Apr. 29th, 2003

sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
I suppose I'm closer to being a liberal than I am am to anything else in the popular spectrum of political thought. I grew up in Greenwich Village in the tail end of the sixties and early seventies, and if there was anything else there I didn't notice. It never occurred to me that things were different anywhere else. It was a revelation to me that there were people out there who didn't much care one way or the other.

The real world arrived as a bit of a shock. So did the eighties. So did political liberalism.

It wasn't until I got to that vast diploma farm on Washington Square that I met my first real political liberals - people whose approach to what for me was intensely personal was intensely political. It wasn't the water they swam in - it was a tool, numbers they'd found safety in to take their stand against what they'd faced earlier in their lives.

I'd always thought that when I found My People, they'd be gentle and kind and righteous. I was so much older then. Some of them were (and I was far too angry and naive for them - funny that). Some thought it was fashionable, some saw it as a powerbase to leverage for inclusion, and some a stick to beat their parents/the world with. (Did a bit of that myself.) We didn't, past some of our basic premises, put the same things into it or take the same things out of it. I was against litmus tests, although I had my own set.

We were, most of us, confused teenagers, and we were, with varying degrees of resignation, appointing our political identities as The Answer.

When I got to the Real World, or at least as Real as was available to me at the time, I had to find some other way of sorting things out, because through painful experience I'd discovered that people who were Wrong were the only ones I could count on sometimes, while some impeccably Correct people only applied their principles in the abstract and when useful.

Great swaths of this process, naturally, sucked.

I'm (try and picture this) less fiery than I used to be. I'm a token liberal for quite a few people stretches of whose views I find terribly wrong, and a quiet ally for quite a few cafeteria liberals who only hold "liberal" views when illiberal policies step on their personal toes. Most of them call themselves libertarians. I don't turn down opportunities to make my case, by I don't demand them any more either.

I have, for my sins (the omission ones, mostly) a problem with cause people.

I admire the fervor and the dedication that it takes to be a fighter for a cause. If it weren't for cause people, not a hell of a lot would get done in this sad world. It's not a level playing field out there, and it takes a lot of fire just to get noticed. It's hard for me not to feel intimidated, though, because I'm simply not as focussed or determined or single-minded. The cause world also has its share of bullies.

I think my politics, visceral muddled things that they are, can be summed up by saying that I loathe bullies, and as soon as you form any sort of an organization the slots at or near the top rapidly fill up with bullies. There is no immediate access of personal virtue in being correct. The virtue lies in the cause. The people have only the virtue they bring to it.

David Horowitz would have ended up hanging out with all the most reactionary hurtful people if he'd spent the sixties in a buddhist monastery, because cause to the side, that's the shape of his soul. Nelson Mandela went to violent means and spent a huge chunk of his life in prison and accomplished a uniquely decent national healing when he got out.

To this extent, the personal is political - I loathe bullies. The one thing that bullies cannot have is rational discourse. If being right means that you win, then being the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley doesn't mean that you win, and I've never yet met a bully who would give up that sure thing for a shot at winning an actual debate. It's all about the spin and the guns and the power.

I choose the side that's less good at it.

Right now, we've got a national political discourse where the elected officials of the ruling party serve as 'nad extensions for people who have thrown away their chance to address their powerlessness and frustration because they have to be on the side that Wins. They may have had to skip lunch for a week to get that seat in the stadium and watch the million dollar players, but at the end of the game they get to say that they won.

On the other side? There's just as much special pleading and bullying going on at the highest levels of involvement, because that's how you get to the highest levels of involvement in this sick sad world. The world is full of people who have been wronged, but it's even more full of people who feel that they've been wronged, and there's a lot of power in that.

Do some of those people make cause with genuine grievances, sometimes not their own, so that they will be allowed a moral stick to beat people with?

Yep.

My brother and I used to watch Quincy every week and guess when the Righteous Indignation scene was going to take place, where Quincy climbed up to the mountaintop and showered down wrath upon the offenders - the offenders being anyone who didn't feel exactly the same lofty wrath that he did when faced with the unfair situation of the week. Sometimes the people he lashed with the terrible thorny weapon of his scorn were actually the victims themselves, if he didn't think they were sufficiently militant about fighting whatever it was. The next week, of course, they were back in their unglamorous lives - no yachts for them - and Quincy had moved on to a new battle.

Anyone who hovers to the left of center has seen that before a million times.

How does this translate into politics?

We are all citizens of this increasingly small world, and we all have decisions to make about how to shape our piece of it so that it's a place we can live in. I have a vague feeling about the perfectibility of mankind (although in my jaded terms that translates into "nobody sucks more than they really have to"). I don't think that I can afford to look at politics that way. The people who like to win will join any team that looks as if it's winning, and the people who really care will continue to do that. The world is not going to change and people are going to continue to be fragile and flawed and selfish and silly and do dumb shit for the wrong reasons. Hell, if they vote my way, I need bullies. Given the battlefield we're fighting on, I may need them most of all.

I need those people. I need those people because if I don't have them, the biggest bullies win. I need cause-huggers and single issue people and people who I think are voting with me for all the wrong reasons. I need anyone who thinks that any part of the world should be better than the Hobbesian mess we're being shown by all those former BMOCs and the girls who colonized the bathroom you tried to avoid using if you could. I even need people who are on my side because it's easier to get to the top of these days.

No matter what else they believe or what I think of it, I need those people. Selfishly, because they're my only chance at making a space where things can be the way I think they should be.

Do I want them in my home? No.

Can I define them out of my world?

I'm sorry, whose world?
sisyphusshrugged: (Default)
Brad de Long, who sports the recently practically unique distinction of having served as a presidential appointee implementing a successful economic policy, appears to be, erm, conflicted about Alan Murray:

Murray writes that since "the president's hand-picked congressional budget director, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, has cast doubts... with his 'dynamic scoring' report" on the "easy argument that tax cuts will spur growth and offset their cost." What "easy argument"? If you took your economics seriously--had not long since abandoned any claim to be more than a pure political hack--the argument that cutting dividend taxes by this while widening the long-run budget deficit by that would significantly boost economic growth has always been as hard to make as it would be to climb Mt. Everest in your gym shorts.


Can you say "yowch"?

I thought you could.

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