Friday, February 12, 2010

WaPo Solicits Alexander Opinion Piece Saying Liberals are Condescending

Gerard Alexander wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post last week that he says, was solicited. One has to wonder why. His premise is that American Liberals, "... to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration." He continues with the assertion that despite his calls for bipartisanship, President Obama is the "leading voice" of "intellectual condescension." I have to confess that as a lifelong liberal--and a fairly radical one at that--I find that Alexander's piece is breathtaking in its condescension and lack of fact and reason. After reading it, my reasons should be self-evident, however, his opening argument appears to be the fact that "...Democratic fortunes are on the wane..." and that we claim that our troubles are a combination of "...conservative misinformation...and the country's failure to grasp great liberal accomplishments" This is critically important to Mr. Alexander as his argument is that, "...[this] liberal tradition for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today, when dialogue would be more valuable than ever." On the wane? Impoverished debate?

Evidently, liberals have always looked down on conservative thinking, believing as we do that right-wing ideology "...stressed paranoia, intolerance and insecurity..." In the 1950's and 60's, according to Alexander, liberals trivialized conservatives. His argument falters somewhat when he acknowledges that this changed during the Carter years and their associated economic difficulties followed by the rise in the 1980's of Reaganomics.In four areas, liberals attack conservative thought and action, says Alexander, and by so doing, we lose the benefit of sound science and thinking from the conservative side of the spectrum. I can almost feel the little pat on the head at this point.

The first area in which liberals attack conservatives, according to Alexander, is the paranoid delusion of--as coined by Hillary--the vast right-wing conspiracy. The premise of this point is that supported by such entities as Fox News today and conservative columnists in the past, science is distorted and evidence ignored in order to, "... reflect the biases of industry-backed Republican politicians or of evangelicals aimlessly shielding the world from modernity." To be successful, this tactic must have the tacit approval of the "...dupes, quacks, or hired guns..." who disseminate this information. By extension, "...the rank-and-file Americans who support them must be manipulated at best, or stupid at worst." Which is, to Alexander, the second point of attack. Seriously people. Think about this. If all cats are animals, then all animals are cats? He has created a false dichotomy (it is either this or that, when in fact, it is neither).

I am curious how anyone could watch even a portion of Fox News and not see that it is the media arm of the Republican Party. Every news story or opinion piece is full of fallacies or distortions. Loaded words are de rigueur, if it was said by President Obama it is bad, politicians can stare into the camera and lie and no "journalist" will hold them accountable. Policies in place under Republican administrations become bad policy if continued under a Democrat, every action taken, word spoken, or gesture given is distorted and twisted in order to manipulate its audience. It is not a conspiracy if the Republican leadership holds press conferences and distributes "talking points" on how to bring down the Obama presidency and Fox News pundits discuss how to stop the "dangerous" programs of this administration. It may not be hidden so it is technically not a conspiracy, but it is definitely an organized attack by the right-wing extremists of the Republican Party.

Over the past forty years, the Republican media machine has convinced blue-collar, middle-class America to vote against their self-interest. Those most affected by the actions of Wall Street, the corruption of the insurance industry, the revolving doors on K Street, and the loss of our manufacturing jobs overseas do not seem to understand that it is the very policies they say they support that have permitted those things to happen. The deregulation of business took away the controls on the free market which allowed the meltdown of 2008--even Alan Greenspan admitted that he relied on the banks to regulate themselves, assuming that they would not take advantage of the system. To be fair, Jimmy Carter began the slide with his deregulation of the airline industry, but Saint Reagan and his disastrous "trickledown economics" which more than any other factor in history widened the gap between rich and poor, took away all constraints.

I talk to people who complain about Democrats, complain about taxes, complain about lazy government workers and waste and fraud in government (where have they been for the past 20 years?), and then complain because they can't find a job, their house is in foreclosure, and their 401k isn't worth anything anymore. To top it off, they bitch about the conditions of the roads, complain if the snow isn't cleared immediately, or storm drains cleaned out to prevent flooding, and get angry when they have to buy school supplies and books for their children who are in overcrowded classrooms with leaking roofs.

What people don't understand is that when government collects money, it spends it. What does it spend it on? Goods and services. Goods means supplies and materials to maintain infrastructure (roads, bridges, buildings, etc.), and paper and pencils, computers, printers, and other office equipment. Services in the form of government workers to provide all the social services that we are now doing without, processing the paperwork for all the myriad reasons governments process paperwork, and generally providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of people.

I imagine that most of us appreciate that when we pick up the telephone and dial 911 someone answers and does not put us on hold (we hope), and that if we need an ambulance or police or fire truck, one will be provided. Taxes. I hear repeatedly from Republicans that we know best how to spend our own money. Sure. I'm like most people and would as soon hang on to what's mine. At the same time, I know I'm not going to get much for my dollar. But, if I add my dollar to your dollar, and we add our dollars to their dollars, and then add those dollars to everybody else's dollars, we might have enough to actually buy something. Never mind the fact that if someone claims to be a Christian, it is in the Christian tradition to care for those in need...

By getting Americans worked up over immigration, abortion, and guns, conservatives are thus able to convince voters to vote against their own economic self-interest, something Alexander claims is obviously not the case [Really?]. He cites the gatherings at last summer's town hall meetings by members of the "tea party" movement stating that liberals refused to listen to what they were saying. I know. It is hard to listen when people insist on shouting and have no coherent message. We had birthers and deathers and people calling Obama a fascist and a socialist and a communist and wanting him to fix this or that but then said they didn't want to pay taxes. They want him to win the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but again, don't want to pay taxes. They want jobs and to stop foreclosures, and somehow think that 8 months after taking office, he is supposed to have solved all of the problems that 8 years of a Bush White House created.

