‘Ideas Matter,’ and other stuff

Sorry I haven’t had time to post anything new today. As I prepared to do so, I read over the responses to my Sunday column and thought it was a conversation — or perhaps I should say, several conversations — worth continuing. There is much I could add by way of explanation to what I was saying in the Sunday piece — so much that I hardly know where to start.

Fortunately, your comments give me several starting points. So let’s address a few of these questions that go to the heart of the UnParty and what it’s all about:

Doug Ross: So when McCain rails against Democrats and Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama in the coming months (as he has already done repeatedly in the Republican debates), we can expect you to pull your endorsement?
Me: No, of course not. We’ve endorsed both McCain and Obama. If they are both the nominees, we expect each to compete strongly, each trying to convince us that he’s better than the other guy. This will be a great thing for the country, as it would be a choice between good and better, rather that the usual "bad or worse" choice that the parties give us.
If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, even less so. I would expect almost every day of that campaign would make me gladder and gladder that we endorsed McCain.

dave faust: Ideas matter.
And as long as there are competing ideas that can’t really co-exist with one another if implemented, there will be the ‘dreaded scourge’ of partisanship (which I happen to think is a good thing)… I agree with you that it’s sad that american politics have degenerated into the name-calling us/them mess it is today, but at the heart of it all is an elemental debate about ideas that are often mutually exclusive….
Me: Yes, absolutely! Ideas matter! That’s why parties are such a destructive force. The two political parties are coagulations of ideas and impulses that have little to do with each other. They are not coherent. People who think war is never the answer make common cause with, say, people who think partial-birth abortions should be federally funded EVEN THOUGH THOSE IDEAS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH EACH OTHER. Meanwhile, folks who despise ‘amnesty’ in immigration and want less permeable borders form common cause with people who believe there must never be a new tax for any reason at any time — again,  EVEN THOUGH THOSE IDEAS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH EACH OTHER (and can even directly conflict, as when you have to grow government to shut down your border).
Now that’s fine that these people want to associate freely, and form alliances for the purposes of getting candidates elected. The problem is when these alliances cease to be ad hoc — when the alliance itself becomes the overriding thing. Then, the IDEAS are ill-served. The parties, by demanding orthodoxy and loyalty, encourage adherents to be intellectually dishonest. If the anti-war person hears a good idea for ending war from someone who wants to strengthen borders, THEY should form an alliance for the purpose of getting that goal done. (We have seen this among Ron Paul supporters, but because he IS iconoclastic, he never had a prayer of getting the party’s nomination.) The anti-war person shouldn’t be held back because securing borders is seen as "conservative," or "a Republican idea."
Think about it: Both liberals who want to raise wages and improve working conditions, and conservatives who want… to put it the way they would, "want to enforce the law," or protect their culture, or whatever … could probably have shut down the borders a while back, but party boundaries have prevented them from thinking of working together.
Alliances that should be provisional and ad hoc — such as a tax-hater joining with a moral authoritarian — and formed around specific bills or proposals become something bigger than the ideas.
So it is that when McCain and the others in the Gang of 14 make a deal that results in seating conservative judges who would otherwise have been held up, GOP "conservatives" hate McCain because he worked with Democrats to do it! And so forth…

weldon VII: So, Brad, instead of the Left fighting the Right, you see the parties fighting the Unparty as the meaningful struggle?
Pot, meet kettle.
Me: I offer the alternative, and get caught in the crossfire, because Left and Right don’t want there to be an alternative. So that leads me to conclude that the real split is between the left and right orthodoxies on the one hand, and those of us who want to chuck their whole silly game on the other. Hence my column. Hell, I don’t want to fight. But I’m certainly not going to sit still for their foolishness.

Richard L. Wolfe: I wonder if those in the press who so gleefully backed McCain will stay the course if young Obama is the opponent?
Me: Yes. Absolutely. We will "stay the course" of liking both, and may the better of two fine candidates win! What’s so hard to understand about this? I’ll tell you — your thinking is canalized to the point that you simply can’t understand the simple fact that a reasonable person could like both of these guys. You think it has to be either-or, but it doesn’t. Sure, only one can be president, but you don’t have to dislike one to like the other.

bud: As I’ve said on a number of occasions I don’t find partisanship necessarily a bad thing. We’re all partisan for the causes we support. And that includes Brad, whose brand of big-government partisanship is just as strident as those of us on either the left or right. So rather than fight it, let’s embrace our nation as one of partisans.
Me: bud has always had trouble understanding what I’m talking about when I decry partisanship. Read what I said to dave above. People should fight for an idea. What they should NOT fight for is a TEAM that may agree with them on one issue, but not on a host of others. A person who truly THINKS about ideas will agree with Democrats on some things, and with Republicans on others. It’s when you choose sides and stick to it that ideas start to be undermined.

