind of radical strain of traditional conservatism, a notion endorsed by such public intellectuals as Paul Krugman, P.M. Carpenter, and Andrew Sullivan.  His conclusion: it’s really not all that radical.  This is a fascinating read: beautifully written, erudite, but fun all the same.

“I wrote The Reactionary Mind for many reasons, but one of them was to show—contra Carpenter, Sullivan, Blumenthal, Tanenhaus, Krugman, and many more—that today’s conservative is in fact conservative. She hasn’t betrayed the traditions of Burke, Disraeli, Hayek, Oakeshott, Buckley, and Reagan: she has fulfilled them.”

Baffled

Written by: Matt Seyer

The theory of evolution is not a legitimate scientific theory.  9/11 widows are harpies who enjoyed their husbands’ deaths.  The Jewish religion is deficient and is in need of the perfecting grace of Christianity to make it whole.  Women should not have the right to vote, because they don’t vote in the country’s best interests.  Excess radiation acts as a cancer vaccine.  All terrorists are Muslim, and we should invade Islamic countries, kill their leaders, and convert the populace to Christianity.

It’s rare when so many bizarre and abhorrent views are held by one person.  But such persons exist, and Ann Coulter is one of them, and she’s pretty proud of that fact.  She’ll be at Truman tonight, and she’s being sponsored by the College Republicans (CRs).

I’m not mad.  I’m not going to go protest the event.  I’m sure Ms. Coulter won’t be speaking about any of the above views in her talk (though the Q&A is wide open to such topics).

More than anything, I’m confused.

I know a few of the CRs.  We’re not bosom buds, but we’re respectful to each other, friendly even.  For the most part, they’re kind and intelligent people.  They recognize the fringes of both the right and the left, and they detest and/or dismiss such extreme points of view.  Last semester, they brought another speaker, S.E. Cupp, who, though I disagreed with her on almost everything, was not…well…a nut.  She said her bit, fielded questions, and fairly accurately represented modern-day conservatism.

Ms. Coulter is an entirely different story.  Sure, she holds all of the usual views: gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry; climate change is a farce, etc.  That’s not what bothers me about her.  It isn’t what has me confused.  What bothers me about Ann Coulter is that she embodies the worst kind of attitude imaginable: she’s mean and she loves it.  What confuses me is the notion that anyone would want that attitude and those fringe and often cruel views to come to Truman and to represent their organization and their ideology to campus.  It eludes me that the CRs whom I know would want to put this woman up in front of everyone and say, “When you think of a Republican, when you think of a conservative, think of her.”  I genuinely don’t get it.

When the College Democrats held our Exec retreat, we deliberated on the best speaker to bring to Truman.  We had a long list that included many popular and less well-known names.  One of the potential speakers was Bill Maher.  Lofty, I know; he’s not cheap.  It wasn’t very likely that we would bring him.  But I very loudly (too loudly) protested, going so far as to say that if we actually decided to bring him then I would actively fight against the decision and do everything I could to keep him from coming (ask someone who was there…I made an ass of myself).  Why?

Because Bill Maher is a prick.

I don’t care that Maher probably agrees with me on almost everything in terms of my ideology.  If we’re going to bring someone to represent our organization and our viewpoints to campus, we damn well better bring someone who is honest, fair, and respectful.  I don’t want mean people.  I don’t want to bring people who take pleasure in making fun of others, who value mockery and ridicule above careful discussion and serious inquiry, who find it more productive to be stubborn and insincere when dealing with those who disagree with them, who think the truth is something to be treated casually.

But maybe that’s just me (actually, it WAS just me at the retreat).

For me, bringing a speaker isn’t about having someone shout my views to campus.  It’s about showing my peers that there are decent and fair people out there who share my views and the views of the College Democrats.  It’s about starting a conversation.  It’s about opening new areas of discussion with those with whom I disagree.

I somehow doubt that Ms. Coulter will accomplish any of these things.

