This is an odd position for me to be in. I’ve never considered myself liberal; back in California I thought of myself as a Republican of the libertarian variety. The Democrats holding power in California stand for nothing more than their own personal self-aggrandizement, needlessly increasing the size of an overly bureaucratic, expensive and burdensome state government, and putting a friendly liberal set of clothes on what would otherwise have been naked corruption. So naturally I was repelled by them. I expected the Democrats here to be the same, and I was not disapointed. But I also look at the Republicans nationally as well as here in Tennessee, and I find that kind of attitude to be shared on a very bipartisan basis.
I was registered as a Republican in California. Voter registration here in Tennessee is nonpartisan so no one is a “member” of any party by anything other than self-identification; I am just a voter, not a registered Democrat or a registered Republican. So I look around the political landscape and compare what I see to what I believe to be the proper resolution of various issues. Here are my political beliefs on some of the major issues of our time:
Iraq: When the Second Gulf War started more than two years ago, I couldn’t see a downside to removing Saddam Hussein from power. I still think the opportunities we have opened up for our country and for the region are tremendous, but I am very frustrated with the slow progress of building a democracy and the steady drumbeat of violence costing both military and civilian lives. It turns out that there were no WMD’s, only a generalized capability to build them and I resent being sold a bill of goods about that subject. But that’s in the past, and when you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. Now I say we need to stick around and make sure the job gets done right. Besides, I also understand that the overwhelming reason for deposing Saddam and creating a friendly democratic government there was not to let the President exact personal revenge for the assassination attempt on his father (President Clinton did that), nor was it to grab oil for ourselves (as it turns out, we were buying that oil all along, thanks to Kojo Annan), nor was it to provide an opportunity for Dick Cheney’s corporate friends to get really rich (they already were). The ultimate reason was strategic – it provides the U.S. with a strategic location from which to readily project its force in an area of the world where that projection is anticipated to be needed in the future. So we’re never going to leave Iraq because the point of our going there was to stay.
Military: When both considering and when disregarding our national adventure in Iraq, I am in favor of a strong, aggressive military as better able to protect our interests than a smaller, more defensively-oriented military. If there is a real threat to the United States, I expect the military to contain or destroy that threat. This is closer to the rhetoric of the GOP than that of the party of Jefferson and Jackson; but since taking power, the Republicans have done little to rebuild the military that eviscerated under President Clinton.
Taxes: I would rather pay less than more; I accept that I must pay some. But if I am serious about wanting to pay less taxes, I must be willing to accept less government. This second part of the bargain is unpalatable to most people and both political parties, although the truth is that I prefer less government. In the past, when I identified with the Republicans more, they were the “small government” party. Now, however, George W. Bush has presided over an astonishing increase in the size of the government, in terms of both its heavy foot on our liberties and its financial drag on the economy. But I can hardly turn to the Democrats and hope for a tax cut. So I don’t know where to go on this issue any more.
Budget: The national budget should be balanced, or at a surplus, and the surplus should be used to buy back outstanding debt. That necessarily means having a government that does less rather than more. As the facts demonstrate, neither party wants this. Amazingly, we had something that could credibly be called a balanced budget under Clinton, whose instincts were obviously solidly in the “tax-and-spend” school of Keynesian economics. Clinton was aided by extraordinarily good economic conditions during the early and middle 1990’s, which do not seem likely to be repeated. No Democrat on the horizon promises fiscal restraint, and the Bush Administration has demonstrated that Republicans have also lost interest in fiscal restraint. So again, I am politically homeless on this issue.
Environment: Only the government can effectively police and protect the environment. It should not do so at the expense of economic development, but ultimately I think it is a false choice between a robust economy and and a clean environment. The best thing the government can do is encourage technological innovation and scientific research. The Democrats seem closer to my position here, but they seem to be largely abandoning their prior commitment to preserving the environment.
Abortion: I am pro-choice. Democrats mostly are pro-choice; Republicans mostly are pro-life or at least do their damnedest to project that image. Yes, there are exceptions to these characterizations of both parties. On a related note, I am also in favor of euthanasia and other forms of mercy killings, if there are appropriate safeguards put in place to ensure that the decision is really congruent with the true wishes of the person to die. The recent circus over Terry Schiavo only reinforces how appalled I am that the extraordinarily disgraceful ways that our society refuses to acknowledge that death exists. For myself, I do not want to carry on life if I am in a non-revivable state or if I have suffered significant enough loss of brain function that I am no longer able to recognize the people I love or form intelligent thoughts. I trust The Wife to make decisions for me in that regard if I am incapacitated and unable to make those sorts of decisions for myself.
Capital Punishment: I am in favor of it. The Constitution authorizes it, provided certain procedural safeguards are met. Let’s just be really damn sure that before we kill someone, they really are guilty of the crime for which they are being punished. That’s what due process is all about. It needs to be meaningful, unbiased, sober, and calculated to encourage a search for the truth.
