Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Myth of the Unpopularity of "Liberal" Policies, cont.

I have to append to my previous posting some comments that went unstated but which I hope should be clear. In case these comments weren't clear, I'm going to lay them out right now ...

What gives this meme any kind of currency is that it is jealous, cranky, resentful, and uncompassionate conservatives who tend to be the ones who raise hay about this issue when they are the ones who all of a sudden have to face competition with those "lazy ingrates" for scarce resources in entitlement programs. Most liberals I know don't spite conservatives access to the entitlement programs that serve as critical safety nets when they need it. A conservative kid in Louisiana wants to cut down his tuition via the TOPS program, even to an expensive, private university like the one I teach at? Liberals would say "Yes" -- more power to him. Conservative grandma who wants her expensive prescription drugs and the most-expensive treatment to extend life for a short time more, liberals say "Absolutely" -- more power to her. It's the vagaries of conservatives who behave like liberals and who like the benefits of liberal policy when it benefits them, but who spite their fellow citizens who need other kinds of assistance that they don't currently need, who are the problem -- not liberal policy. Another appended point: we liberals believe that there are circumstances in one's life beyond his or her ability to control that can cripple this person's ability to succeed; we believe that structural impediments and environments are REAL constraints on the freedoms that conservatives say they believe in. Ask a conservative who can't find a job, who has a family of four to feed and provide for, who has a kid with a serious health issue but no insurance, and who is 6 months behind on his mortgage and facing foreclosure, all IN SPITE OF his high integrity, his willingness to work hard, and his persistent and constant search for a job whether he has a problem with unemployment insurance, food stamps, access to subsidized health care that won't bankrupt him, and mortgage foreclosure rules that help him keep his house until his situation improves, ask this person if those "demonized" liberal policies are bad and unpopular? I KNOW what he would say. We all do. And the ironic thing is that he'll be the first in line to tap into the charity and services of liberal do-gooder community organizers and service providers to get the benefits of these "unpopular" programs so that he and his family can weather the current environment with some measure of human dignity and hope. And the other ironic thing is that this liberal do-gooder community organizer will GLADLY help even the person who thinks this liberal's job is worthless, unproductive, government teat-sucking enabling, hippie communism. We liberals understand the concept of structural and environmental limits to freedom, real limits to freedom. We liberals don't devalue the ideas of self-sufficiency and hard work. We understand that this kind of behavior deserves whatever rewards it can find in a free market environment. It's BECAUSE of these ideals that we support "liberal" policies that are supposedly "unpopular." And I contend that it is precisely BECAUSE even the most die-hard conservative has an intuitive understanding of this, too, which is why he justifies the benefits of liberal policies for himself, even when he denies it for others. What this conservative can't understand (or won't understand) is that the structures and environments that beat him down and force him and his family to the brink of ruin through no fault of his own also probably apply to that poor, perhaps illiterate, maybe dishevelled-looking person standing in front of him and behind him in the line. Are there folks who abuse state benefits? Yes. Do liberals accept such abuse? No. Are there folks who develop a dependency on such benefits? Yes. Do liberals support such dependency? No. But what we liberals tend to know (and it's knowledge that leads to one of the most democratic and freedom-embracing policy agendas) that conservatives generally tend not to know is that these kinds of people who abuse or who develop a dependency on "unpopular" liberal programs are a very small percentage of the total number of hard-working, responsible folks whom such policies and programs help to survive the crushing structural and environmental circumstances that make them slaves to something they had no part in creating.

6 comments:

eric said...

I agree with you that people who need charity are often glad to take it regardless of the source or the consequences on the people from whom it was forcibly taken.

However...

Willingness to use the programs for which we are taxed does not constitute an endorsement of those programs. I enjoy taking the Amtrak down to Ft. Worth with my family on occasion, but would still vote to cut all their government funds even if it meant we could no longer take those trips.

From the time people start working, they have a seperate tax item on their paychecks that spells out how much they are contributing to Social Security and Medicare. The government sends a statement each year letting you know how much your Social Security retirement income will be based on what you have paid in to the system. After enough years of this, sure, absolutely, people feel entitled to those benefits, because they have had such a large portion of their income forcibly taken from them to fund the programs. But I'd bet dollars to donuts, Jimmy, if you made an offer to repay people under 40 all the money they had paid into Social Security and Medicare in exchage for being exempted from ever receiving benefits from those programs... you'd have a very strong majority willing to take the money and run. And that would be a pretty good indicator of the unpopularity of the program.

I also think you fundamentally misunderstand conservative attitudes about the poor and disposessed. Churches full of conservatives routinely help people who could be roundly classified as 'lazy ingrates'. Every day, conservative business owners give job opporutnities and second chances to people who have made poor life decisions. Food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, free or low-cost health clinics, scholarships from civic organizations, charitable trips to countries awash in poverty that we can scarecely imagine... all these things are routinely organized, funded, and enacted by groups comprised mostly of people who identify as conservatives.

The problem conservatives have with government "charity" is not that some "lesser" person may take advantage of it, but that some person who may not want to engage in charity, or in such a large degree of charity, will be forced against their will to do so.

Now, outside of conservative ideology and liberal ideology you have a sizeable swath of American voters who aren't really either conservative or liberal. They are just pragmatists. They'll vote for whatever seems to be the fastest and easiest way out of whatever the current politcal mess is.

And the pragmatists just voted, by and large, for the party who openly stated that unemployment benefits can't go on forever, that the Healthcare Reform package needs to be mothballled, that Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable, and that liberal policies are generally too expensive and innefective.

