Thursday, October 31, 2013

Representation Without Representation

File under: Oh Noes! Other People's Representatives Do What They're Asked!

Nevada Assemblyman Jim Wheeler went on the record saying that if his constituents wanted slavery, then he'd vote (very reluctantly) to legalize slavery. And is being pilloried for it. Alexander Abad-Santos, over at The Atlantic Wire says: "And let's put it this way, if Wheeler's constituents in Nevada's District 39 ever believe in resurrecting slavery, we're all in trouble." But isn't this what it means to represent a constituency? That you advocate for their interests?

"If that’s [slavery] what they wanted, I’d have to hold my nose … they’d probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah."
This is a problem with the common American conceptualization of what legislatures are about. Whether or not the job of a legislator is to substitute their judgment for that of their constituents on matters of morality is subject to debate. Generally speaking, most people in the United States want their legislators to vote in a way that reflects their values and interests. But they also tend to want other people's legislators to also vote in a way that reflects their values and interests, rather than those of the voters to whom that legislator is answerable. This is often, cynically, termed "political courage," as it's supposedly courageous to ignore the wishes of people who elected you to, well, carry out their wishes, in favor of people who live somewhere else, and think that they know better. For those of you who wonder why "political courage" is so rare, this strikes me as a pretty good reason.
Assemblyman Wheeler is doing the job as he understands it's supposed to be done - rather than vote his own conscience, he votes his constituents' conscience (well, the conscience of a majority of the people who voted, anyway), whether he understands that conscience to be sound or not. If the population of Nevada (let alone of the 39th District) ever become pro-slavery enough that Assemblyman Wheeler actually has to wrestle with whether or not to vote their will, or let them blow his brains out, yes, we're all in trouble - but not because of Wheeler's loyalty to his constituency; by that point, it goes well beyond that.

"The purpose of the Constitution was to preserve the Declaration of Independence's right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' The word 'virtue' is not included in that phrase. Its omission is the single greatest innovation of the United States' founding."
Andrew Sullivan "Crisis of Faith" The New Republic, 25 April, 2005
I get that slavery is the United States' version of Nazism - an unambiguous Evil (or maybe even Eeeevil) that everyone must be against on general principles to be understood as properly human, let alone a respectable American. While I'm not sure that Mr. Sullian would approve of me quoting him in this context, his point still stands - our system of government was not put in place simply to legitimize what would, by necessity, be a certain minority of the public coding into law their own pre-determined understanding of what was right and proper. Enlightenment is not a pre-requisite for self-, or representative, government. We've allowed ourselves to become accustomed to the idea that when government knows best, it should hand the citizenry a fait accompli and set about sanctioning those who disagree. But this frees those who support what they understand to be correct way of doing things from having to lobby the public as to the correctness of their cause. Instead, they can simply write them off as stupid or bigoted and go on about their way. And that has always been where the trouble started.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck...
This postcard, which landed in my mailbox earlier this week, epitomizes, for me, an American tendency to feel that changing what you call something somehow changes the thing itself. There are a lot of times in which we use words that aren't intended so much as euphemism or idiom but as actual "alter egos" of a sort, for thing that is being referred to. Depending on which extreme of the political divide one sits on, for instance, the government of the United States is either "socialist" or "fascist." Libertarians are fond of referring to taxation as "theft." Or, less politically fraught, the fact that tomatoes are referred to (and legally classified) as "vegetables" based on how they are commonly used when, botanically, they are fruits.

Given how these linguistic inaccuracies are treated as truths or become de-facto truths in common usage, it's unsurprising that there are efforts to control the nature of political debates through getting particular language in front of the public early and then driving its adoption.

But, of course, a rose by any other name still being a rose, the actual thing itself is unchanged. "harvest carnivals" are still Halloween parties, and "Chinese checkers" is actually a German variant of an American game called "Halma," and the misnomers applied to them do alter that. The same is true in politics.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Of Baggage and Badges

In its zeal to root out terrorists, the Transportation Security Administration expanded its pre-flight screenings of passengers into looking into their car registrations and employment information, combing through government and private databases for information. And it's using that data for domestic flight screenings, rather than simply international arrivals, as in the past.

