Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bailout; Erratic McCain; Presidential Debate; Sarah Palin Qualifications

What a few weeks. We got a chance to see John McCain at his erratic best, bouncing between saying the fundamentals of the economy are sound then turning around to his panicky reactionism, claiming he's not attending the debate (then he is, then he's not, then he is), saying he needs to rush to Washington to help negotiate the bailout, then blowing up the agreement that was well on its way to being sealed, etc., etc.

In spite of all of that, McCain is alright. He's had major experience in the Senate and has been on the right side of a number of issues during the Bush years (even though he voted with Bush 90% of the time): he worked for campaign finance reform; he spoke out against Alberto Gonzales's ghastly Department of Justice tenure; and most importantly, he spoke out very forcefully against Bush and Cheney on the torture issue - and with his experience as a tortured POW himself, he has massive credibility.

BUT - even if Obama and McCain were dead even, or even if McCain had the slight edge, two factors overwhelmingly favor Obama: (1) for the sake of the individual liberty of ALL Americans, we CAN'T AFFORD any more of the sort of socially conservative Supreme Court justices Bush appointed, and that McCain would try to appoint; and (2) Sarah Palin is simply unqualified to be president.

On the first, Bush appointed two Justices - John Roberts and Joseph Alito - who come from the "command and control" side of the Republican Party. Adding to them the two such Justices already on the Court, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and we have close to a majority on the Court who unquestionably favor government power over protection of individual liberty. Individual liberty hangs by a thread - Anthony Kennedy, the fifth conservative on the Court, comes from the libertarian side of the Republican Party and he's the one who's been making the difference in a number of the 5-4 decisions protecting the individual. On the other side, Justice Stevens is in his 80s, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had health issues - and G-d forbid if anything happened to either of them or David Souter or Stephen Breyer, the President would have the chance to seriously change the tone of the Supreme Court. We simply can't afford that.

Second, Sarah Palin. Can we now agree that she's unqualified? Take a look at the Katie Couric interview from a few days back. It's embarrassing - and scary. Bob Herbert of the New York Times said it this morning, for the first time I've heard from anyone - for the good of the nation, John McCain should recognize her serious deficiencies and appoint someone else. Sarah Palin is not qualified to lead the country. If John McCain is the "maverick" he keeps claiming to be, he'll set aside personal ambition for clear-eyed reason. Will he do the right thing and nominate someone else? Don't hold your breath.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Progressive Liberty - David Brooks's "The Social Animal"

David Brooks's column in the New York Times today elaborates nicely on what I've spoken about here previously under the banner of "progressive liberty"; and offers, moreover, a cogent description of how current Republican Party ideology fails these principles.

In "A Social Animal," Brooks comments that at one point conservatives understood that "people are socially embedded creatures and that government has a role (though not a dominant one) in nurturing the institutions in which they are embedded. "

But that's been lost, Brooks suggests. "Recent Republican Party doctrine has emphasized the power of the individual, but underestimates the importance of connections, relationships, institutions and social filaments that organize personal choices and make individuals what they are.

"This may seem like an airy-fairy thing. But it is the main impediment to Republican modernization. Over the past few weeks, Republicans have talked a lot about change, modernization and reform. Despite the talk, many of the old policy pillars are the same. We’re living in an age of fast-changing economic, information and social networks, but Republicans are still impeded by Goldwater’s mental guard-rails.

"If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom.

"And yet locked in the old framework, the Republican Party’s knee-jerk response to many problems is: “Throw a voucher at it.” Schools are bad. Throw a voucher. Health care system’s a mess. Replace it with federally funded individual choice. Economic anxiety? Lower some tax rate.

"The latest example of the mismatch between ideology and reality is the housing crisis. The party’s individualist model cannot explain the social contagion that caused hundreds of thousands of individuals to make bad decisions in the same direction at the same time. A Republican administration intervened gigantically in the market to handle the Bear Stearns, Freddie and Fannie debacles. But it has no conservative rationale to explain its action, no language about the importance of social equilibrium it might use to justify itself.

"That language of community, institutions and social fabric has been lost, and now we hear only distant echoes — when social conservatives talk about family bonds or when John McCain talks at a forum about national service.

"If Republicans are going to fully modernize, they’re probably going to have to follow the route the British Conservatives have already trod and project a conservatism that emphasizes society as well as individuals, security as well as freedom, a social revival and not just an economic one and the community as opposed to the state."

Progressive Liberty stands for the proposition that government must keep its hands off matters implicating of individual freedom; yet recognizes the importance of government in furthering human dignity and community.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Back to the Future Without Liberals & Progressives - A Cruel World

Some conservatives love to berate big government and argue simplistically that government should, without exception, always be "less involved." As discussed here previously, they get it only half-right: the Constitution mandates that government be less involved (ie, it must be tolerant) when it comes to respecting individual liberty; but, a humane government truly interested in providing for the health, safety and welfare of citizens should be involved in promoting programs to that end.

