Liberals Like Cats And Messy Desks

cats

Tests to tell if someone is liberal or conservative are of uncertain significance but often amusing enough to take a look at. From a survey, Time has found, among other things, that liberals are more likely to like cats than conservatives.

Cats are less likely to follow authority. It does make sense that liberals would have a greater affinity for these freedom-loving animals, while conservatives, who are more into authority and imposing their rules upon others (regardless of their rhetoric) might not like them as much. Other questions show a similar distinction with liberals being more supportive of liberty while conservatives being more interested in authority. For example, conservative authoritarianism leads to a preference for more neat and tidy desks.

If we were to follow the logic that liberals prefer cats more than conservatives due to their preference for liberty, then we might think that libertarians would be ever bigger lovers of this anarchic animal. It turns out that libertarians fall between liberals and conservatives on each question. With a little thought about the state of the libertarian movement, this actually makes sense. Libertarians include those who are true opponents of restrictions on liberty, but many other libertarians are basically conservatives who have smoked marijuana. They have hung out with Republicans for so long that it has become difficult to tell them apart. Some libertarians, such as Ron Paul, share many views with the religious right. Plus, as I have noted in the past, Ron Paul’s views would lead to a less free society. Anyone know his opinion of cats? In researching the question I did find a Cats and Kitties for Dr. Ron Paul Facebook Page, but that doesn’t tell me if the attraction is mutual. I wonder what additional information I can find over at FriendFace.

Of course this data is open to other interpretations. Allahpundit at Hot Air wonders if the survey shows that liberals like cats more than conservatives  because women tend to like cats and more women are liberals than conservatives. It is also possible that cats work better as pets among liberals who are more likely to live in urban areas. Similarly,  the tendency for conservatives to be older than liberals might explain why they are more likely to use Internet Explorer, but it appears that Allahpundit might be as quick to write someone out of the conservative movement for using IE as for supporting a tax increase.

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The State Of The Democratic Party Today

I found Dan Balz’s article on Democrats in the post-Obama era to be interesting not for any predictions of the future but for the information on the Democratic Party today. I wouldn’t take this as an exact measurement of any views, but a good general approximation.

Balz presented data that the Democratic Party has become more liberal, but with liberals representing a plurality and not a majority. The Democrats remain a big tent party of the left, middle, and center-right while the Republicans have become a predominantly conservative party:

By many measures, the party is certainly seen as more liberal than it once was. For the past 40 years, the American National Election Studies surveys have asked people for their perceptions of the two major parties. The 2012 survey found, for the first time, that a majority of Americans describe the Democratic Party as liberal, with 57 percent using that label. Four years earlier, only 48 percent described the Democrats as liberal.

(In the same survey, 59 percent said they saw the Republicans as conservative, up from 52 percent four years earlier.)

Gallup reported last month that 43 percent of surveyed Democrats identified themselves as liberal, the high water mark for the party on that measurement. In Gallup’s 2000 measures, just 29 percent of Democrats labeled themselves as liberals.

Still, liberals are a plurality of the Democratic Party, not a majority, which is strikingly different from the Republican Party, where Gallup found that 70 percent identified themselves as conservative.

Democrats hold a variety of views, but tend to be more liberal on social issues:

Democrats are most united on cultural and social issues, and it is here where the party has most obviously moved to the left, particularly on same-sex marriage and even the legalization of marijuana. But the party’s shift reflects overall changes in public attitudes that have kept the Democrats within a new political mainstream on these issues.

Women’s issues have provided even more cohesiveness within the party’s coalition.

There is less unity on national security and foreign policy, as much of the party is to the left of Clinton and even of Obama:

On issues of national security and foreign policy, divisions remain. Obama may be president because he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted as senator to give then-president George W. Bush the authority to take the country to war. Obama has ended the war in Iraq and is ending the war in Afghanistan, but some progressives are at odds with him over other aspects of his national security policies.

There is also division on economic issues:

On economic issues, the party is torn between two key parts of its coalition.

“One of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party,” Stern said, “is that its funders come from its traditional side of the economic spectrum and its voters come from a more populist, distributive side of the economic agenda.”

Former Montana governor Brian Schweitzer said, “I think the party increasingly is responding to the special interests they need to get elected — the military-industrial complex, big energy, pharmaceutical companies, banks.”