H.M. Murdock: The Gingrich-led Republicans started the current rift in American politics during the early 90’s, as the GOP repeatedly attempted to embarrass or demean the Clintons over issues that had nothing to do with public policy or running the country–Nannygate, Travelgate, Whitewater, Jennifer Flowers, Vince Foster, Monica, etc.
The public still is paying the price for the GOP’s scorched earth policy against the Clintons and the Dems. Swiftboating now is expected, tolerated, and even admired by some kooks who would rather win a political argument than advance the best interests of the country.
Me: You’re missing the fact that to Republicans, Democrats started all the "-gate" stuff, with "Water-" and "Iran-". So they wanted to get the Dems back for those. And once again, this is the problem with parties. There’s no reason that a person outraged over Watergate wouldn’t also be outraged over Whitewater. Nor should a political label require you to be outraged over any two of the things that your party has taken on as a cause. As for "Swiftboating" — I need to do a separate post on that. It’s come to be freighted with meaning among Democrats that I’m not sure the invented verb sustains well.

bud: I’m going to step outside the subject area to relate a story about the free-market and how unscrupulous businesses can be….
Me: Thanks, bud. You’re making my point for me. I’m always saying that my own experience causes me to have no more faith in large private organizations than in government. This is why I argue so vehemently with the people who think the public sector is always inefficient, bureaucratic and wasteful and that the private sector is always better. Life experiences don’t bear this out. People just know more about the public stupidities and waste because they’re public. When I express ideas based on these life experiences, bud calls me a "big government guy." Truth is, I just don’t see that the private sector is better, and therefore I’m not dismissive of the government trying to address problems.

I realize those answers may be too stream-of-consciousness to make complete sense, but I wanted to hold up my end of the conversation, and only had minutes to do so. Gotta run. I’m sure we’ll revisit all these topics.

24 thoughts on “‘Ideas Matter,’ and other stuff

  1. Doug Ross

    If the government performs inefficiently, where do I go to choose something else? At least Bud can choose to not spend his money at the restaurant that hosed him. That’s the beauty of the free market private sector that you don’t seem to grasp. There is no such thing as a lousy government agency going out of business.
    Social Security is a bad idea which is also poorly implemented. All I want is the option to be responsible for my own “social security”. Why can’t I do that?

  2. Herb Brasher

    Because Doug, there is more involved in this than just your own personal freedom. That is one part of the equation. The other is corporate responsibility, and the two have to be kept in balance. You want to leave the good of those who are down and out up to your own personal goodness. That would be fine, if everyone were good, loving people. The fact is, most people are self-centered, which is why there have to be checks and balances on both sides.
    My Dad worked his way up from poor circumstances in New Mexico, and always supported personal freedom and hard work. But he also supported FDR with his whole heart. He understood both sides, and even though he never voted for a Democrat after FDR, he called himself one the rest of his life.

  3. Lee Muller

    Where are the checks and balances on the self-centered politicians and bureaucrats who call themselves “the government”?
    This notion that the legal system is supposed to “balance” outcomes is nonsense, put out to create smoke and fuzzy thinking, to replace concrete ideas about the basic human right to enjoy the wealth you produce.
    The free market assumes everyone acts selfishly most of the time, and it rewards enlightened selfish actions which are peaceful and consentual.
    Only the most naive persons still believe that Social Security exists to protect those who pay taxes into the system. It is a welfare program which robs productive workers of the savings that would make most of them wealthy.

  4. Richard L. Wolfe

    Since you are supporting McCain and Obama do you care to share with your loyal bloggers how to vote twice in November? Also, how does the Unparty plan to deal with abortion, school prayer and other unconstitutional laws?

  5. Doug Ross

    Okay, Herb, how does the DMV fit into your world view? When I get treated rudely by the front desk person down there, what do I do?
    And if my kids were in a lousy school, my only alternative would be to pay even more out of pocket while continuing to pay taxes for the lousy school. Because there is no choice (Thanks, Brad!)
    And when the TSA guy at the airport tells me that my four ounce shaving cream tube threatens our national security, what other option do I have?
    And when I have a pothole at the end of my street and call the highway department to come fill it, who do I complain to when it takes six weeks to get the 15 minute job done?
    My self-interest regarding Social Security would in fact work out best for EVERYONE. How many of us would prefer 10% of our hard earned wages going into an account that we (and our heirs) own versus an empty promise of a check from the government every month from the time we retire until we die? And then you get ZERO if you die before age 65? Only an idiot or a moocher would choose the latter.

