Fearless Reason

Fearless reason in an age of frightened absurdity.

Tag: republican

Growing Our Hearts

My heart has been hurting over the last few days, but maybe this will provide an opportunity for it to grow. This was a complicated election, with lots of ideological, economic, and sociological components. But at the meta level it was a choice between love versus hate. Inclusion versus exclusion. Empathy versus resentment. Love, inclusion, and empathy lost at the ballot box, but must never lose in our hearts and daily lives. It is tempting to hate, resent, and exclude those who brought this about, but then we become the thing we revile. Hate cannot defeat hate, only love can do that. Darkness cannot defeat darkness, only light can do that. We win by living our values more fiercely and unconditionally than ever before. We win by loving, including, and empathizing even with those we find offensive.

Not Just a Game

I am a native of Kentucky, and today my state swore in as governor a tea party darling who has vowed to wage war on my home. I know several gay and lesbian men and women serving in state government, who wept the night Matt Bevin was elected. They wept for their state, and for their own safety and livelihoods. I also know many environmentalists, myself included, who are heartbroken by the appointment of a coal executive to the Energy and Environment cabinet. We fear for the land, water, and air; we fear for humanity’s survival and the future of this state and the world outside of it. As a native of eastern Kentucky, I am also mournful. My heart goes out to those who barely get by, and will likely lose access to healthcare and other meager social services keeping them from the brink of the abyss. I also hurt for the miners in eastern Kentucky, who have been sold false tales of a war on coal, as the coal seams that fed my family for generations reach exhaustion, and gas prices make coal mining a losing proposition. They have been sold a false narrative, and will not get the assistance and retraining they need for a post coal economy. They will continue living in a fantasy-land of yesteryear, as jobs continue to diminish and they grow ever more poor and unprepared for a changing economy.

I know it isn’t polite to pretend politics is anything other than a game, where political offices are points on the board. But for the thousands of lives negatively affected by this election, I cannot treat this like a game. This was a triumph of fear, hate, and ignorance over decency and reason, so today I mourn for my old Kentucky home, and for those who must now live with the consequences.

Grand Old Death Cult

The party of Lincoln, which led the fight to end slavery, has become a death cult that denies reason and worships money. Of course, the party of Lincoln did not really go away, nor did the southern Democrats who once championed slavery. No, they just switched parties. Johnson lost southern whites with the Civil Rights Act, and Nixon capitalized with his Southern Strategy. As a result, the Grand Old Party has become an unholy alliance between oligarchs, theocrats, poor whites, and libertarians.

These strange bedfellows all move to the beat of the oligarchs’ drum, driven by fear, hate and ignorance to achieve feudal rule. The libertarians cry for liberty, as they cut government to place themselves in privately owned chains. Poor whites yearn for a mythologized past and blame the less fortunate for their plight, as they vote for policies that compound their suffering. Then the theocrats long for the perennial fundamentalist dream- order in an incomprehensible world, because worldly problems are difficult and seemingly insurmountable, but God’s law is simple – and so they create hell on Earth. Those who advocate slavery did not go away, they just became more ambitious.

A Millennial in Early Adulthood

I was a toddler during the Reagan presidency, a child when Bush, Sr. took office, and a teenager and young adult under Clinton and Bush, Jr. By the time Obama took office I was transitioning from being an undergraduate to a law student, and have spent my young professional life under his Presidency. I am a millennial. That word used to describe the generation born between 1982 and 2000, and sometimes used as an epithet by our elders.

I am socially progressive by default, but read Ayn Rand in college and thought Ron Paul had some good ideas. I was ideologically mixed for most of my teenage years and early adulthood, abhorring war, craving liberty, fearing climate change, and struggling daily to pay student loans and make my way in an economy that lacks human purpose.

I am a millennial in early adulthood, hoping the world outlives me, and trying to make it a place I want to live if it does.  I grew up under Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton and Obama, but this election cycle is defining who I am and wish to be. In stark relief I see two political parties I once thought not different enough to matter, battling for the soul of our country. I see a Republican party that denies science, reason, and human dignity, and worships at the alter of money; and a Democratic party that is not perfect, but is willing to face reality on climate change, respects human dignity and human rights, and wishes to restore human purpose to an economy that reduces us to human chattel.

