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Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 11 comments

Ten Issues Where I Agree with Conservatives

 

National Review Magazine founder William F. Buckley Jr. is seen in an undated handout photo. Writer and commentator William F. Buckley, a revered figure and intellectual force in the American conservative movement for decades, died on Wednesday at age 82, said the magazine he founded, the National Review. REUTERS/National Review (UNITED STATES). NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS..

The late conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr., founder of “National Review” — worthy of both admiration and loathing

 

What troubles me most when discussing important issues is close-mindedness.  Call it a cancer on communication.  This seems to be an epidemic right now.

People who insist their minds are “already made up” and can’t be changed annoy me.  Surely, unexpected events and unforeseeable circumstances may come about that should make us re-evaluate what we think.  The acquisition of knowledge isn’t finite.  One’s personal belief system is more of an evolution.  What we believe is true today might prove demonstrably prove false tomorrow.  People and institutions we trust at this instant could violate our confidence later.  If history has taught us anything, it’s that unpredictable events can (and do) alter the way we look at ourselves and the world.  Just think of revelations in your own life which changed your perceptions about things.  Recall those you once trusted who later turned out differently than expected.  Indeed, our most profound memories are not necessarily confirmations of beliefs we think to be true.  More often, enlightenment stems from unexpected discoveries of something new.

Indeed, questioning one’s ideas should be an ongoing process.  I do this constantly (no doubt, a by-product of writing daily).  If you are not continuously asking yourself questions about what you believe, then chances are you probably don’t bring much original thought to a discussion.  Looking back now, my own belief system changed (or evolved) significantly over the years — about politics, religion, morality, the sports teams I root for, and just about every other subject I can possibly think of.  I don’t believe the same things I thought were true when I was 20.  I’m not the same person I was at 30.  I can even point to fallacies in my belief system when I was 40.  Now in my early 50’s, I continue to plod ahead and re-evaluate issues based on on my personal experiences and the evidence I encounter.  I’ve come to view changing one’s mind not as weakness.  Rather, I see that as a sign of strength, an indication of personal growth — and most important, an open mind.

That said, I generally favor a progressive political, economic, and social agenda.  I’m a committed socialist.  I adhere to many of the basic tenets of classic Marxism.  Moreover, I’m an avowed anti-theist (which often gets confused with atheism, not quite the same thing).  I also love to laugh and adore animals.  I suppose I could change my mind about politics and religion at some point in the future if confronted with unmistakable evidence to the contrary.  But nothing will pull me away from laughing and loving animals.  Perhaps I’m just as stubborn as everyone else, in some ways.

So, where do I break from the classic liberal/progressive philosophy?  To answer this question and prove how truly “open-minded” I am, I’ve assembled a list of ideas and concepts where I generally agree with conservatives.  Here they are:

1. I believe all individuals are primarily responsible for their own actions — I’m a big believer in taking “personal responsibility,” a favorite rallying cry of conservative philosophy (by the way, I also believe in “social responsibility,” one of the precepts of liberalism).  All actions have reactions — and individuals, institutions, corporations, a nations must be willing to accept and then face the consequences of the decisions they make, whether right or wrong.

2. I believe the retirement age for Social Security benefits should be raised to at least 70 — When Social Security was first introduced during the 1930’s, the average life expectancy in the United States was 60.  Now, it’s 75.  Our national retirement system remains one of the most successful government programs in American history.  Accordingly, it must be protected in order to remain solvent for future generations.  Demographic shifts (we’re now living longer, less young people are playing into the system) mandate that we adjust the retirement age for benefits.  Liberals generally oppose raising the retirement age, in my view corrupted by political considerations (i.e. raising retirement age would be immensely unpopular).  Some fiscal conservatives are willing to face facts and support what appears to be the more responsible position.

3. I believe we should eliminate most government-funded pension plans — Working for a local, state, or federal agency doesn’t entitle someone to a lifetime of salary and generous retirement benefits.  Many pension plans are now bankrupting localities all across the country.  A government worker can put in 20 years of service, and then potentially live another 40 years way beyond retirement age, continuing to receive a steady stream of benefits.  This crisis was best summed up by a local county commissioner in California who recently lamented, “Sure, we can afford to pay our current policemen, firefighters, and teachers — but we can’t afford twice as many more who are now collecting retirement.  It’s killing us.”