On the latter point, here's a keeper article: Bob Herbert's NYTimes column the other day entitled "Hold Your Heads Up," pointing out the advances made that would never have been possible without the efforts of LIBERAL governmental action. He encourages liberals to be proud of their accomplishments, and not to be cowed by the ridicule of conservatives who damn efforts to create a more humane society of equal opportunity even as they themselves avail themselves of the liberal society's many benefits.

"Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know," Herbert says. "Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today."

"There would be absolutely no chance that a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin could make a credible run for the highest offices in the land. Conservatives would never have allowed it.

"Civil rights? Women’s rights? Liberals went to the mat for them time and again against ugly, vicious and sometimes murderous opposition. They should be forever proud.

"The liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance, both of which were contained in the original Social Security Act. Most conservatives despised the very idea of this assistance to struggling Americans. Republicans hated Social Security, but most were afraid to give full throat to their opposition in public at the height of the Depression.

"Liberals who didn’t have a clue gave us Medicare and Medicaid. Quick, how many of you (or your loved ones) are benefiting mightily from these programs, even as we speak. The idea that Republicans are proud of Ronald Reagan, who saw Medicare as “the advance wave of socialism,” while Democrats are ashamed of Lyndon Johnson, whose legislative genius made this wonderful, life-saving concept real, is insane."

By contrast, what would America look like today without such accomplishments of Liberal/Progressive government?

Herbert continues, "Without the many great and noble deeds of liberals over the past six or seven decades, America would hardly be recognizable to today’s young people. Liberals (including liberal Republicans, who have since been mostly drummed out of the party) ended legalized racial segregation and gender discrimination.

"Humiliation imposed by custom and enforced by government had been the order of the day for blacks and women before men and women of good will and liberal persuasion stepped up their long (and not yet ended) campaign to change things. Liberals gave this country Head Start and legal services and the food stamp program. They fought for cleaner air (there was a time when you could barely see Los Angeles) and cleaner water (there were rivers in America that actually caught fire).

"Liberals. Your food is safer because of them, and so are your children’s clothing and toys. Your workplace is safer. Your ability (or that of your children or grandchildren) to go to college is manifestly easier.

"It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned."

This all is reminiscent of the old Michael J. Fox movie, "Back to the Future," where Marty McFly is able to visit the future in his souped-up DeLorean and sees how things would be if a certain key event hadn't occurred at a certain earlier point in time (if his mom and dad hadn't met, I think) - and what he sees is a future of crass selfishness and lack of grace.

But for liberals and progressives in our past, America would be much less attractive and humane place today.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Does Sarah Palin Know Wasilla From a Hole in the Ground?

Now that the dust is settling a bit after the conventions, and the initial hysteria over John McCain's pick for VP is past, one big question is whether Sarah Palin is qualified to be president. McCain is 74, after all, with a history of skin cancer. These are legitimate questions - even if McCainiacs would like to keep her sheltered away and claim unfairness whenever anyone raises issues about her readiness.

Does Sarah Palin know Wasilla from a hole in the ground? Sure she knows local politics and all about how to throw her weight around trying to ban books and fire public servants who happen to be getting divorced from her family members, but does she know anything at all about governing and foreign affairs? Would we trust that she would be capable of acting on our behalf in a dangerous world? Three of the four on the major tickets would fare just fine if placed to probing questioning and snap decisionmaking in world affairs, given the experience of each in high-profile politics. John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have all been subjected to the crucible of intense public scrutiny as members of the U.S. Senate, and they've proven they are up to the task.

Moreover, as Professor Bobby Lipkin of Widener Law School said, "It's not just foreign policy experience, but foreign policy savvy or thoughtfulness.... Obama has written (and spoken) [extensively] about foreign policy and domestic policy. (The relevant works are his Audacity of Hope and many, many of his speeches.) Does Palin have a similar corpus? If so, I'd love to know where I can find it."

We know next to nothing about Sarah Palin, but what we do know - e.g., pressuring librarians to ban books, trying to have public officials fired who are involved in messy divorces with family members, questionable financial dealings, no abortion even in cases of incest & rape, etc. - ain't good.

Or, as my friend Northwestern University Professor Alice Dreger puts it in her own inimitable way, "Do I wish we had a woman as VP or, better yet, P? Sure! But having a woman doesn’t mean having a feminist, and what I’d much rather have is a feminist, even if he has a penis. Let me just say what we’re all thinking: Palin was obviously chosen for her vagina, not for her brain. That’s just stupid sexism, and no woman should be fooled by it."