Yet in both policies and tone, there are indications that Democrats have moved to the left. Democratic candidates from all regions — including two potential rising stars running for the Senate in conservative states, Michelle Nunn in Georgia and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky — have embraced raising the minimum wage. This is a centerpiece of Obama’s agenda heading into this fall’s midterm campaigns…

Hostility to free-trade agreements is still deep among part of the Democratic coalition, but that tension has existed for decades. While many better-educated, upscale voters do not fear the impact of free trade, others, led by organized labor, look at stagnant wages and the difficult job market and attribute those hardships to trade.

Income inequality has received more attention from Democrats but it is based more upon pragmatic economic principles than hostility towards the rich or the egalitarianism falsely attributed to Democrats by many Republicans such as Chris Christie:

Perhaps more than any other economic issue, income inequality has animated progressive activists and voters. Party strategists say this energy is being fueled by lingering fury at Wall Street tycoons, whom they blame for the financial collapse, and deep unease about the nation’s eroding middle class.

“There’s a consciousness developing that’s related to this issue of inequality and the unfairness of our system and the wealth gap that has the potential to really grow and develop into a strong movement that will be reflected in coming elections,” former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said.

William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution said, “It’s not just a case of the very rich getting richer. If that were the only thing going on I think we’d be having a very different conversation. It’s also a case of the people in the middle at best treading water and in fact doing a little bit worse than that.”

Balz’s description of the Democratic Party is consistent with how I have described it in posts here–a big tent with the left more typically liberal on social issues and highly influenced by opposition to the war in Iraq. Democrats have tended to be more pragmatic than ideological on economic issues, with the current economic stagnation exacerbated by the right’s use of government to redistribute wealth to the ultra-wealthy and extreme opposition to government activity even when needed, leading to forces driving both pragmatism and a more populist agenda coinciding.

Looking ahead it is impossible to predict anything at this time other than a victory for Hillary Clinton, but this is based upon her historical position in the party, not whether she is currently representative of where most Democrats stand. If Clinton were to decide not to run, whoever wins the nomination is likely to be quite different from Clinton on the issues.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Trends Opposing Social Conservative Views

Whether the country has become more or less liberal on economics depends upon both the time frame considered and definition of economic liberalism used. The country has moved towards the right in some ways on civil liberties issues since 9/11. On the other hand, while the pendulum sometimes moves briefly in the other direction, the country is becoming socially more liberal.

Stuart Rosenberg  points out the difficulties now faced by social conservatives, as their archaic views are rejected by increasing portions of the country:

Starting with TV shows like “All in the Family,” “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Maude,” progressing to the very funny “Will & Grace” and going right up to today’s most obvious example, “Glee,” television has pushed socially progressive themes. Socially progressive characters are enlightened and admirable, while traditionalists are unappealing, to say the least…

The public and TV networks’ reactions to two recent Supreme Court decisions, one invalidating Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the other invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, were noteworthy.

Both decisions were 5-4, but only about the Voting Rights Act decision did I hear the high court widely described as “bitterly divided.”

In the days after the Voting Rights Act decision, you might have thought that the high court had taken away the right to vote from African-Americans. Journalists gave plenty of attention to voices opposing the decision and arguing that the ruling would overturn all the progress of civil rights since the 1960s.

The media’s coverage of the DOMA decision, on the other hand, was almost euphoric, geared overwhelmingly toward those celebrating the decision…

The type of coverage of the two decisions undoubtedly also reflects the fundamental values of most journalists, who are generally more liberal than the country as a whole. There appeared to be plenty of cheerleading after the two rulings on same-sex marriage, and not merely from the obvious voices on MSNBC.

But it wasn’t only surrounding the Supreme Court’s opinions on marriage that some of the recent media coverage seemed tilted.

On his final show hosting CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, media critic Howard Kurtz commented on the media’s very sympathetic treatment of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 11-hour filibuster at the end of a special session prevented the enactment of a bill limiting abortions and requiring facilities performing abortions to meet certain standards.

“If Wendy Davis had been conducting a lonely filibuster against abortion rights,” Kurtz asked, “would the media have celebrated her in quite the same way?” Kurtz didn’t offer an answer — because he didn’t have to. The answer certainly would have been “no.”

For social conservatives, the greatest problem may be the undermining of traditional religious authority and belief.

While Gallup showed only a slight annual increase last year in the percentage of people saying that they had no religious identification (up to 17.8 percent in 2012), the trend is clear.

