Thursday, September 6, 2012

The cartoon liberal

Every day, it seems, somebody posts a statement affirming that hard work and success are honorable things, and greatly preferable to depending on handouts. The message, whether stated directly or not, is that there are people who disagree. It is also clear who those people are supposed to be, and who they are not. They are liberals: the people who allegedly denigrate success and think that everybody should depend on government handouts. They are not conservatives: the right-thinking people who know better.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Nobody I know in either political party, whether liberal or conservative, thinks that hard work and success are not good things. Nobody I know of either persuasion thinks that it is desirable to make people dependent on government handouts. Nobody. That position doesn't exist. It just keeps getting attacked in a classic straw-man argument. It's easy to score points for your cause, apparently, by demolishing what you think your opponents believe, especially if others are predisposed to see it that way as well. It's easy to attack a cartoon liberal. I'm a real liberal, though, and I'm not going to take it lying down, so let me once again explain, briefly, what I do believe.

As a liberal, I believe in freedom: the maximum amount of freedom compatible with a just and decent society. I also believe that freedom is threatened in a variety of ways, most of which do not come from government as commonly perceived.

The common perception of government, though, is part of the problem that liberals seek to address. The fact, as Howard Zinn and others have convincingly established, is that the United States has always had big government and always will. It could hardly be otherwise, given that we are a bafflingly large and diverse society. Such a society cannot run by itself.

We do, however, have a rational choice to make. We can choose to be governed by largely open and transparent institutions whose avowed purpose is government, and which are answerable to the people, or we can choose to be governed by shadowy corporations and people of great wealth whose operations are opaque and who are accountable to no-one.

As a liberal, I believe that our precious freedoms are slipping away at an alarming rate and are being replaced by the power of the moneyed corporate behemoth. As just one example among many, that behemoth, operating in the supposedly free market, has devised a strikingly inefficient way of administering health care that maximizes profits and disempowers individuals. Until the passage of the Affordable Care Act, somebody who has had a serious and chronic illness - somebody like my late wife - could have his or her freedom taken away by the need to appease the arcane, self-serving requirements of corporate health care. The Affordable Care Act, by empowering people with "pre-existing conditions," has made all of us more free.

I have lost another significant personal freedom over the last few months. I can no longer go to a public place and relax without at least thinking about the possibility that a madman armed with military assault weapons will open fire and kill me and those I am with. As a society, we seem incapable of doing anything about this loss of freedom, since we are in the thrall of arms manufacturers, the NRA, and other representatives of corporate power. As a liberal, I think this is a horrible state of affairs, and we would be much freer if the government transparently regulated who can own such weapons and under what circumstances.

Notice that I haven't said anything about giving handouts. The fact is, I do give them. I recently gave a significant amount of money, for example, to Lutheran Ministries and Social Services of Waco to help fund its Legal Assistance Project, which provides low-cost paralegal services for those in the community who cannot afford them. This is a handout, and like all such handouts, it is intended to get those people back on their feet so they can gain a modicum of self-respect. When I sat on the Board of Directors of LMSS, it included both liberals and conservatives and we all agreed about this without question.

So please, let's stop attacking the cartoon liberal. That success-despising, handout-loving, anti-American figure of so many conservative imaginations simply doesn't exist in real life. It is a lie. Therefore, any argument directed against it is inherently dishonest in substance, if not necessarily in intent. For the record, I don't care what time Paul Ryan says he ran the marathon in. He may have been mistaken or her may have been lying, but it doesn't really matter because the issue is a trivial one. I do very much care if Ryan or anybody else attacks the cartoon liberal, because such an attack is dishonest at the core, and it matters deeply.

1 comment:

  1. "We can choose to be governed by largely open and transparent institutions whose avowed purpose is government, and which are answerable to the people, or we can choose to be governed by shadowy corporations and people of great wealth whose operations are opaque and who are accountable to no-one."

    Thanks Robin,

    I hope this isn't too tangential.

    Last week a nurse who is working on her Bachelor's in Public Health asked me if I thought public health would become privatized.

    I told her that I didn't think so because, by and large, public health services are not revenue-generating.

    Now that I think about it, I realize that many local health jurisdictions no longer provide some of the services that had historically been our turf. Although we continue to fund these services, our health department no longer provides immunizations, TB treatment, and breast and cervical cancer screening.

    Our funding is contingent upon the whims of politicians. We continuously have to demonstrate that the work that we do it meaningful and cost effective.

    I wonder if there are some services that are generally provided at some level of government that are unlikely to become privatized.