While I understand the comparisons to the secret police of repressive regimes, and the way this feeds into the idea that the United States is becoming a police state, I think that chalking this up to "police state" behavior does the people who actually have to go through it a disservice. I know several people who are openly critical of the current status quo. All of them are extremely unlikely to ever have go through this, given the system as it stands. And I suspect I'm never going to have to go through it either, despite the fact that I have no problem with labeling such measures security theater. People of middle-eastern backgrounds and/or who have names similar to the names or aliases of "terrorists," however, are much more likely to have to suffer through this - not because the government of the United States is worried that they'll foment some sort of violent revolution or other uprising, but because the populace of the United States is worried that they'll explode a bomb or otherwise attempt to kill Americans (and perhaps themselves).

With sincere apologies to H. L. Mencken, “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have searched the record for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the willingness of the great masses of the plain people to throw those unlike them under the bus to protect their own safety or material comfort.”

Unlike police states, our government is unafraid of its citizens traveling from place to place in the name of a popular revolt. Our government is afraid of the majority of its citizens, who feel that they have something to lose, and are willing to put their boots on others people's necks to prevent themselves from loss, holding it responsible for the next attack on American soil. The sad fact of representative democracy is that perception is more important than truth. And the twin perceptions that we've somehow earned the absolute right to live lives that are free of things that (rationally or not) frighten us and that people like Abdulla Darrat are too scary to be afforded the freedoms that the rest of us take for granted mean that articles like this are greeted, in many quarters, with: "better that he be inconvenienced than I or a loved one be injured or killed." Many people agree with Former Attorney General John Ashcroft's assertion that, as  David Corn put it in Slate more than a decade ago: "Extremism in the name of civil liberties could lead to the destruction of the nation." Or, in the words of Justice Robert Jackson, "There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact." (Terminiello v. City of Chicago [1949])

But this is something to be expected. As Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it, this "is not because America is uniquely evil, so much as it is because America is the work of humans. One wishes we would dispense with the entire industry of 'shining cities' and admit to this." But as we have determined for ourselves that we are above such fears and anxieties, we have closed ourselves off from a frank look at our own frailties, preferring to view those threaten us as the evil other.

h/t: Jamie Crisalli.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teach the Children

But your child is no fool. She knows she has lice, and she knows what tomorrow is [the ELA, the statewide reading-and-writing test whose scores in this crucial year will help to determine your kid’s middle-school placement]. For her, the takeaway goes something like this: Always be kind and considerate of others, except in those cases where consideration impedes your own self-interest or convenience. Then, take care of yourself.
Ethical Parenting” Lisa Miller
This was, perhaps the most difficult lesson that I learned when I worked with children, back when I graduated college. Children aren't stupid, they aren't guileless and they understand power relationships. I'm not a parent myself, and those four-and-a-half years of working with children are one of the big reasons - I learned that I didn't have the patience to deal with childishness and lacked the stamina to watch everything that I said and did for more than 8 to 10 hours at a stretch. The children caught me swearing, once. To this day, I wonder where the energy came from that prevented it from happening more often.

At it's heart, ethics is the idea that there are more important things in life than "winning," whatever winning happens to mean in the moment. And therein lies the problem. Because sometimes winning means obtaining a new toy when you don't have the money to pay for it, and sometimes winning means having the money to afford bus fare to work, doing what's best for your child or keeping a roof over your head. And while one of society's rules may be "Follow society's rules," another of those rules is "Win at life - regardless of the rules."

The problem isn't that children will often do as the adults in their lives do, rather than as they say. The problem is that they will do what they see works. "Be the change that you wish to see in the world," has gone from nugget of wisdom to everyday aphorism to mindless cliché. But still few us do that in front of the people who matter most. Instead we teach them that there is nothing more abundant in their world than scarcity, and in a culture of scarcity, the most important thing in the world is to get whatever you can - and preferably more than everyone else around you. And we wonder at the world we've created.

Rational Interests

The social media "Share." The slacktivism flavor of the day.
Translation: Somewhere, someone is spending more money on what it important to them, than what is important to me.

Social media is good at these sorts of appeals. But it's poor at selling them. The United States spends a tremendous amount of money on its military - in some cases, money even the military would rather not be spent. The reasons for this are many, and some are complicated, but in the end, those expenditures are the result of rational economic decisions on the part everyone involved.
It's not that we're dupes of the advertisers; it's not that we're manipulated by special interests; it's not that we're those frail, irrational creatures that social critics often make us out to be. Rather it's that many of the decisions we confront are like those confronting participants in a military arms race. Countries don't by bombs because they're stupid; they buy them because it's bad not to have bombs when the other side has bombs.
Robert H. Frank "Falling Behind."
To change the way the world operates is difficult because it involves convincing people that their interests are served by whatever action it is that is being proposed. Assuming that we could divert some percentage of world military expenditure into increasing food security for everyone on Earth who does currently have it, the will to do so won't come from a plethora of random social media shares. Instead, it will come from making a compelling case (or, more likely a number of compelling cases) that it's a worthwhile expenditure.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rationalizers, Stop Rationalizing