4. I believe in cutting off all foreign aid (except when there’s a humanitarian crisis) — The United States has been the sugar daddy to much of the world for much too long, without sufficient returns on our investment.  Accordingly, it’s way past time to cut off virtually all foreign aid across the board and let other countries deal with their own problems (I also favor U.S. military disengagement from most parts of the world).  The savings to American taxpayers would be enormous and these funds which often prop up horrible regimes could instead be funneled into improving our domestic infrastructure and creating jobs programs.  Let Pakistan, Israel, Egypt, and all the other nations which are currently sapping billions in no-strings attached assistance from the U.S. finance their own domestic agendas.  We’ve got more than enough problems over here already.  Note that this isn’t actually a conservative position, but it is one of the major planks of Libertarianism (who purport to be “true” philosophical conservatives).

5. I believe in legalizing almost all vices (drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, etc.) — Social conservatives (sometimes referred to as religious conservatives) are the primary obstacle to personal freedom on several key issues.  However, Libertarians tend to favor legalizing most forms of vice — including drugs (certainly marijuana), alcohol sales, most forms of gambling, prostitution (including repealing old laws which forbid various sex acts, even homosexuality in some locales), and pornography.  I generally favor legalizing everything (including hard drugs), which is admittedly an extremist Libertarian position.  The so-called “wars” against various forms of vice have all failed miserably, starting with Prohibition during the 1920’s continuing with the “War on Drugs” today.  These policies are terribly costly to our society.  They create a powerful underclass of violent criminals, they boost organized crime syndicates and cartels, and they cause us to lock up more than a million people now in prison for drug-related offenses.  Across the board, government restrictions are not working.  So, let’s repeal them.

6. I believe in eliminating all state lotteries — I despise lotteries.  The government has many responsibilities, including providing for public safety and security, protecting the rights of all citizens, and (in my view) establishing a minimal level of sustenance for all people including a basic level of education, guaranteed health care, and a livable earning wage.  The government should not be in the gambling business.  Moreover, the disproportionate harm done by lotteries to poor people is utterly irrefutable.  This is one of the most appalling public policy blunders of our time.  While casinos and online gambling should be permitted everywhere, states should not be in this business other than as regulators.  State lotteries offer the worst possible mathematical odds of any form of wagering, and for the government to be encouraging this type of behavior is scandalous.  This is one issue where conservative religious organizations and moralists are absolutely correct.

7. I believe in promoting the use nuclear energy — Environmentalists once raised many good points about concerns as to the safety of nuclear energy.  But that was during the 1970’s and 1980’s when this relatively new form of technology was still untested and unproven.  Now that many nations have successfully developed and maintained safe nuclear power plants (there are 438 plants now operating worldwide, and 67 more are now under construction — only 5 inside the United States), we should ramp up this vital energy option as a viable alternative to fossil fuels which are limited.  We’ve let 36 years lapse since the Three Mile Island crisis (no one died), so it’s become imperative to catch up with advances in technology and use science to our collective benefit.  Conservatives generally favor the use of nuclear power.  Liberals (environmentalists) have strongly opposed this energy alternative for decades.  This is one issue where conservatives have it right.  More nukes.

8. I believe that college education should not be free — Bernie Sanders and I agree on many issues.  We don’t agree on this one.  Sen. Sanders is currently proposing tuition-free public universities, as is the national policy in many other industrialized countries.  While well intended, making college “free for everyone” is both far too costly and impractical.  We already have a glut of college-educated graduates, many of whom are currently underemployed in this economy.  Adding millions more with college degrees, while also removing them for up to four years from the workforce, doesn’t guarantee a payoff.  Instead, trade/tech schools and vocational institutes should become our primary focus of post-high-school education in America.  We need more plumbers, carpenters, and mechanics.  Universities will always manage to attract applicants, and the emphasis on getting a college degree has only driven up the costs of education, without much tangible benefit to society.  We have more college graduates now that at any time in history.  But that certainly hasn’t made us smarter.  One more point — as with most Liberals, I do favor government subsidizing the costs of high education through grants, institutional aid, guaranteed student loans, and so forth.