The Republicans terrify me, and the Democrats have convinced me they are worth my time, money, and vote. I am one voice amongst many, but my story is not uncommon. The Republicans have lost my generation, but the Democrats are earning our respect.

A Fearful Journey

What follows is an account of my fearful journey, which in patchwork fashion can be found in the posts of this blog. For better or worse I am a political creature. I feel compelled to play a part, no matter how small, in the conversations and policies that shape our world. So I read avidly, share and post excessively on social media, and participate as much as I can in party politics and campaigns.

I have always been socially progressive, and registered as a Democrat when I turned 18 due to my disgust with the Bush administration and the wars – but I didn’t have any strong convictions about economic policy. While in college I found myself drawn to philosophical materialism, which lead me to a rather libertarian, survival of the fittest, economic philosophy. But I remained somewhat muddled through law school, still a Democrat because I believed in science, reason, and human rights – but increasingly seduced by the libertarian Republican movement lead by Ron and Rand Paul.

Fast forward to graduation, and my first job out of law school was representing the business of a former RNC chairmen. He made it clear when I accepted the job that I needed to be involved in Republican politics. I needed a job and was economically conservative, so I registered and became active in the party. Not long after that I had a rather abrupt spiritual awakening that is documented in this blog, which lead me to a panpsychic/pantheist view of the world, and ultimately to Buddhism. Since that time my economic libertarian leanings have been under constant assault. First transforming into a more moderate position, and ultimately to my current full flown progressive/democratic socialist philosophy. Economic libertarianism is incompatible with a moral philosophy that cultivates empathy and postulates that harm to others is harm to self.

Throughout these spiritual, moral, and philosophical transformations I remained active in the Republican party, in part because of professional/career pressures, but also because I naively or arrogantly thought I might serve as a voice of reason. Then this election cycle started and the procession of clowns running for President took stage and a tea party darling won the Republican bid for Governor. At that point I knew I was not a voice of reason, I was a whisper in a caucus of fools, and had become complicit in their hateful, ignorant, and misguided ideology.

So I went back to the Democratic party, knowing the futility of third party movements, now a fully formed progressive in every sense. As I become active in the party I see some of the things I disliked about the Republicans. I see some conservatives, some cynics and careerists, but I also see the burning light of people truly dedicated to progressive values and a better world. For me that is enough reason to stand and fight with them.

So I continue my journey, perhaps a bit less fearful than before, still striving to live a life of fearless reason.

Dually Damned

Every election cycle our respective political parties wage holy war on one another, and do their very best to convince the electorate that the other party’s victory would be a calamity of doom’s day proportions. This dualistic version of the two party system has caused our political discourse to devolve into the broadest and most fundamental ideological propositions possible, with each party painting the choices as an all or nothing proposition.

As the race for the White House heats up, the political discourse is entering the familiar contour of a basic choice between justice or liberty. The just, it is said, will vote Democratic, while the free will vote Republican. Therefore, depending on your perspective, a vote for one or the other will lead to tyranny and/or injustice.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this false and dualistic picture of American politics is that the candidates and parties both seem to encourage this farce. Every election is portrayed as a mortal struggle of good versus evil, and each time, the parties and candidates ask us to chose or forever be damned, between right and wrong, and freedom or justice.

There was a time in our political history, when the welfare of our country and people was the paramount concern of politicians and parties alike. Politics still had the element of duality seen today, but there seemed to be an understanding that once the election was over, the farce would be put aside, and everyone would undertake the nuanced task of governing. While elections may be portrayed as referendums on good versus evil, governing is compromise, nuance and consensus building. Our leaders seem to have forgotten the most fundamental rule observed by conmen and hucksters alike – and that is, never believe your own lie.

