Monday, May 17, 2004

Give me a Break
by John Stossel

Give Me a Break by John Stossel is perhaps the first book of its type where I've agreed with everything. Even Al Franken's brilliant Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them had a couple things I hoisted an eyebrow at. However John nails it on down the line. He calls himself a conservative, but I think anyone moderate would find themselves agreeing with all of his points. Those on the far left ("lefty loonies") and the far right ("wingnuts") will find much to argue with (though wingnuts will find less).

I think the labels "liberal" and "conservative" are no longer useful. They're like trying to describe someone light-hearted as "gay" anymore; the meaning of the word has changed so vastly that the historical usage is obsolete, to say the least. I am loathe to identify myself as anything but "liberal" because I feel that the Neocon "revolution" has been a pretty terrible thing, matched only by the loony left's introduction of Identity Politics and Political Correctness. (Perhaps they balance one another out and that's why they both exist.) But "liberal" is now identified with the loony left, and - egad - socialism (if not communism for the more rapid wingnuts).

Socialism as the primary form of economic structure is sure disaster. It is incompatible with human nature (and I don't assume human nature is bad, like many do); it just doesn't work that way. Capitalism is really the most progressive and egalitarian political and economic structure that we've come up with so far. However, I believe that we need to have the government perform some things for us that a pure capitalistic model can't really accomplish, such as infrastructure (highways and waterways), the military, and keeping the peace. Where I stand out as a "classic liberal"* (in the historical sense, not the pejorative sense of the term now) is I feel public education and basic medical needs fall into that category. I don't think the government should take them over wholesale, because unlike interstate highways, the military and the police, competition from the public sector helps the quality of schools and hospitals. But, as we've seen with private religious schools and HMOs, portions of those in need are automatically cut out due to religious or political beliefs for the prior, and health reasons and/or employment status for the latter. Thus, the government has to provide public education** and we should move to some sort of basic medical care that everyone has access to.

*Stossel uses the term to describe himself, too. Camille Paglia described the same basic political outlook as "Libertarian Democrat," which makes Republicans chuckle, because, despite all evidence to the contrary, they identify themselves as the sole party that preaches noninterference from the government. "Classic Liberal" or "Libertarian Democrat" makes no big diff to me, personally. I just wish there were an easier descriptive term that didn't require qualifiers.

**For the record, Vouchers for education is simply a tax scam, wherein those who can afford private schools want to exclude themselves from paying for public schools. Look at it this way, what if everyone who belonged to an HMO or those who could afford health insurance wanted to exclude themselves from Medicare and Medicaid on the basis that they didn't need it? A wingnut would say "great!" but I think the rest of us with any sense of responsibility for helping those in need think it's just selfish and greedy. Wignuts just can't seem to imagine ending up in a place where they just might need those little social safety nets someday. I don't think we should let their shortsightedness make the rest of us blind.

Other than that, let the market work it out. I lost my job due (in part) to the current idiocy in software development where they're trying to ship it out to foreign countries. The market will correct this mistake and things will be OK, but for now we've got to go through a cycle of stupidity before the CEOs figure out that the language barrier and social mores of other societies have a greater effect on software development than, say, making a shirt. But I don't think the government should step in and do anything about it; let the market work it out, because it will.

I believe in personal freedom and individual rights and the government staying the hell out of my life unless I'm harming someone else (or their property, etc.). This is where I, again, am a "classic liberal" as liberals have always stood for individual rights and conservatives have always wanted the government to legislate morality. The Drug War (with it's odious "civil asset forfeiture") and the PATRIOT Act are both examples of egregious overstepping by the government, and both are products of the wingnuts. How the Republican party has been able to paint themselves as the party that stands up for rights and privacy, I'll never know.

Franken's book and Stossel's book have a lot in common actually. They both champion about the same things. Yet one calls himself a liberal (the current meaning) and the other conservative (the current meaning, too). So, "liberal" and "conservative" are no longer descriptive if two guys who agree on so many points identify themselves with labels that are currently so diametrically opposed.

I can't recommend both books enough. If everyone in the electorate would read both of these before the next election, it would be wonderful, and America would be better off for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

super cool **t-shirts**