Monday, February 4, 2008

Left of Center?

Not long ago I was caught off-guard by a response to a piece I had written. I knew that not everyone would agree with the point of view I was offering, but I was totally unprepared to be labeled with the “L-word.” No, I am not a gorgeous actress on Showtime’s Sapphic drama. Somebody called me a liberal!

At the beginning of my professional life I was used to being the most conservative person in the room when politics was discussed. I had always been proud of the pictures of my baby crib in the Nixon campaign headquarters. As a third-generation Republican I believed myself immune to the “L-word” label.

I felt perfectly comfortable saying that Ted Kennedy and Al Sharpton, often sounded like they were out of the mainstream of American political thought. I knew that immediate welfare reform was absolutely crucial to our nation. It was obvious to me that the U.S. ought to worry less about international consensus and more about international action.

I knew that raising taxes to pay for big government was bad. I knew that gay rights was just a bunch of hoopla brought to us by a lot of noisy perverts. I knew that government regulation was death to business and that lower corporate taxes meant more jobs for Americans.

I knew that Republicans were much more pragmatic than Democrats when it came to working in a bipartisan fashion, thus taking better advantage of America’s human resources. I knew that if we ever took over the Presidency and both houses of Congress, we would set such a fine example that Democrats would leave their party in shame.

I believed a lot of things I am no longer quite so sure about.

In the decade since I turned 30, I have seen quite a few things that leave me somewhat to the left of my former self.

The rush to implement politically popular welfare reforms has in some places brought with it a whole slew of unanticipated problems that weaken families instead of strengthening them and sometimes put children at risk. Programs based on people’s needs, rather than programs based on political ideology would have been a step in the right direction.

In light of recent administrations, it now seems to me that the Presidents of my youth displayed much more wisdom, grace, and ability than our current leader in their building consensuses and taking international action. The son seems to come up far short in comparison to his father.

Conservatives in this nation used to stand for fiscal responsibility and decried the “tax and spend” liberals. Now the so-called conservatives want to cut taxes and still spend, spend, spend—with no regard to who will pay for the tremendous deficit. No one likes paying taxes that are too high, but it is difficult to see why multimillionaires think they are paying more than their fair share of this nation’s tax burden, when it is the benefits this nation provides that give them the opportunity to be multimillionaires in the first place.

For various reasons it has become more and more obvious over the years that gay rights makes sense in terms of fundamental human fairness. The shrill, moralistic bigots who decry homosexuality as a “choice” or “lifestyle” seem at odds with reality. Reality seems to be that some folks have brains that are “wired up” to be sexually attracted to people of their own gender. The only people who actually know whether or not homosexuality is a choice are homosexuals—and they say it isn’t. I’m for giving them the benefit of the doubt—as opposed to creating a special category of second-class citizens, which seems to be the course favored by the aforementioned shrill, moralistic bigots.

The seemingly never-ending series of corporate scandals and the sub-prime mortgage crisis have made it seem that, for the good of investors, customers, and the nation at large, a little more governmental scrutiny and a tad more regulation of business might be beneficial. Enron, Martha Stewart, and numerous mutual fund managers using insider information seem to have pooped on the Republican ideal of even the common folk having the same chance as the bigwigs in the stock market.

Corporate taxes seem to have more to do with investors’ profits than creating jobs. Differences in the price of labor are what give American jobs wings to fly across borders to other lands. Higher corporate taxes seem unlikely to cost anyone jobs, whether Americans or foreign laborers making pennies an hour.

The current conservative administration lacks the wise bipartisanship that has, in the past, made our nation great. When the Bush administration put together the lists of civilian professionals who would go into Iraq to help rebuild that nation, doctors of all specializations were rejected out of hand if they held a different view on abortion than the President. What in the name of all that is holy does abortion politics have to do with being an ophthalmologist or an anesthesiologist? Is Achmed the Iranian likely to care that the doctor sewing his son’s arms back on is Pro-Choice?

I didn’t vote for Al Gore because his tone always seemed condescending and that irked me. The one thing I didn’t understand before the election about President Bush is his no-one-who-disagrees-with-us-can-be-right smugness. It’s a smugness that seems to permeate the entire neoconservative movement and I can’t abide it.

So now, as I talk with my students and colleagues I find myself faced with the realization that where I used to lean to the right, now I’m somewhere left of center. I feel like a stranger in a strange land and I have to work hard to remember that I arrived here not merely because I was moving left, but because the center was moving to the right.


Earl said...

While I love you like a brother, I would never anoint you a liberal. It is very interesting the moderates and pragmatic conservatives losing a place in the Republican party. It's also clear that you don't have a clear home as Democrats. It's a call for a third way that embraces support for commerce that does create jobs and protects and promotes workers. It calls for a new way to provide civil rights for all and provide moral clarity as well. It calls for a new way of thinking that advances realistic ideas that speak to the needs of people without creating dependence on government. It calls for progressive ideas and conservative restraint. It's hard to be dogmatic if you keep thinking ;-)

Arb Elbow said...

Well said, my friend! We radical moderates clearly have no home. Maybe we're just too contrary to like candidates from either party when they're playing to their respective bases.