Political duality is no longer just the rhetoric of the politician trying to mobilize his base, it is the political reality of our dysfunctional and gridlocked political system. Regardless of who takes the White House, don’t expect anything to change. Obama and Romney have each defined themselves and this race in terms of duality – of good versus evil, and wrong versus right. Yet what few seem to acknowledge is that what may be virtue to one man is vice to another, and that calamity of voices and opinions is expressed in the body of our congress and senate. One party will never capture all three branches of power, nor should they. This dream of total control, which has become the obsession of both parties, has no place in this Republic.

We are a nation of different interests, opinions and values – each with a voice in deciding how we should be governed. We are a nation of many, all with different values and idiosyncrasies that cannot be expressed in a black and white picture. Our choices are limited, but we as a people are not. The electorate must reject the childish and false dichotomy in which our political choices have been painted, and instead, demand nuance, variety and compromise.

We the People, in order to form a more perfect Union, must remember that we are both a just and free nation.

Ron Paul: An Austrian Love Story

To the surprise of everyone, including Ron Paul, the Texas Congressman has been quite successful in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Yet despite having come in third in Iowa and now second in New Hampshire, many still do not take Paul seriously. In fact, many seem to view Paul as an ominous forbearer of the Republican party’s impending existential crisis.

While it is unlikely that Paul will win the Republican nomination, his success is a harbinger of things to come. Ron Paul is doing what few Republican presidential candidates have done in the past 20 years – he appeals to both moderates and young people. It is not often talked about, but the Republican party has a demographic problem that threatens its very existence. The demographics of America are changing in a way that is deadly for the Republican party as it exists today. For many years, Republicans won elections because the country was full of white middle-class voters who mostly voted GOP on Election Day. Today, however, that simply is not enough.

One of the major problems facing the GOP is that the Latino population is the fastest growing segment in the U.S., and they overwhelmingly vote Democrat. Another is that the overall population is increasingly urban and secular in its sensibilities, and less inclined to buy into the self-ritious moral crusades of the past. Given these trends the Republican party must adapt accordingly, or face becoming increasingly marginalized, and ultimately obsolete.

Over the past forty years the Republican party has successfully built an uneasy coalition between the socially conservative and fiscally conservative segments of the population. Though some candidates embody both principles, rarely does one find a candidate who is a “true believer” in both. Often it seems that candidates are firmly committed to one or the other ideology and pay lip service to the other in order to fit within the Republican mold of what an ideal candidate should look like. However, both in practice and politics these candidates’ true colors usually bear out.

The best recent example of this can be found in the way social conservative darlings like Gingrich, Santorum and Perry have viciously attacked Mitt Romney for his role at his capital investment company Bain Capital. All of these candidates have derided Romney as a heartless capitalist who destroys jobs. A stance that is quite out of step with a pro-free market Republican agenda. Yet these candidates have nevertheless gained traction amongst social conservatives with this attack.

The truth of the matter is that there is cognitive dissonance between the classical liberalism of fiscal conservatives and the idea that the government should be the guarantor of Christian morality on the part of social conservatives. Fiscal conservatives by definition support small, limited government, with maximal personal responsibility and liberty. Social conservatives on the other hand see themselves as being under siege by an increasingly secular popular culture, and look to the government to institutionalize their values. It is rarely noted that this would require an expansion of government, and greater monitoring and intrusion into the personal lives of every citizen. In this respect fiscal and social conservatism are irreconcilable.

I personally have had a long and thoughtful journey to the right. This journey, in no small part, was made more difficult by the fact that I came to political awareness under George W. Bush, who as a “true believer” in social conservatism was also a fiscally irresponsible big government Republican. Many young and moderate voters see the inherent conflict between the philosophy of fiscal conservatism and social conservatism, and are alienated as a result. Going forward the G.O.P. must adopt a platform that is logically consistent, or tear itself apart for lack of coherence.

There are many critiques one can level against Ron Paul, but inconsistency isn’t one of them. Paul unabashedly supports the free-market, and endorses both personal responsibility and liberty. A position out of step with the mainstream, which endorses fiscal responsibility but social paternalism. Paul has found traction, despite not being a very good politician, because his ideas are sound and consistent. One does not have to sell half their soul in supporting Paul, because his ideas are logically interlinked byproducts of a unified underlying philosophy. Ron Paul isn’t likely to win this battle, but his ideas may very well win the ideological war.