“The rise in the religious ‘nones’ over time is one of the most significant trends in religious measurement in the United States. … The percentage who did not report [a religious] identity began to rise in the 1970s and has continued to increase in the years since,” wrote Gallup in a January 2013 report.

In the 2012 exit poll, President Barack Obama won 62 percent of voters who never attend religious services but only 39 percent of those who attended weekly. He carried 70 percent of those voters who said they had no religion, compared with only 42 percent of Protestants and 50 percent of Catholics…

Social conservatives probably see Obama, liberals on the Supreme Court and Democrats in Congress as their main adversaries. But they are wrong. The most important leaders of cultural liberalism may well be the members of the media and entertainment communities, and social conservatives simply have no strategy to deal with that.

While the country is becoming more liberal, I see the record of the Supreme Court as far more mixed, making some rulings which liberals are happy with but also taking moves to try to move the country to the right, such as with the Citizen’s United ruling. Their efforts to reduce the ability of minorities to vote may also be of value to Republicans. I wouldn’t underestimate the value of looking at popular culture as an indicator of which direction the country is heading in, but a conservative Supreme Court can leave us with a government which continues to be overly intrusive in the private lives of individuals.

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Rand Paul Making Sense On Civil Liberties–But Where Libertarians Go Wrong

Sometimes Rand Paul makes a lot of sense, such as when saying that the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing should be tried in civilian as opposed to military courts (which many other Republicans have been advocating):

“You know, I want to congratulate law enforcement for getting and capturing these terrorists, first of all, but what we do with them, I think we can still preserve the Bill of Rights, I see no reason why our Constitution is not strong enough to convict this young man with a jury trial, with the Bill of Rights,” Paul (R-Ky.) said on “Cavuto” on Fox Business Network. “We do it to horrible people all of the time: Rapists and murderers, they get lawyers, they get trials with juries. We seem to do a pretty good job of justice. So I think we can do it with our court system.”

If only Rand Paul and other libertarians would stick more to civil liberties issues. Then they would sound much more rational and we would have more in common with them.

I think that one reason Rand Paul and many other libertarians come across as crackpots is the company they keep. The close affiliation between libertarianism and the conservative movement has been disastrous for libertarianism. You can’t mix a pro-freedom philosophy with the views of the authoritarian right and remain consistently pro-freedom (or make much sense).

The Rand (and Ron) Paul form of libertarianism has many of the negative attributes of the far right. In the case of Ron Paul this has included racism, but this isn’t universal to all libertarians who became influenced by conservative views. This also includes support for states’ rights, which opposes excessive government power at the national level but often allows for far more restrictions on liberty at the state level (frequently at the expense of minorities.)

Many libertarians ignore religious liberty while promoting what they would describe as economic liberty. In some cases they are right to oppose unfair restrictions on business and counter-productive regulations. Far too often this really translates into opposing the types of regulation which are necessary for a free economy to work. They believe that markets are something arising from nature which must be left without restrictions, failing to realize that markets are creations of man which only work with a certain amount of regulation. This must come from government, not always Adam Smith’s invisible hand. In the worst cases, libertarianism is used to justify lack of activity against powerful business interests who exploit the pubic or harm the environment. They universally support business over government. While government is not always right in such disputes, when the system is working government provides a means for the public to work in unison against special interests which are too powerful for individuals to take on.

Many libertarians aligned with the conservative movement  have adopted views of the religious right, failing to realize that mixing religion with government is one of the greatest threats to freedom we face.

Libertarians would be much more consistent supporters of individual liberty (as opposed to being opponents of government action on a national level) if they continued their support of civil liberties but also  recognized the importance of separation of church and state, while giving up racism, state’s rights, and a knee-jerk opposition to economic regulation where it is needed. Of course those who hold this viewpoint are better known as liberals.

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Update To The “About Liberal Values” Page

I have rewritten a portion of the About page of the blog (and am likely to make further refinements after posting this). Here is the current page:

Liberal Values stresses support for individual liberties, a free market economy which is controlled neither by the state or by a small oligarchy, fiscal responsibility,  a rational defense policy, separation of church and state, and restoration of the limitations on government power which have been eroded in recent years.