Ann Coulter isn’t a Republican.  She isn’t a conservative.  She isn’t to the right of the extreme right.  She’s just mean, and she enjoys it and uses it to sell books.  I have no idea what happened to her in her life to make her so spiteful, but whatever it was, I feel very sorry for her.  It baffles me that the College Republicans want to implicitly or explicitly tell Truman,

“This here, this is a Republican.”

Case Closed: Same-Sex Marriage and Proposition 8

Written by: Matt Seyer

If you don’t already regularly listen to Bill Moyers, you should.  The range of topics and the variety of people with whom he converses is staggering.  Moyers is pretty clearly liberal, but he makes a point of being fair and honest with his interviewees.

In this particular interview, Moyers sits down with lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson.  You may or may not remember that these were the lawyers arguing against each other in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case which secured the 2000 election for President Bush.  They are on complete opposite ends of the political spectrum but have somehow found a way to come together on an unlikely topic of agreement: same-sex marriage.  Boies and Olson are currently working in concert to overturn Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which banned same-sex marriage in California in 2008.  They discuss their case as it stood back in February 2010 (the time of the interview).  In the process, they make an incredibly compelling argument for marriage equality for gays and lesbians; an argument that essentially amounts to knocking down any and all objections to marriage equality from the ridiculous to the very ridiculous.  The strength of the argument derives from its lack of partisan affiliation and from its constitutionality; it’s something we should all be able to get behind.

I was going to write a longer, more substantive piece on the case for same-sex marriage, but then these guys decided to do me a favor and do a video on the subject.  I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion my quasi-series on same-sex marriage.  Enjoy!

Olson and Boies on Same-Sex Marriage

Some Perspective On Conservatives and Liberals

Written by: Matt Seyer

I get an instant headache whenever President Obama makes yet another attempt to appeal to Americans’ sense of unity and common purpose.  His strategy of bipartisanship and compromise has been around nearly since day one, and in my opinion it hasn’t served him that well.  In fact, Congressional Republicans have used this strategy against him on numerous occasions in order to engineer policies that give the appearance of universal benefits, but that in reality are largely keeping the status quo.  This process has repeated itself so many times over the years that we’ve lost sight of what ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ really mean.  Nowadays, ‘conservatives’ are anyone who stubbornly refuses to cede any ground whatsoever in policy negotiations and strictly adheres to worn-out standards and ideals.  ‘Liberals’ are anyone who eagerly sprints to the center in order to cooperate and to get something done, even at the expense of their principles, and are constantly unsatisfied with any leader they manage to put in power.

I think this picture of conservatives and liberals is somewhat accurate (at least on the popular stage).  However, I also think that it’s time for some self-evaluation.  Oddly enough, I’m going to make the same kind of appeal that the President has been making since day one.  We should learn more about each other and we should be willing to hear about our own flaws.  Real self-awareness is an incredibly valuable thing; tolerance even moreso.  Going into the 2012 elections, I think it’s time for a good hard look in the mirror.  The following are videos, podcasts, and articles on conservatives and liberals: their similarities, their differences, their common goals, and their disparate foundations.

“When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?”

“Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president.”

“When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?”

“I’ve been a Republican all my adult life. I have worked on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, at Forbes magazine, at the Manhattan and American Enterprise Institutes, as a speechwriter in the George W. Bush administration. I believe in free markets, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and limited government. I voted for John ­McCain in 2008, and I have strongly criticized the major policy decisions of the Obama administration. But as I contemplate my party and my movement in 2011, I see things I simply cannot support.”

“Reality Bites”

“Emanuel is a proud, lifelong Republican. Or at least, he was until recently, when he voted for Barack Obama, the first time he’s ever backed a Democrat. In 2008, Emanuel says, he was a “single issue” voter concerned about science and climate change. “I don’t like it when ideology trumps reason, and I see that the Republicans are guilty of that in spades at the moment,” he says.”

“How do Conservatives and Liberals See the World?”