9. I believe in alternative views of American history (i.e. history has often been wrong) — I’ve grouped these thought into a separate “miscellaneous” category.  On the presidents:  A) President Clinton was guilty of perjury when he lied to a Grand Jury and should have been impeached from office, if he didn’t voluntarily resign.  B) Richard Nixon was, in the words of progressive icon Noam Chomsky “our last liberal president.”  Aside from his monumental character flaws, Nixon’s domestic agenda was are more progressive than just about anyone, including Kennedy’s.  C) John F. Kennedy was a fraud and without doubt most overrated president in history.  The 35th U.S. president did little to advance a progressive agenda.  Despite the riots, lynchings, bus bombings, sit-ins, and the biggest issue of his day, Kennedy didn’t make a formal statement on civil rights until two and a half years into his term.  That’s almost “Hooveresque.”  D) President Obama has been a moderate president, hardly the dangerous “socialist” that his opponents feared.  To the contrary, the wealthy have become wealthier and the stock market has more than doubled.  That’s not very “socialistic.”

 

Okay, so that’s only nine things where I agree with conservatives, instead of 10.  Sorry, but I couldn’t think of anything else.  And I think I burst a blood vessel trying to come up with one more, but to no avail.

Now for a final thought.  Allow me to challenge you personally.

What are some issues where you agree with your political and philosophical opposition?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative, or stuck in the middle.  There must be at least one issue where you don’t agree with your party, your religion, your company, your family, or your co-workers and friends.  What do you believe in?  What do you stand for?

Hopefully, you stand for the principle of examining the evidence from a variety of credible sources and then drawing conclusions based — not on prejudice, nor tradition, nor parents, nor peer-pressure, nor simplicity, nor fear, nor ignorance — but on the simple precept of what is true and just.

To that end, there can be no higher plateau of aspiration.

 

11 Comments

  1. Oh, do we ever need a long, long dinner and lots of wine.

    • Nolan Replies: Next time you visit, please let me know. Deal.

      — ND

  2. Hi Nolan,

    I thought of four issues right away where I agree with liberals. I am a conservative Republican.

    1. The federal minimum wage should be raised. The market signals that it’s too low are glaringly obvious. People are refusing to go to work. Companies use anti-poverty programs like food stamps to subsidize their labor costs. A government agency should set the minimum wage at a level that brings people into the workforce.

    2. Police forces are too abusive in many communities. The police have become revenue agents in many cities where citizens demand lower taxes. A siege mentality has developed instead of service. A good friend of mine was beaten to death by the police while trying to buy a candy bar. We have to scale back the purview of the police.

    3. Big banks should be broken up. They are a cartel, and run afoul of antitrust laws, but lawmakers look the other way because of big contributions.

    4. Donald Trump is a fascist, tyrannical weasel. No further comment needed.

    I also support legalized online gambling, but that seemed like a gimmee since I read this blog.

  3. I think one I would add is for a strong military. However, we can still have the strongest military in the world and not have to spend the amount we do on it we currently do.

  4. Sounds like Libertarian to me..

  5. I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. But Bill Clinton was impeached. Impeached means charged like an indictment. He was tried in the Senate and acquitted. If he was convicted he would have been removed from office. If you think he was guilty that is another issue but he was impeached.

  6. I’m a yellow dog democrat, but for me NAFTA was clintons biggest mistake. In the short term it fueled the stock market and expanded the bottom line of most corporations who went to China, Korea, India and Mexico for cheap labor It was the final nail in the coffin for manufacturing in the US , collective bargaining and the middle class.

    “By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II. The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth and political power.

    NAFTA affected U.S. workers in four principal ways. First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as production moved to Mexico. Most of these losses came in California, Texas, Michigan, and other states where manufacturing is concentrated. To be sure, there were some job gains along the border in service and retail sectors resulting from increased trucking activity, but these gains are small in relation to the loses, and are in lower paying occupations. The vast majority of workers who lost jobs from NAFTA suffered a permanent loss of income.

    Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. In the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with unions, some companies would even start loading machinery into trucks that they said were bound for Mexico. The same threats were used to fight union organizing efforts. The message was: “If you vote in a union, we will move south of the border.” With NAFTA, corporations also could more easily blackmail local governments into giving them tax reductions and other subsidies.

    Third, the destructive effect of NAFTA on the Mexican agricultural and small business sectors dislocated several million Mexican workers and their families, and was a major cause in the dramatic increase in undocumented workers flowing into the U.S. labor market. This put further downward pressure on U.S. wages, especially in the already lower paying market for less skilled labor.

    Fourth, and ultimately most important, NAFTA was the template for rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor. The U.S. governing class—in alliance with the financial elites of its trading partners—applied NAFTA’s principles to the World Trade Organization, to the policies of the World Bank and IMF, and to the deal under which employers of China’s huge supply of low-wage workers were allowed access to U.S. markets in exchange for allowing American multinational corporations the right to invest there.” Economic policy institute, Jeff Faux

  7. 1. I believe all individuals are primarily responsible for their own actions — I’m a big believer in taking “personal responsibility,” a favorite rallying cry of conservative philosophy (by the way, I also believe in “social responsibility,” one of the precepts of liberalism). All actions have reactions — and individuals, institutions, corporations, a nations must be willing to accept and then face the consequences of the decisions they make, whether right or wrong.

    I agree with this. I am glad you said “primarily”, because this leaves room for the surprises and exceptions, to the rules, or the circumstances that may come up.

    I see “Social Responsibility” as a product, or consequence, of “Individual Responsibility”.

    And there are many good ways of “accepting” and “facing” consequences for one’s decisions. Some involve retribution. Some correction (as in getting back on the right path). And some may involve reducing the impact of the consequences of the decision, when intelligent assessment, as to unforeseen consequences and the original intention is undertaken. The old “devil in the details” and “good intentions” thing.

  8. I am a conservative. As you rightly point out, that does not make me a Republican. Rather, I am a registered Independent. We agree there are few actual conservatives left in the Republican party. Such folks have largely been replaced by members of the religious right, who are about as close to true conservatism as a cow patty is to a filet mignon.

    While I strongly disagree with many of Obama’s positions and policies, I don’t understand the opposition to his recent action on firearms. I don’t want more government involvement in my daily life than is absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean I’m against murder statutes simply because they’re enforced by government agencies. To complain that Obama’s executive order represents an unreasonable overreach of executive authority is to willingly adopt what I believe is a most detestable liberal trait — that is, to go out of your way to find some innocuous thing to get all offended about. The way these right-wingers are responding, you’d think they were a bunch of able-bodied wanna-be hippies sitting around collecting public assistance while criticizing working folks for having the temerity to wish someone merry Christmas.

  9. As a moderate with libertarian leanings, I couldn’t agree more with him on every point. I do think #4, the foreign aid one, is a more complex issue than he makes it out to be, but I agree with him on principal on that one. That being said, the title is misleading. “Conservatives” are the biggest opponent of legalizing drugs, even marijuana. “Conservatives” are a huge recipient of government pensions and would never oppose them for fear of losing their base. He’s basically agreeing with Libertarians, not Conservatives. I know it’s all semantics, but I think it does matter in this case.

  10. I can agree with conservatives on many things, although it tends to be on broad issues, and differences pop up in the details. I firmly agree with conservatives on the freedom of speech; however, I find a lot of conservatives seem to believe that this extends to not facing any public consequences for whatever you say. I agree on freedom of religion—however, I find that many conservatives have a skewed perception of what freedoms are actually denied, and diverge when it comes to active state participation or promotion of religion. I believe in a balanced budget, which conservatives are big on—but they tend not to actually accomplish that, when given full reign, and tend to see balanced-budget ideals as a way to cut only spending they disagree with.

    The real challenge would be to find an issue which (1) the majority of liberals do not support, and (2) Republicans support not just in name, but earnestly in action as well.

