2008-05-02 / Columnists

The Progressive

Dead? (Part I)
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

In the past few weeks there has been discussion in the media of a survey that indicated people who identify themselves as conservative politically, view themselves as optimistic, happy and religious. (Conservatives are so optimistic they are willing to have the military stay 100 years in Iraq, because the surge is so successful.) Conservatives according to the same survey are married, have children, and have more friends. The survey went on to indicate that people who identified themselves as liberals politically view themselves as unhappy, are often divorced, less religiously attached, and pessimistic in their view of the world. No mention was made as to the methodology of the survey.

David Mamet, the famous playwright, has also written an article in the Village Voice entitled: Why I Am Not a Brain Dead Liberal." Mamet's plays are, in my opinion, pessimistic critiques of American life. I admired his skill with language. His analyses of political issues, I regret, are sophomoric and dangerous. He advocates a society where men and women live their lives with as little government activity as possible. As a former Young Republican, I also feel government activity should be limited to the necessary and essential to ensure public safety, health and essential prosperity. Mamet does not mention corporations or unions in his article.

Mamet indicates without any direction from government, the American people, through their collective selfinterest and need, will resolve social inequities through work and compromise of a personal nature. He cites, for example, immigrants that succeed in America despite considerable odds. (Often we forget immigrants and their children love and also resent America because of the necessary emotional clash of culture and tradition.) Mamet claims there are no economic class structures in the USA. Powerful rich families and their fortunates have risen and have been dissipated by their actions, according to Mamet. Facts indicate the opposite. Most of America's super wealth goes from generation to generation without much dissipation.

I find the above-mentioned survey and Mr. Mamet's essay interesting commentary, but the basic premises are faulty in view of the real nature of the conservative political philosophy in this nation. Conservatives say they believe that man is fundamentally flawed and no social reform will ultimately change the natural order of the universe. Free markets must be the catalyst to all human endeavors. Charity and philanthropic activity will ensure the poor, ill and elderly the basic needs of subsistence. Unions are an encumbrance to the market because they will not allow the market to set working conditions and remuneration. Individuals will have complete control of their lives unless this liberty conflicts with the anointed heads of the religious right that are politically connected.

Conservatives state they believe in the strict interpretation of the most important political document in the world - our constitution. Their strict interpretation of a document that is as dynamic in its brevity as to how government should function is a misreading of our history. Our constitution must always be treasured as a document that can adapt its provisions to the needs of the people of this republic. It was never meant to be written in stone. The constitution doesn't give the Supreme Court the right to declare law constitutional or not. This practice is tradition based on the precedent set by John Marshall. Many of our political processes are not part of the Constitution. Our constitution is studied all over the globe because the lack of detail makes it the most powerful and dynamic political document of mankind. Conservative leaders claim a strong belief in liberty and our Constitution, and still have no problem suspending habeas corpus, allowing harsh interrogations, allowing rendition, and not limiting corporate spying on Americans through the Internet.

Conservative politicians profess a belief in democracy here and overseas. At the same time, they refuse to accept election results in the Near East, support voter suppression at home, and are hostile to union representation for American workers despite polls that indicate most American desire collective union representation.

We all know that our personal liberty is in conflict with the needs of the group. Individual liberty and freedom to choose and keep the rewards of our labor are always desirable. All Americans appear to agree to this political philosophy. Unfortunately, our postindustrial society is too complex and competitive to permit this without competing forces to restrain the natural greed and selfish human tendencies. Right wing political philosophy is a smokescreen for corporate supremacy over consumer interests, labor interests, and movements for justice and the end of social and racial barriers. If the free market is supreme and failure part of the system, why are corporations and financial institutions given subsidies, bailouts, and the freedom to lobby governments? I label myself progressive because the word liberal has almost become a curse word and I identify with the progressive period of American history. Some equate the word liberal with a naive view of people and with a belief in government intervention in every aspect of life. In my opinion liberals saved the free market system by recognizing the defects of unrestrained capitalism. This is why unemployment insurance and social security are so popular with the American people. We all surrender some personal and political liberty for security and safety. This is why we allow ourselves to be taxed, follow traffic signs and lights, do not shout fire in crowded theaters, allow our children to be drafted, etc. Government can be a tool for the economic security of the nation and does not have to be the master of our fate. Liberals are optimistic. They believe reform can mitigate some of the insecurities of life. Liberals believe in justice and not charity that belittles the dignity of the less fortunate. What does the Conservative philosophy give the less fortunate except the promise that growth will, in the future, resolve inequity? Charity is often humiliating.

In two weeks, what liberals believe.

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