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Democratic party rule, one year later…
Posted: 20 January 2010 06:08 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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It certainly has been interesting to see how things have played out after a year in which the democrats have been in control of both the White House and both houses of congress.  The republican base was dispirited by GOP politicians who had entirely abandoned fiscal conservatism (this is a crucial point that many missed), and were spending money and creating new entitlements at a rate to make them look almost like New Dealers.  This wasn’t the sort of agenda that the kind of people who usually vote republican support.  An increasingly unpopular war certainly played a significant part as well.  The republican brand was tarnished by association with a president who had record low approval ratings, and the republican presidential candidate was uninspiring and ran a poor campaign.

Along came the democrats with an exciting, charismatic, candidate who electrified their base, who promised change (which nearly everyone wanted), and whose election was truly a historic moment in the nation’s history.  The democrats swept into congress with large enough majorities to put through virtually anything they wanted, it seemed. 

Unfortunately for them, they read it as a mandate to do just that, and a sign that the country itself had moved decisively to the left.  People went so far as declare that conservatism was dead.  Well… not really, as hindsight now pretty clearly shows.  Not at all. 

The reality was that not that voters embraced democrats, and a leftist agenda, they merely rejected republicans and what they had been doing the last eight years.  The election of Scott Brown is a pretty clear referendum on the agenda the democratic-led government has been following.  It really is significant.  A republican has been elected to the seat of ultra-liberal “lion of the senate” Ted Kennedy, in the most left-leaning state in the nation.  This is the first time a republican has been elected senator in Massachusetts since 1972—nearly four decades.  It’s pretty clear what this says about the popularity of the current president and congress’ policies, especially given how Scott Brown ran his campaign—he ran directly against what the democrats have been doing, especially health care.  He said, “I’ll put a stop to this.”  And liberal Massachusetts sent him to D.C. to do it.  That’s how popular Obama, Reid, and Pelosi’s program is right now.

The bottom line is that most voters, and crucially, the independent swing voters, aren’t buying what the democrats are selling.  American’s undeniably wanted republicans out in 2008, but that didn’t mean they wanted big government and a radical statist agenda.  It didn’t mean they wanted government to take over vast swathes of the economy—education, energy, finance, the automotive industry, and health care, etc..  And it certainly didn’t mean that they wanted to triple the already astronomical national debt.  But the democrats have tried to do these things, in doing so have overreached, and just got slapped for it.

The economy is hurting democrats.  The stimulus hasn’t worked.  Obama and his party in congress sold the stimulus as necessary to jump start the economy and keep unemployment below 8%; it has done neither of these things (fiscal conservatives said all along it wouldn’t).  I think a lot of people started to wake up when there was a rush to pass the $825 billion stimulus bill now, now, now!  We were told over and over that it was vital and we couldn’t afford to waste any time.  But then the bill, once passed in congress, sat on the president’s desk, unread and unsigned for several days.  That, plus the fact that many of the bills provisions didn’t take effect until one or two years down the road, plus Rahm Emmanuel’s comment that “you never want to let a crisis go to waste” I think suggested to most people that our leaders were not being straight with us about what the hurry really was, and that there were ulterior motives for wanting it passed.  Also, Obama promised a change from politics as usual, promised a real spirit of bipartisanship, and promised transparency in government.  Voters have not missed that he has done the opposite of what he stated in every case.  I have seen no evidence of a clean sweep of D.C. politics as usual, and neither have voters.  Neither Obama’s appointments nor the behavior of congress has shown any significant change from the way they’ve done things for decades in Washington.  As for bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle… voters didn’t miss the fact that when you say things like “I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking; I don’t mind cleaning up the mess, just don’t do a lot of talking” you look very unlike a bipartisan reconciler.  And as for transparency… remember, Obama is on record saying, in January 2008 “That’s what I will do in bringing all parties together, not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together, and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are.”  And Pelosi is also on record saying, when she became Speaker of the House in 2006: “The American people voted to restore integrity and honesty in Washington, D.C., and the Democrats intend to lead the most honest, most open and most ethical Congress in history.”  And yet despite these promises, to date, none of the important discussions on this legislation have been covered on C-Span, and this despite the fact that C-Span CEO Brian Lamb has requested that C-Span be allowed to record and broadcast the health care negotiations, including any and all committee meetings.  American’s have noticed the difference between what Obama promised and what we are getting, just as they noticed the difference between Geo. H.W. Bush’s “Read my lips! NO NEW TAXES!” pledge, and his actual conduct in office.  While voters are somewhat inured to politicians breaking campaign promises, and most consider an honest politician an oxymoron, a politician can only go so far before they decide he’s talkin’ the talk, but he ain’t walkin’ the walk.  I think a lot of American’s are deciding that Obama ain’t walkin’ the walk.

