What Is Liberalism?
John C. Goodman
President Obama is said to have made the case for a liberal public policy agenda in his State of the Union speech the other night. But what is liberalism? The conventional view is that liberalism is an ideology. In fact it is a sociology.
An ideology is a set of ideas that cohere. Socialism is an ideology. So is libertarianism. Suppose I told you that socialists believe the government should nationalize the steel industry and the auto industry. You would have no difficulty inferring what their position is on nationalizing the airline industry. Right? Suppose I told you that libertarians believe in a free market for tinker toys and ham sandwiches. You would have no difficulty inferring that they also believe in a free market for Rubik's Cubes.
Sociologies are different. They represent a set of ideas that are often incoherent. These ideas are likely to come together not because of reason, but because of history or happenstance. Not only do the ideas not cohere, they may be completely contradictory.
Take the issue of preschool education — forcefully endorsed by the president the other night. As David Brooks explained, the issue is really about allowing poor children to escape from the anti-education atmosphere of their homes to a place that will at least give them a chance to learn. Given a person’s position on preschool education for four year olds, shouldn’t you be able to predict how he will think about allowing poor six- and seven-year-old children to escape from bad schools? As it turns out you can’t.
Brooks explains the preschool issue this way:
"This is rude to say, but here’s what this is about: Millions of parents don’t have the means, the skill or, in some cases, the interest in building their children’s future. Early childhood education is about building structures so both parents and children learn practical life skills. It’s about getting kids from disorganized homes into rooms with kids from organized homes so good habits will rub off. It’s about instilling achievement values where they are absent."
Okay, so how is that different from the situation faced by slightly older children trapped in lousy schools where teachers couldn't care less what they learn? It isn’t. Yet so many of those who favor preschool education (a new and expensive entitlement) are reliable opponents of vouchers, charter schools, firing bad teachers, closing bad schools or any other remedy that offends the teacher’s unions. And that includes President Obama.
Then there is the issue of the minimum wage. The minimum wage does almost nothing to relieve poverty. That’s because almost no one who is a head of household is earning the minimum wage for any length of time. However, I think it is fairly well-established that a higher minimum wage gives teenagers in above-average income households more pocket change, even as it closes off job opportunities for poor, minority teenagers. (Remember, the black teenage unemployment rate is about twice that of whites.) If you want to maximize job opportunities for low-income youngsters, as President Obama says he does, you certainly wouldn’t want a minimum wage standing between a minority youth and his first job. Yet creating that barrier and making it permanent is part of the Obama agenda for the labor market.
A related issue is public policy toward unions. There is no mystery about what a union is. It is an attempt to monopolize the supply of labor to employers. In most all cases, unions confer special (monopoly) status on workers who are solidly middle class, allowing them to seek above-market wages by closing off competition from those who earn less and have less. Yet encouraging labor unions is another core pillar of the Obama presidency.
Finally, our federal deficit is almost totally caused by entitlement spending on the elderly. Our government routinely sends Social Security checks to billionaires and pays their medical bills to boot — paid for in part by a 15.3% payroll tax imposed on the parents of the children to whom the president would like to provide preschool education.
The zip codes in America where people cash the largest Social Security checks are the very same zip codes where Medicare spends the most dollars on the average enrollee. And unlike the income tax, every worker pays the payroll tax — no matter how poor. Yet these are the programs that President Obama resists reforming.
Some readers will be quick to point out that the Democratic Party — dating back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt — consists of a coalition of interests and that winning elections requires satisfying each of those interests. Fair enough. But we are here talking about thinking, not winning elections.
Politicians will invariably search for some intellectual justification for what they do. Since their policies are incoherent, no ideology will serve their purpose. What they need is a sociology — a way of thinking about the world that defends the indefensible. They need intellectuals who will apologize for the mixed economy welfare state without any obvious sense of embarrassment. For the Obama administration, that sociology is liberalism. Its adherents once called themselves "liberals." Today, they are "progressives."
Recently a discussion of this story about DC Comics being pressured by homosexual activists to fire one of its writers because he’s on the board of the National Organization of Marriage prompted vigorous debate on my Facebook wall. While perusing through the various comments, it was obvious there still exists much confusion in our country today about the term “rights.”
There are two types of rights: unalienable and contractual.