You're victim-blaming. You should leave your doors unlocked and just ask thieves not to be thieves.
Slate's Emily Yoffe is taking it on the chin for an article warning college women about the dangers of heavy drinking, vis-a-vis sexual assault. Not that she didn't know what she was getting herself into:
But a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril.
The Atlantic was quick to pile on, apparently looking to one-up the clickbait headline that Slate attached to Yoffe's article with one of their own: Slate Forgot That the One Common Factor in Rapes Are Rapists. And the article itself is just as strident:
Yoffe failed to realize that there's one thing that's more common than alcohol when it comes to rapes. That would be rapists. While alcohol plays a part in a number of rapes, I can assure you that in every case (both male and female) of rape, there is at least one rapist. And, well, Yoffe's column isn't titled "Rapists, stop raping women."
But isn't the common factor in ALL crimes the fact that someone engages in criminal behavior? In the comments section of the Altantic article resides the snide comment that I opened this post with, which comes across as snide precisely because we would consider that to be absolutely moronic advice. I doubt that I could manage to convince any reputable online magazine to publish an article titled: "Thieves, Stop Stealing People's Stuff," that made the point that calling for things like deadbolts and burglar alarms was little more than a way to blame the target of thefts, rather than the perpetrators.

While I understand what's in play, the overall effect strikes me as an attempt to Newspeak misogyny and sexual violence out of existence. Declaring a broad range of topics to be "victim-blaming" and forbidding discussion of them is unlikely to get to the core of the issue. If a woman is raped, does anyone think that many people who are otherwise inclined to consider the perpetrator guilty would change their mind upon hearing that the woman as drinking beforehand? Treating victim-blaming tropes as if they were actually considered affirmative defenses, rather than after-the-fact rationalizations of a predetermined conclusion does everyone a disservice - and presumes that the rationalizations spread the conclusions, rather than the other way around. We have any number of reasons, some tied to the perpetrator(s) and others tied to the victim(s), for looking the other way when crimes occur, and the result is an uneven culture of impunity, that allows, if not encourages, predation under certain circumstances. What is now commonly termed "rape culture" is only one facet of this - previous manifestations have included what one could call "lynching culture," and perhaps even a "kidnapping and conversion culture" foisted upon Native Americans by Christian missionaries. These likely had both their warnings to potential victims and pushback against the idea that it was the job of the targets to take care, rather than the perpetrators to cease their behavior. While these things have been largely done away with, it was not that pushback that did them in - it was, instead, the fact that the greater society stopped the self-righteous rationalizations that allowed them to thrive.

Viewed from that angle, perhaps the message shouldn't be to rapists to stop the assaults (which seems that it would fall on deaf ears anyway) but to the rest of us to stop enabling them and/or looking the other way - and then blaming the victims to justify that behavior.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Art of Intransigence

Marc Ambinder lists five things that the House Republicans have managed to do with the shutdown standoff. Of them, I think that the fifth is the most important.

5. Ensuring their re-election.
They did this in such a way that "the potential and actual damage to the American economy is significant." But it gets them what they wanted - to be sent back to Washington. And, if it turns out that it does ensure their re-election, it did so by appealing to the sensibilities of the people that matter most - a majority of the active voters in their districts. And in the end, those are the people that those who disapprove of the way this has gone down need to be talking to.

Regardless of what one might think of the TEA Party and its politics, you have to grant them that they are organized, they are motivated and they're pretty much on the same page. That unity gives them quite a bit of power, even though they aren't a majority of the population. But while they're often portrayed as a group of wild-eyed fanatics who have hijacked the Republican Party, the fact is that many of the remaining GOP electorate has gone along with them - because during the primaries, they don't really care who is nominated, and during the general election, any Republican beats any Democrat (or anyone else from a different party for that matter). To the degree that Republicans are locked in a room with bomb-throwing lunatics (although it's not really accurate to portray them that way) they're the ones to turned the key. And they did this because they have their own perceived interests and power at stake, and "taking hostages," or simply throwing tradition and custom out the window is a rational, if somewhat extreme, way of protecting those interests. As the stereotypical Republican voter slides into the minority, this will become less and less a viable tactic, but they won't be the last people to decide that delaying the inevitable is better than facing it head-on.