If I may be permitted an “I told you so” moment here, I said before the election that people expecting Obama and his “hope and change” to effect a real systemic transformation of American politics were going to be disappointed, and I was right.  It’s been old-fashioned, corrupt, pork-laden, smoke-filled-room politicking as usual inside the beltway, and the voters haven’t missed this either.

Now having said all this, republicans shouldn’t get all giddy with victory either.  People turned them out in 2006 for a reason, and the GOP brand is still heavily tarnished.  They have a lot of ground to make up, and they severely damaged their reputation with eight years of overspending and expansion of government.  People elected them on the traditional republican platform of lower taxes, limited spending, and smaller government, and then they got to Washington and didn’t govern in accordance with their platform.  In short, they didn’t do the things they promised, and the things the voters sent them to Washington to do, so they got chucked out.  They have a long way to go to convince people that this time they’ll do what the people want.  They also have to overcome the image that they are old-fashioned, reactionary, heartless, moralizing, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, etc., all of which hurts them severely among younger voters and women voters especially.

But they need to remember that Brown won by running against big government, higher taxed, and the current health care bill.  He didn’t court social conservatives, he didn’t focus very much on national defense.  He ran against government takeover of the health care industry, he ran against high taxes and big spending, he ran against big government, and he ran against Washington.  As John Samples, author of “The Struggle to Limit Government” observed, “he went back to Reagan, and it worked.”  Even in liberal Massachusetts.

I think what this says about the American people (most of them at least), is that they do want social security, medicare, some welfare (as a safety net, and temporary aid to keep people afloat until they can get back on their feet), education, some regulation of business (to enforce ethical and fair business practices), security, etc..  In other words, they do want some services from their government, and are prepared to pay the taxes necessary to support them.  (I think they also do want an overhaul of health care, but aren’t at all convinced this current bill is the cure to what ails us [no pun intended].)  At the same time, they don’t want a lot of moralizing and interference with their personal choices, nor do they want a lot of interference with free enterprise and their business options.  Republicans didn’t reflect this political orientation during the 8 years of the Bush administration, and thus far, Obama and his administration and congress haven’t reflected it either.  If republicans can learn the right lessons they can make huge gains.  If not, they may stay in the wilderness.  But the democrats have a hell of a lot of damage control on their hands as well.  It will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like after year two.

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Posted: 30 January 2010 08:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Right on, my friend!

With regards to how you define Obama and the gang, I find it interesting that some of my “leftist” friends (and relatives) would disagree with your description of Obama or the democrats as having a leftist agenda. Believe it or not, they don’t think that Obama is left enough! My ultra-liberal uncle has referred to him as a “centrist democrat”. 

He says that their healthcare plan is nowhere near being a leftist program.  A bill that calls for private, for-profit insurance companies to run health care, that plans to force everyone to buy for-profit corporate health plans IS NOT a leftist idea, in his opinion.  A bad idea…. maybe even a totalitarian or Fascist idea…. but not a leftist idea.

He opines that the left would never have given trillion dollar bailouts to corporations with no strings attached, and that the left would never have sat by as those corporations then used some of those funds to pay out huge bonuses to top execs.

The left, according to my uncle, would have immediately placed a moratorium on all foreclosures of primary residences and then forced banks and mortgage companies to renegotiate the terms (especially those with egregiously usurious terms) of all defaulted mortgages.

He also said the left would not have gone to Copenhagen and derailed the global warming negotiations.  We would have banded with the nations of the southern hemisphere and then have come home to enact the quickest and fastest transformation of any developed country.

My dearly beloved leftists have been “educating” me on what they call the “true left”....and it seems to be nothing like what I originally thought. They say that the Left does NOT equal big government, but that ultimately, left thinking is about how to get to the demise of government altogether.

They also say that the true Left is all about democracy…..participatory democracy first, and to a lesser extent representational democracy.  It is about extending democracy into all aspects of life, including economics.

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Posted: 30 January 2010 10:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

Right on, my friend!