Education: (a) It should be handled at the state level as there is no Federal interest in education. The Federal Department of Education is a waste of money and we could get by just fine without it. States, however, need to do a much better job of educating their children. (b) There should be more, not less, standardized testing, and the testing should be better than what it is currently. Yes, standardized testing does not evaluate the “complete student.” Yes, it does encourage “teaching to the test.” But if the test evaluates a student’s knowledge of the facts and information that the school is trying to convey in the first place, then “teaching to the test” accomplishes the goals of education. (c) I read college students’ writing when I teach my online class in business law, and the writing quality is atrocious, although perhaps not always as bad as the referenced paper. This needs to end. So I am singularly unimpressed with all of last year’s hand-wringing about an essay being added to the SAT. Good writing skills are something that schools should be teaching their students and this is apparently not happening. So it’s high time we test for it because that seems to be the only way that students will be taught or will learn these skills. (d) "“Creation science" is religion and not science, and “intelligent design" is religion masquerading as science. Neither should be taught in the public schools at all. Real evolution, on the other hand, is science, and should be taught to all students along with a solid understanding of what the scientific method is and what it can and cannot do. (e) English should be taught to everyone from an early age. So should Spanish. Looking ahead to our country’s economic and military future, I think we probably also ought to be teaching a lot more Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin than we are now. (f) School vouchers are in theory a good idea but I fear that they will lend themselves easily to corruption, and the kids will wind up the losers for it. So where am I on the political spectrum here? Neither party fits my views on education very nicely. I like that the President and his Republican minions have emphasized education and standardized testing, but I really dislike their aggressiveness to channel tax money to religious institutions through vouchers, and to teach religion in biology class. Democrats, almost uniformly, want to simply throw money at our failing public schools in the hopes that if they do more of what they are doing, somehow they’ll stop doing it wrong. Again, I am politically homeless.
Globalism: I am in favor of it. Globalism means lower international trade barriers, increased economic activity for all trading partners, and greater military stability caused by closer economic ties between nations. It does not mean a degraded environment, it does not mean a loss of national autonomy, it does not mean a loss of jobs in the U.S. because other countries are better at certain things than we are. We have had free trade with Canada for years and the idea of a war between the U.S. and Canada is laughable today. I dream of a day when the same can be said of any two nations. Both parties seem mostly in favor of expanding global trade, so that’s a wash.
United Nations: I am mildly against it. It’s a largely useless, hugely corrupt, symbolically overimportant, and fortunately mostly harmless waste of diplomatic energy. A nice idea, but a tremendously ineffective institution. I guess that puts me closer to the Republican school of thought than the Democrats’ but Bush's nominee for our ambassador to the United Nations to try and stand for a voice of reform in this institution has an astonishingly poor track record of diplomacy with respect to the U.N., and it seems to me that a diplomat ought to be capable of credible diplomacy.
Equality: Taking our commitment to equality seriously means really treating people equally unless there’s a good reason not to. At the end of the day, affirmative action does not do this; while it is well-intentioned, it nevertheless treats people differently and I have never been convinced that remedying the effects of past discrimination is a good enough reason to justify present discrimination. However, anyone who thinks that we live in a society where racial minorities actually have a leg up on things is living in Bizarro World. A move to the South was not necessary to convince me that there is still a lot of discrimination by white people with power and money against people of color. The same thing is true for those who think Christians are routinely oppressed by non-Christians. I think the most effective way of fighting this in the long run is to have people exist, live, and work alongside different kinds of people as peers, but the process takes generations and some people need to have their asses kicked in order to be shown the wrongness of their ways before their attitudes will change. So for the foreseeable future, when discrimination does happen, our civil rights laws should be aggressively enforced.
Judicial Activism: Judges make law. They’ve been making law for an entire millennium of Anglo-American jurisprudence – it’s called “common law” and it is the foundation for our court system. There’s no reason for them to stop the common law process now, even if some judges make controversial decisions on some cases, virtually all of which seem to have something to do with the issue of human sexuality one way or another. Somehow, a free society, a republican form of government, and the democratic decision-making structure has survived judges doing politically unpopular things for the more than two hundred years since Marbury v. Madison. Judges are supposed to be able to do what’s right but politically unpopular – that’s why they’re not elected and have lifetime appointments. My personal experience of working in the courts is that an independent judiciary does not leap at the opportunity to impose its own policy judgments against the will of the people, but rather that it is very careful in its efforts to interpret and apply the Constitution and the complex legal environment that has been created under that Constitution. I believe the U.S. Constitution is the most sophisticated and successful political balancing act yet written and that it is dedicated to the proposition as between the government and the individual, the primary and overriding raison d’etre of the government is to guarantee the freedom of citizens. In that system, judiciary should be a body of powerful sentinels, ever vigilant against the encroachment of the government’s exercise of power against the freedom of the individual.
So I'm not much of a liberal, by any stretch of the imagination. But I'm also finding that I'm not much of a Republican, either. I haven't left the Republican party -- the Republican party is leaving me. There are no credible voices on the political scene today espousing practical libertarianism.