An Open Letter to the Republican Party

For as long as I can remember — and my memory goes back to Lyndon Johnson – the electoral message of the Democratic party has included, fairly prominently, the following proposition:

Vote for me! I’ll give you something and make somebody else pay for it!

In recent elections that proposition has not only been featured prominently, it has been the highlight. Remember the 1%? Remember how “the rich” are not paying their “fair share”? Remember Thomas Frank’s lament, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” What was his argument?

Hey, we promised to give you something and make someone else pay for it! You must not have been listening!

Yes, the Republican Party has been featuring its grumpy old men and its “back in the day…” cultural attitudes, and it has paid for that. Yes, it needs to have a serious internal conversation about what really are the core Republican principles, to differentiate them from the cultural and emotional fetishes that seem to absorb its “activists”.

But, in the end, even if they could get past all that, the question remains: how do you convince people to refuse a free lunch? How do you counter the allure of getting something for nothing?

You have to explain why that can’t work!

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Your Tribe or Mine?

I am a (late) middle-aged white man and so, I admit, my experiences of race are almost certainly far removed from yours. But, notwithstanding that, it would seem to me that you and I, with our somewhat similar education levels, economic status, and (in all likelihood) cultural tastes and attitudes, are likely “tribe-mates” in ways far more fundamental than a mere matter of skin color or genetic heritage. And I don’t consider people who beat up others out of some misguided sense of grievance, or who spew ignorance and hate, to be part of my “tribe”. The fact that they may have white skin or may come from the same geographical area as I really has nothing to do with that determination.

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A Trifle: Does the “right wing” really control EVERYTHING?

I don’t like the current administration and its boosters any more than you do, but really? In what country are you living where they control “nearly every element of our government and society?”

It seems to me — and much to their obvious chagrin — that there are vast swaths of society — and even significant portions of government — over which they exercise very little control at all…

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The “Janus” Decision

Actually, all workers need to do to fight back against the “Janus” decision is to continue to join and maintain membership in unions, despite the fact that they are no longer compelled to do so by an act of law.

If, as claimed, that decision results in a significant reduction in union membership, one might reasonably ask why the unions were unable to convince the departees that continued membership was worthwhile.

Perhaps, in that case, the problem is with the unions and not with the law or with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of it.

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“Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

Since I gave Greg Weiner a shout-out for his New York Times piece about what it means to be an American liberal — and since the topic is dear to my heart — I’ll give David Brooks’ take on what it means to be an American conservative equal treatment. It’s worth reading.

For my part, anyone paying attention will know that I made my choice — conservative over Republican — many years and many presidents ago…

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“When Liberals Become Progressives…”

As a rule, I’m not much inclined to use this forum merely to link to other online information sources or posts without comment. That’s what Facebook and Twitter are for; this is something else.

However, given the fact that I wrote a whole book about what it means to be a ‘Conservative’ in modern America, the question of what it means to be a ‘Liberal’ in modern America — a subject I touched on in the book but on which I claim no particular experience or expertise — is a topic I find not only interesting but critical to the future well-being of our country. I am always on the lookout for good discussions about that.

I ran across one today, written by Greg Weiner, a former aide to Senator Bob Kerry (the other Senator Kerry), and published as an OpEd in The New York Times on 13 April 2018. I highly recommend it.

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Was the American Civil War about “States’ Rights”?

As a “conservative” — and, moreover, one who leans toward the libertarian version of “conservatism” — I sometimes find myself in conversation with other libertarian-minded people who identify the Civil War as the point in American history at which the original Federalism began to jump the rails, at which the Federal government first began its evisceration of the notion that a limited Federal government had, and should have, no jurisdiction over certain activities that were and are the purview and prerogative of the individual States. In their telling of the history of that war, it was less about slavery than about the southern States’ assertion of their rights to be free of Federal restraint. And, as a result, although they genuinely celebrate the immediate outcome of that conflict — the abolition of slavery — they also lament the resulting victory of Federal authority over “states’ rights.”

Despite the belief of a great many people that such notions must grow from an underlying base of belief in white supremacy and white nationalism — and despite the fact that there are, in fact, white supremacists and white nationalists who subscribe to and promote that narrative — I generally ascribe it, among the libertarian idealists, more to an honest, if misguided, lack of historical perspective coupled to a contemporary and compelling anxiety. Chattel slavery was, after all, abolished in the United States more than 150 years ago, in law by the Emancipation Proclamation and then in practice by the surrender of the Confederacy. Jim Crow laws were abolished by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more than 50 years ago, and well over 2/3 of Americans now alive were not yet born when those laws fell. To a great many people — admittedly, people fortunate enough to be free of the ongoing yoke of discrimination in culture rather than in law — both slavery and Jim Crow feel like relics from a long-ago past, a problem already solved and well behind us. Whereas, the constraining yoke of an increasingly overweening and intrusive Federal government feels like a problem both modern and growing, a problem for today with direct and observable effects on their lives and on their futures.

Nonetheless, their sincerity does not make them right. This, then is directed to their attention and for their benefit, from one libertarian-minded conservative to another:

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Bias?

Donald Trump’s claim that judge Gonzalo Curiel’s ethnic background make him incapable of fairly adjudging the Trump University suit because of Trump’s own insulting assertions about Mexico and Mexicans is, of course, offensive on many levels.

But I find the vehemence with which his claims are denounced by the ‘liberal’ establishment a bit disingenuous. After all, isn’t what Trump is saying entirely consistent with their own official philosophy regarding race and ethnicity?

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