With regards to how you define Obama and the gang, I find it interesting that some of my “leftist” friends (and relatives) would disagree with your description of Obama or the democrats as having a leftist agenda. Believe it or not, they don’t think that Obama is left enough! My ultra-liberal uncle has referred to him as a “centrist democrat”. 

He says that their healthcare plan is nowhere near being a leftist program.  A bill that calls for private, for-profit insurance companies to run health care, that plans to force everyone to buy for-profit corporate health plans IS NOT a leftist idea, in his opinion.  A bad idea…. maybe even a totalitarian or Fascist idea…. but not a leftist idea.

Well, I would be inclined to reply that this is on the order of the “no true Scotsman fallacy,” or if you prefer, that of the Christian who would assert that Hitler was actually an atheist (nevermind the abundant evidence of his Christian beliefs) because no “true” Christian would do what he did.  The Hitler reference is not mere Godwinism in this case either, as fascism (of which National Socialism was an examplar) called for state control of privately owned business.  It’s still not the free market operating on its own.

Incidentally, fascist is not the opposite of leftist. Fascism incorporates socialism, which is leftist.

Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

He opines that the left would never have given trillion dollar bailouts to corporations with no strings attached, and that the left would never have sat by as those corporations then used some of those funds to pay out huge bonuses to top execs.

Then you should point out to your uncle that those bailouts were hardly “no strings attached” and to characterize them as such is simply dishonest.  Banks such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, American Express, Bank of New York Mellon, Capital One Financial, State Street, Northern Trust, and others were practically falling all over themselves to repay the TARP funds last year specifically in order to escape all the government controls that came along with the money.

The fact that those banks used the money to pay executives large bonuses was due to the fact that in some cases those were contractual obligations, like it or not, and there was no legal way to void them.  And in others, it’s simply that when you are dealing with huge bureaucracies and complex issues, there will always be loopholes that some people exploit to their advantage.

Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

The left, according to my uncle, would have immediately placed a moratorium on all foreclosures of primary residences and then forced banks and mortgage companies to renegotiate the terms (especially those with egregiously usurious terms) of all defaulted mortgages.

I have no doubt that some on the left would have done this.  But the law usually forbids voiding legally binding contracts just because that’s what you want to do, and lots of left-leaning politicians at least have just enough sense to realize what a dangerous precedent that would be to set.

Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

He also said the left would not have gone to Copenhagen and derailed the global warming negotiations.  We would have banded with the nations of the southern hemisphere and then have come home to enact the quickest and fastest transformation of any developed country.

That assumes a monolithic government, which we don’t have.  I’m sure there were some democrats who would do just that.  Still others would do it, but realize it’s not popular with their constituents, and would cost them their seats in congress. 

Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

My dearly beloved leftists have been “educating” me on what they call the “true left”....and it seems to be nothing like what I originally thought. They say that the Left does NOT equal big government, but that ultimately, left thinking is about how to get to the demise of government altogether.

More “no true Scotsman” fallacy.  Historically, the left has been characterized by Keynesian economics, the welfare state, and other socialist programs up to and including nationalization of the economy and central planning.  This is why the extreme end of leftist ideology includes Marxism.  The left is explicitly statist, and has been ever since the term originated during the French Revolution.

Josh - 31 January 2010 01:09 AM

They also say that the true Left is all about democracy…..participatory democracy first, and to a lesser extent representational democracy.  It is about extending democracy into all aspects of life, including economics.

With its advocacy of central planning, socialism, and other statist ideas the left has often been anti-democratic.  So has the right, it must be said.  To describe either the left or the right as inherently democratic is not just nonsense, but pernicious nonsense.  Both left and right readily pay lip service to democracy and use it when it serves their purpose, and both sides are entirely capable of subverting, and historically have subverted democratic institutions when they couldn’t achieve their aims through those institutions.

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Posted: 31 January 2010 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I see your point about the “no true Scotsman” thing.

No “true” Christian would kill anyone…despite its history of crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, the Holocaust, etc. No “true” leftist would be statist…despite its history of statism. No “true” atheist would kill anyone…despite Mao, Pol Pot, Joe Stalin, etc.

But maybe it’s not as much of a fallacy as you might think. The vast majority of Christians have NOT killed anyone, burned any witches, or sent any Jews to gas chambers…..and hopefully wouldn’t want to! The vast majority of atheists have NOT committed mass murder, and hopefully wouldn’t even dream of it!

