Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blurring the Spectrum

Every so often, I ask myself why I identify as far left. After all, I'm all for efficient government, I value personal freedom, and I have a weird fascination/relationship with the United States and nuclear power. These are points commonly espoused by the Libertarian Right, but I've changed the phrasing (efficient versus small government, personal versus total freedom) so that I don't appear as in their camp. With this background, it should come as no surprise that I agreed with everything Jim Scarantino said in his column about reforming the Republican Party.

To be fair, Jim Scarantino isn't the average republican, and that's the point of his column. He subscribes to an older, different notion of that party, and his credentials align him more with Eisenhower than Reagan. This a a perspective on a Republican Party with a clearly demonstrated right to rule; a right earned through competent governance and not dependent on moral or divine authority. And this party, this return to form that he argues for, is a party I can agree with in many ways. Step 9 of his plan is especially appealing:
Make direct amends to such people wherever possible. Give Iraq back to Iraqis, move all Katrina victims out of formaldehyde-poisoned trailers and rebuild their homes, improve veterans services, and repeal some tax breaks to pay for the nation’s needs.
This is something a responsible party would do. Combined with advocating for freedom from control and low-cost government, it would be the beginnings of a conversion. But there is a divergence here - I think those policies are good, but I think they are good policies for a party of rule, and for the nation. They are not partisan positions. Lawrence Lessig, who is as close to a political guidepost as I currently have, "thinks there are allies to be found among the "intellectually honest" right." But Lessig is speaking from a position on the left, but he is speaking towards a consensus position; "He points out that the need to raise money from industry provides an incentive to grow government and maintain regulation as a kind of leverage to extract donations from industry. He's made battling earmarks, a conservative cause célèbre, a Change Congress core mission".

Lessig and Scarantino overlap here on what should be the center, and it should be a center made up of the "intellectually honest" on both sides of the aisle, or even among those who don't fit nicely on the conservative/liberal political spectrum. And so I can support Scarantino's desire to reform his party into one that protects freedom (our venn diagrams of beliefs overlap here), and I can be happy about a Republican Party that takes that form. It would be a much more pleasant opposition party.

But I will have to diverge from that perspective, because I think that government can do more than just guarantee freedoms. I think that government can work towards social justice, and I think that it serves an important role in the mediation between business and individuals, and I think that the protections government can offer, which come at the expense of both personal and business freedoms, are fundamental points essential to living in society with other humans. I'll end with a Lessig quote that contains a Reagan quote:
"There's a speech that Reagan gives in 1965," Lessig says, "where he talks about how democracy always fails because once the people recognize they can vote themselves largess, they just vote themselves largess and the fiscal policy is destroyed. Well, Reagan had it half-right. It's not as if it's the poor out there who have figured out how to suck the money out of the rich. It's exactly the other way around."
I can agree with anyone that there are problems in government. But, as is always the case, the trick is figuring out where the problems fall, and here is where Scarantino and I begin to disagree.

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