Blinded by Humanity

The word “humanity” is widely used to describe the noblest and most uniquely human qualities one can possess. One with great humanity is often admired for their charity, compassion and empathy. Those who best exemplify these characteristics are sometimes held out as saints, while those deficient in them are derided as inhuman. Though personal humanity is admirable, too much charity, empathy and compassion on the part of governments leads to inhuman results.

Unemployment in the United States is at 8.6%, with real unemployment thought to be much higher. Though this number is lower than the previous 9% unemployment, this slight drop is largely credited to the fact that many people have simply stopped looking for work. Of the 13.3 million American’s out of work, 5.7 million are classified as long-term unemployed, accounting for 43% of all unemployed persons. In addition to the 7.6 million Americans unemployed, 1.1 million people are classified as “discouraged workers,” which means they have not looked for work in 4 weeks of more, because they believe there is no work for them.

These startling numbers lead one to wonder how these people are supporting themselves if they are not working. The long and short answer seems to be government assistance. One in six Americans is receiving some kind of assistance from the government. Enrollment in Medicaid and food stamp programs are at record highs, while unemployment insurance rolls remain at elevated levels. With many people depending on more than one program.

Approximately 46 million people receive food stamps, and in 2010 a record 18.3% of the nation’s total personal income was a payment from the government for Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits and other programs. Also, in 2010, wages accounted for the lowest share of income – 51% – since the government began keeping track in 1929. With Americans recieving an average of $7,427 in benefits each, up from an inflation-adjusted $4,763 in 2000 and $3,686 in 1990. In 2009 American dependence on government grew by 13.6%, with American dependence on government being 14 times greater than it was in 1962.

In a very real sense the Federal government has insulated the American people from the worst of the “Great Recession.” But at what cost? The United States’ debt currently stands at $15 trillion, and is expected to increase an average of $3.96 billion per day. In May of 2010 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ranked the United States second among the countries that must reduce their structural deficit or risk financial calamity. The IMF predicts that U.S. public sector debt will equal 100% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2015 unless immediate action is taken to cut the deficits by an amount equal to 12% of GDP. Even Greece needs to cute its deficits only by 9% of its national output.

As you can see there is a very strong correlation between unemployment, government assistance and the national deficit. When people do not work they become dependent on the government, and as more people collect benefits instead of paying taxes the government must go in ever more debt to pay the benefits. The result is a very real and dangerous disconnect between the real economy and people’s everyday lives, which postpones economic hardship for the present only to face exponentially greater hardship in the future.

Our modern sensibilities have lead many to believe that it is the government’s duty to protect us from economic hardship, pain, and suffering. So it is with sympathy and understanding that the Democrats assume their traditional role of supporting the “working man,” and advocate the extension of long-term unemployment benefits and other government assistance, while Republicans grudgingly give into these demands – fearing the political fallout if they do not. Our general sense of humanity causes us to prompt the government to intervene and protect us from hardship, but this humanity also blinds us to what must be done.

Social safety nets like long term unemployment benefits give people a luxury they previously did not have; which is to wait for work they want rather than take the jobs available. The liberal inclination is to say this is a good thing. That it allows people to spend their time looking for a job suited to their skill set, rather than work short term in a job they are ill suited for. However, I would argue this seeming act of humanity engenders dependence, is fiscally irresponsible, and obstructs economic recovery.

Ironically, in this time of economic stagnation news stories abound of employers with jobs but no employees to fill them. Though it is true many of these jobs are difficult, dirty or in undesirable locations, they nevertheless are good jobs at which one can make a decent living. However, the fact that these jobs are difficult and dirty is a deterrence for many, who grew up in a service economy with the belief that manual labor is somehow beneath them. So, rather than take one of these jobs that they are “unsuited for,” many sustain themselves with unemployment benefits and other government assistance while searching for that clean and easy office job that their college degree or upbringing has caused them to expect.