    The list of nine points in which you agree with conservatives looks a lot more like how you agree with Libertarians—e.g., cutting off foreign aid and legalizing vices, I don’t think those are exactly GOP party platform points. On others:

    1. Individuals responsible for their own actions: this seems to be more about what people *criticize* liberals for, not for what liberals actually think. The thing is, in all my years associating with liberals as a liberal, I have never heard a liberal espousing this view. I have heard liberals express the sentiment that people of color or in poverty face strong disadvantages that contribute to such things as higher crime rates; however, I have never heard a liberal suggest, for example, that standards for different sentencing outcomes be based upon this; the solutions are for aid, not forgiveness. In contrast, conservative calls for personal responsibility immediately end where their constituency begins. Everyone tends to suggest greater levels of scrutiny for the opposition and lower levels for their own. However, conservatives consistently fail to call for individual responsibility if there is a wealthy person or a conservative who has misbehaved. So, I don’t really count that as a conservative value in the first place.

    2. Raising the retirement age: I think a lot of people, including liberals, approve of this. Not the politicians, but the rank-and-file. I do, maybe not all the way to 70, but 67 or 68 to be sure—so long as there is still protection for those who cannot maintain their ability to work due to age or disability. This is less a conservative value than it is a third-rail, you-can’t-tell-Iowa-not-to-go-first kind of issue.

    3. Government-funded pension plans: I think it would depend on the plan and how removing it would affect people. But I have seen public sector people retiring at ridiculously young ages, and I agree in general.

    4. Cutting off all foreign aid: I would agree, but I doubt that conservatives would, in many cases at least. Go to GOPAC and try to suggest cutting aid for Israel, see what happens. Democratic support for foreign aid is often basic on foreign policy needs or humanitarian purposes; Republican aid tends to be more constituency-based; their platform suggests cutting some aid, but maintaining what is in our “national interest.” They tend to be against humanitarian aid more than they are for it.

    5. Legalizing almost all vices: again, I agree. But again, I am pretty sure most conservatives don’t. You’ll get a lot more Democrats agreeing with you on this than Republicans. This is a solidly Libertarian value.

    6. Eliminating all state lotteries: absolutely! However, I would ask—do Republicans? I have never heard them espousing that. A Google search finds some favoring, some opposing; nothing in the GOP platform. Whereas grassroots liberal sources tend to be firmly opposed.

    7. Promoting the use nuclear energy: as a stopgap on the way to changing over to greener energy sources, and/or as the primary backup to those sources, yes. And I live not too far from Fukushima.

    8. College education should not be free: disagree on that. Education, along with infrastructure and scientific research, are the three surest investments a state can make for future prosperity.

    9. Alternative views of American history: so long as they are based on actual fact, yes. I agree that most people, even conservatives, laud JFK too much. I also am in favor of taking nuanced views of history, rather than “A” was good, “B” was bad.

    As to conservative views I agree with: looking at their party platform, there is a lot I can agree with on the surface; however, when you get down to the details, there is always a catch. For example, they always insist on balancing the budget, but when they had full power to do so, they did the opposite. “Balancing the budget” for them usually means “cutting spending on liberal constituencies.” I agree with the Libertarian view that our defense spending is *way* too high.

    Conservatives say that we should encourage small businesses, and I agree. However, they never support causes that are directed at small businesses; it is always about stuff that benefits big business far more, and often is to the detriment of small businesses.

    They talk about job creation, but their solutions are almost always tax cuts skewed in favor of wealthy people and corporations, or for across-the-board deregulation—in short, it’s always about breaks for businesses, and never actually requires a single job to be created.

    Here’s one that I enthusiastically agree with and was surprised to find in the GOP platform:

    “The Ninth Amendment: Affirming the People’s Rights — our government derives its power from the people and all powers not delegated to the government are retained by the people … [we] welcome to our ranks all our fellow citizens who are determined to reclaim the rights of the people that have been ignored or violated by government.”

    Naturally, I strongly doubt that their embrace includes assuring a right to privacy, or a host of other rights assured by the Ninth. Not to mention that the conservative insistence on strict constructionist justices betrays any real affinity for the Ninth.

    I have no doubt that I can agree with conservatives on a great many issues, even on many where we do not disagree on the details. However, I can think of none where I agree with them concerning their actual intent but also disagree with the actual mainstream liberal views on the subject.

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