  6. Lee Muller

    It takes too much effort to focus on ideas (ideology), so some people want a buffet style issue-oriented campaign, where they can focus on a few issues important to themselves. Of course, they are not selfish, you understand.
    At the bottom rung of politics is the personality follower, who hates all this idea and issue stuff, and focuses on who makes them feel good. Promising tax “rebates” and other goodies while promising to balance the budget is all good. Without ideas, there are no contradictions.

  7. Herb Brasher

    Where are the checks and balances on the self-centered politicians and bureaucrats who call themselves “the government”?

    In this country, the checks and balances are called elections. Also, “we the people” is the government of the U.S. It isn’t us against them.

    . . . put out to create smoke and fuzzy thinking,

    You mean to hold back ruthless people from creating monopolies and power structures that benefit only themselves.

    . . . it rewards enlightened selfish actions which are peaceful and consentual.

    You mean actions which benefit those who can amass more and more power and wealth, ultimately to the exclusion of everyone else.
    Your system works fine, Lee, as long as you stay healthy, are lucky at the right times, and trample on others when need be. For those who don’t quite make it, even if they try hard, well tough luck. The person whose health insurance is dropped by the company because she got cancer and cost too much, well too bad. After all, those who amassed the wealth (the insurance company executives) are in charge. Theirs are the enlightened, selfish actions that win the day. Nice.

  8. Herb Brasher

    Not to construe my words to tar and feather all insurance companies. I have had the blessing of good ones who have been very helpful, including the American — and oh those German, socialist ones who are really baaaaadddd, according to Lee, who leave the weak out to die, of course. But the truth is that without government regulations, the weak are often left to die.

  9. Lee Muller

    Hate, envy, jealousy…those are the sins which motivate most of the political sentiments which call themselves “reform”, “progressive”, and “liberal”.
    Someone else’s success rarely comes at the expense of someone else, in a modern market economy. Yet many people still cling to Old World notions that wealth is finite, and acquiring wealth is a zero-sum game that makes someone else poor.
    Populist charlatansn promote and prey upon this ignorant class hatred.

  10. Herb Brasher

    Okay, Herb, how does the DMV fit into your world view? When I get treated rudely by the front desk person down there, what do I do?

    What do you want, Doug, no DMV? No licenses, I suppose? Everyone just drives an unregistered, uninsured vehicle, because after all, it’s my freedom? Surely not? One thing I’ve tried is being nice and respectful to people, and thankful for the work they do, and you know what, I have yet to meet the sort of person you’re talking about at the DMV—and I’ve been in there a lot. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I don’t go in there assuming that government employees are nasty bureaucrats who hate my guts.

    And if my kids were in a lousy school, my only alternative would be to pay even more out of pocket while continuing to pay taxes for the lousy school. Because there is no choice (Thanks, Brad!)

    No, your alternative might be to get involved in the PTA and local school, and push for changes. My wife and I stayed on parental boards, etc., the whole time our kids were in school, and there were no alternatives in Germany, either. Some of the teachers rolled their eyes every time they saw me coming, but we kept it up. For 18 long years, we kept it up. And we met a lot of people, and had a lot of life experiences along the way. Of course we didn’t get anything like all what we wanted, but our kids learned through it, and I don’t think their education was hampered by the ideas they had to confront, nor the kids they had to live with. Our son fought some battles on the school bus, and we got into those issues, too, but he learned to fight—clean, that is.

    And when the TSA guy at the airport tells me that my four ounce shaving cream tube threatens our national security, what other option do I have?

    Try a little humor, it goes a long way.

    And when I have a pothole at the end of my street and call the highway department to come fill it, who do I complain to when it takes six weeks to get the 15 minute job done?

    Maybe living next to the East German border for some years cured me of the demand for instant gratification a bit. Man, you don’t have much patience, do you?

    My self-interest regarding Social Security would in fact work out best for EVERYONE. How many of us would prefer 10% of our hard earned wages going into an account that we (and our heirs) own versus an empty promise of a check from the government every month from the time we retire until we die? And then you get ZERO if you die before age 65? Onl

    I’m not so sure, but I’ll let smarter heads weigh in on that one. I just know I’ve had some relatives with difficult sicknesses and health issues that were not of their own making, who sure did appreciate Social security.

  11. Lee Muller

    After Social Security taxes leave workers with no savings, some feel grateful for a meager Social Security welfare check … just as their socialist masters intended.

