Democrats Meet For New Hampshire Debate

We’ve had another debate which will change little. Hillary Clinton showed again that she is the strongest candidate in such a forum and her front runner status will remain unchanged. She concentrated on trying to reduce the perception of differences among Democrats, hoping to change the opinions of the Anyone But Hillary Democrats. Obama still has not figured out how to transfer the magic which is seen when he is out campaigning to this forum.

John Edwards and Joe Biden get points for effort, but Edwards sounded more like an aggressive trial lawyer who will say anything to win than a President. While Obama couldn’t do much, he did manage to shoot down Edwards’ credibility. Despite Edwards’ holier than thou posturing, Obama reminded everyone of how each stood on Iraq before it was the politically popular position to oppose the war. That was enough for Obama to remain number two in the race, ahead of Mr. Four-And-One-Hlaf-Years-Too-Late. Obama and Edwards also showed clear differences on health care, with Obama disagreeing with Edwards on the need for an individual mandate requiring everyone to purchase health insurance.

Richardson and Dodd didn’t do anything to move into the upper tier, but I’ll give each a point for making a good point, even if these have been ignored so far in the media coverage. Richardson suggested lowering the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 55, which would be of value if the universal plans of the other candidates are not passed. Under the current system, having a medical problem, or even being older, makes it harder for those not receiving coverage through an employer to obtain coverage at a reasonable price. Allowing the opportunity to buy into Medicare before age 65 would help remedy this problem. It might even save Medicare some money if the program doesn’t have to pay for the consequences which have arisen in those who have not received adequate care before reaching age 65. This won’t be enough to help Richardson among many Democrats with the other candidates offering more comprehensive plans. His constant reminders that he is Governor of New Mexico will not help him either. His best bet will be to establish himself as the more moderate, pro-growth, candidate on economic issues and find a constituency of his own as the others split the more liberal economic vote.

Christopher Dodd caught my attention in the final moment when he mentioned restoring our Constitutional rights as a top priority. I wish he had the time to speak more on this topic. His blog team also prevented John Edwards from getting all the blogosphere buzz with the graphic above showing the time each candidate had to talk.

Ronald Reagan’s name came up frequently at the Republican debate. Not surprisingly, Bill Clinton’s name came up many times at the Democratic debate. However Barry Goldwater was also quoted by former Goldwater Girl Hillary Clinton on allowing gays in the military. In his later years, Goldwater was strongly opposed to the influence of the religious right and began to consider himself a liberal. It’s a sign of how far the Republican Party has moved to the right that Barry Goldwater would fit in better with Democrats than Republicans if he was still alive.

Update: Transcript now available

Former Canadian Ambassador Calls United States “A Theocratic State”

After this statement, watch for conservatives who cannot handle the truth to begin treating Canada as they have treated France:

Frank McKenna, Canada’s former ambassador to Washington, referred to the United States on Friday as “a theocratic state” in which Christian evangelicalism plays a big role in the Republican administration.

“Right now the United States is in many ways a theocratic state, not dissimilar to some of the other religious states in the world where religion has a huge part to play in government.”

He referred to a current congressional investigation in Washington into whether partisan political and religious loyalties were used in the hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys and immigration judges. He also alluded to a report that 150 graduates of a Christian evangelical school have worked at the White House in recent years.

By contrast, he said in a speech to a business audience hosted by the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, “Canada is truly a secular state. Religion and politics do not mix in this country.”

McKenna was outlining differences between the two countries and urged Canadians to be more confident about their different “mind set” on social issues, their economic clout, and their grip on national sovereignty in relation to the United States.

The Meaning of Liberalism

During the past few years there was considerable unity among those of us with a wide variety of beliefs in opposing the reactionary policies of the Republican Party. Labels of liberal and conservative have become partially redefined by where one stands on the Iraq War and a handful of social issues, with economics, which used to be a primary distinction, no longer being as significant. Patricia Cohen tackles the question of what liberalism now means in The New York Times.