Liberal Values stresses the origins of liberalism in stressing liberty, as well as the ideas of the enlightenment in supporting science and reason along with a secular society where everyone is free to practice or not practice the religion of their choice. While everyone has the right to turn to religious views for guidance in their individual lives,  religious views are personal and should never be the sole justification for government policy.

Liberal views on freedom, as well as an appreciation for science, grew out of the enlightenment. Attacks on science and reason represent one of the major problems of the day, primarily from the religious right but sometimes from portions of the left. This includes denial of evolution as a fundamental principle of modern biology and denial of the scientific consensus on climate change. Conservatives typically promote their views, which fail to work in the real world, based upon misinformation. Just as many modern conservatives promote an alternative reality with regards to science, Liberal Values also looks at how they promote an alternative reality with regards to history (such as denying the support for separation of church and state by the founding fathers), economics, and current events.

On economic matters, I support capitalism, which is why I oppose Republican economic policies. The classical liberals were educated, intelligent individuals who would have not been blind to the problems we fact today. Not even Adam Smith would have supported an economic system which is rigged by the government to support the interests of 1% of the country over the other 99%. Transfer of wealth to the top one percent weakens the middle class and has led to economic stagnation. Markets are creations of humans and require a certain amount of regulation to function. The role of regulation is to ensure fair economic transactions, in contrast to conservative policies which allow the fox to guard the hen house. Regulation does not mean replacing the decisions of a business owner with the judgement of a government bureaucrat as conservatives claim. There are certainly many bad regulations, and these should be repealed regardless of which political party is responsible. As someone who has owned a business for over twenty-five years, I have not seen any evidence that Republicans are any less guilty than Democrats in writing bad regulations. However I have found that business in general, including the stock market, has done far better under Democrats than Republicans assuming you are looking at the interests of Main Street as opposed to Wall Street. While the market can solve many problems, there are other problems, ranging from nuclear deterrence to financing of health care, which the market is not capable of handling.

Politically I am an independent. None of the political parties truly represent my views. However we do have a two party system in which one party has been taken over by extremists who promote policies have been disastrous to the country. Therefore in recent years I have voted for Democrats who support policies which are far better for the country. Despite all the rhetoric, it has been Republicans who have been fiscally irresponsible and are primarily responsible for running up the deficit. It has been Republicans, not Democrats, who have been  responsible for bigger government where it really matters–promoting government policies which infringe upon the rights and private lives of individuals. It has been Republicans who have ignored the infrastructure and made irresponsible foreign policy moves which have eroded the power off the United States both economically and militarily. The Republican Party has fallen under the control of extremists who deny modern science and oppose the important American tradition of separation of church and state. A strong two party system would be valuable in providing an additional check on the power of the majority, but this will only come about when the Republicans break free of their control by the religious right and neoconservatives.

The is further discussion of liberal values in many posts on this blog, such as here and here.

Wikipedia on Liberalism:

Liberalism is an ideology, philosophical view, and political tradition which holds that liberty is the primary political value. Liberalism has its roots in the Western Enlightenment, but the term now encompasses a diversity of political thought.

Broadly speaking, contemporary liberalism emphasizes individual rights. It seeks a society characterized by freedom of thought for individuals, limitations on power, especially of government and religion, the rule of law, free public education, the free exchange of ideas, a market economy that supports relatively free private enterprise, and a transparent system of government in which the rights of all citizens are protected. In modern society, liberals favor a liberal democracy with open and fair elections, where all citizens have equal rights by law and an equal opportunity to succeed. . .

Liberalism rejected many foundational assumptions which dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion. Fundamental human rights that all liberals support include the right to life, liberty, and property. Liberalism has its roots in the Western Enlightenment, but the term now encompasses a diversity of political thought, with adherents spanning a large part of the political spectrum.

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Pew Research Center Looks At Political Views Beyond Conventional Labels

I’ve often noted the problems with labels such as liberals versus conservatives, often lumping together people who do not agree on a number of issues while sometimes dividing those who do agree. My views have never fit in entirely with any group, but in recent years when it came down to liberals versus conservatives it has been a simple matter of siding with those who are not bat-shit crazy. Besides, liberalism contains a wide variety of views; in recent years including most who oppose the agenda of the theocratic, authoritarian right.  A Pew Research Center survey went beyond simple divisions of liberal versus conservative and party identification to break people down into a number of groups. Based upon this, it looks like I might have to rename the blog Post Modern Values. Of course a major characteristic of us post modern people is that we are very liberal on social issues. A few different answers on questions where I was forced to choose from two views which didn’t really capture my opinion could have also made me a Solid Liberal.  Regardless, we are on the same side on many of the major political issues. Post moderns are  the independents who overwhelmingly support Barack Obama. Unfortunately many post moderns (but not me) sat out in 2010.

The 2012 election might come down to whether Democratic-leaning independents turn out for the Democrats in 2012 as we did in 2008. On the one hand, many independents are increasingly turned off by the conservative views of Republicans on social issues. Just today, after seeing Barack Obama wage a war on terrorism, we are seeing House Republicans wage a war on women. On the other hand, another independent group, libertarians, is far more supportive of Republicans today than in 2008. As is far too often the case, libertarians tend to fall for Republican rhetoric on the economy (regardless of the realities) and are willing to compromise on matters such as social issues and actual freedom.

While the look at independents was most interesting, the survey also broke down supporters of each party by type. The views of Republicans were fairly predictable, regardless of type. For example, 90 percent of  Staunch Conservatives say that religion is an important part of their life. The Main Street Republicans  do not differ on this, with 91 percent answering the same way. Staunch Conservatives also include most of the Tea Party supporters. Knowing how conservative positions are frequently based upon beliefs which are counter to fact, it was no surprise to read that, “More Staunch Conservatives regularly watch Fox News than regularly watch CNN, MSNBC and the nightly network news broadcasts combined.”

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Right Wing Confusion Over “Statism”

I find that in recent years I find far less worth reading from conservative writers and those I still read are no longer accepted by much of the conservative movement. The conservative movement has become increasingly dominated by the religious right and those who prefer Sarah Palin style ignorance over science and reason, with many now accepting the misinformation spread by Fox and right wing talk radio as fact. There are many false beliefs spread in right wing writings which lead me to ignore them. One is the claim that liberals support more control from big government.

Conor Friedersdorf, sitting in for Andrew Sullivan, has a few recent posts explaining Why Statism Is The Wrong Frame which continues here. He points out, using some views held by Matthew Yglesias, that “The desired end of Matthew Yglesias isn’t to grow the American state.” Liberals such as Yglesias will support more government action in some areas than conservatives (and less in others) to fulfill their goals, but this is far different from holding a philosophical view based upon making expansion of state power a primary goal.

Actually Matthew Yglesias does support a bigger government than I do. Yglesias, like Kevin Drum, are significantly  to the left of both the Democratic Party and many liberals. The left in the United States today actually includes a wide variety views which have been lumped together due to an opposition to today’s conservative movement. Many former conservatives now identify with the left (a trend which began as far back as Barry Goldwater describing himself as a liberal in his later years in opposition to the religious right). Others such as Andrew Sullivan, as well as many of the more rational Reaganites, might continue to call themselves conservatives but their views are not welcomed by the conservative movement. E.D. Kain summed up the differences:

One thing I’ve realized over the past few months is that liberalism is a pretty big tent. This in stark contrast to contemporary conservatism which is, if anything, a few small embattled tents each trying to out-crazy the other. I’ve also realized, perhaps a little late, that a lot of people on the left think pretty much like Matt does here – a lot of people don’t but you’re not tossed out of the movement for it (not yet anyways)

Matthew Yglesias is a blogger who I frequently quote when I am looking for a sensible view to the left of me, plus there are many issues where we do agree.  As with most of today’s left, the primary overlap in our views stems from opposition to the restriction in civil liberties and expansion of the warfare state as an irrational response to the 9/11 attack by the right wing, support for civil liberties, opposition to the expansion of Executive power during the Bush years, and support for reality-based polices.

I might have philosophical differences with some of the more liberal economic views of Yglesias and Drum but at least, for the most part, we are basing our arguments upon facts. In contrast, right wing arguments in recent years start with their goal and make up the facts to support them under the assumption that if enough right wing sites make the same claim it becomes “true.”

Often in modern conservative writings liberals are distorted to sound like Ayn Rand villains, with any desire to use government action dismissed as “statism” and tyranny.  Even when I disagree with some views from some liberals, such as with some of Kevin Drum’s views outlined in his response here, I understand enough of where they are coming from that I don’t see their views as evil or tyranical.  Drum concluded:

When it’s all said and done, if we lived in Drum World I figure combined government expenditures would be 40-45% of GDP and the funding source for all that would be strongly progressive. “Statist” is an obviously provocative (and usually puerile) way to frame this, but really, it’s not all that far off the mark. It wouldn’t be tyranny, any more than Sweden is a tyranny, but it would certainly be a world in which the American state was quite a bit bigger than it is now.

My utopia would have a  smaller government than that of Kevin Drum. Drum provides far stronger ammunition for charges of “statism” than many other liberals who are far more moderate on economic positions, making a blanket attack on the left for “statism” absurd. This comes off as even more ridiculous considering that among the strongest areas of agreement in the big tent which makes up the left is opposition to the far more odious statism of the right.

Conservatives dwell on the size of government–except when it involves invading other countries, torture, or imposing the agenda of the religious right upon others. As a consequence, much of the actual growth of the United States government in recent years came under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. A supposedly smaller conservative state is also far more likely to interfere with personal decisions which should be left to the individual.

In contrast to conservatives, many liberals (and “liberaltarians” as mentioned in the previous post) see limitations on the power of government in the lives of individuals as being the more important than dwelling over the actual size of government. If the question is tyranny, those who support the agenda of the modern conservative movement are on pretty shaky ground.

Update: It looks like Steve Benen was also working on this topic  as I was writing this. His post is also useful for links to other liberal bloggers on this topic.

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Liberaltarians Leaving Cato

Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson are both leaving the Cato Institute for other jobs.They are two leading proponents of liberaltarianism, promoting greater cooperation between libertarians and liberals, which is counter to the larger trend for libertarians to work with conservatives. David Weigel reports that some see this as a purge of the liberaltarians, while Ilya Somin of The Volokh Conspiracy disagrees.

I have no idea if this is a conscious decision by Cato to remove the liberaltarians. As we are dealing with only two people it is certainly possible that it is coincidental that both are moving on to other jobs at the same time. Regardless of whether the two are at Cato, I do hope that they maintain some degree of influence in the libertarian movement. Libertarians are greatly in need of such influence, as I’ve seen far too many libertarians take on too many attitudes of the conservative movement.Libertarianism corrupted by such authoritarian beliefs tends to become ridiculous. (For example, look at Ron and Rand Paul).

Of course it works both ways. Many liberals can also benefit from exposure to some libertarian ideas, and far too few libertarians can communicate their ideas intelligibly to those who don’t already share their views. With many on the left being primarily concerned about civil liberties, social issues, and opposition to the war, the “big government” attitudes of the past are far less prominent among many liberals, leaving room for consideration of some libertarian views.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be any benefit coming from conservative exposure to libertarians. While many libertarians have adopted conservative ideas, conservatives are far less likely to change their ideas. Besides, if they do they risk being drummed out of the conservative movement.

Related: Right Wing Confusion Over “Statism”

Many conservatives mistakenly believe that a fundamental view of liberalism is “statism” and having big government control everything. While this view is spread by Fox and conservative talk radio it is not only false but it is the opposite of the real differences. The left is a big tent containing a variety of views bu…t one view held by many is opposition to the authoritarianism and disregard for knowledge and reason coming from the right wing.

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David Brooks Almost Becomes A Democrat

David Brooks says he was a liberal Democrat when he was younger, and I think that deep down he wants to be one now but something is holding him back. In today’s column he briefly pretends to be a Democrat again and likes some of what he sees:

I feel beleaguered because the political winds are blowing so ferociously against “my” party. But I feel satisfied because the Democrats have overseen a bunch of programs that, while unappreciated now, are probably going to do a lot of good in the long run.

For example, everybody now hates the bank bailouts and the stress tests. But, the fact is, these are some of the most successful programs in recent memory. They stabilized the financial system without costing much money. The auto bailout was criticized at the time, but it’s looking pretty good now that General Motors is recovering.

He found more to like about how Barack Obama is governing:

What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe? Then I remember President Obama’s vow to move us beyond the stale old debates. Maybe he couldn’t really do that in the first phase of his presidency when he was busy responding to the economic crisis, but perhaps he can do it now in the second phase.

It occurs to me that the Obama administration has done a number of (widely neglected) things that scramble the conventional categories and that are good policy besides. The administration has championed some potentially revolutionary education reforms. It has significantly increased investments in basic research. It has promoted energy innovation and helped entrepreneurs find new battery technologies. It has invested in infrastructure — not only roads and bridges, but also information-age infrastructure like the broadband spectrum.

These accomplishments aren’t big government versus small government; they’re using government to help set a context for private sector risk-taking and community initiative. They cut through the culture war that is now brewing between the Obama administration and the business community. They also address the core anxiety now afflicting the public. It’s not only short-term unemployment that bothers people. What really scares people is the sense that we’re frittering away our wealth. Americans fear we’re a nation in decline

Brooks unfortunately took what could have been one of his best columns in a long time and ruined it by thinking in terms of right wing talking points. His fear when acting as if he was a Democrat became: “What can my party do to avoid the big government tag that always leads to catastrophe?” His hope:

Eventually, I see a party breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again, and I start feeling good about the future. Then I take off the magic green jacket and return to my old center-right self. A chill sweeps over me: Gosh, what if the Democrats really did change in that way?

Brooks managed in the same column to show the benefits of Obama’s economic plans while also fearing they will tagged as big government. He worried about having “the same old tax debate” while ignoring the fact that Obama included some of the biggest tax cuts in history in his stimulus package.

The difference between the parties is that the Democrats are trying to solve today’s problems, even if not always in the right way, while Republicans have taken an extremist and inflexible position. They say no to virtually everything, and would never think of joining Brooks in finding things to praise in some of Obama’s policies.

Republicans certainly would not echo Brooks and admit that the differences generally are not big government versus small government. It was clear to most people, even if not David Brooks, that in 2008 the Democrats were the party which was “breaking out of old stereotypes, appealing to entrepreneurs and suburbanites again.”

Republicans will label the Democrats as the big government party, regardless of whether it is true. Never mind how much government grew under the Republicans, or that it is Republican policies which wind up infringing upon the rights of individuals far more than those of Democrats. Even the major “big government” program passed by the Democrats, health care reform, is made up of ideas initially proposed by Republicans.

If David Brooks wants to move beyond stereotypes and really wants to pursue pragmatic solutions to today’s problems there really is only one choice among the major political parties. If he could overcome his biases he would even realize that even for someone who calls himself center-right, at present the positions of the  Democrats are far closer to the views of any sane people than the extremism which now dominates the Republican Party.

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Academic Study of Ideologues Ignoring The Facts

The Boston Globe has an article which describes a phenomenon which has been clear for a long time as a new discovery. They reported on studies which found that people, especially ideologues, often ignore facts which contradict their views:

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This is hardly surprising. We’ve seen this during the Iraq war as many conservatives held onto beliefs that there was WMD in Iraq or that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack. In addition, we see conservatives expressing numerous beliefs which are counter to fact. In economics we see conservatives hold onto the same erroneous economic views regardless of how often they lead to disaster. In science this includes belief in creationism and denial of the human role in climate change. In history we see a growing number of conservatives deny the fact that the Founding Fathers supported separation of church and state despite all the historical documentation that this is what they intended.

The conservative movement, with its disconnect from reality, is also prone to spreading unfounded conspiracy theories. In recent elections we’ve seen them hold onto disputed claims such as those from the Swift Boat Liars and the Birthers. Many conservatives continue to claim that neither John Kerry’s military record or Barack Obama’s birth certificate have been released. In reality, not only have both documents been made public but they have also been posted on line. Then we have the Tea Party movement which is totally disconnected from reality.

Of course there are also some nutty views held on the far left too. The difference is that  the left in this country is dominated by people who are generally pragmatic and even moderate by international standards. Those with views which are contrary to fact on the left tend to have little influence, while the conservative movement has become dominated by ideologues who deny the facts whenever they contradict their extremist views.

The researchers looked at a few specific issues:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Incorrect views on the right, such as on WMD and the effect of tax cuts, are fairly widespread. I imagine that there are some on the left who believe that Bush supported total restrictions on stem cell research, but most liberal writings have been more specific in criticizing Bush for the federal restrictions on funding of stem cell research. Articles frequently noted that, while the ban was not total, Bush’s limitations on the stem cell lines on which research was allowed wound up crippling stem cell research.

This phenomenon described is hardly surprising or anything new, but there might be some value in publicizing such academic research. This might help a bit in countering the misinformation which commonly comes from Fox and the Tea Party rallies. Of course the research also demonstrates what we already knew–those who believe these claims are unlikely to change their minds based upon the facts.

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