Saturday, September 27, 2014

Templeton: 'I used to be a Republican'

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist
Midterm Madness
I used to be a Republican, a RINO.  Barry Goldwater and John McCain were my favorites.  I voted for Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes, and didn’t vote for Clinton or President Obama.  My first hint that something was wrong was when the RNC sent me one of those surveys with leading questions.  I could not say yes without adding a "but" and there was nowhere to express those all-important qualifications.  A deepening concern came when fellow Republicans angrily expressed that they would do everything possible to stand in the way of and confound our president’s every initiative so they could make him fail.  His policies would not matter.  The clincher was our Governor moving crimes across the border into America to incite the hostility and consequent racial prejudice that elected her to office.

The recent Republican primary ads reveal quite an imagination.  You would think that the Small Business Administration, an organization that encouraged and helped business start-ups, was a communist conspiracy and that bankruptcy should be replaced with debtor’s prisons and workhouses.  You would think that their plans to “undo” would be more important to people in need than what they would do.  You would think that teamwork, that creeping socialistic collective, prevented competition, abolished private property, and enslaved people.

The sociologist Orlando Patterson saw a more nuanced freedom than Libertarians do.  He described it like a musical chord made up of three notes.

The first note is personal or individual freedom.  It is the absence of constraint on our desire to do whatever we please.  Its virtue of selfishness sees the social support network, not as charity and compassion, but as coercion.  It maintains that, “… egalitarian policies designed to promote welfare not only do not work, but cannot and will not work”.

The second note is civic freedom which is the capacity to participate in the governance of the community, measured by the degree that we share in the collective power of the state that governs us.  The state requires laws and regulations if it is to exist.  Libertarians see this as the personal “I” that refuses to let them live their lives as they see fit.

They point out that human evolution was not based on a code of coercion, but I saw a dozen crows chasing a hawk across the sky.  They were no match for the much larger hawk, but together they dive bombed the hawk, and it flew to escape their wrath.   The force of evolution includes the cooperative collective.

Libertarians argue that government and welfare violate nature’s laws.  We are reminded by Jack London’s novel, The Law of Life.  He tells the story of Old Koskoosh, who was left behind by Alaskan nomads.  Old Koskoosh waits helplessly by his fire as the wolves circle in.  He reflects that nature “… had no concern for that concrete thing called the individual.  Her interest lay in the species, the race.”

The third note is sovereign liberty which measures freedom by the degree that we exercise power over others and ourselves by self-ownership and empowerment.  This is what Libertarians disparagingly call the “royal we”.  It is what the Constitution acknowledges as the existence of undefined powers belonging to the people of the whole country.  Our Bill of Rights would be meaningless without government support.

Libertarians claim that social engineering and welfare entitlement programs are contrary to human nature, but the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt area  relates what was accomplished by the New Deal, through the leadership of the “royal we”, trying new things, taking risks, and making adjustments. 

Voluntary business deals are ethical, but not when the customer is deceived or a product is misrepresented.  There is more to fairness than consenting relationships.  The foundation that “more choice” is built upon came from looking at the world as a whole system instead of a collection of disagreeing individuals who would weaken the very thing that choosing is built upon.

Complexity is not regulation.  Technology, interdependence, and free choice increase complexity while ignorance empowers the unscrupulous requiring regulations and laws.  Libertarians argue that human ingenuity works hard at defending life and property and will always find loopholes in every law, so why have laws?

Republicans frequently explain how they want to reduce or eliminate regulations that allegedly rob your individual freedom, hurt business, and take away your job.  Why do you suppose they don’t explain exactly what those regulations are?  Is it because they lack the courage to commit to measurable objectives?  Is it because they think that you will read your frustration into what they said and vote for them?

I quote a 2008 book, rated five stars on Amazon.

The author wrote that self-righteous do-gooders have “ … license to prescribe for others how to live their lives; run their businesses; who they  may hire; what wages they may  pay; what prices they may charge; what, where, when, and how much they may buy or sell; what they may teach; what and where they may smoke, drink, and eat; what they may plant; what medicines they  may take; what houses they may build and where they may build them; what they may say; how and where they may practice their religion (even what  religion); where they may go; where they may live; how they may die; with  whom and how they may engage in sex; whom they may marry and with whom they may associate.”   Those inclined to liberty will “… find ways to offer goods and services that are prohibited by law.  Violators risk being caught and fined or incarcerated; however, the sheer abundance of the regulations, coupled with the abundance of violators, reduces the likelihood of any one of them being caught… Any act used to enforce compliance remains inconsistent with human liberty, since that compliance involves a master and a subject.”