Political labels are necessary in political discussion but have many faults. They frequently lump people together who have quite disparate beliefs, and can even separate those who are in agreement on many issues. The right has become particularly skilled at using labels as weapons, as they redefine liberalism to be something derogatory and define conservativism to mean something quite different from what has been practiced when conservatives have been in power.

Recently I’ve discussed more what liberals are not than what they are. In April I wrote that the characteristics of liberals described by John Hawkins has no relationship to my actual views. I dismissed George Will’s description of liberals more recently.

Cohen’s attempts to find a definition for liberalism is complicated by the fact that attempts to divide most opinions outside of the extremes as liberal or conservative will lump many people together with diverse views. While I can define what liberalism means to me, there may be others who define their views in a very different manner.

Liberalism stems from liberty, and above all else liberalism stands for individual liberty. Therefore liberals are united in opposing the violations of civil liberties seen under the Republicans who believe that the Bill of Rights is limited to the Second Amendment and see the American Civil Liberties Union as their enemy. Liberals defend both the basic liberties defended by the founding fathers, and seek to restore the checks and balances on government power were eroded under Republican one party rule.

Liberals are concerned about fundamental liberties including freedom of speech, the press, and religion. There is no uniform position with regards to the right to own guns, with many liberals supporting reasonable precautions as opposed to abolition. Liberals understand, as did the founding father and religious leaders of the past, that freedom of religion is only possible with strict separation of church and state. This is not an anti-religion viewpoint as the propagandists of the right would claim. Nor does this represent a lack of values as liberals may be religious, or may hold moral and ethical values outside of a religious framework. Liberal support for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, or for homosexuals to marry, stems from a belief in individual liberties, not out of a lack of morals as conservative propagandists would claim.

Liberals support a free market economy, but this leaves room for a variety of interpretations ranging from classical liberals supporting laissez-fair capitalism to those supporting increased government action. Liberals oppose both socialism and the system of government/corporate collusion promoted by conservatives, and I see neither as capitalist system. If not for the many other negative connotations of the word, fascism would be a far more accurate description of the economic policies being promoted by many Republicans, but using this label would denote an extremism which even the Bush administration has not reached.

Conservative propagandists would define liberalism based upon the most extreme advocates of big government, but I see this as more of an aberration in liberal belief. My position is sometimes referred to as a big tent libertarianism, or as being socially liberal and economically conservative. This label has failings too as I might agree with conservatives on some economic issues and disagree on others.

In reality there is considerable pragmatism as opposed to ideology on economic issues among liberals. Liberals do not necessarily desire higher taxes as conservatives would argue, but neither would liberals accept a Grover Norquist pledge against raising taxes regardless of the situation. While Cohen considers a support for proactive government to be a fundamental belief of liberals, this is more a matter of pragmatism. Liberals will utilize government where necessary, while also maintaining a healthy skepticism about government. Liberals neither must advocate bigger government in all cases as conservative propagandists would claim, or oppose government in virtually all situations as many conservatives do. Liberals can support the necessary social safety net for those who need it without supporting a net so big that it strangles us all.

This pragmatism comes as liberalism is largely a way in which problems are viewed as opposed to holding a strict set of unchangeable beliefs. Liberals have a reality-based viewpoint, where conservatives view the world biased by ideology and their religious beliefs. Liberals accept the findings of science on evolution and climate change, where conservatives believe they can ignore scientific evidence which conflicts with their beliefs.

This failure to accept a reality-based outlook also intrudes upon politics, with many conservatives continuing to claim that Saddam threatened us with WMD and had ties to 9/11. These views are largely fed by conservatives obtaining their information from propaganda outfits of the right, leading them to see anything which presents facts conflicting with their imaginary world view as liberal bias. In this context, Stephen Colbert was right about reality having “a well-known liberal bias.”

