Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Political Ponder

One of my readers emailed me yesterday, taking me to task for contributing to the general level of political hostility and polarization by my repeated use of the word “liberal", usually in a derogatory fashion, or even as a kind of cuss word. I replied that for a certain category of liberal — personified by the likes of Teddy Kennedy, Tom Daschle, Harry Reid, etc. — his description was exactly how I felt, and in those cases for me the word “liberal” really is a cuss word. I further said that I had no interest in a debate with the likes of them — my interest lies in stamping them out.

But my reader got me to thinking about exactly why I make this distinction between individual politicians. I can fit any of the politicians I know much about into a strict dichotomy: those with whom I think it’s useful (and it would be fun!) to have a debate, and those with whom I think all debate is useless and we should instead concentrate on getting them out of office. Note the absence of a category for politicians with whom no debate is needed — there’s no politician I know who is in complete agreement with my own views, including politicians I admire (President Bush, Rudy Guiliani, Zell Miller, Newt Gingrich, etc.).

In thinking about how I categorize politicians into one of these two buckets, I can identify two key factors.

One of them is easy to describe: it’s whether the politician is motivated more by ideology than by personal gain or power. Everybody is motivated to some extent by what benefits themselves, and I have no quarrel whatsoever with that. But my read of some politicians (i.e., McCain, Daschle, Teddy Kennedy, Kerry, DeLay, Pelosi) is that they are completely willing to set aside whatever ideological beliefs they have (if they even have any — I wonder about a lot of these folks) to further their drive for power or other personal gain. That’s another way of saying they put their personal interests ahead of the nation’s interests — which I call unpatriotic. Yes, that’s right, I’m calling every one of these people unpatriotic.

The other factor is a little squishier. It has to do with the basis for someone’s ideology, or perhaps the seriousness of their ideology. Some politicians can readily articulate why they believe what they believe, using facts that can be independently verified or arguments with supporting logic. Examples of these folks would include Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Newt Gingrich, Zell Miller, and President Bush. Some politicians can also be characterized as have a constancy of position, or at least of the reasons they choose positions. In other words, observers can look at the history of their actions and see a coherent theme. These are politicians I can respect, and whom I welcome into our political arena, even if their ideology doesn’t happen to agree with my own. I enjoy a political debate with these folks or their like-minded supporters. The flip side of this is are the politicians for whom ideology is an article of faith (by which I mean unsupported by facts or logic, just something you have to believe in), a matter of political convenience, or even completely absent (in which case factor one completely dominates their behavior).

Of course neither of these factors is completely black-and-white; there are many colors to all of this. But one can (and I do!) make a judgment about any individual politician on these factors. When I judge a politician to be (a) motivated mostly by aspirations to personal power and/or personal gain, and (b) taking actions based on an unarticulated, unsupported, or absent ideology, then I put that politican in the category of those with whom all debate is fruitless, and all we can do is to get them out of office before they hurt us too badly.

Back to my reader’s email (and my reply)… I told my reader that I considered politicians in the aforementioned category to be the second most consequential threat to the future of America (right after radical Islamic fundamentalism). For whatever reasons (there’s a lot of debate to be had on that point!), most — but certainly not all — of the politicians that fall into this dangerous category are self-identified liberal Democrats. So it’s easy to fall into the habit of using “liberal” as the cuss word to associate this enemy (and that is most definitely how I think of them). This is quite unfair, I freely admit, to those liberals who are not in this category (e.g., Lieberman, Miller, etc.) — and it unfairly excludes those non-liberals who are in this category (e.g., McCain, DeLay, etc.). I’d welcome any suggestions for a better, more descriptive label to apply to them.

But at least now you know what’s going through my mind you hear (or read) me say “liberal” with a sneer and some spittle…

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