In his third point, Alexander misses a couple of decades as he talks about racism--in the 1970's and 80's. He tries to spread the blame, stating that both parties are responsible for the role of "...mobilizing ethnic and other resentments of some Americans against others." He acknowledges the role of race in the shift of the Democratic Party of the South to the Republican Party, and cites examples (Nixon and Reagan) of the use of "...white prejudice against blacks and immigrants" but is somehow unable to provide any examples when he then claims that, "...candidates and agendas of both parties demonstrate an unfortunate willingness to play on prejudices..." That's it. Point three, probably one of the most divisive in our country right now and he spends two very brief paragraphs of a two-page article in discussion of this issue. But liberals are condescending? Is it not condescending to marginalize a significant segment of our society and the issues that concern them?

Let's stop trying to dance around the subject and instead of calling it "...mobilizing ethnic and other resentments of some Americans against others," let's just call it what it is. Racism. The placards held up at the Tea Party rallies, the use of the "n" word that has become so frequent that it is almost routine, the slurs against the President and First Lady. Alexander gives specific examples but then says that the Democrats are guilty of this as well, (but neglects to provide any examples). Are all Democrats free of racism? Probably not, but it is certainly not institutionalized to the extent that it is today within the Republican Party.

Moving on. Point four claims that liberals condescend when they insist on using facts and logic. Republicans, however, according to liberals, Alexander says, play on emotions and fear.Liberals evidently claim that extremists in the corporate world fight against anything that interferes with their bottom line, religious extremists form coalitions, and neo-cons refuse to look outside their rigid foreign policy ideas. He quotes Psychologist Drew Westen, who is also a Democratic political consultant who said that, . "They [liberals] like to read and think. They thrive on policy debates, arguments, statistics, and getting the facts right." According to Alexander and the rest of the GOP, this is evidence that liberals are just too intellectual. So, trying to use evidence and reason rather than emotional manipulation and fear is condescending and assumes a stupid electorate.

We all like to think that we have all the answers, or if not, that our side has all the answers; that the collective wisdom and combined knowledge of our group, clan, tribe, or party is right. We might occasionally disagree--usually on little things--and sometimes argue vehemently until we reach consensus (if consensus is how our particular unit has decided to form decisions), but in the big things, the core issues and beliefs, we agree. In this country, the reason for our two major political parties is because at their core, each has a fundamentally different belief in how this country should be governed. Both agree that the Constitution set the appropriate framework upon which to build our system of laws, and both agree that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of what the Constitution actually means when a law can be interpreted in more than one way. But in the big things, the two parties cannot and will not agree and are not likely ever to agree.

The Republican party believes that a country is governed best that is governed least, and that the proper role of government is to see to the national defense, foreign policy, and little else.That this country was built by individual achievement and since the Constitution says "All men are created equal...," then if someone has not succeeded, it is through their own lack of effort. In a Republican world, the free market rules. The marketplace sets the price and everyone is free to participate as they are able. If you cannot afford something, you get credit. If you cannot afford something or cannot get credit, you do without. While there is a continuum of ideology within the party, there are some who believe that any kind of social welfare is wrong; a kind of social Darwinism if you will. I remember talking to a parent of one of my children's friends several years ago and he said, "If someone cannot afford to feed himself, he should starve." I thought, at the time, that his view was isolated, but have since learned that it is not. Anti-immigrant feeling has been with us for a hundred years although scratch a Republican's family tree and I would imagine an immigrant fairly close by. Initial immigration was northern European as the first settlers were from first England and Scotland, later the Scandinavian countries,and Germany and France. Ireland was considered, early in our history, in the same manner that Mexico is today, and when southern Europeans began their wave of immigration, there was very strong anti-immigrant feeling. Although we all--for the most part--came here from somewhere else, we have also all wanted to shut the door behind us. The Republican Party with their anti-tax, small government,platform exemplifies this.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, believes that in a representative democracy such as ours, all of the people get to decide how they want their country to run. The Democratic Party believes that it is the role of government to ensure that the social fabric of this country is maintained, that the wealth of the nation is used for the benefit of everyone, that if individuals and corporations benefit from the physical and social infrastructure of a country then they should in turn share those benefits with the country that provided them, and most importantly, that there is no one way to think, or believe, or be. That all are welcome within the party and within the country.The Democratic Party believes that while we may not always agree on the details, we believe that there are some things that government can do better. We believe in a pluralistic and secular society that is tolerant of differing opinions and ideas. And, we believe that if the country wants to spend its treasure on providing for its poor, then a small group of the wealthy should not be allowed to overturn that decision (and by the same token, if the majority do not want to spend its treasure on war...).

Sorry for the length of this post, but after 12 years of Republican control of Congress (the Democrats have had it now for 3), and 8 years of George W., the Republican Party has shown the effects of its decades long public relations campaign. Because people tend to respond to emotion with emotion, they use emotions in their messaging. Democrats try to use logic, reason, science, and evidence, a methodology that is doomed to failure in a country that is increasingly dominated by a very loud, albeit small, extremist fringe group that claims that the evidence is wrong, the science produced from that evidence distorted, and that God gave us this world and its resources to use--when the Rapture comes, it won't matter if it's all used up. The largest textbook buying state is Texas. Textbook publishers publish what states will buy. Other states then are limited by what is available. Texas has appointed a creationist to head the state school board. See where I'm going with this?
Condescending? Perhaps someone should explain the term projection to him.

Thanks for stopping by. Come back soon.

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