Views on foreign policy are harder to divide based upon the liberal versus conservative spectrum. Liberals are fairly united in opposing the current war, but I would differ with Cohen’s quotes of some anti-war liberals that “dislike of the Bush administration colored their judgment of the war and affirm that ‘we are not realists.'” While this may be true of some, for many of us it was the realization that the war was such a tremendous blunder which led to our dislike and distrust of George Bush. As time has gone on, the facts have only strengthened the case that opposition to the war was the correct position for those of us who are realists.

Viewing past wars makes the distinctions between liberals and conservatives less clear. Vietnam was escalated by Lyndon Johnson and other liberals, but many claim that John Kennedy would have never done this. Ultimately the war was opposed by most liberals and backed by most conservatives. Therefore the Vietnam war cannot easily be used to differentiate liberals from conservatives but might demonstrate another important difference. While some liberals may have supported the war initially, many learned from this mistake. Conservatives attack “flip-flopping” as a great evil, while liberals will change their policies as new information is available and conditions change. The desire to “stay the course,” even when clear that the course is wrong, far too often defines conservative thought.

Cohen refers to many additional works on the meaning of liberalism which will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with my definition. This diversity of thought is yet another important element of liberalism.

Update: Further discussion from Michael P.F. van der Galiën

Rudy Giuliani’s Problem With The Truth–From Terrorism to Health Care

It is remarkable how much Rudy Giuliani has become like George Bush. On Friday I questioned an article in Rolling Stone which claims he is worse, but Giuliani still shares far too many traits with George Bush to be considered to be president. The number one trait they both share is a total disregard for the truth.

Reports of Giuliani campaigning in Florida demonstrate how much like George Bush he has become:

”I believe that leading Democratic candidates and the Democratic party are in denial of the threat that we face,” Giuliani said. “The world is a dangerous place. If you can’t face it, you can’t lead.”

Giuliani railed against Democrats in Washington pushing for a deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq. He also predicted that a Democratic president would bring higher taxes and “socialized medicine.”

That’s a lot of noise coming from a member of the party which denied the risks of terrorism right up until the 9/11 attack, and then screwed up the response. John Kerry had written a book on the dangers of terrorism well before 9/11. Bill Clinton attempted to go after bin Laden, but was blocked by the Republican controlled Congress. Clinton then passed on plans for going after al Qaeda, but the Bush administration ignored them, not believing that a non-governmental organization could do serious harm to the United States. The leader of the Republican party even ignored intelligence briefs shortly before 9/11 warning that bin Laden planned to attack the United States using planes.

Giuliani’s personal record on terrorism is no better. Rudy’s the genius who placed New York’s emergency command center in the World Trade Center after we knew it was the target of terrorist attacks. His understanding of terrorism is so weak that he actually argued with Ron Paul over his simple statement that US involvement in the middle east was a motivating factor behind the attacks. If Giuliani really believes that they attacked for no more reason than hating us for our freedoms, how can he ever do anything to solve the root causes, as even Republican Secretary of Defense Robert Gates now advises?

Just as Giuliani echoes Bush on the claims about terrorism, his comments on health care resemble Bush’s false claim that John Kerry’s health care plan would amount to a government take over of health care. Kerry’s plan was a voluntary plan to assist businesses and individuals to obtain health coverage at an affordable price. Since then two states have instituted health plans with greater government regulations, and both had Republican governors.

While Giuliani brings out the scare stories of “socialized medicine” there is not a single Democrat running who wants to eliminate our system of privately run medical practices and hospitals. There’s not even a serious candidate advocating moving to a single payer plan, unless you believe that Dennis Kucinich has a chance of winning.

What Giuliani and the Republicans won’t admit is that it is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who have instituted a greater degree of government control over health care. It is the Republicans who wish to intervene in a woman’s right to an abortion as well as restrict access to Plan B and to birth control. It is the Republicans who harass physicians who prescribe narcotics to treat chronic pain, and who fight to prevent the use of medicinal marijuana. It was the Republicans who got the government involved in end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case. It was a Republican President who devised the current Medicare D plan which is primarily a monetary reward to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their huge contributions.

If we are to oppose “socialized medicine” and get the government out of health care, the way to do that is to keep the Republicans out of office.