Thursday, August 30, 2018

Conservative NY Times Editorials

I probably shouldn't write this, but I will anyway. I regularly read/skim the NY Times opinion page. With the editor on vacation, he invited people with views not typically represented in the NY Times to write the main editorial piece for a week each. Two socialists shared a week. A legal expert wrote for another. A conservative columnist (and strong supporter of the current Republican government) took the last week. He linked to a couple of articles he said were important reads, both written by conservative academics, highly regarded by the conservative columnist, at least, and I have reason to believe by many informed conservatives.

My Informants

If my Conservative or Libertarian friends want an introduction to what one educated Progressive thinks is important, here are a couple of links. I recommend you go to these and don't bother with the analysis of the Conservative writings that follows. I'm sure we can find some common ground to build on. But do as you wish. It's still a free country. At least until Progressives turn it into a centrally planned Communist oligarchy.

On the harms of economic inequality and benefits of greater equality:

You can pick your topic from that page, or watch this video for a summary:
Short version? Inequality hurts people and countries. Look at the data. Look at more data. Look at more data. It happens over and over again, and hurts people in all sorts of ways.

On government spending making things better--even for private business:

There are some great, short videos at this site. Your smart phone? Built from government funded research. I'm looking forward to reading the book.

On the need for greater equality for women and the benefits of having it:

(by a Mormon social scientist, Valerie Hudson, author of Sex and World Peace)
When laws make women physically safe on their own, when they make women equal partners in families and support women in their family choices, and when women make up a big portion of governing bodies (both private and public), then countries are less likely to be involved in wars. No other predictor is as good.

On the need to remedy bad actions by our representative governments:

Black people are much poorer today than they would have been had the US and state and local governments not enacted and enforced laws and policies that segregated America--denying Black veterans the same benefits as White veterans, forcing unions to segregate even when they wanted to make integrated unions, allowing laws that forbade sale of homes in certain areas to Blacks, and the list goes on. Even with the laws gone, people are suffering today, because the laws did what they were written to do.

If you look closely at these references, you may find that I didn't refer you to a single political Progressive thought leader. No one from a left wing think tank. It just so happens that Progressive voices in America today are preaching goals more in line with this evidence than what we see from the political right. It also turns out that the mid-20th century Libertarian idealism that conservative think tanks seem to favor in their scholarship is a bit too far from last decades of advances in social, political, and academic thought to generate government or personal policies adapted to the current needs of most American--or most humans.
These are a few of the voices that inform my Progressivism. Not partisan or ideological pundits. Not one or two news outlets. Not a political party news letter (although I get news from Our Revolution, the Working Families Party, and Rural Progressives, among other advocacy groups).

Some Important Conservative Thought

As judged by the conservative guest editor for the New York Times Opinion page, August 2018.

Breaking Norms is Good

The first editorial referenced said an interesting thing. Much of what Trump is doing is breaking norms, not breaking the Constitution or Democracy. History has shown that breaking norms is often what is needed to reinvigorate democracy. That part was an interesting read. He brought up some great examples from US history of presidents who broke a lot of norms.
Of course, he failed to mention the likely consequences of conflicts of interest relating to the president not divesting his finances while in office (and the legal gray area of the emoluments clause in the Constitution), or various other ethical (not just procedural, cultural, or partisan) norms the president has broken. But his big picture was interesting. Breaking norms is not inherently bad. It's a bit curious, that argument coming from an ideological conservative, since that is what many Progressives like typically want, but not really problematic. 
The author's application of the idea to the current Republican administration, implying that this specific set of broken norms is good for our nation, is more difficult. The author avoided this difficulty by cherry-picking the norm breaking that gets a lot of publicity, but isn't really what I see as the administration's worst offenses. Further, I don't doubt that good consequences may come from a period of bad policies and broken ethical norms, but when they do it is because good people are motivated to fix things with better policies and stronger ethical norms. Bad policies and bad ethics may inspire good, but choosing crooks and liars for your advisers, separating parents and children, and wielding presidential power to (attempt to) punish political critics meet no definition of good--for our nation or for individuals. And I limit myself only to three points that are easily publicly documented.

Bernie Sanders is Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Castro, and his supporters are Nazis