Most people have had some experience with laws, regulations, and bureaucracy that they feel was unfair.  Republican group psychology legitimizes our darkest side while Christian anti-intellectualism and cultural relativity have made altruism incompatible with faith. 

There are some regulations that are annoying, but their absence would be more so.   These include traffic laws and safe industrial practices.  This gets mixed up with irresponsible denial of man-caused global warming and unsustainable practices that are irreparably damaging the earth.  Innumeracy, scientific ignorance, fundamentalist religion, and political ideology have been spun to insinuate uncertainty and manufacture doubt.

What does science and history tell us?  Consider episode 7, “The Clean Room” of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos.  History describes industry claims that lead, in high-octane gasoline, water pipes, paint, and children’s toys were argued to be good for you.

Consider tobacco and cancer.  Scientists knew that tobacco use was hazardous at the beginning of the twentieth century, but when it started to gain public attention the industry mounted a campaign that testified to their willingness to sell death.  There were numerous ads featuring doctors citing bogus medical statistics, doctors that smoked, and claims that tobacco smoke was soothing to the lungs and throat. 

Muddled thinking
Libertarians proudly say that virtually everyone can be sufficiently productive to earn the necessities of life, and that famine is caused by political policies that restrict free human interaction.  They ignore 1876 America’s historical documentation of the plight of the poor who, if they were lucky enough to have jobs, were able to work for nothing and live upon less.  The unions did not come from government oppression, they came from the expendable common man who united and cooperated to ask for his fair share of the profits that an explosively expanding united industrial force was creating.  It was typical, not exceptional, and led to President Grant’s ignored 1869 National Eight Hour Law.

In today’s America, should we be concerned mainly with the typical?  Should we instead focus on deviations?  Remember the mathematician who drowned in a river that was on the average only one foot deep.  He forgot about the deep pools.  Likewise, we should not forget about the starving minority.

The focus needs to turn to the exceptions to the rule.  We should ask, why?  It can be evaluated by examining if our system can eliminate weaknesses.   If it were an industrial process we would input known defects to see if the process finds them.  But here we speak of human beings that are in a jam and we should ask, “What is the problem and how can we help them”? 

Republicans claim that government’s illegal and inhumane actions allow an unlimited stream of foreign nationals to come into our state, take our jobs, overflow emergency rooms, threaten public safety and health, create traffic jams, and obtain free benefits.  Their conservative militia lines-up at the border when the weather is good, carrying binoculars and assault rifles, to temporarily retard these invading legions.  Prisons become more important than charity for undeserving, poor immigrants.  But most immigrants are working, paying taxes, and making a contribution to society.  They have no path to citizenship and remain illegal, stuck in hiding, with no redemption to atone for their crime.

We should ask immigrants to say whether they agree or disagree with the Republican view and have them justify their opinion.  If there are illiterate, unemployed, diseased, and drug addicted immigrants from broken families, how do we detect and help them?  The real issue concerns what one means by assimilation.  When will politicians run on a platform of facilitating assimilation? 

Wealth Redistribution
Yesterday, my job involved moving good paying American Jobs overseas, which conservatives speak enviously of as “wealth redistribution”.  I was proud to see the developing middle class in foreign countries that America was contributing to and I knew that they appreciated Americans and that it would make products cheaper here.  I was sad to see the job loss in America.  Neither government nor business had adequately considered what it would mean.

Wealth redistribution isn’t about one man’s need becoming another man’s obligation.  It is not about everyone becoming identical.  It is more about giving subsidies to well-organized business and industry than the poor.  Are we hurting society by providing a free ride to loafers?   We should ask Medicaid recipients if they feel they have been enticed into a dependency trap.

Pope Francis has called for the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits, arguing that the Bible demands an economic system that cares for the poorest, not a politics that would ostracize and accuse the needy for living at the expense of others.  The spirit of sharing and justice should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity.  It is not a zero sum game where someone has to lose for another to win.   A Good Samaritan is more than the impersonal free market. 

This opinion is based upon the recent Arizona Voter Education Guide and on a popular book written by the CEO of a rare metals investment company whose business has a history of legal difficulty, pyramid schemes, misrepresentation, and tax evasion.  We must not let his problem, letting what he thinks he knows get in the way of what has not yet taken shape, become ours.

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