The United States has never been as majoritarian as people like to make it out to be. The system was originally set up to offer some protections to certain minorities and while things have become a lot kludgeier in the past 200+ years, many of those protections are still in place - for those who know how to work the system. And right now, it's the Republicans, lead by their right wing, who know how to work the system. And they're going to do so to their benefit, not the nation's. Precisely because they're convinced that what is to their benefit is in the best interests of the nation as a whole. This is a common idea in the United States - rare are the groups who don't conflate their own narrow interests with expansive national ones.

Perhaps because of the disparate coalition that the Democrats' big tent philosophy has created, they're often in a situation in which it's often perceived as more virtuous to abandon the party than it is to stick with it when things aren't going your way. The Republicans have embarked upon the opposite strategy, and, more importantly, they've stuck with it long enough that it's paying off. Republican lawmakers know this. Calls from outsiders for "political courage" fall on deaf ears because most of them are little more than calls to be voted out of office in the next cycle. As long as the Republican base is more organized and unified, they're going to win more than one thinks they would, because they're going to put to best use the advantages that come from winning - such as living in highly gerrymandered districts. This makes their legislators relatively, if not completely, immune from national opinion. Congressional unpopularity, which is usually made up of calls to have other voters dump their legislators, simply won't be an issue. It's going to take dissatisfaction from within their districts, not from outside of it, to push them into changing their tune.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One Job

When does a job, or a career, become a duty?

I tend to be a "media" pragmatist. Journalism is a line of work like any other. And while a lot of people may go into it with the intent to change the world, to further the cause of Good Government or any of a number of high ideals, at the end of the day, reporting is an occupation that many of its practitioners rely on to, first and foremost, pay the bills. This means that journalism tends to go where the money is. Because the simple act of watching or listening to the news doesn't put food on anyone's plate, keep them clothed or erect a roof over their heads, for most, if not all, "free" media, the audience is not the actual customer. As has been noted about a trillion times on the Internet, the audience, or at least the attention of certain subsets of that audience, is the product being sold, and it's the advertisers who hope to capitalize on that attention, who are the customers. This, generally speaking, is my counterargument to those who would like to see the media court-martialed for dereliction of duty - usually for not telling people what the would-be prosecutor wants them to know.

As far as I'm concerned, the news media in the United States is not, primarily, a public service. It's a business. And the goal of a business - even if it's not-for-profit - is to make money. Programming, and the people who create it, do not come free. (Normally. After all, there is the hobbyist issue to contend with.) Generally speaking, American news journalism is advertising supported. And what matters to them is reaching eyeballs - preferably attached to people who have money that they're willing to part with. And so this becomes one of the major tasks that the news media concerns itself with - getting people to watch.

And this creates the problem that media watchdogs are so acutely aware of - that the media tends to be more concerned with attracting the public than "properly" informing the public. News coverage that makes people into better citizens is wonderful - but if it's not interesting enough to watch, people will surf over to something that is. The general public, at least in the United States, are not "news addicts" per se; while they may watch the evening news as part of their daily routine, they could do without it. And there are multiple sources of news, many of which are in competition with each other for the same audiences.

Between these factors, it's not particularly realistic for someone to expect that the news is going to be presented the way they wish it to. Unless they're prepared to start writing some checks themselves.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Are You Better Than a Hobbyist?

Creative people, especially writers, are a funny breed. We are the only profession I know of who work for free. No coal miner, nurse, shipyard worker, accountant, or any other person with bills to pay works for free. But, that is what writers are often being forced to do. And the consequences for creativity and democracy are dire.
Jonathan Tasini "Other professionals don't work for free. So why are writers expected to?"
The difference between "creative people" and coal miners, nurses, shipyard workers and accountants is not entirely that these groups have engaged in "collective organisation." A large part of it is that I've never heard of anyone who mines coal or works in a shipyard as a hobby. Writers, artists, photographers and other people in creative fields are finding, more and more, that they have more competition than just one another. They also have legions of amateur creators who don't rely on their craft in order to put food on the table, but only to keep themselves entertained.