There is something to be said for the motivating power of desperation. Being faced with the possibility of an empty stomach and no way to keep a roof over your head tends to make people willing to take any job, no matter how “ill suited” they may be for it, or how undesirable the location. As seen in books like Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” during the Great Depression people were willing to do whatever was necessary to survive. They went to where the work was, no matter how menial or how far away.

Providing people with the luxury of foregoing available jobs in order to wait for their ideal job adversely effects the larger economy in several ways. For one, it allows people’s expectations of what the economy should be dictate their vocation rather than economic demand. That means rather than work at what is needed, people are inclined to forgo available work in order to search for a job in their desired field. Simple logic and economics will tell you that without demand for a product or service there can be no economic return. Another adverse consequence of people letting their expectations get out of touch with demand is that the parts of the economy that would normally recover first after a recession will be unable to do so for lack of sufficient workers. Only stagnation can result when a society allows expectations to trump actual supply and demand.

A better use for the money being spent on long-term unemployment benefits and other social safety nets would be economic policies that encourage people to take the jobs available, either through training or a tax credit to businesses that would encourage them to pay the relocation costs for new employees. In this way, rather than paying people not to work, we would be paying people to move to where the jobs are.

We are blinded by our humanity, and it is our collective good intentions that will pave the road to economic hell. European countries have had high unemployment rates and robust social safety nets for decades – a trend that is now causing economic calamity amongst their governments. The path to economic recovery lies in the American traditions of self-reliance, entrepreneurship and innovation – not dependence and debt. We must show that we have the stomach to bear the short term pain of our current economic hardship if we are to achieve long term prosperity. It is a delusion to believe you can insulate people from the real economy through government spending. This leads only to crippling national debt and stagnant economies. Human suffering is a tragedy, but governments cannot and should not be the guarantors of every individual’s happiness and prosperity.

A New Paradigm

American politics has become a shouting match between the competing political ideologies. In the last twenty years we have witnessed a progressive radicalization of American politics that has reached its apex in the “Occupy” and “Tea Party” movements. Both groups have legitimate concerns and grievances that most reasonable people can can identify with. However, both groups typically react to these legitimate grievances in  radical and unreasonable ways. What follows is a reasonable man’s critique of popular absurdity.

The Tea Party invokes some of the oldest and most enduring American paradigms. They appeal to the rugged libertarian frontiersman, who survives by self reliance, hard work, and perseverance. This American Pioneer has little tolerance for government intrusion, and is generally opposed to taxes and invasive regulations. More importantly, the Pioneer is uncompromising and implacable. But these latter traits are better suited for the frontier than to the messy business of governing.

Democracy is compromise. Governance is achieved by building coalitions of different peoples with different ideas. Ideological purity quickly becomes ideological dogma, at which point ideas become more important than the issues.

As Issac Newton observed, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Politics is no exception.

The Occupy movement has become the left’s response to the Tea Party, embodying another, newer aspect of American culture. This movement consists of the progressive and liberal impulses found in F.D.R.’s New Deal. Occupy is greatly concerned with what it considers the many injustices in our society. Its chief enemies being suffering and inequality. Though the movement has not proposed any concrete solutions to these problems, generally the Occupy movement seems to believe that the government can and should fix society’s woes.

At its best Occupy has brought awareness to many of the problems facing the country. At its worse, the movement has been an unruly mob, demanding change, but unable to identify solutions. If the Tea Party knows what it wants, and is uncompromising in how it seeks to achieve it, Occupy knows what it wants, but is clueless as to making its desires a reality.

If this country is to solve its problems the silent majority must find its voice. Most Americans identify as moderates, and care more about addressing the issues than ideological purity. The average American is pragmatic,  because daily life requires compromise. But reasonable people are hesitant to take to the streets. We do not march on capitals and wave signs. Because reasonable people believe life should be a dialogue, not a shouting match.

However, we must not allow our reasonableness to allow us to become irrelevant. The country’s problems will not be solved by shouting, but with serious dialogue and compromise. The silent majority must speak. We must find our voice, and make it heard.

So long as both sides define themselves in opposition to one another, there can be no compromise. So long as both sides believe that the other is incapable of good ideas, there can be no discussions.