‘Our country is more politically polarized than ever. Is it possible to agree to disagree and still move on to solve our massive problems?  Or are the blind leading the blind — over the cliff?..Bill and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about the psychological underpinnings of our contentious culture, why we can’t trust our own opinions, and the demonizing of our adversaries…“When it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but… the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise,” Haidt tells Moyers. “Compromise becomes a dirty word.”’

“The Great Ideological Asymmetry Debate”

‘In this episode of Point of Inquiry, Chris Mooney brought back a popular guest from last year, Yale’s Dan Kahan, to discuss this very question-one that they’ve been emailing about pretty much continually ever since Kahan appeared on the show.  In the episode, Kahan and Mooney not only review but debate the evidence on whether “motivated” ideological biases are the same on both sides of the political aisle—or alternatively, whether they’re actually “asymmetrical.”’

“I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay”

[This essay, the last of the ones I’m providing, has a disquieting title.  However, I promise you that it attacks no specific religion and no specific ideology.  Indeed, it probably seems very out of place in a ‘Conservatives and Liberals’ post.  But it is absolutely worth the read, and its applications to the political climate of today are highly useful.  It is a resounding call for tolerance, acceptance, and respect.  Its message lacks an easy partisan brand.  It’s a message we all need to be reminded of every once and a while.]

“Almost every person of nearly every religion has no problem loathing and condemning the Westboro Baptist Church and its members, and perhaps with reason. They take freedom of speech far beyond what our founding fathers intended when they fought to give us that right, and they laugh at the rest of the world while they do…But today I don’t want to talk about those idiots. I want to talk about you. And me.”

The Disillusioned Citizen’s Guide to Fixing America

Written by: Michael Baharaeen and Connor Stangler

Too often our statesmen do not act like statesmen. Too often their response to our most pressing questions of life and liberty is to dig the trenches of partisanship even deeper. Though we recognize that politics takes places in the arena of the partisan, we hope for compromise, collaboration, and ideal representativeness. We hope that money wields less sway in elections and voters more. We hope that majorities use political advantage for the citizens’ advantage. We hope that power breeds civil responsibility and not more power. Today, the pointlessness of that hope prevails.

So we offer an antidote. We present a four-part series on practical government reforms: Congressional, electoral, campaign finance, and democratic. We direct this series at those who are most disillusioned, those who no longer believe they live and work in a republic of efficacy but in a republic of discord.  We seek to fix the system, not escape it. We agree with former U.S. Congressmen Mickey Edwards that we want “people, not parties” to run our nation. And we agree with President Franklin D. Roosevelt that “government is ourselves and not an alien power.” Here then are our suggestions to make government less alien and more our own.

Part 1: Congressional and Procedural Reforms

Amendment and Debate 

Current congressional practice gives the minority party little procedural influence, with the majority party controlling the flow of debate and the ability to introduce amendments. This practice is known as using “closed” rules. We would propose allowing any elected official to offer amendments and with rare exceptions put said amendments to a vote. If an amendment has substantial support — i.e. it meets a certain threshold of co-sponsors — it will be given an up-or-down vote on the House floor. Prohibiting closed procedures on the House floor, which preclude any minority amendments, would give the minority a greater chance to have their voices heard. To prevent procedural abuse — i.e. indefinitely offering amendments to stall the advancement of a bill — the House can create its own rules to expedite debate and bring the issue to vote, such as passing a bill with a 2/3 majority.

Leadership Structure of Congressional Committees

Congressional committees currently operate with a chairman from the majority party and a ranking member from the minority party. However, the scope of the ranking member’s position is fairly limited. An easy modification would be to require that each committee have a chairman from the majority and a vice chairman from the minority. The vice chairman would be allowed to bring bills forward and invite expert witnesses to hearings in the same manner as the chairman. In the chairman’s absence, however, another member of his or her party would ascend to the chairmanship, and not the vice chair.