Sometimes referred to as a natural right (i.e. “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” reference from The Declaration of Independence), an unalienable right is a right that comes from God and thus can be accessed in your natural state without consent from another party because it existed before you were born, and will still exist in nature after you die. It’s inherent to being made in the image of God.
Should another party attempt to stop you from accessing your unalienable (or natural) rights they are guilty of a crime, oppression, tyranny, or all of the above. For example, I do not require anyone’s consent to breathe air for it is foundational to my natural state of being. However, should you attempt to stop me from breathing then you are guilty of assault, battery, manslaughter, or murder if you’re ultimately successful.
If it requires consent from another party to access it then it is not an unalienable (aka natural) right, because you have to impose upon someone else’s unalienable (aka natural) rights in the process. Taking someone else’s person or property without their consent is what we call a crime.
Nowadays some are claiming unalienable (or natural) rights that don’t exist.
For example, you do not have an unalienable (or natural) right to marry or have sex with whomever you want, because partaking of each of those activities requires consent from another party. We call people who believe they can have sex (aka “physical intimacy”) with whomever they want rapists and put them in prison whenever we can. We call people who believe they can marry whomever they want cult leaders, sultans, kings, and tyrants because they’re acquiring harems and concubines.
Likewise, you also don’t have a natural right to live where you want as I’ve heard some claim on issues like immigration. To believe that requires you to believe that private property doesn’t exist. You can’t have it both ways. If you believe I have the right to defend my own property (which our founders absolutely did), then you also have to believe that “we the people” have the right to defend our own property as well. In a “government by the consent of the governed” that property in this case are the borders and lands of these United States of America. We own them and they are our private property. Therefore, we have a right to possess and police them accordingly.
Rights that require the consent of another party are contractual rights.
A good example of contractual rights would be the U.S. Constitution, which begins with the words, “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union.” Immediately the parties involved in the contract are established: the people, the states, and the federal government (or union). From there each party states in the contract the terms, jurisdictions, and liabilities each are responsible for and permitted to perform. Some of the rights in the Constitution are unalienable (natural) rights like the freedom of speech and the freedom of worship, because you don’t require consent to access them. That’s why the Constitution says “Congress shall make no law” prohibiting or establishing those things, because Congress has no power to either establish or take away that which “the Law of Nature and Nature’s God” alone bestows.
However, other rights in the Constitution are purely contractual, but where people get confused here is they fail to understand this language is intended to bind the government and not the individual. For example, the government consents to saying it has no right for “unlawful search and seizure” as other governments in human history have indulged. It is not saying you as a private person have a right to therefore store crack cocaine in your locker or illicit pictures of children on your computer. This is the government contracting with its citizens to limit its own means, not the other way around. In fact, that is the theme of the entire Bill of Rights. Just because the state promises not to exceed its authority over the individual does not give the individual the right to exceed his authority over “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
That is always the highest authority.
For example, should the U.S. Federal Court hear a civil suit between two murderous drug cartels because one failed to deliver the promised narcotics to the other and thus violated the contract? Of course not, because their very activity violates “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” therefore the proper response is to arrest them as criminals instead.
Similarly, just because someone consents to having sex with you doesn’t mean that suddenly you have a contractual right to have sex with them. Is the person just a child and therefore unable to make a mature decision? Is that person mentally unstable or disabled, and thus unsure of what it is they’re really consenting to? Is that person married to someone else?
In conclusion it comes down to this, if our rights first and foremost come from “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” then anything we do to indulge or claim those rights that violates that law isn’t a right. It’s a transgression—even if the other party(s) consents to it. That simply means they’re just as guilty as you are.
You have no right to do that which God says is wrong. Never have, never will, and should an earthly authority contradict this and permit your fallen nature to manifest itself, the God the “father of the Constitution” James Madison referred to as “the Governor of the universe” will ultimately adjudicate your case in eternity.
Leftism as an obsessive-compulsive disorder
When I was almost 6 years old, my father died in a car crash. It was the early 60’s, so back then people didn’t really worry about the effects of trauma on children. “Children are resilient” and “They’ll bounce back” were the accepted sagacity of the day; so children, like me, were left to their own devices to try and make sense of things like life and death and loss of control.