  12. Herb Brasher

    Well, whatever, Lee. I’m just glad I don’t have to fall back on your compassionate understanding. Truth is, Social Security is not going away, so don’t worry too much, it’s bad for your health, and your system only ultimately works when you stay healthy.

  13. weldon VII

    “I offer the alternative, and get caught in the crossfire.”
    No, Brad, you offer the same old same old, using different terminology.
    Left vs. right, party vs. unparty, it’s all the same thing.
    There is no way to “chuck the whole silly game.”
    So errant is your thinking that your party, the editorial board, has endorsed both the most liberal candidate in the race and a war hero who claims to be a conservative. Their positions on the various issues coincide almost nowhere.
    But either would make a fine leader, you think, because either would ignore party to find solutions.
    What makes that kind of hypocrisy tolerable, when a candidate seeks the nomination of a party but is willing to ignore its platform for the sake of creating law?
    The battle would still be left vs. right, anyway, with gridlock benefiting libertarian concerns and any bevy of bipartisan bill-passing necessarily fueling the interests of the left.
    Every law that’s passed costs us more money, and the kind of stuff you preach here, single-payer universal health care and $2 per gallon gasoline tax, would bankrupt us.
    I get tired of saying the same thing over and over again, but as long as you keep saying the same old thing, I have to.
    It’s no coincidence that most of the anti-partisans here come to the party through the door on the left.

  14. Steve Gordy

    Herb, you should know that an argument (not necessarily a reasoned argument) is what some bloggers want. Social Security is a bogeyman; mandatory participation in no way excludes private savings and investment. As for intrusive government power, we’ve seen it reach new heights in the last seven years; but not to worry, it’s for a good cause.

  15. Herb Brasher

    Yep, Steve, you are saying basically the same thing as Karen in the last thread.
    But sometimes it is perhaps useful to point out the danger of what seems to basically amount to selfishness in its various forms, as illustrated by Michael Gerson:

    Second, some conservatives expected the Republican nominee to play down Bush’s foreign policy idealism and focus narrowly on direct American interests. Bush’s democracy agenda was criticized by some traditionalists and realists as “utopian Wilsonianism” and “as un-conservative as it can be.” Fred Thompson attempted to curry conservative favor in South Carolina by deriding Bush’s increases in global AIDS funding as a diversion from real American needs.

    I guess what I am hoping for is that those who are able to learn from what is going on will do so.

  16. bud

    Doug Ross, you are correct when you say I can vote with my feet and patronize a different restaraunt. After calming down a bit I understand that the restaraunt business works well in the free market. Other than regulating the cleanliness of the various eateries, inspecting meat and a few other things that the free-market is ill-suited for I say let the market rule in the restaraunt world. A few bad experiences like mine should take care of most lousy restaraunts quickly.
    But there are other areas that don’t work particularly well in the market because there just aren’t a great deal of choices. Or, in the case of cigarettes, the industry simply diseminates dishonesty in it’s zeal to win new customers. Only when the government became actively involved in the tobacco industry did acurate information become available so that consumers could make informed choices. Only after government began to regulate where cigarettes could be consumed did the spillover effect from smoke get addressed.
    Let’s not throw out the free-market because it does work to make our economy function well. But let’s not ignore the significant shortcomings of an unfettered market to the point that we let it run ruffshod over the lives and health of the American people.

  17. bud

    Brad, I cannot let you get away with your response to Mr. Murdock. Comparing Watergate to Whitewater is absurd. Watergate was a pre-meditated break-in by a few REPUBLICAN thugs hoping to gain an advantage in the 1972 election. The president was actively involved in the cover-up of that criminal act. These events were proven beyond a reasonable doubt and president Nixon was forced to resign as a result.
    Whitewater was nothing more than a poorly run real-estate development that cost the Clintons a substantial amount of money. There was some criminal activity committed by folks OTHER THAN THE CLINTONS and after a very lengthy and expensive investigation by 2 Republican investigators the Clintons were CLEARED of any wrong doing. (Bill Clinton’s only crime was lying to a grand jury in a matter completely unrelated to Whitewater).
    Brad, you disappoint me with these comparisons that are just not balanced. You compared Ann Coulter to Paul Krugman even though the two are completely different in their tone, credentials and the facts they present. Then you compare two “scandals” that have absolutely nothing in common. One involved the resignation of a president, the other resulted in the exoneration of a president. Please try to be more careful with the comparisons you make in the future. When you do this it undercuts your credibility.

