Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Lonely Conservative Who Wants To Smoke Pot? (Or The Voice Of Reason)

Yet again the lonely libertarian comes to the defense of President Bush and the conservative movement. This is from Professor Long's Comment Board and just demands a response.

First, let me just say I'm not posting to challenge the writer on debatable issues. For instance, whether or not we're safer because of the war in Iraq is not a question with a right or wrong answer- reasonable people can disagree. And I'm not qualified, nor do I have the time to post a thoughtful response on the subject. No, I'm posting here to point out the misinformation disseminated as part of these sorts of writings, misinformation that doesn't add to debate, but takes away from it.

The president claims authority, as commander in chief, to throw American citizens into military prison for years on end without any hearing, civil or military, that would allow them to confront the charges against them. He claims the power to wiretap Americans' conversations without warrants, in direct violation of congressional commands.

These are the sorts of statements that get people riled up and when it comes down to it, just plain aren't true. The Bush administration never the authority to throw American citizens into jail without any sort of hearing. The debate about this issue has focused on the adequacy of the hearings and proceedings provided, not that there were no proceedings at all. Additionally, the wiretapping program used by the government only involved phone calls made or received by suspected terrorists overseas. While the statement above isn't exactly false, it does distort the true nature of the program.

The president remorselessly seeks to undermine the principle of progressive taxation. Under cover of patriotism, he promotes vast tax cuts to the rich at the expense of policies that strengthen the common ties that bind us together as a community.

Tax cuts do not mean the system of progressive taxation is being undermined, as tax rates have been raised and lowered throughout the history of the income tax. Many libertarians and conservatives would undoubtedly be happy if Bush did seek to eliminate progressive taxation, but we’re not that lucky. Conservatives believe in tax cuts because they believe lower taxes strengthens the economy and make all Americans better off. And the rich get tax cuts because the rich pay taxes. Tax cuts for the poor would be a symbolic measure only with little economic impact. Principled positions on tax policy should not be cast in such an diabolical light, at least not without evidence.

Instead of securing these principles, the president and his party view the suppression of votes indulgently and propose new requirements for voting that will make it still harder for the poor and the elderly to exercise their democratic rights.

I’d be curious to see evidence of this. And identification requirements are hardly evidence of draconian measures. This is one of the places where criticism of Bush gets ridiculous. On one hand he is accused of stealing elections and on the other hand he's accused of making it too hard to vote.

The administration's denial of reality reaches a delusional peak in its refusal to acknowledge basic science describing the massive climate change now under way. Against the advice of all serious experts, the government has grossly failed in its responsibility to our descendants. It has consistently sought to undermine the Kyoto treaty and refused to encourage energy conservation. We insist on a clean break with this shameful record. Our government should be taking the lead in reducing greenhouse gases, recognizing our responsibilities as the world's leading polluter. We should be investing massively in energy sources that carry out a commitment to environmental stewardship and help restore our manufacturing base at the same time.

It was the Senate that refused to ratify the Kyoto Accords, by a vote of 95-0 in 1997. President Bush refused to consider Kyoto when he took office because of the massive costs that Kyoto compliance would entail. Additionally, there is no consensus that massive climate change (whatever that means) is underway. Many would argue that avoiding taking drastic steps that would harm the economy is reasonable given the uncertainty of science surrounding future climate predictions and the impact man has on global warming. Again, I don't mean to get into typical global warming mode, only to point out that it is unfair to call the administration's position on the issue unreasonable.

We refuse to confine our criticisms to personalities. We believe that the abuses of power that have been commonplace under Bush's rule must be laid not only at his door -- and the vice president's -- but at the doors of a conservative movement that has, for decades, undermined government's ability to act reasonably and effectively for the common good.

It’s a disservice to paint the conservative movement with such a broad brush. (Just as it would equally be a disservice to paint the liberal movement so broadly.) There are many conservatives who feel betrayed by the Bush administration and who agree with liberal criticism of the Bush administration’s broad and overreaching use of executive power. A strong executive is not a conservative tenant.

Finally, on a more personal note, I do tend to agree with many of the complaints made in the letter about unchecked executive power. However, I don’t think these complaints are unique to the Bush administration- see the Clinton, Regan, Nixon, Johnson, and Roosevelt administrations. This is, in a way, what our system is and it’s disingenuous to only place blame at the feet of the other side. One can't oppose Bush's approach to the strong executive on supposedly principled grounds while looking back on history with no criticism of FDR. That is politics, not principle.

Again, I'm not posting to argue about policy. Policy debates are good for the country and should always be encouraged. My problem is not just with the various bits of misinformation, but with the overall tone of the letter. I'd feel the same way about a similarly toned conservative letter accusing all liberals of being anti-American, warning us about the "homosexual agenda," and accusing Bill Clinton of abusing executive authority.

The problem is that such letters encourage a bipolar political system and encourage group-think. Obviously a letter to like-minded individuals is not meant to foster debate with the other side, but it shouldn't foreclose discussion on your side. Rather than any discussion or any individual thought, what you get is two opposing ideologies with people believing whatever it is they're supposed to believe once they find which side they're a better fit for.

I have a problem when the motivations of a rational political movement are called into question. There is a big difference between calling the opposition wrong and accusing the opposition of bad intentions.


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