Soon after my father's death, strange little obsessions started coming out of me. The first was what I called “circle drawing” in which I would draw thousands of tiny circles on notebook paper—perfect little rows of ‘o’s’, front and back. I would then number each page and put them neatly away in a binder. I never knew how many of those circles I “needed” to draw each day; I just kept going until my brain said, “Okay, you’re finished with your work” and then I could go outside and play like all the normal kids.
Along with the circle drawing, other habits started to emerge. If I sneezed, I had to say, “bless me” over and over—sometimes dozens of times--until my brain told me I was blessed. If I coughed, I had to say, “Excuse me” in the same manner. Repetition was extremely important to me, as was organizing. All my stuffed animals had a specific place in my room and had to be lined up perfectly at all times. And I was the bossiest child you can imagine on the playground—that annoying kid who organized all the games, and made sure everyone’s Monopoly money was neatly stacked.
I drove my poor little sister insane…
When I shared these oddities with my family at the dinner table one night, everyone laughed. No one back then knew anything about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.). Instead, all of us—myself included--simply thought I was just a very, very strange little girl.
The reason I’m baring my soul like this is because lately I’ve been asked about my past affiliation with the Democrat Party. Everything about liberalism goes against almost all of my core values and principles—so what was it that originally drew me over to the left?
And then I realized: It was O.C.D-related. The two things the Democrat Party has in droves (and of which the GOP still does not) are two of my favorite things: organization and repetition. When I was in college, the most organized political group on campus was the Democrat Party. They had the simplest message (“We’re all about The People!”) and yes, they threw the best parties. Then when I moved to Los Angeles, all the artists and actors I hung out with were Democrats who were unwavering in their ideology. On TV, the Democrats created the most effective, repetitive political ads saying, "We Are The Best, They Are Not." Bottom line, Democrats were never changing, never wavering, repetitive and organized--seemingly as clear and pure and uncomplicated as all my little 'o's'.
Fortunately, 9/11 cleared the fog of political O.C.D. from my head. Seeing the ruins of the Twin Towers, I realized that the Democrat Party was very much like my “circle drawings”—basically good for nothing. When it came down to actually doing something important—such as protecting and defending our country—the Democrat Party was nothing but a bunch of very organized, very repetitive hot air. And although both my circle drawing and liberalism seemed to bring a sense of “control” and “order” to my life when I needed it most, it was all misguided and a waste of time. Neither served a purpose, other than making me “feel” as if I were doing something vitally important.
In today’s world, whether because of death, divorce or abuse, trauma exists in almost every family. Too many children are left to their own devices—as I was--to “figure things out”. As a result, throughout their lives, they yearn for and are searching for clear, unclouded messages. They are looking for “heroes”, people who represent the mother or father figure they’re missing in their lives. And the one political party that continually answers those cries for help by means of rhetoric, repetition and organization—manna for O.C.D./trauma sufferers --are the Democrats.
Today's progressives are geniuses at marketing and selling their message. The difference is that their “message” is much like all those circles I drew as a little girl—meaningless, useless, nothingness. If the GOP ever wants to truly get hold of the American public again, we have got to find better ways to organize and repeat our message as loudly and clearly as the left does so brilliantly—so that the “strange kids” like I once was will be able to hear that message over the useless din of the screaming, vapid liberals.
ObamaCare’s marriage penalty
In almost every case under the Affordable Care Act, married couples will fare poorly compared to unmarried couples. The reason: subsidies in the newly created health insurance exchange will treat two singles better than a married couple.
Suppose you are earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $21,660). You will be required to pay a premium equal to 6.3 percent of your income in the exchange—or about $1,365 for a health plan that has an actual cost of, say, $5,000. Thus, you and a cohabitating partner who also earns 200 percent of the federal poverty level could both obtain health coverage for about $2,730. However, if you marry your partner, the two of you will be required to pay 9.5 percent of your income in premiums—or about $4,115. Being married will cost the two of you $1,385 a year.
In some cases, getting married may be worth the financial penalty, however. If you and your partner each earn 100 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $10,830), you would (individually) qualify for Medicaid and would not be allowed to purchase private coverage in the exchange. However, if you are married, your combined income would disqualify you for Medicaid. If you bought insurance in the exchange, you would be required to pay 4 percent of your household income (or $866). The ability to get out of Medicaid (which pays low doctor fees) and into a private plan (which may pay market rates) may be worth the extra premium you have to pay—especially if you value more ready access to care.
For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena . GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.
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