So this year, liberal policies are pretty damn unpopular. In 2008, it was a different story. Who knows what 2012 will bring?

The real story here isn't that these swings in independant voter issues represent significant ideological change in the political fabric of the nation... it's that a wide swath of American voters can't be made to give a straight answer on what they want from the government and what they're willing to pay for it.
That's our real problem. (And has been pretty much since WWII ended, though it seems to be coming to a head).

Huck said...

it's that a wide swath of American voters can't be made to give a straight answer on what they want from the government and what they're willing to pay for it.

I'll start with this and say that I basically agree, Eric. This is the key problem. And the reason why I agree with you here is that those few on either side of the political spectrum who do know what they want from the government and what they are willing to pay for it transcend class lines. There are a fair amount of wealthy liberals who don't mind a progressive income tax to pay for certain government programs, and there are a fair amount of poor conservatives who do. That's said, let me get to some of your other, earlier points.

First, your Amtrak example isn't a good parallel. You wouldn't find many liberals who would object to cutting government funding for this service, since it amounts to a service no one would find as essential, at least not today. But I don't think many Americans (both liberal and conservative, for that matter) would feel the same today about cutting federal funding completely for highway infrastructure maintenance and expansion. Just imagine if the government cut funding completely for interstate roads and highways, and turned it over to the marketplace. Hefty tolls and restricted usage based on abilities to pay such tolls, which is what a non-state, private market solution would demand is not likely to be well-received by citizens, even if Americans were able to keep the pennies they would have had to pay towards such services through their federal income taxes. What it boils down to is what folks think of as services essential to basic welfare and survival that would have an uncertain existence in a competitive market environment. Which leads me to disagree with you on the following ...

Huck said...

But I'd bet dollars to donuts, Jimmy, if you made an offer to repay people under 40 all the money they had paid into Social Security and Medicare in exchage for being exempted from ever receiving benefits from those programs... you'd have a very strong majority willing to take the money and run. And that would be a pretty good indicator of the unpopularity of the program.

First off, I'd take this bet because I'm fairly convinced that your average 70K or less income earner, regardless of age, whose ability to save for both retirement and retirement age health care costs through private plans is limited as it is, much less subject to the vagaries of an untrusted stock market and and exponentially more expensive health insurance/healthcare market, wouldn't nearly be enough of a tradeoff for the security provided by these state programs. If you really got it to sink in to anyone under 40 that opting out of SS and Medicare, even getting all their money back with interest that they put into it to date, that doing so meant they were completely on their own in their retirement years and would get ZERO in the way of government subsidized healthcare or retirement benefits, REGARDLESS of their unforeseen future circumstances such as an early diagnosis of cancer or of a disabling accident ... if you really got that to sink in ... then I think you'd likely see a pretty strong majority of those under 40, even those tempted by the promise of a hefty one-time opt-out refund payment, give serious pause. I know I would, especially if it also meant the possibility of significant reductions in current benefits afforded to my elderly friends and relatives. And then there's the problem of what to do with those Americans who do opt out, but fail to adequately plan for their retirement, and still come knocking on the government's door for help in getting their radiation and chemo treatments without having to sell their homes. Imagine reminding such folks about their Faustian bargain in their seemingly invulnerable youthful days and telling them they are shit-out-of-luck now and pointing them to the nearest private charity where they'll have to beg for help along with all the others. There's a reason why most folks, even among your Tea Party crowd, and I'd say even among the under-40 in your Tea Party crowd, balk at talk of even reforming SS/Medicare, much less gutting it in favor of pure market solutions.

The problem conservatives have with government "charity" is not that some "lesser" person may take advantage of it, but that some person who may not want to engage in charity, or in such a large degree of charity, will be forced against their will to do so.

I disagree. I don't think most people (and I'm not limiting this to conservatives only, though they certainly are included) are all that concerned about what "others" are or are not forced to do, but rather what they themselves feel coerced to do. I think you represent a rare breed among Americans, Eric, who really feels altruistic in this way. The phrase is "don't tread on me" -- not "don't tread on me and thee." Besides, it's clear to me as someone who is not a "real" American, that there are many who would be all too happy to tread on me to coerce me to contribute to what they believe are programs coming from the just, worthy, and proper role of government as they see it, whether or not I would agree with them.

eric said...

Huck, thanks for the replies and since we generally are in agreement here, I'll make this quick:

1) Just a theory, but I think under-40 Americans would largely opt out of Social Security because they don't trust it. I can't remember the exact numbers, but only a minority of this demographic, when asked, expect to ever recieve a dime from that program, so the opportunity for a one-time windfall payout would probably be readily taken advantage of.
I do think it would be much harder to get people to make the same deal with Medicare, because there is a much higher "win the lottery" aspect to what kind of payout you could expect to get from that program. With S.S., you could easily compare the two numbers (what you could get now by tapping out vs. what you could expect to get if you stay in the program)... but those comparisons are much harder to make with Medicare.

2) Regarding charity, while I disagree with you that most conservatives aren't concerned about charity being forced on others, I would say for the sake of the discussion at hand that it doesn't really matter. It is generally not the charity (perhaps bestowed on somebody they consider to be "less than" themselves in some way) that rubs conservatives wrong, it compulsory nature of it (regardless of whether they don't like like others to be compelled or because they don't like being compelled themselves).

eric said...

On another note... how are you liking 'Lonesome Dove'?

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