Thursday, April 30, 2009

Progressives & Conservatives

Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence"
It seems that most who call themselves conservatives these days have been co-opted by rich, white men in search of pliable dupes to do their bidding. Conservatives at their best are cautious, resourceful, freedom loving and fiscally responsible -- and honest. But the current breed of conservative politicians and talk-radio ideologues appeal to the basest, most simplistic, atavistic instincts of voters and listeners too uncertain in their knowledge, or too lazy, to pursue a thorough understanding of issues that imperil them. These co-opted citizens rally behind cowardly, self-serving demagogues who devolve every debate into a personal "us vs. them" dichotomy; demagogues who show no shame using half-truths and outright lies to demonize those who threaten their privileged status quo; demagogues whose mesmerized followers seem to crave the tribal oneness that witch hunts provide.

Progressives, at their best, recognize that "us vs. them" is not productive; that some of "us" are bad, and some of "them" are good; that most of society's problems are complex, and that to solve them society must take risks and accept failure as part of the problem solving process. The ultimate durability of society rests in the hands of the majority, and if that majority is well informed and gainfully employed, everyone benefits. The problem with this enlightened, nuanced view is that it offers no simplistic, emotionally satisfying solutions. For a constituency craving fast food meat and potatoes, slow-cooked bouillabaisse is a turn off.

In every society, there are those who seek to exploit economic inequalities to their advantage, and in so doing perpetuate and amplify those inequalities. Economic predators extol the virtues of free markets while enjoying the benefits of market imbalances: oil companies who enjoy cheap oil leases, tax loopholes, and captive customers; media purveyors who enjoy free broadcast spectrum; coal mine operators who enjoy lax environmental protection. Such citizens are not free-market capitalists. They are lazy, morally corrupt, cowardly parasites that we would do well to banish to the backwaters of civilization. Yet, conservative politicians and media demagogues uniformly praise such "rugged individualists" as the most productive members of American society. It is a conceit that serves a singular purpose: mitigating their own fear. Conservatives, at their worst, are motivated by fear, which is why they resent change, gravitate toward exclusive rather than inclusive society (The Klan, John Birch, The Tea Party), and covet firearms and money -- both of which offer them a false sense of security.

Progressives at their best are motivated by hope. They acknowledge their fears, but find the courage to reject them and reach for something better. Progressives recognize that bureaucracy may breed corruption, but can also deliver vital services; that taxes might stifle some investment, but will create broad prosperity by preventing concentration of wealth amongst a fortunate or corrupt few; that unions marginally impede profits, but guarantee safe working conditions and fair wages. Progressives recognize that a productive, vibrant healthy society imposes costs on its members, but that those costs are countered by benefits borne easily by a society where every honest, hard-working member can expect long-term, stable prosperity that will never be obliterated by venal demagogues who profit from illicit trade in fear mongering and pandering. Progressives, at their worst, overreach and over-promise. They underestimate the treasure and time required to overcome obstacles and meet ambitious goals. If unchecked, progressive political parties tend to devolve into a mash of competing goals and reckless grasping at solutions without performing due diligence to vet those solutions.

Conservatives -- at their best -- can play the vital role of skeptic, and check the self-destructive, anarchic impulses of progressives at their worst. But honesty is required on both sides, or the partnership collapses into a standoff fueled by acrimony -- or, outright violence. Sadly, conservative political parties and media outlets have not met their obligation to be honest skeptics these last twenty years, or so. Instead, they have merely been reactionary, putting the brakes on any initiative that challenges the status quo. How bad do things have to get before they recognize the folly in their attempt to alleviate fear with hoards of guns and money?

I vigorously recommend a fine essay, a compilation of bits of Henry David Thoreau's speeches and writing:

It gives progressives and conservatives both a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it is illustrative of the dichotomy to which I refer above. And it's a damn good read -- go for it!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Power grab...clean power

The U.S. needs passionate, courageous leadership in our pursuit of renewable energy or we'll end up as an also-ran in the race to secure market share in the manufacture of renewable energy generators such as windmills, photovoltaics, turbines for co-generation and geothermal, and components for creation and storage of biomass gases.

If that happens, we'll miss what appears to be our last opportunity to restore a bit of our greed-decimated, off-shored manufacturing base and our last hope for broad economic prosperity, i.e. broad as in not just the rich get richer, but everyone gets a piece of the pie. Remember the post WWII years (or, remember reading about them at least)? Unions grew strong, wages increased all-around, the upper tax bracket was around 90%, and we saw the largest, broadest expansion of wealth in our history. We created the middle-class.

We can do that again if we secure the lead, or at least a major share, of the market for renewable energy (not next month, next quarter, next Then there's the market for high-efficiency appliances and mass transit that we could dig into as well. Proudly manufactured in the U.S. of A. But, it will take leadership and courage. And, based on historical evidence, Congress can't manage those qualities so well. They need help. Encouragement. Threats (not to vote for 'em, that's all). So contact your Representatives and demand action. Demand they keep renewables in the 2009 budget, and insist that they keep nukes and "clean" (dirty) coal out.

To find contact info for your Congressional Representatives, visit:

Contact! Let's get 'er done.

Want to read about how China and Europe are all ready eating our lunch? Read: "We Must Seize the Energy Opportunity or Slip Further Behind"

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Modern Democratic Party

The Modern Democratic Party is right, reasonable, and rational...but corrupt and absent the courage of its convictions.

The Modern Republican Party

The Modern Republican Party stands for nothing but self-interest:

-- Keep my income taxes to an absolute minimum, don't mess with my capital gains, and repeal the estate tax while we deny that the middle class withers, the poor drown in debt, our manufacturing engine of prosperity sputters, and wealth concentrates more noxiously at the top than ever before.

-- Insist that everyone who doesn't look and think like me is no patriot while we deny that the country's Anglo Saxon tint will inexorably diminish and leave a pale-skinned but well-heeled minority heir to an embattled and despised oligarchy.

-- The Constitution not withstanding, we will force kids to say prayers in school, put the Ten Commandments in courthouse lobbies and Christmas trees on courthouse lawns while we deny that to impose Christianity on constituents who practice other equally valid faiths, or none at all might be divisive or mean-spirited.

-- Pretend that teenagers who have sex or women who choose abortions are abhorrent and abnormal, while we deny or repress the sexual behavior of our own family members.

-- Insist that it's an indisputable right to own and carry combat weapons while cops and children are gunned down in the street like ducks in a shooting gallery and we deny that unfettered access to weapons might be the problem.

-- Rail against the non-existent leftist bias of the press while we applaud lying, dissembling, libelous talk-show demagogues and plead elitism when these charlatans are mocked, discredited, and dismissed by legitimate journalists who try to earn a living telling the truth.

The Republican Party stands for nothing laudable. It may have once, but no longer. Not efficient, fiscally responsible government; not opportunity and prosperity for wage-earning families; not law and order.

The Republican Party offers no vision of shared future prosperity at all.

The Republican Party is the party of self-interest, and if we continue to put self-interest before national interest, we won’t need to declare allegiance to the Republican or Democratic parties -- we’ll be tormented members of tribes who throw rocks and spears at our abundant and ever-multiplying adversaries.

Want a more authoritative view? Try Paul Krugman, "Tea Parties Forever"