So maybe…JUST MAYBE…the majority of those on the left are more like my uncle (sincere, albeit idealistic) than like those who would subvert democracy for their own selfish purposes.

Maybe the Christians who truly seek to emulate Jesus instead of Pat Robertson…..and the atheists who live a good life and don’t hurt or kill anyone…..and the leftists who truly believe in democratic ideals….......ARE the “true Scotsmen”!

Maybe?

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Posted: 31 January 2010 01:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Josh - 31 January 2010 03:26 PM

I see your point about the “no true Scotsman” thing.

No “true” Christian would kill anyone…despite its history of crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, the Holocaust, etc. No “true” leftist would be statist…despite its history of statism. No “true” atheist would kill anyone…despite Mao, Pol Pot, Joe Stalin, etc.

Well, to digress just a little, I must disagree with your last sentence.  Since atheism isn’t a belief, but is, rather, a lack of belief, even monsters like Stalin and Mao could be “true” atheists.  All it requires is that they genuinely believe in no God or gods.  And merely not believing in god doesn’t automatically make one either good or a rationalist any more than belief in God automatically makes one moral or righteous.  And, of course, Stalin and Mao didn’t kill their millions in the name of atheism, they did it in the name of communism, collectivism, authoritarianism, the cultural revolution, the Great Leap Forward, etc.  Atheism isn’t an ideology, it’s simply a lack of belief in the divine.  They had other ideologies, however, and it was under those that they committed their genocides.

Josh - 31 January 2010 03:26 PM

But maybe it’s not as much of a fallacy as you might think. The vast majority of Christians have NOT killed anyone, burned any witches, or sent any Jews to gas chambers…..and hopefully wouldn’t want to! The vast majority of atheists have NOT committed mass murder, and hopefully wouldn’t even dream of it!

So maybe…JUST MAYBE…the majority of those on the left are more like my uncle (sincere, albeit idealistic) than like those who would subvert democracy for their own selfish purposes.

It’s possible.  But I have talked with leftists, both online, and in person, who were very frank it admitting that they were convinced that their goals were right, were good, and were necessary for the social and moral advancement of the country, and if given the chance, they would look for ways around democratic institutions if those institutions proved an impediment to their goals.  Classic ends justify the means mentality.

This is the origin of every genocide since the French Revolution and probably before.  First, you come to regard your goals as right and necessary.  You are trying to make the world a better place.  The more convinced you become of your rightness, the easier it is to justify bending and twisting, and ultimately breaking the law to achieve your ends.  After all, it’s all for the greater good.  Then you start to see your opponents as bad people.  Moral defectives.  Enemies of the people.  After all, remember, you are trying to make the world better.  They couldn’t be opposed to that unless their motives were evil.  So, too bad, but they’ll just have to be got out of the way.  If that means spilling some blood, well… as Stalin said, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.  Really it’s their fault.  If they would only stop opposing progress and social justice there’d be no need for any of this.

Now this process of thinking is hardly unique to the left, but the extreme leftist communist states almost all seemed to employ such thinking at one time or other, with similar results in each case (political oppression and mass killings), and that’s because it’s very easy for statist planners to fall into this mode of thinking.

Even leftists who would never go so far as this in a million years, and who are just as horrified at communism’s excesses as anyone else, still quite often see centralization and planning as necessary to achieve “social justice,” and as a result, they want higher taxes, welfare, nationalization of certain industries, socialized medicine, etc., all of which expands the power of government and the ability of bureaucracy to intrude into people’s lives in countless ways. 

Josh - 31 January 2010 03:26 PM

Maybe the Christians who truly seek to emulate Jesus instead of Pat Robertson…..and the atheists who live a good life and don’t hurt or kill anyone…..and the leftists who truly believe in democratic ideals….......ARE the “true Scotsmen”!

Maybe?

Again, since so much of the leftist program includes socialism or socialized institutions, and since there is no way to achieve that without greatly expanding the power of government…  I think it must be said that the farther to the left one leans, the more antithetical to democratic institutions ones philosophy becomes.

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Posted: 31 January 2010 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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You guys are having an interesting discussion. You will get a little more play if you jump over to the Reason Project forum.  Or maybe that is what you want to avoid?

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Posted: 31 January 2010 05:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 31 January 2010 08:01 PM

You guys are having an interesting discussion. You will get a little more play if you jump over to the Reason Project forum.  Or maybe that is what you want to avoid?

