Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Political Dissent in the US

My hypothesis is that people have a need to divide themselves into groups, into US and THEM, as a way to enhance their feelings of group identity and social cohesion. It has become obvious to most of us that it is inappropriate to think of ourselves as a ethnic, racial, sexual, or sexual orientation group. For some, religious differentiation is extremely important but a non-issue for many. But we do have politics. Nothing seems to separate us like politics today.

During the Civil War, we read about brother against brother. The same thing happens in politics today. Comments on public media can draw harsh, nasty, vindictive, brutal, etc., responses. Today, this gap is most evident along a Democrat/liberal, Republican/conservative fault line. I don't like this differentiation as much of Democratic policies seem very illiberal and many Republican policies are hardly conservative but people seem to use these concepts. And differences in these areas get heightened and extended. They are not just differences of opinion but they become more, an indication of being a lower life form or something. Republicans (or Democrats) are not just wrong, they are stupid and/or evil.

And differences in politics, like differences in religion, seem very difficult to discuss empirically or objectively. Societies are complex and the data so often seems inconclusive. One can not say conclusively that some policy works while this other policy is evil, immoral, and wrong.

Two of the greatest Democrats and Liberals in the US have quote that are diametrically opposite current thinking. In the 1935 State of the Union Address, FDR declared:
"A large proportion of these unemployed and their dependents have been forced on the relief rolls. The burden on the Federal Government has grown with great rapidity. We have here a human as well as an economic problem. When humane considerations are concerned, Americans give them precedence. The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fiber. To dole our relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of a sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able-bodied but destitute workers.

The Federal Government must and shall quit this business of relief. I am not willing that the vitality of our people be further sapped by the giving of cash, of market baskets, of a few hours of weekly work cutting grass, raking leaves, or picking up papers in the public parks. We must preserve not only the bodies of the unemployed from destitution but also their self-respect, their self-reliance, and courage and determination."

And I clearly remember JFK's 1961 Inaugural Address:

"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."

I would contend that Paul Ryan comes closer to the views of these liberals than does the current strain of liberalism. 

The mission of our government, according to the Constitution, is, among other things, to "promote the General Welfare".  I like that.  I also like how Gifford Pinchot, the first Chief of the US Forest Service, described how the forests should be managed.  "To Provide for the Greatest Good for the Greatest Numbers for the Longest Period of Time".  I think that is how government should work.  Government should not be overly concerned about special interests groups but rather strive for the general welfare, the greatest good for the greatest numbers for the longest period of time.  If providing free education for all meets that standard then we should do it. If universal medical care meets that standard we should do it.
But government should not be in the business of providing special interest benefits that do not impact the general welfare.  What this is may be hard to say but at some point government should say that we have done what we could for some group but anymore would detract from our ability to promote the general welfare. 
Much of politics today revolves around special interest groups-people fighting for special benefits that help them but may or may not help the general good.

I have a goofy view on this for my personal use.  I like the judicial concept of recusal whereby a judge will recuse himself from the bench if he has a vested interest in the issue at hand.  I try to follow that when I vote.  I may be an old, white, male, veteran (as well as other groups) but I won't vote for anyone that stresses something that might benefit any of those groups.  It is easy on the racial and gender side (I won't vote for anyone who advocates special benefits for whites or males) but perhaps more difficult for old and veteran status.  But it should be for others in society to determine whether or not the elderly and/or military get special benefits as they can more clearly look at the issue objectively and determine whether such policy promotes the general welfare.  I think that the country would be better off if people looked at issues from this point of view and not from the view of "asking what the country can do for me".

No comments: