Thursday, October 02, 2008

Manipulative labels = propaganda

In the midst of the Cold War, left-right labels -- liberal and conservative -- made some sense. In the 1960s liberals were generally seen as being for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam. Conservatives stood for states rights and fought against communism.

Now, in the House of Representatives, with right-wing Republicans having combined with left-wing Democrats to stand in the way of a massive federal program designed to unclog credit streams -- favored by the establishment of both parties -- who is talking the liberal talk? Who is walking the conservative walk?

Is it fair or accurate for an opponent of the proposed “bailout,” or “rescue,” to call the bill a strategy that is out of the mainstream because it's too liberal, or too conservative?

Forty years ago, it was useful to see a left-to-right political spectrum. In those days, segregationists and hawks derisively called their most vocal opponents “pinkos.” Civil rights activists and doves didn’t mind calling their most hardcore opposites “fascists.”

Then the Berlin Wall crumbled.

In 1991 a radio news story described a political brouhaha in Russia between the ascending free-market style reformers and the old guard, the stubborn communists -- who were going out of style faster than a Leningrad minute.

No, make that a St. Petersburg minute.

The report labeled those clinging to the Soviet system as “conservatives” and those in the process of sweeping them out of power as “liberals.” Yet, when considered in light of the familiar Western view of matters political -- capitalists on the right vs. socialists on the left -- the role reversal of this situation’s fresh context was striking and amusing.

President George W. Bush used the tag “compassionate conservative” in the 2000 election. But in 2008 Bush’s steering of the nation’s economy, his unprecedented accumulation of debt, have hardly been conservative in the traditional sense. Nor has Bush’s swaggering, go-it-alone foreign policy been in the least bit prudent or, ahem, conservative.

So, it has turned out that the term “compassionate conservative” was simply what used to be called “double-talk.”

Now we have a black man running for president, who personifies the progress this country has made in its struggle to overcome racism. Times have changed.

Today’s political issues divide along many lines. There are urban vs. suburban arguments. There are differences that split generations, classes, lifestyles and you-name-it. Trying always to frame such issues within a ideological context tortures the truth.

Worrying about whether the Republican, Sen. John McCain, is conservative enough, or whether the Democrat, Sen. Barack Obama, is too liberal, is a waste of time. It simply doesn't matter very much.

From where I'm sitting, here's what it looks like a smart voter should be considering: Which presidential candidate seems to better understand the daunting problems he would face as president? Which candidate appears to have the better plans to solve/cope with those problems? Which candidate is the better leader for our time? Not for some other time. Our time.

And, speaking of our time and its peculiar economic vexations, as a lawyer friend of mine said, “Whoever named it a 'bailout' didn’t do its chances of passing much good.”

So, once again, we see labels working to shape perception. Is it conservative or liberal to hand over $700 billion to an administration who spokespersons have been telling us for the last year the nation's economy is "vibrant and flexible" and "our banks are strong"?

In this election year, the wise voter will brush aside the manipulative labels and remember that neither conservatives nor liberals have ever had an exclusive on two considerations that always matter more than convenient labels -- honesty and competence.


Rabbit said...

I've always preferred the term "progressive", though it may not carry a lot of meaning. I heartily agree that those labels are outdated. Limiting 2nd Amendment rights is considered "liberal", and doling out money to military contractors and Wall Street magnates is "conservative". Let's craft a new language for politics, or hell, let's craft a new political system!

Scott said...

I have always said that Bush is a dangerous RADICAL.

The real conservatives these days are the Greens, Libertarians, and Constitutionalists who are defending the Constitution, you know, that "piece of paper".

Required listening, if you missed it on WRIR this morning:

Scott Nolan said...

Thanks for a welcome and novel way of looking into the fog of modern American politics.

Rabbit, I too have liked the term progressive, but what does that leave us for the opponents of progressives? Congressives? Regressives? Postgressive?

We could have hours of amusement over bears on this...

It is not enough to simply pick the candidate who best understands the daunting problems before us, for we must also pick congressional representation who will work with that candidate and (as you said) honestly and competently work together with the president to solve the problems.

Rabbit said...

We shouldn't have to be limited to the -gressives in naming those goons. Bill Maher called McCain and Bush "Grandpa and Goober", respectively, and I almost snorted coffee all over my keyboard when I first saw Palin referred to as "Caribou Barbie". Maybe we could call them the "Capital Hill-billies"?

As far as picking candidates goes, I often feel it would be more productive to pick my nose. I do consider third party candidates real choices, and I completely disavow the "vote for Obama or you're voting for McCain" philosophy. Part of the pressure against change is the electoral system and the things a candidate has to do in order to win an office.

I will vote my conscience, but the mission doesn't end there. I've been resonating a lot lately with something FDR said to a bunch of social reformers: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it". McCain or Obama, Pantele or Goldman, all of our elected officials need their constituents to demand fundamental change or it will never, ever happen.