The second article had a great, click bait title: "Socialism as a Hate Crime." I will summarize:
  1. Conservatives are having their voices silenced with the accusations that they are speaking hate.
  2. Socialism has sounded good and friendly everyplace it has been preached throughout history.
  3. Everyplace Socialism has come into power, millions of people have been killed and oppressed:
    • long list detailing the attrocities of:
      • Stalin
      • Mao
      • Hitler
      • Castro
  4. There is no difference between the Progressive movement in America, today, and these atrocious regimes.
  5. If Bernie Sanders, or others sharing his ideas, comes to power, we will be on the Road to Serfdom (the title of a book by Hayek).
  6. Sanders and others who believe like him should be silenced for speaking hate (or it's at least not fair that they are silencing us conservatives in a few places that we care about. They are so intolerant).
 Now for my comments
  1. I'd love to pick apart that claim that Conservatives are being prejudicially silenced and see what substance it doesn't have. It's true that some loud, conservative voices have been silenced (in specific venues), and some tweets and social media posts propounding views some identify as conservative have been censored. That those voices are not proponents of hate, and that their views are conservative are completely different claims. That students should not have the right to protest speeches on their university campuses is a completely different claim. That students are unwise to protest speeches by conservatives on college campuses is a completely different claim. But examining the happenings at that level of detail might derail the superficial narrative, so I won't do it here. Plus, it wouldn't convince anyone.
  2. That's an interesting historical fact, that socialism sounded cozy before they slaughtered millions. Debatable, but I can see what he's getting at. You have to cherry pick, a bit, which historical socialists you read about, and which things Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and Castro said before coming to power, but they certainly said many nice things that sounded good to a lot of people.
  3. No one (almost) will disagree that Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Castro, and their supporters did horrible things. The bulk of the article was a summary of their worst offenses against humanity. It is quite an effective litany to prime a person's emotions. If it were logically relevant, this would be an important reminder to not repeat the horrors of history, and to listen to Libertarian voices. It is a great list for anyone wanting to respond to the claim that religion is responsible for the worst atrocities in human history. Only Nazism might claim some tie to religion as its motivating force, and that is dubious.
  4. This is the main argument, asserted in one early paragraph and insinuated throughout--American style Progressivism is a certain precursor to Stalinist Communism unless it is repudiated by Democracy-loving Conservatives.
  5. This destruction of democracy was predicted by the economic prophet, G.F. Hayek, in his book entitled The Road to Serfdom. I have come to discover that this is a Bible
    of many Libertarian Conservatives. Unfortunately for their prophet's relevance, today, economics has built upon his work, most recently with advances in behavioral economics. The 1940s communist scare doesn't have to be our great political motivator, today. It's ok for us to recognize that there is a spectrum between centrally planned and controlled communism and unregulated free markets. In fact, most of democratic Europe, Canada, and Australia live in that spectrum far closer to communism than we do, and none of them have become become authoritarian dictatorships in the last 60 years, as best I can tell. It's ok for us to recognize that good government plays a role in good society, and that not everyone who collects taxes is an evil crook. It's ok for us to realize that societies are stronger when there is greater, real equality.
  6. Social media and college campuses should be censoring Bernie Sanders and others who believe as he does that Medicare for all, Social Security, and publicly funded schooling through college are good things, because these things will result in killing millions of people, even though they sound cozy right now. Who does this make sense to? I actually know many people that this makes sense to. I even can explain why it makes sense to them, although I no longer try to justify their views as reasonable. Most of them wouldn't be as logically bold as this author to make the argument that Sanders and Hitler are the same, but they will insist that no good can come of publicly run anything--or at least not as much as if it were all private.
This second guy is literally calling Bernie Sanders a pre-power Hitler, and calling American Progressives Nazis and Communists. Go read it. He says there is no difference in what they all preach. That would explain why Sanders and his supporters are so worried about the ethnic, racial, and cultural homogeneity of their voting bloc. Why they are seeking to keep out Latino asylees and cutting by more than 2/3 the number of refugees we accept each year. This is why Progressives are defending the separation of young children from their parents (they are criminals, after all), and are in favor of the use of force by police and citizens when they feel threatened by other U.S. Citizens who they think might be criminals. This is why Progressives want to keep putting disproportionate numbers of Blacks in jail, because the idea of majorly reforming our criminal justice system is the same thing as failing to support our police officers and other public servants. This is why Progressives feel annoyed or disrespected or threatened or angry or disgusted when they are forced to watch NFL players kneel during the National Anthem to protest police shootings of Black men, because saying that we White Americans are racist is real racism (that's a near quote, but not from an educated Conservative). Standing respectfully for symbols of America, seeking unlimited spending for our active military, arming every good citizen (as defined by the NRA) who wants a gun, deregulating markets, backing police in killing, arresting, and imprisoning Black men, and protecting unborn babies against the moral turpitude of their mothers, are the most important ways to be a Patriot.
Oops, I think I mixed up my parties. 

I tried. 

I read the thoughtful, respectful (mostly), conservative columnist (who called Millennials know-nothings). I read the professors and think tank fellows that he cited as intelligent and influential. I don't doubt they are both, and have contributed many good things in their spheres of influence. You might even say that these authors never said they support bad things like separating toddlers from their parents. 
But how do you make that distinction in our current climate? If you say Trump's norm breaking is good for the country, you are aiding this Republican administration's policies. You are saying, "I support actions keeping foreigners out." You are saying, "If you are poor or middle class, you shouldn't expect benefits from the government--even Medicare and Social Security, and you should look to private markets for education, too. But rich people and corporations, you should expect special treatment because you make our nation great." If you equate American Progressives with Hitler and Stalin, you are calling them racist, nationalist, and imperialist--Nazis and Communists were all those things. You are saying Progressives are warming up to ethnically or culturally cleanse America. Those are the logical implications of these arguments. The implications aren't even buried. It's the point the second author is trying to make clear.
If these shallowly reasoned apologetics are what passes for strong scholarship and thought in conservative circles, they really have no justification for asking why people don't want to hear what they have to say. It's not like I turned to Brietbart or Fox News to get my explanations of conservative thought. I went to the New York Times and conservative professors and think tanks. I didn't look for their worst work. I read what was recommended by an educated conservative. I would love serious discussions about current politics with my conservative friends and acquaintances, but that's hard when they rely on authors like these and mid-20th century Libertarianism to justify their beliefs. Let's talk current events with current understanding, based on careful and broad views of history and data from real policies, not idealized ideological models.
I have heard conservatives from common people to intellectuals to politicians support the Republican government, despite decrying the actions of its current leader. From each one I have heard some form of, "As long as he does X, we can/should ignore/forgive his antics. We are getting our way, and we are happy about it. We are stopping Socialists/Democrats/Progressives/atheists/immigrants/Muslims/snowflakes/RINOs/the elite/intellectuals from destroying our country/killing unborn children/committing acts of terror/taking away our guns. We are supporting business/job creators/economic growth/lower taxes/fiscal responsibility/our military. We are getting pork for our constituents' problems because we can get this guy to play favorites by acting loyal." I actually heard a Georgia Congressman say that, although he used more politically palatable language.

I love ideals. I love futures that could be. But let's bound our ideals by the laws of nature, and build them on real humanity.

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