Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, July 05, 2002
Unqualified Responses

Unqualified Offerings has mentioned my earlier post on 90s politics. I mostly agree with what he says, but would disagree a little with this: "Boo to the Dems for fostering a metacontext in which any program any government ever institutes gets treated as a critical need that only the heartless or myopic could possibly imagine cutting."

I don't suggest that the Demos are at all above criticism, but I think the guilty party on this is mostly the electorate itself. Everybody approves of 'cutting government' and 'reducing waste' in the abstract; those promises poll well so are made repeatedly by Republicans and a growing number of Democrats. But when you go past vague talk of 'cutting government' and get to cutting actual lines in the budget, you discover that every one of those lines has some constituency supporting it. Ironically the largest items, the ones you would have to take on if you were serious about really reducing the scope of government, have the largest constituencies, and are for all practical purposes sacred cows.

An annual ritual lately in Washington has been the GOP making a stand to reduce or eliminate funding for PBS and/or the NEA. You can take reasonable positions on either side of this question, but what can't be reasonably supported is the narrative that Republicans have been quite successful in building up around this yearly event: that this is a serious debate about the size and extent of the federal government. This is a debate about $0.1 billion, in recent years even less, in a budget that is now running to $1,900 bn. It's a purely symbolic move by people who like to say they're against big government but don't want to take on the political risks of really meaning what they say.

The major places Repubs really have sought big cuts is in regulatory programs that they don't like to start out with, such as OSHA or EPA. This is mainly disguising an unpopular plank (weakened environmental protection) as a popular one (smaller government, reduced deficits). And even here the GOP isn't really prepared to stand by the logic of their position. The National Highway Traffic Safety Board (NHTSB) suffered several years of budgets that had increases below the cost of living or outright reductions in the 90s, along with some reductions in their ability to regulate or study the powerful automotive industry. When the Exploror/Goodrich scandal hit, legislators were unanimously shocked, shocked that it hadn't had the resources or clout to find out earlier what was going on. Nobody said, "Well, I've always stood for free markets and reduced government oversight. Naturally, that means that tragedies like this will be punished by damage to the companies responsible rather than by government action. The system is working just as it should."

Jim also put up an interesting post for the 4th about leftists and patriotism. The Nuisance is definitely on the left, proudly patriotic, emphatically pro-Israel, and more than slightly irritated when certain bloggers suggest that the first implies that you certainly aren't either of the last two, and are probably idiotarian to boot.

I do agree that there is a tendency to knee-jerk anti-Americanism in some sectors of the left. When the same people who denounced the US for not intervening during the slaughter in Rwanda turned around and denounced the intervention in Kosovo, I tried to find some consistent principle other than, "if the US is doing it, it must be wrong" and failed miserably. (Substitute Clinton for the US in that sentence and you'll see why some on the right did exactly the same.)

I think the left was right about Vietnam and is right today on missile defense and some other topics. I have reservations about the anti-globalization movement, although there are some compelling arguments to be made in its favor. But the left as a whole, particularly the hard left with which I once identified, has had more than its share in recent years of international positions that are not only wrong but very hard to explain or excuse by any normal standard of progressive values. For instance, much of the left used to support a unified Jewish-Arab secular democratic state in Israel/Palestine, back when that was the position of the PLO. This is a reasonable stance from a liberal, if not a practical, standpoint. But as secular nationalism has faded in the Arab world and Islamic fundamentalism has risen, the Palestinian movement increasingly embraces an open call for a state which has no place other than subservience even for Muslim women or Palestinian Christians, much less Jews. And some leftists have failed to turn away from either the increasingly reactionary objective or the utterly inhuman means used to promote it.

I don't think you can explain these positions without to some degree invoking anti-Americanism as well as a romantic attachment to non-Western cultures.

Jim has a shrewd insight in linking this attitude to varying views of the American past. Rightists tend to look to an idealized picture of our past and see that as a model. Leftists often overstate the very things in our past that rightists ignore, and look to models from the French Revolution and other more radical crises. They ignore that the more gradual mode of American liberal democracy has addressed problems like racial oppression, women's rights, and working class poverty far more effectually than Robespierre, Lenin, or Mao ever addressed equivalent issues in their societies.

In the US at least, the far left has become isolated and increasingly just irrelevant. This may explain why the Greens relish doing the one thing they can do that really effects the process and keeps them important - siphoning off enough Democratic votes to elect Republicans. The excitement of having an impact may outweigh the fact that the practical result of that impact is reactionary.

So what's a flag-waving leftist to do? Well. there's always bashing the right, which the Nuisance does with zeal and pleasure. I don't spend equivalent energy going after the American far left simply because at this time they don't matter very much, although I always enjoy a shot at Ralph Nader.

Beyond that, all I really can do is state what my positions are and try to show that they form a consistent outlook which embraces the traditional values of progressive thought that have somehow gotten lost in a significant portion of current left dogma. This blog, like other political blogs. is mostly a mechanism for generating and propagating memes, with the hope that the memes, if they are as sound as I believe them to be, will ultimately have at least some mild impact.

In stopping by Jim's place, don't miss this wonderful Frost poem. I know Frost mostly through the few standard pieces that are taught in every American High School English class and have never encountered this superb piece before. And Jim has put up a fine poem of his own right next to Frost's, which is certainly an act of great courage.