What This Is…
Issue #70- July 6, 2012
In this issue: Progressive vs. Conservative, Issue Updates
The record setting heat wave that is currently enveloping Wisconsin has given me a little extra time (summer school is canceled for the rest of the week) so this week's edition is coming out early!! I've also added some links to informative websites and a list of some good books I've read recently.
Progressive Vs. Conservative, Is the Sky Falling?…
The uprising in Wisconsin started it, now the struggle is going national. Conservatives, moderates, progressives and every other political group are calling this upcoming presidential election a pivotal one in our nation's history. There are many reasons that political analysts feel this way, but in my opinion it boils down to a single central issue. The issue at hand is really more of an ongoing debate and question. It is masked by rhetoric and biased historical evidence in order to control the discussion for political purposes. Essentially what is being debated is how much power individuals must give up in order to live in a modern "civilized" society.
As I've said before, this isn't a new argument. Political philosophers have debated this issue for centuries. There is a fundamental human conflict between the status quo (maintaining the current power structure) and the human need for change and reform. Our own founding documents were based on, what were for the time, radical and progressive ideas. The idea that the people should have control over their social, political and economic conditions was a concept that was foreign to much of previous human experiences. This notion that individuals have basic rights that are part of being human and that governments serve to protect and preserve these rights was a revolutionary one.
We find little disagreement in the idea that all human beings have certain rights to life, liberty, property and to pursue their own happiness. What becomes problematic is when these basic rights for one person conflict with those of another person. Resolving these conflicts is the primary reason why governments are created. While we would like to think that the long term goal is to resolve these conflicts for the good of the majority, or society as a whole the reality is much less pleasant. Tyranny and oppression have existed under all forms of government.
This is an important fact to remember. Conservatives would have us believe that the United States is the product of an evolutionary process (while at the same time may reject that evolution exists in the natural world, but that's a different issue) that has resulted in an exceptional political system that the rest of the world should admire. They point to our founding documents and leaders as iconic examples of what we should emulate. While I strongly agree that the United States' political ideology and system of government is based on sound philosophy and ideals, I also see that (like any human creation) it is sometimes flawed in implementation. We can see any number of these flaws as we look back at our nation's history.
However, the issue at hand isn't really about the form of government or our nation's political structure. Most Americans would probably agree that we like democracy and that our system of checks and balances is a pretty effective way to rule a nation. Many of us may not totally understand politics, and unfortunately may not be terribly interested, but the problems we face aren't systematic in nature. In fact most people would love to simply live their own lives and not have to deal with the larger problems of our society as a whole.
It is that lack of interest, knowledge and perspective that causes a need for government. Government is like a union, if there's no conflict and everyone's rights are secure then there really isn't a need for a larger entity to protect and preserve our rights. The argument that, "The government is best that governs least", is certainly a valid one. What is at issue is how "least" we can get away with and still have a functioning society that preserves the rights of a majority of its citizens.
That debate about the amount of legislation, policy and other control is needed to have a socially just society is where our current conflict lies. In order to find an answer to our questions we need to have dialog between competing and conflicting viewpoints. This assumes that the different sides approach the discussion with positive intent, and aren't simply trying to monopolize the political, social or economic power. No human society will ever be able to achieve a utopia where all citizens are able to live without conflict so we will always need some governmental control.
The conservative side of the argument likes to say that their ideal form of government rests on a trust of the people to decide what is best for themselves. You constantly hear conservatives talking about how liberals want to control everyone and everything. They argue that by keeping government small and simple they create a society where everyone will rise to the appropriate level for their abilities. Conservatives point to our founding documents and argue that our founding leaders would support the conservative position.
The trouble with this "free market" or "laissez faire" system is that, in order for it to work for the good of the majority, there must be equality of opportunity. We know that this doesn't exist, and we must also accept that there can never be total equality. However, our current system is so complex and biased in favor of certain individuals and groups that it doesn't provide equal opportunities for many citizens. If we begin from a biased starting point, there is no way to achieve a truly free and equal society.
American society has resisted equality of opportunity for many citizens on an alarmingly regular basis. Every new group arriving on our shores faced discrimination and hostility. Different demographic groups have faced continual struggles to receive the same rights and opportunities that the existing elite groups have enjoyed. We certainly can't discount the racism that has been rampant in American culture either. To claim that we have moved beyond these prejudices and achieved equality for all is a dangerously ignorant or horribly naïve position to take.
In addition to the problem of an inherently discriminatory society, we also must recognize the complexity and interconnectedness of the world we live in. Our founding leaders lived in a world where most inhabitants worked and operated in a local setting. The smaller number of people inhabiting the world also limited the effect that each person could have on others and the environment. Government could be smaller because the implications of individual and group actions were smaller. My blacksmith shop in the 1750's had a much smaller impact than the steel mill of the 1950's.
The idea that the market will create an optimal society is flawed because of human nature as well. The drive that each of us has to try and improve our status and living situation is necessary and important. We live in a world of finite resources and must always look out for our own best interest to some degree. This means that we are all in competition with others in different areas. However, we can see that in every human competition a referee is needed or else the game breaks down into survival of the fittest. Rules are necessary and that is the role that laws and government policy fill. A friendly game of pick-up basketball may work well (much of the time) without an assigned referee, but include a hyper-competitive player or raise the stakes to NBA Finals level and things quickly change.
