Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Dan Froomkin's column at the Huffington Post:

How Civil Political Discourse Threatens Modern Conservatism

The group, which sponsored an exercise in deliberative democracy earlier this year, was out with a press release Thursday declaring: "LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES FIND COMMON GROUND ABOUT HOW TO RESOLVE NATIONAL DEBT."

But the reality is that the 3,500 Americans who came together across 57 sites around the country in June to discuss possible deficit reduction measures rejected their hosts' hawkish framing and -- after putting their heads together, talking civilly across party lines and deliberating on their choices -- adopted progressive positions pretty much across the board, with wide majorities saying "hands off Social Security," supporting tax increases on the rich and calling for significant cuts in the defense budget.

So the real lesson there would appear to be that if liberals and conservatives actually sat down and listened to each other, the result would be widespread agreement on what are traditionally called liberal positions on the issues -- but which perhaps should be renamed simply common sense.

That, I guess, is what happens when one side of the political debate has departed so far from reality that its arguments don't easily survive genuine contact with the enemy.


Wow. Lots of stuff to comment on here, especially the fact that I have no idea what would happen in a real debate between intellectually honest liberals and conservatives because I don't recall having seen such a rhetorical exercise in my adult life--don't talk about presidential debates, either, because the Democrats haven't run an actual liberal for the office since McGovern back in 1972; every Democrat since then, from Carter through Obama, has been at least a moderate, if not a conservative.

I really do wonder what would happen in a fair fight between the left and right. I mean, of course, I think liberals would win, but that's just my bias. There are some really smart conservatives out there who might be able to teach me a thing or two, which, in a debate, is the same thing as kicking my ass. Maybe someday.

But what's most interesting to me about the above mentioned "deliberative democracy" event is how so-called "liberal" points of view won the day so strongly. I say so-called "liberal" because the right wing has been wildly successful in recent decades with pulling the entire political spectrum toward itself, at least in what passes for the public discourse in Washington and in the corporate press. That is, what we call "liberal" today would have been called "centrist" or "moderate" forty years ago. So the language we use to describe political positions has definitely changed. But have Americans' actual political positions changed along with the language? In other words, have we really become more conservative as a nation, or do we just think we're more conservative?

Noam Chomsky often observes that when polled about actual policy stances, without any conservative/liberal labeling of such policy, Americans routinely, by large majorities, opt for what we would today call "liberal" policy. Because I'm essentially lazy, I've never looked up the studies Chomsky cites in order to see for myself if he's got it right. I mean, he probably does, but you never can tell. At any rate, I've long had the sense that Americans just aren't the conservative people that politicians and pundits tell me they are, but I'm just not sure.

The event Froomkin reports on appears to verify that sense: Americans are, indeed, "liberal," or "moderate" if you, like me, prefer the old school definition, and by large majorities. Even people who self-identify as conservative.

In some respects this is disturbing. People don't trust their own knowledge and beliefs, preferring instead to defer to the political and economic "experts," who are always further to the right than the nation as a whole. This is bad because such a cult-of-the-expert severely undermines democracy: you don't really get American opinion reflected in elections; instead you get the elite consensus because that's what we're "supposed" to believe.

On the other hand, if Americans really don't, deep down in their hearts, buy into the far right-wing extremist bullshit the corporate news media sells us as common sense, then this country has a fighting chance for survival. The only question is how badly the elite has to fuck up before they're unmasked as the self-serving exploitative idiots they are. So far, the post 9/11 foreign policy and civil liberties debacle coupled with the recent near collapse of modern capitalism haven't done the trick. I'm thinking that sustained ten percent unemployment might end up being the catalyst, but I'm pretty cynical, so I guess we'll see.