Well, if it isn’t the artist formerly known as Salathiel, even more formerly known as Bruce Burleson! I thought it smelled like lawyer in here!  grin Actually, since I’m out of the Air Force now, and my new career is as an insurance agent, one might contend that I’m stinking up the place more than anyone else!

I have not jumped over to the Reason Project for a good REASON (see what I did there? see what I did there? eh?).....it’s because with my new job, I don’t have anywhere near the amount of down time that I had at the good ol’ Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. So I don’t have all day to keep up with the plethora of discussion going on over there, and then to give well-thought-out responses to 37 different people who may respond to my “blithering inanity” (that’s what Salt Creek called it, anyway).

If I had more time to spare, then I would jump into the fray. But for now, I have just enough time to pop into the SH forum once in a while, where the traffic is low. Hell, I could hear crickets chirping as soon as I got here!

How have you been, Bruce? Long time no see…

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Posted: 31 January 2010 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Billy Shears - 31 January 2010 06:10 PM

....atheism isn’t a belief, but is, rather, a lack of belief….......All it requires is that they genuinely believe....

Sorry, man….I couldn’t let that one slip by unnoticed!  wink 

It’s possible.  But I have talked with leftists, both online, and in person, who were very frank it admitting that they were convinced that their goals were right, were good, and were necessary for the social and moral advancement of the country, and if given the chance, they would look for ways around democratic institutions if those institutions proved an impediment to their goals.  Classic ends justify the means mentality.

Maybe the leftists that you have spoken to accurately represent MOST leftists, maybe they don’t….

...as Stalin said, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

Oh, that’s just Joe being Joe!  wink

Now this process of thinking is hardly unique to the left…

At least you’re honest about that. I don’t think I’ve heard such a concession from Mr. Limbaugh or Mr. Savage.

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Posted: 01 February 2010 03:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Josh - 31 January 2010 10:10 PM

and my new career is as an insurance agent,

Don’t you know that insurance companies are the root of all evil? Are you still in OK, OK?  Posting does take up a lot of time, especially when there are policies to be sold. Who is your new owner?  State Farm? Allstate? Mid-Continent? Or are you independent?

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Posted: 01 February 2010 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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Bruce Burleson - 01 February 2010 08:55 AM

Don’t you know that insurance companies are the root of all evil?

I did think it was a little weird that my office manager has horns and a tail, and insists on carrying a pitchfork everywhere he goes…..

Are you still in OK, OK?

Sure am! I married Amy a little over a year ago, so I’m not going anywhere for a while.

Posting does take up a lot of time, especially when there are policies to be sold.

This job can get pretty time-consuming, but these Medicare Advantage plans practically sell themselves!

Who is your new owner?  State Farm? Allstate? Mid-Continent? Or are you independent?

Universal American…..which owns Generations Healthcare, Today’s Options, Marquette National, Pennsylvania Life, and a few others. I was a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force; now I’m selling HMO and PFFS plans to old people…..I figured I’d try something completely different!

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Posted: 02 February 2010 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Josh, seriously, hanging around this place is creepy - like being in a mortuary at night. There is nothing happening - the threads are like coffins with the embalmed remains of the posters in them. I can hear the visitors: “Oh, doesn’t he look good.” “He seems so natural.” “They did a good job with him.” The stench of death is in this place. Get out, get out now!!

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Posted: 03 February 2010 07:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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When a lawyer confabulates with an insurance agent on an abandoned internet forum, what is the inevitable result?

Bruce Burleson - 02 February 2010 11:22 PM

The stench of death…

Ding ding! What do we have for him, Johnny?

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Posted: 08 February 2010 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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Billy Shears - 31 January 2010 06:10 PM

Again, since so much of the leftist program includes socialism or socialized institutions, and since there is no way to achieve that without greatly expanding the power of government…  I think it must be said that the farther to the left one leans, the more antithetical to democratic institutions ones philosophy becomes.

True enough - but only if expanded government power is essentially anti-democratic. You act as this is a self-evident fact but I’m not sure it’s either a fact or self-evident.
Is democracy defined as small, non-intrusive government? Are government-run or tax-subsidized programs dealing with health, transport, education and the like undemocratic by definition?

It seems to me that ‘socialized institutions’ are arguably more democratic than privately-owned institutions - if one accepts that democracy is based on the notion of collectivism rather than individualism. Which it sort of is.

I accept your argument that political zealotry leads to undemocratic action but isn’t this a problem of zealotry rather than politics?