The Internet has made sharing information and moving it around the world a simple matter. As a result, the amount of material out there that's "good enough" has risen exponentially. And a lot of it is available at little or no cost. Yes, this makes being a professional creator more difficult than it used to be. But it's the nature of the business. It's hard to command high prices for work that someone else is capable of literally giving away. Eventually, the ranks of creative professionals are going to be whittled down to those people who consistently produce such high quality work that no hobbyist, no matter how dedicated, can reproduce; simply by virtue of the fact that their day jobs preclude them from putting in the time needed to bring their skills to that level. Getting to that point, however, is likely to be painful. Unionization may arrest the slide, but it's unlikely to reverse it, because "good enough" isn't going to go away.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Feet to the Fire

Representative Raul Labrador [R - Idaho]: I personally would be willing to give the president a one year CR and I have a lot of conservatives there with me, which would be good for the president, in exchange for a one-year delay in the implementation of Obamacare. And I think that would be something where both sides actually would be able to get something out of these negotiations.


Renee Montagne: Would you be happy with that [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] in a year?

Labrador: I won't be happy with it in a year. My position would be: Yes, let's get rid of the entire program. But I know we don't have the votes to do that. And I don't think it's unreasonable for us to ask for one year delay, of a program that's clearly not working.
Rep. Labrador Of Idaho Weighs In On Government Shutdown
If Representative Labrador's offering a one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for a one-year Continuing Resolution, what happens when the year is up? It seems that we end up back in the same place, especially given that his stated goal is to kill the ACA in its entirety. Given this I was somewhat surprised that Ms. Montagne didn't ask Representative Labrador what happens at the end of the year. (The question immediately occurred to me.) Now, to be sure, I suspect that the Representative would likely have attempted to dodge the question, as his choices would have been either making a commitment to allow the law to take full effect or basically admit that he was offering a deal that it made no sense for the President and Senate Democrats to go along with.

Granted, we already understand this, but putting the question out there would have required that Representative Labrador go on the record with his answer. And that may have irritated him, and made it more difficult to get him on the show in the future. But this becomes the problem with relying on "the media" for things like this - they can ask questions, but they generally can't compel their subjects to answer. I would, however, like to have seen the risk taken, and the question asked. But then again, I don't live in the 1st Congressional District of Idaho. And, presumably, those are the people to whom Representative Labrador has to answer when the next election rolls around. Therefore, it's unlikely that he'd say anything that he understands would hurt the cause - or knowingly put himself in a position where not answering would do the same. Because, frankly, he doesn't have to. Refusing to speak to NPR on-air would likely elevate him in the eyes of his constituents. And NPR knows that. So an informative question goes unasked, and Representative Labrador is allowed to cast aspersions on Senate Democrats without even a hint of challenge.

As often as we say that the public relies on the media, the media actually relies on the public. Parts of it, anyway. As long as Republican voters in the 1st District will side with Representative Labrador if he clashes with Ms. Montagne, she has little power as an interviewer. Aggrieved NPR listeners nationwide can "beseech her to do her duty as the fourth estate" all they want, but their opinions carry little weight. It is not an activist, engaged media that makes for a better public. It's an activist, engaged public that makes for a better media. We can't expect the media to simply go after suspect items on the part of people we dislike. We have to be prepared to do the same for the people we like.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Shame Game

Weakness, misery, does not always elicit sympathy. Perhaps that is because the weakness reminds of what we we fear for ourselves. Or perhaps it reminds us of our own complicity in some broad crime, and more, our presumed helplessness for it to be any other way.
Ta-Nehisi Coates "Notes From the Blue Period"
This is one of the wages, perhaps the most obvious and persistent one, of a culture of scarcity. When there isn't enough. the first thing that many do is go searching for someone weaker than themselves to take from. And then they blame the person from whom they have stolen, as if, had they been roundly beaten in their attempt to victimize another, they would have regarded such an outcome as just and proper.

We are taught to despise this in ourselves. But rather than becoming an incentive to rise above the habit of seeing the vulnerable as legitimate targets, that self-loathing simply inspires us to cloak it in something more to our liking, just as Mr. Coates admits to having done in his youth, and as I did in mine. Whether it's the taunts of children towards those that stir uncomfortable feelings by being different or the mockery that corporate confidence men direct towards their targets, we have learned to hide from shame by visiting it upon others.

In the comments section, Mr. Coates relates:
I spent some weeks in the North Lawndale section of Chicago talking to homeowners who'd been totally ripped off as a result of the redlining and FHA guidelines during the early 60s.

They said the hardest thing to do was to get all the black folks in the neighborhood talking about it. They knew every single one of them had been ripped off. But they were ashamed to speak for fear of appearing stupid and weak.
We are not all the same. Some are weaker than others and some are less intelligent. Shame over the appearance of being stupid and weak is the result of predicating our own-self acceptance on circumstances outside of our control. Give me anyone you care to name, and I will find someone, perhaps even they themselves, who sincerely regards them as somehow stupid and weak. Universal competence is impossible. No matter how strong and bright the person, there is always a bridge too far for them reach on their own, yet one that seems deceptively close.

