Monday, June 25, 2007

Where the Center Falls

This is part 2 in my series of writing about things before they can be linked to online. Whee!

The article was written by E.J. Dionne Jr., and should be up at the site in a few days. The title - "America's Political Center Keeps Moving to the Left".

The gist of the article is that politicians are moving further left, as is evidenced especially by the change from the midterm elections in 2002 to 2006. In 2002, Democrats did their best to show their closeness to the President. In 2006, republicans did their best to distance themselves from him.

Their are other factors for this than a general political shift. The president is at his lame-duckiest, and distancing from the old regime in preparation for change is a fairly common thing. However, this doesn't explain the moves towards universal healthcare made by Mitt Romney and Arnold Schwarzenegger, or the popularity of the centrist who succeeded Jeb Bush as governor of Florida. These politicians are not liberals, but they are doing more liberal, more progressive things.

The universal healthcare plans are not as comprehensive as they could be, but they are being proposed, seriously, by Republicans. This is a solution that had been engineered by liberals and put forward originally by democrats, and, given time, it has become an idea acceptable to the center.

The fringe proposes, the left makes reasonable, the center adapts and makes change.

This is a good reassurance that change is not just gradual but more or less inevitable, and the work of conservatives vs. liberals is more a debate over when and not if.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Private Education Conundrum

I'm going to start this off in a very unusual direction for me - a Milton Friedman quote, which is now third-hand, from a newspaper editorial to me "Government excels at getting money and throwing it at a problem - government fails at spending that money efficiently"

Government money, allocated to private schools, would most likely be able to replace the public education system at similar cost, and would do so in a way that probably made schools, on the whole, better, and in a way that allowed poor performing schools to be ended and replaced with schools that could do better. The private sector is really, really good at eliminating what doesn't work, and so long as school performance was tied to school accountability, the system would self-correct and improve itself.

The problem with this is that even the fastest-moving industries take time to establish themselves and become efficient, and even given a perfect system at the end of ten years, any given school system will have failed a huge amount of kids. In a good-sized city, quite possibly in the tens of thousands.

Immediate self interest will work against any major changes in education, and while the long-term benefits everyone, the short term hurts too many people for it to be politically feasible.

Except, say, in a city like New Orleans, where the system itself was already terrible, and the opportunity exists for it to rebuild in stratling new directions. Charter schools ,not private or public mainstream, but still...

(Blog Post inspired by a segment from NOW that will be online sometime in the next week)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Two quote-ish things -

"How funny the praise our society has for a single father - his work is remarkable and worthy of praise, not for any virtue greater than that of a single mother, but only because so few men are willing to do it."

"In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, father bury their sons."

And, as usual, PostSecret does it better.

A Case for Revolution?

Earlier I wrote about the choice between living in a stable, oppressive state and risking violent action to fight injustice. Here we have an article stating the the United States is currently an oppressive government worthing of changing, and that people somehow seem unwilling to risk a Second American Revolution.

The article focuses more on why conditions are revolutionary (low approval rating of government, disagreement with most government policies, distrust in the direction of the nation), and offers only one reason for why revolution hasn't happened - pacifying materialism. Materialism is a fair bet for calming some revolutionary zeal, but it misses a lot of what I think is perhaps more valid.

Long-standing democracies are stable institutions. While early one, upheaval is common, and democratic governments can have a hard time establishing themselves, the longer a democracy runs, the more people are willing to trust it. We have no big revolution because some people genuinely think that electing new politicians will be all the change we need. In 2006, with a disastrous war and a general public consensus of an administration that was mismanaging the war (not to mention other aspects of the country), the change that happened was an election of opposition party politicians into the legislature. Now, with low approval ratings for the legislature (which are fairly ever-present), people wait for the next election in 2008 so that the change they seek can be made then.

Trusting that elections will fix politics is not something a large segment of the populace is willing to do, and so they tend to leave the political process and, more or less, give up their vote. This is something that happens along class lines, so that the lower ones class, the more likely they are to not vote. The lower class is generally the place successful revolutions start from, but that requires that they are politically concerned enough to resort to revolution.

There are other factors, which I'll try to run through quickly here and explain more later -

The two-party system is really good at making sure people fear the opposition party in power more than they fear inept government across the board.
The polarized electorate would rather have small gains in an inefficient system than risk what will happen if views they disagree with prevail (esp. in a revolution)
Entrenched government is really good at being entrenched, and tends to make use of fear more adeptly than 'fringe' revolutionaries make use of hope and anger.
Politics in the United States are not stated as class based, and it is much harder to make class politics meaningful in a two-party system.

Let me know if you have any more ideas.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

In 930 days, the Sixties will have been 40 years ago

Adbusters has an interesting article on everything wrong with liberalism in US politics today. It raises many interesting points and (spoiler alert) ends with adopting progressive as the appropriate moniker for the American left.

Progressive seemed to me a re-branding term, and not as worthy as re-claiming liberal, but the power dynamic difference makes sense. 'Liberal' has been adopted into the 'pinko-commie' category as a style of resistance to those in power. Liberals are the changing of the guard, and so can never be the guard. Once in power and kept in power, the resistance to established authority is weak, as by being in power, the elected liberal is now a member of the authority.

Progressive is used, instead, as a way of moving forward, of working for positive change, rather than fighting against power. It is goal oriented, and not defined entirely by what it is in opposition to.

As a side-note relevant to the title of the post, the article has the 'lets not let the baby-boomers define us again' attitude that seems to be cropping up everywhere. Christine, in the depths of her archive, spotlighted a debate between the Gen-Xer minister and the Baby Boomer Minister, and the Adbusters article has a similar ethos to it - "yes, the sixties were great, yes, a lot was accomplished. The sixties are not now, and while it doesn't hurt us to have a sense of the history of our cause, we must acknowledge the differences from now and then, and we must be something different than we were then."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Frontiers and Social Contract Theory

It's an old and obsolete notion, but the Frontier was a defining trait of the United States from its colonial days to, really, around the 1890s.

The frontier was always an option for people who wanted less government, and while the mild, untamed lands have a certain appeal to them, its really the absence of serious legal authority that tended to make the place work.

This was the Social Contract Theory at its finest - if you want less of the controls of government, you can go where there are less controls. This means that you're giving up the protections offered as well. Here is a system where the social contract is variable by region, and where it is possible to exist in the same nation without having to have "one size fits all" trade-off of protections gained and liberties lost.

Thats been for a hundred years before I was born, but it's an interesting notion.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The United States Public Service Academy

This, when it is completed and effectively exists as its own institution, is going to be a boon for the nation.

I can see nothing wrong with this proposal and really it seems to be an incredible repository of good. Civil service is often the least-gloriously of work for the government, but elevating it to at least the position of military service is a good idea. This is a beautiful thing, and I can only hope it makes it through congress quickly and safely.