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Posted: 09 February 2010 11:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Occam’s Razor - 08 February 2010 08:53 PM

True enough - but only if expanded government power is essentially anti-democratic. You act as this is a self-evident fact but I’m not sure it’s either a fact or self-evident.
Is democracy defined as small, non-intrusive government? Are government-run or tax-subsidized programs dealing with health, transport, education and the like undemocratic by definition?

It seems to me that ‘socialized institutions’ are arguably more democratic than privately-owned institutions - if one accepts that democracy is based on the notion of collectivism rather than individualism. Which it sort of is.

I’m not sure collectivism can be, at hear, democratic, since democracy, as an ideal, is fundamentally about exercising individual rights.  Pure democracy, which is, admittedly, impossible on any scale much larger than that of a town or county, consists of each individual exercizing voting rights to enact laws and policies.  This is pretty much the antithesis of collectivism.  The U.S., and indeed most of the other “democracies,” are actually republics.  And depending on the set up, some of these republics are more or less democratic than others.

Still, the idea of democracy is anti-collectivist.

And I’m also not sure privately owned institutions are inherently less democratic.  After all, any business that has to survive in the marketplace has to compete against other businesses, and its customers can “vote” with their wallets for that business, or for one of its competitors.  If it’s a publicly traded company, they can also own stock in it, which gives them more control.  In other words, businessmen can be held accountable just as politicians, AKA, ahem… “public servants” can.  And if anything, they’re much more accountable than appointed bureaucrats. 

If you doubt this, try the following: call a large company—say an insurance company, a power company, a bank, a telecommunications company, what have you—to make a complaint.  See how long it takes you get a high-level supervisor on the line to address your complaint, and see what action they take to address your complaint.  Now try the same thing with a government agency, like the social security administration, or even a state agency like the DMV.  I can almost guarantee you your experience with the government bureaucrats will be more frustrating and more kafkaesque.

It kind of boils down to this: people are automatically, and justifiably suspicious of a businessman who says his primary purpose in going into business is “to serve the public interest.”  Why are they less suspicious when the same words come out of the mouths of politicians and bureaucrats?

Occam’s Razor - 08 February 2010 08:53 PM

I accept your argument that political zealotry leads to undemocratic action but isn’t this a problem of zealotry rather than politics?

It can be.  People tend to be zealous about achieving their agenda, rather than zealous about following the rules of the game.  To be sure, there are exceptions to this.  Oliver Wendell Holmes was a judge who followed this philosophy, and who said his job was to to “...see that the game is played according to the rules, whether I like them or not.”  I think society as a whole tends to be better off when people are scrupulous about following the rules, rather than determined to “do what’s right” by whatever means can be made to work.  The latter course tends to undermine stability and the rule of law.

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Posted: 21 February 2010 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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Billy, I recently spoke with my “true leftist” uncle, and I hit him with a few of your earlier points. Regarding the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, he said that the terms “liberal”, “left” and “progressive” all tend to overlap, and that we use an oversimplified dichotomy as our model for politics (tantamount to saying that a runner came in second place in a race with only 2 athletes!) He says that it’s important to use more terms and tease apart the differences between the various groups that get lumped together as right or left.  Case in point, the old-monied conservatives are as far from the radical religious right as JFK was from Krushchev, yet both are lumped together as “the right”. There are many factors that go into determining one’s political stance, including economics.  On the left, many think of a liberal as someone who supports our current capitalist system, and left as those who want to move beyond capitalism into a more egalitarian system. It was this difference he claims to have had in mind when he said that Obama is not a true leftist, but a slightly left-of-center liberal.

As for the voiding of legally binding contracts, and the dangerous precedent that would set…..his reply was that the law does not forbid anything; it is not an entity unto itself.  We are the makers of laws, and we can change them whenever and however to best meet human needs.  As a leftist, my uncle questions who the current laws are designed to protect.  Legislatures can (and have in the past) pass new laws or regulations and make them retroactive. Old usury laws can be reinstated or new ones written. Bankruptcy laws in the past gave more power to the courts to renegotiate all sorts of debts. He says the basic question is, what type of society do we want to be?  One that protects those who can and will use their legal rights to make profits off of the financial difficulties of others?  Or a society that upholds the basic human right for housing? The collapse of the housing bubble, in his opinion, is not the result of millions of irresponsible people suddenly having mortgage problems at the same time…..rather, it’s the result of greed….the willingness of lenders to dupe mostly poor homebuyers into taking on mortgages with usurious rates or balloon payments that could not be repaid.