As human societies have expanded and our social, political and economic organizations have become larger and less personalized we have lost much of the individualized human contact that makes it easier to operate without regulations. If my neighbors do something that bothers me, I can try and talk to them. This doesn't work as well when it is a factory 10 miles away. We are also interacting with more people who have different cultural or other norms which can lead to conflicts and misunderstandings. Knowing, trusting and understanding another person or group makes sharing power easier. These are things that are often missing in our current difficulties.
These are all significant challenges that our society faces as we move forward into the future. It would also appear that none of them are going to go away or be reduced in their impact. I don't see our world getting any less complex, less populated or less diverse in the near future and so we must be creative and open minded in our thinking as we try and deal with our challenges in a positive way. To rely on the simple conservative idea of "returning to the good old days" seems to be a naïve approach to complex issues.
Instead of a simple approach, I advocate for a more comprehensive and multi-faceted way of moving our society forward. In order for this to happen we must have as many voices as possible included in the decision making process. We must also work to protect the rights of the majority of our citizens. We need regulation and legislation to make this happen. Without these protections our nation will return to the days when only a limited few had a voice in the direction our society took.
Progressives embrace the challenges and look to try and balance the rights of individuals and the rights of the others who share our world. We can't glorify the individual at the expense of everyone else. Every community relies on its members to share responsibilities and to look out for each other. If we don't do this then we aren't a nation, but rather a coalition of individual interests.
What is causing our current crisis isn't the fact that we have competing ideologies vying for control of power. Instead it is the conservative view that only one ideology should exist in the political debate. The concept that only one ideology can exist in a nation is problematic at best and destructive when carried to its most extreme conclusion. In reality most Americans occupy a middle ground with their beliefs based on many variables and not firmly fixed. In other words, the extremes that are currently heard loudest in our political debates are not representative of our nation as a whole.
Just look at the discussion about and reaction to "Obamacare". When surveyed most Americans like parts of the plan and dislike other parts. That's the way that our government has worked in the past. By working towards achieving a long term goal of quality, affordable health care for all President Obama has moved the process forward. Over time the debate will continue and we will hopefully move towards a more socially just society.
By painting the picture of a "all or nothing" choice between Obamacare and a free-market system, conservatives do our nation a disservice. Instead of creating a crisis mentality, why not point out the good and the bad within the law? This would lead to a more rational discussion and a better resolution in the future. I find it fascinating how many conservative politicians seem to be unable to say anything good about our nation's government or their political opponents. If government is so bad, why are you employed as a government official?
The same "my way or the highway" approach is being used across the nation, most visibly in Wisconsin. Scott Walker took a problem, made it a crisis and divided our state. This has not resulted in any real discussion about ways to make Wisconsin a better place to live, but instead has lead to a political civil war. A conflict that has cost millions of dollars and created deep resentments between groups of citizens.
In a rational and polite discussion it is amazing how many similarities most people have in their political viewpoints. Yes, there are fundamental differences, but in the end we all want a place where we can live peacefully, productively and happily. I continue to call on our political leadership to work to bring people together, not separate us. We have a great system of government, significant natural resources, great wealth and hard-working citizens. Instead of constantly emphasizing the negatives it's time to look at our glass as being half-full.
Worker's rights provide another great example of the different ways that progressives and conservatives view the world. Conservatives argue that each individual must go into the world and make their own way armed only with their work ethic, whatever skills they bring to the table and luck. Progressives recognize that there are significant differences in power wielded by management and labor. Labor needs protection from the abuses that can occur when management's power is unchecked.
We are facing difficult times for workers in America and across the world. I don't believe that Republican policies of cutting budgets and giving money to the wealthy will solve our problems. I hope that I'm wrong and that our economy begins to take off, but I fear that we will be seeing more articles like this one.
Another battleground between conservative and progressive ideologies is the area of public education. Conservatives argue that our public school systems are failing and need to be replaced by a free market system where families have more choices and there is less governmental control of schools. They use their clarion calls for freedom and individualism as they work to undermine the existing school systems.
What conservatives fail to mention is the fact that our school systems have not been allowed to really work for all children. Until the middle of the 1900's our schools were legally segregated and except for a brief period in the 1950's and 60's (where integration was forced by the government) have remained segregated by race and class. If the free market is allowed to reign in education, what incentive do wealthy, primarily white families have to open their schools to more diversity? All families want what's best for their own children first and few parents see a real value in diversity unless it is something that they can easily accept and doesn't cost them, or their children anything.
By weakening schools and focusing on the most challenging situations in our public schools, conservatives have weakened the public's faith in our school systems. This has allowed the conservative goals to become embedded in our national education policy. Will our liberal and progressive political leaders recognize this and act to improve education, not to improve their poll numbers?
As a result we are seeing public education weakened further as more testing and administrative control of teaching is implemented. The perpetual conflict between different educational philosophies is being encouraged and magnified by conservative policies. Educators are forced to use methods that may have some influence on test scores instead of retaining practices that have shown long term benefits for students.
The Madison Metropolitan School District has named Dr. Jane Belmore as interim Superintendent for the next year.
Board of Education Appoints Dr. Jane Belmore Interim Superintendent | Madison Metropolitan School Di
Wisconsin continues to dominate political news in the U.S. Will conservatives allow the vote totals to stand, or will they bog the system down with legal challenges? How much longer will their supporters continue to believe that the GOP trusts the citizens of our state when they are doing everything they can to reduce the influence an average citizen can have on our political system?
We must continue to spend our money carefully. While it is challenging to keep up with all the potential issues surrounding products that we purchase it is well worth the effort. Remember that profit is the main motivator for these business leaders and they will respond most quickly to any change in purchasing trends.