The tenets of my liberalism
Dec. 18, 2008
By Steve Mount
When I hear my children praise Barack Obama and spout some traditionally liberal values, I smile inwardly, but I often find myself presenting them with the conservative viewpoint on the issue or making sure I debunk the rhetoric. My daughter, now learning the fine points of forensics, often catches me in this, repeating her lessons that one of the best ways to bolster your side of a debate is to know the arguments of the other side.
While this is true, my bigger point in illuminating the counterargument is to make sure that when my kids are exposed to ideas, they are exposed to a wide array of ideas; not only so that they can anticipate the “other side,” but so that they can explore all sides, and make up their own mind about what side they fall on, in any issue.
I have to think that all the exposure to knowledge that my own parents gave to me and my siblings was to that end. Not to make us personal ideology clones of themselves, but to give us each the ability to form that ideology on our own.
I hope that was their goal, because if they wanted clones, that’s not what they got. Given a political spectrum, my siblings and I are spread all over. And as I look beyond my sibling to my cousins, the same pattern holds true — from politics to religion to food to music, we all have the same roots, but we have all spread out like branches on a tree.
For a tree to flourish, it must be fed, and likewise so must the flourishing of an ideology be nourished with ideas.
Social justice and personal liberty
I think there are two main points of contention between today’s American liberal and today’s American conservative. These points on which our views pivot are social justice and personal liberty.
To ensure social justice, we must have a strong government that has a role in ensuring that justice is maintained. Generally, conservatives feel that government is best kept to a minimum. Liberals aren’t the opposite — we don’t think that more government is better. Instead, we feel that in many cases, government is the best-equipped entity to solve some problems.
Some of the best and most helpful social safety net programs, be they food stamps, Medicaid, or Medicare and Social Security, were all started to tackle problems too big for individuals to tackle themselves, too necessary to be left to the vagaries of philanthropy.
It was only through a strong federal government that we were able to see the dreams of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King come to fruition in the racist South. No one can today, with a straight face, insist that this exercise of government power, to ensure social justice, was an abuse of that power.
Conservatives tend to oppose most government regulation of business. By contrast, liberals don’t support regulation for the sake of regulation, but we know that left to its own devices, business would only look out for itself. Whether it is environmental protection, worker protection or consumer protection, it may be true that the market would eventually cull the bad apples, but not before true harm is done. Better, we feel, to regulate industry from the start.
Paradoxically, liberals want government to stay out of our personal business, even as it is a strong advocate of social justice. To me, the most stable government, the strongest economy, the mightiest military, all mean nothing if we do not have our personal liberties. All of the former are there to protect and promote the latter.
While it is probably a truism that to have perfect liberty we must also have perfect insecurity, today’s conservatives — exemplified by President George Bush and his cronies — are willing to trade liberty for security at an unacceptable ratio.
Liberty and security can coexist, but liberty must always take priority. If it does not, the drive for security will overwhelm the drive for liberty, until that which security was meant to protect is gone.
Labels can change. The Republican of Lincoln’s time bears little resemblance to the Republican of today. Today’s Democrat would cringe ashamedly at the racist rants of Dixiecrats. We can’t always count on labels.
What we can count on, this year, into the next year, and beyond, is that by discussing our differences, by exposing our ideas, we will find common ground. It is there, in the common ground, that progress is made.
Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.