Keynesian economics, he says, attempts to regulate the capitalist business cycle and lessen the effects of too rapid growth and inflation on the one hand, and the ravages and bankruptcies of recessions and depressions on the other. It is still a capitalist economic model and, using my uncle’s terminology, it is liberal. He says there is a difference between the terms social programs and socialist programs....often they are conflated, especially by politicians on the right who want to get scare milage out of labeling everything they do not like as socialist. He says that nationalization is a tool that can and has been used by governments all over the spectrum.  A nationalized company or industry can be temporarily or permanently taken over by a local, state, or national government.  In some countries, certain industries have always been considered part of the public commons (especially utilities), regardless of the party or political ideology in power.  The left does think that nationalization can be a step in building a more egalitarian society; it would depend on many factors. However, some fear mongers would have us believe that the left believes that permanently owned and run state industries are the way to go. That just is not the case, he said.

We have central planning now, not by a government alone but by large corporations and the government over which they have increasing influence (the recent Supreme Court decision will only further strengthen the ties!). The market only ever existed at the early stage of a developing capitalist economy.  My uncle used the media as an example. Look up the statistics about how many different and competing newspaper, radio and television stations we had prior to 1980. Compare that to the few monopolies we have now. A handful of players in each sector now control the market, spending billions on advertising to mold public opinion and tastes to increase demand for their products.  Huge corporations do not and cannot react to an ever changing market.  They depend on 5 year (or more!) plans. The state has existed and grown over the last 10,000 years or more of human history.  There is no magic wand we can wave to make it go away overnight. Historically, the Anarchists were a powerful left ideology with much in common with other leftists.  They called for the immediate abolition of the state. The demise of the Anarchists, my uncle says, is due in part to the recognition that you cannot just abolish the state overnight.  All left ideologies want the abolition of the state, but most want to use reason and social science to guide us back out.  It took a long time to get to where we are, and it will take a very long time to undo.

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Posted: 21 February 2010 11:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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More from my uncle, regarding the tendency of BOTH left and right to pay lip service to, or subvert, democratic institutions (whichever is convenient at the time):

Democracy grows over time. It is as much a culture as it is a political ideology. Human societies for the last 10,000 years have been characterized by hierarchical power structures where those above have had the right to maintain control by force. Anywhere democracy has taken root, it has brought slow steady changes to the culture. Our own early experiment with democracy was very limited. Only white men with property could participate. They still owned slaves, slaughtered indigenous peoples, and beat their wives and kids. Their rule at home was still monarchical. Over time democracy lead to the abolition of cruel and unusual punishments, slavery, women’s subjugation, etc. In my own lifetime, I have seen the power of democracy to change culture. My parents went to schools that were rigid and autocratic. You obeyed or you could be punished physically.  By my generation, corporal punishment was on its way out, but there was still a very top down educational structure.  Now I teach in a school where students participate in their own education; there is a greater respect and egalitarianism. This is the result of a growing democratic culture.

Sadly, some of the first attempts at building more egalitarian and socialist societies took place in countries where there had never been any history of democracy. The Soviet Union and China, for example, tried to move from feudal societies to advanced nations in a short period of time. Not only did they have to fight to overthrow repressive systems, but they then had to fight the capitalist nations seeking to destabilize them (Woodrow Wilson sent troops to Siberia in an attempt to undermine the revolution). In the case of the Russians, they then had to fight off the Germans and then face off with the US in an extended cold war. At the same time they (less than 80 years) built a modern state and became a world power.  The stirrings of democracy came later as the Union was beginning to buckle under the costs of spending so much of their GDP on the military (a cautionary tale for the US?).  Now that the “socialist” system has been replaced with a capitalist one, there is greater freedom and greater misery. Many fear a growing oligarchy will stifle further democratic growth.  In the case of China, a communist party in name has become capitalist. The country is becoming an economic giant, but they still repress expressions of democracy. In spite of the propaganda we have been fed all our lives, Capitalism and Democracy do not naturally go hand in hand, nor are socialism and state repression synonymous.  Read socialists who still espouse classical Marxist theory or new post Marxist thinkers and you will quickly see that for them all socialism is democracy. It is the extension of democracy into aspects of life, especially the economic, past aborted attempts notwithstanding.

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