Selecting Committee Staff

When one of the two parties wins a majority, its members fill the committee’s leadership positions. In addition, these new members are allowed to hand-pick their own staff. These individuals are typically from the same party. This practice fosters the proliferation of biased information and heavily partisan reports that are presented to the committee chairman. We recommend that committee staff be chosen solely on the basis of professional qualifications. This change would allow for more equitable and bipartisan fact and report gathering.

Fostering Increased Congressional Camaraderie

Prior to 1994, Congressmen would attend dinners and informal meetings with members of the other party. The subsequent relationships were vital to the process of politics as the art of compromise. Members felt less inclined to attack one another and more willing to work cooperatively with others. With the ascension of Newt Gingrich to the House Speakership in the ’94 midterms, however, members were strongly encouraged to return home to their districts when they did not have Congressional business in Washington. Our recommendation would be to require that legislators remain in Washington when Congress is in session and use their time out of session to interact with constituents. While there is merit in increased contact between the voter and his or her representative, the absence of strong bonds between members of Congress has led to higher rates of character attacks and less room for compromise.

Reforming the Capitol Hill to K Street “Revolving Door” 

Recently, the former notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff wrote a book detailing his actions during his tenure as a lobbyist. He and his colleagues would visit Congressional offices and offer staffers positions in their company after they (the staffers or politicians) were done working on the Hill. At that point, his firm “owned” them. The staffers would not only do everything his firm requested, but they would actively seek out ways to further promote the interests of the firm that lobbyists couldn’t even think of.

The problem is that this practice is completely legal. In fact, K Street lobbying firms have recently developed “rosters” of Congressional officials who will be retiring in 2012. These rosters target officials who would be the most valuable addition to their firms. We recommend that Congress pass a law prohibiting elected officials or staffers from taking lobbyist positions for at least a year upon leaving office. This may give Hill workers less of an incentive to actively seek favors for lobbyists during their tenures.

Congressional Redistricting

Since the 2010 midterms and census, we’ve seen a lot of newly formed Republican state legislatures that are intent on redrawing Congressional districts that favor their party. As former Republican Congressman Edwards indicates, his district was gerrymandered in such a way to favor Democrats in surrounding districts. The problem that arose was that he was not representing a familiar constituency. While he was from the suburbs, his new district encompassed much of the countryside. In contrast, Congressmen who resided in the country were now representing urban districts. What results is that district boundaries are drawn along partisan lines rather than conventional demographic or geographical lines that would be derived from a nonpartisan redistricting process. Our recommendation would be for states to use independent commissions during the redistricting process. Thirteen states have adopted this practice, such as California.

The Filibuster 

Though many of our prescriptions have addressed the potential problems of an overpowering majority, there is one area of Congressional politics regarding the minority party that deserves contemplation. One current Senate practice that has severely inhibited the legislative process is the filibuster. This mechanism was initially intended to give minority voices a chance to forestall a piece of legislation if they had serious concerns. The only way to override a filibuster is with a 60-vote majority.

These rules, while at times used for good intentions, have been unnecessarily abused. The rule is no longer an honorable counter-majoritarian tool; it has transformed the Senate into political theater and rendered Congress impotent in the minds of the voters. For example, today’s Republican Party, which is staunchly opposed to helping the Obama Administration pursue its goals, routinely filibusters appointments, leaving several agencies without key leaders and officials. They have the power, if they don’t want the President’s initiatives to move forward, to block every single piece of proposed legislation. At that point there is little use in paying them for a job that consists of unproductive opposition.

We would propose that the Senate hold hearings and meetings on reforming the rule so that it could still be a valuable tool for the minority and not something that could be so easily abused. The filibuster remains as one of the few options for the minority to have their voice heard. Our goal is simply to ensure that it does not completely stall the legislative process but is rather used to voice serious concerns that a Senator may want to raise.

The foregoing recommendations should be easy fixes or, in the very least, noncontroversial items for discussion. Our ideas know no partisan ideology. As we continue our blog series, it is our hope that individuals of all political stripes will take heed of these suggestions with an open mind and that each proposal will be weighed on its intrinsic merits, without being observed through a veil of preconceived ideological standards.