A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nanny versus Daddy

In our inimical way, we like to boil down complex issues to simple generalizations. We're all guilty of this; each and every one of us. Some people blame it on our over-reliance on the three-second soundbite, but I think as a people we like having a foundation of understanding to build on. A concept to start from before we start getting into the details. So when Conservatives/Republicans start accusing Liberals/Democrats of wanting to live under a "nanny state," they're generalizing. However, I concede there is truth to this, and I intend to explore that concept while offering a generalization of my own.

Liberals like myself (progressives, if you want the re-branded name -- which I don't) are in favor of a government system that looks after the welfare of its least fortunate citizens as well as its most fortunate. We demand socialized medicine, equality for everyone and representation for all voices. While we generally don't favor the idea of enabling people to leech off public funds(*) without supporting themselves, we acknowledge that circumstances can make that unavoidable during periods of economic crisis (like now!) or medical disability. We want the government to oversee those functions of daily life that can't be entrusted to private interests like education, healthcare, retirement and regulation. We expect the government to enforce the laws it creates, and that it remain accountable to the people for those same laws. We expect fair and balanced treatment in our daily lives regardless of our social or economic situation. When bad things happen, as they inevitably do, we want the government to be there to ensure we can't fall too far or too hard, so as to enable us to get back on our feet that much quicker. Socially, we want the government to recognize any and all lifestyle choices as valid and preserve our rights in matters such as sexuality and abortion.

In short, we expect the government to be there to wipe our noses and hold our hands while we cross the street. We demand a nanny state that oversees our development.

How about conservatives? They want the government to adopt a hands-off approach, at least when it comes to individual fortunes and business regulations. Many of them are hardcore proponents of the Free Market Fairy where the markets handle all of the services needed by the people such as healthcare, disaster recovery and education. People who are financially destitute are effectively barred from entry; if you're down on your luck your options are to find some more fortunate person or organization willing to give you charity or accept whatever conditions are necessary in order to earn a living. People who live on the street are suffering the consequence of their own bad judgment, and no one is responsible for lifting them out of it. If -- and when -- the market fails to address the needs of the people through quality control or fraudulent business practices, the market will correct itself as people move away from those businesses guilty of betraying the public trust and "vote with their money" to support businesses that are more ethical. The government's role is strictly to treat with other nations and form an army for common defense. In the event of a national emergency (defined by the government, naturally), all rights are suspended while the government addresses the threat and takes whatever actions it deems necessary.

Admittedly, for the past thirty or forty years these economic conservatives been forced to form a coalition with social conservatives who want the government to regulate private lives. So, in essence, we have a political party dedicating to keeping government out of private markets while ensuring that private individuals are adhering to religiously dictated morality. They pride themselves in promoting choice, so long as you make the choices they approve of.

In short, conservatives demand a daddy state: an authoritarian entity that leaves us alone to play with matches while it does its own thing, except when it gets drunk and decides to abuse us for a while.

So, how's that for generalizations?

(*) Note: Ronald Reagan's "welfare queens" were the result of a strawman argument that had very little basis in fact (no, Virginia. A fraction of a percent of the population does not constitute a crisis).

Relevant Quotations

Someone in reddit did a nice job of compiling some quotations from our nation's Founding Fathers regarding the roles of Church and State. It's the most diverse list of quotations I've come across in a while, so I bookmarked it and thought I'd share it here.

1797 Treaty of Tripoli (Article 11) - The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Benjamin Franklin - Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.

Benjamin Franklin - The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.

George Washington - Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.

James Madison - During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

James Madison - Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

John Adams - God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world

John Adams - This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it

Thomas Jefferson - Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.

Thomas Jefferson - History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government.

Thomas Jefferson - I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies

Thomas Jefferson - In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own

Thomas Jefferson - It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Thomas Jefferson - Political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves [of public ignorance] for their own purpose

Thomas Jefferson - Question with boldness even the existence of god; because if there be one he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear

Thomas Jefferson - The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.

Thomas Jefferson - To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise

Thomas Paine - All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

Thomas Paine - Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and of my own part, I disbelieve them all.

Thomas Paine - It is from the bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder, for the belief in a cruel god makes a cruel man, and the bible is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind

Thomas Paine - Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity

Thomas Paine - The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called religion

There are more, but I don't have the time right now. Point being, in case anyone is confused, is that a number of Founding Fathers (and clearly some framers) were not believers, and the United States of America, as stated in the Treaty of Tripoli, is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian (or any other) religion.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Just vote!

I'm not asking you to vote for anyone in particular. I'm not going to tell you how I think you should vote on the issues.

I'm just asking you to vote. That's all. You'll know how you're going to vote when you get there.

Vote for Change.