In the end, romanticism and duty notwithstanding, unconditional love comes only from one place: a mirror. And that requires being able to look into it, and understand that, regardless of what anyone else says, the person who stands there is worthy of the complete and total affirmation and acceptance of the person looking back at them. Stupidity, weakness, warts and all. The alternative is to make ourselves into frauds, people who present ourselves as we believe the world is entitled to see us in return for outward acceptance. And inner shame. A shame that manifests itself as a predatory instinct. Perhaps directed inwardly, perhaps outwardly, or perhaps completely undirected. The voices of the Inner Critic are both loud and persistent.

Self-affirmation, self-acceptance, serenity. Whatever it is called, it lies in changing what can be changed, and accepting the rest. The past cannot be changed. The events that prompted us to understand that we are weaker and stupider than we feel we ought to be are fixed. Just as important as accepting ourselves as we are is to accept ourselves as we were. And in doing so, be unashamed.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

And Not a Drop to Drink

Turning Off the Lights

With all of the hullabaloo about the partial government shutdown and the fighting over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (or, as it's entered the popular parlance, "Obamacare"), the actual purpose of the "debate" that we're currently having has been lost.

In the comments section for Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Obamacare and the Conscience of a Radical" the role of Federal Housing Authority home loans (namely the fact that African-Americans were often prevented from obtaining them) in the creation of urban ghettos was raised, and Mr. Coates makes the following observation: "The 'positive impact' came from the FHA insuring mortgages. The insurance was provided by taxes--taxes paid by blacks and whites. Taking funds from one community and using it to aid another community is not moral. It is thievery." In this case, of course, he's referring to the fact that many ostensibly race-neutral government policies exacerbated the United States' racial wealth gap by taxing everyone, yet only spending those tax dollars on certain communities.

Anyone familiar with the politics of the modern American Right can see where I am going with this. Conservative economic ideology (as opposed to theory) holds that a) the "free market" (the definition of which seems to vary) will solve all problems in a short enough term to be relevant to the observer and b) every dollar paid out in taxes with which the individual taxpayer disagrees is theft, plain and simple. Of course, the American Left tends to hold to the ideological position that it is the job of government to remedy the tendency of markets (and human action) to create unequal opportunities and/or outcomes for different groups of people.

As I right this, a large minority of the federal workforce is furloughed, and a good number of them are working without pay over what is really an argument about the moral significance of where resources end up, as opposed to where they start out. To the degree that Conservative ideology envisions the world as a place that starts out fair (in that "individuals who work harder will accumulate more wealth") and that it is the action of governments and other unjustified collectives that interfere in this, the primary argument against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is really about suddenly drawing a line in the sand against 200+ years of government becoming less about protecting the "negative" rights of (certain of) its citizens and shifting to enumerating and  working towards a growing body of "positive" rights for all of its citizens - but at the expense of those who do not require government aid to fulfill them.

Because the United States is a representative democracy, the idea of rolling back many of the positive rights already in place is pretty much a non-starter, despite the air of hypocrisy that it lends to the overall Conservative movement. For Conservative lawmakers (despite what aggrieved Liberals may have to say about them) attempting to roll back some of the collective supports to individuals standards of living would be political suicide. (Four words: "Hands off my Medicare.") But those same voters who are, for the most part, okay with being funded by people in far-flung corners of the United States (most of what it termed "flyover country" is propped up by tax-dollar-exporting major urban areas and Blue states on the coasts) are now adamant that the flow of "their tax dollars" to the undeserving be halted.

Despite popular mythology to the contrary, the United States of America has never truly been united in spirit. An Us Versus Them dynamic has more or less always been in play, even in the midst of war. These grievances are now playing themselves out in an acrimonious policy debate and fights on legislative floors. Winning, while it's unlikely to turn out to be what the average voter thinks it will, still carries with it an important affirmation of the victor's worldview (regardless of its accuracy) and values. And that's what everyone is fighting for.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dr. Feelgood

There is a certain irony in the idea that a populace that can't be trusted with firearms can be trusted with unfettered access to a finite resource like healthcare without making a hash of things. But this is part of the nature of partisanship - there's no less irony in the idea that a woman who can be trusted with a firearm can't be trusted to make the choice as to whether or not to continue a pregnancy.