  18. Lee Muller

    Whitewater was part of a larger bank fraud which closed a bank and cost investors and taxpayers $61,000,000. Hillary Clinton, Webster Hubbel, and Vince Foster handled the case. A federal prosecutor referred the investigation of those lawyers and the bank officers to a federal grand jury in 1992, but the prosecutor was fired by President Clinton as soon as he sobered up his first afternoon in office.
    Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, a welfare program masquerading as a retirement plan. It destroys real retirement alternatives by taking 15.3% from working people which they no longer have available to save for themselves.

  19. weldon VII

    Why do you suppose bad things keep happening around the Clintons?
    If you and I had lied to a grand jury, what would have happened to us?
    Now that Maggie Williams is managing Hillary’s campaign, do you think she’ll finally come clean about the documents she took out of Vince Foster’s office?
    Think Hillary’s No. 1 on Judicial Watch’s list of Washington’s most corrupt politicians, two spots ahead of Larry Craig — by accident?

  20. Doug Ross

    I’m wondering what compromises Brad and Herb would be willing to make on the subject of the government’s role in either funding or criminalizing abortion?
    If you disagree with Roe v. Wade and wish to see it overturned, I find it difficult to understand how pursuing a change in the abortion laws is any different than my interest in seeing the Social Security system dismantled?
    I’ve stated before that I would be willing to compromise in on privatizing Social Security in two ways: 1) give up all rights to past money paid into the system and b) contribute 5% of the current 15% into a welfare system for widows, orphans, and the disabled.
    Would you expect to see those opposed to abortion to compromise on that issue?

  21. Lee Muller

    How could anyone with good intentions object to letting workers keep and invest the 15.3% of their gross income which is now being taken and spent every week to finance budget deficit spending?

  22. Herb Brasher

    Doug, your suggestion for Social Security may be a good start, though I doubt it will be too acceptable to lower income people, including ministers and other workers for non-profits like myself, whose 15.3% over the years (of course it didn’t use to be as much as that) wasn’t much in amount, but bit pretty hard into our income, nonetheless. Still, it forced us to save at a time when, with raising four kids, we probably wouldn’t have done so otherwise. Forfeiting what we paid in all those years, even though the result is not enough to live on, would be tough. Of course it helps if my wife has something to fall back on as a widow, so as I say, your ideas might be a start.
    But I must admit that I never begrudged paying into the system when I saw that some of my relatives whose children were hit with retinitispigmentosa were still able to function as adults, get seeing-eye dogs, etc., because of Social Security payments. It isn’t a perfect system, but it helps protect the weak. Maybe it helps protect the lazy as well, as Lee claims, but I’m not so sure about that. Our whole economy is built on spending, not saving, and the pressure is massive to max out all the credit one can get. I was fortunate to have parents who instilled in me the principle that, if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it, but not everyone has had that kind of upbringing. Forcing people to save something seems to me to be a valuable tool, and S.S. does that.
    As far as Roe v. Wade, I suspect we would really be doing good to get a ban on abortions in the 3rd trimester. I don’t understand why that wouldn’t be acceptable to everybody, since it seems ridiculous for medical science to be able to keep a baby alive after the 28th week, but having them killed at the same age. Another idea that is anathema to the “pro-choice” people (no choice for the children involved) is mandatory counseling that lays out alternatives, but that would be a worthy cause to push for, and might be adaptable at the federal level at some point.
    Given the current climate, I would seriously doubt that anything more is feasible at the federal level, as horrible as abortion is. I would imagine that you would say that any civilized society restricts the individual’s freedom when the choice would harm an innocent person, and I would agree. But I’m kind of thinking that it is going to have to be women who lead the way on this one, and probably at the local and state level.
    I must admit that I don’t see much point in criminalizing women in order to enforce the law. Criminalize the doctors who do it, yes–and maybe even the husbands or boy friends who push for it (I don’t know how that could be done, but it’s worth looking into), but let’s don’t fill up our already overflowing prisons with women who are generally at a disadvantage in our society.

  23. Lee Muller

    Social Security only protects those who don’t work. Anyone who works and pays taxes would be better off having the 15.3% of their wages to invest in retirement, rather than used by Social Security to finance current deficit spending on other social programs.
    Social Security is bankrupt.
    It is best to phase it out as soon as possible.
    The state and federal retirement systems are also backrupt. They need to divide the cash assets among the workers and let them go start a real retirement plan.

  24. Lee Muller

    A common misunderstanding is evidenced by Herb Brasher, that “Social Security forces people to save money.”
    Social Security is a tax.
    There are no savings accounts.
    All the money is spent on current checks to old people or lent to finance deficit spending.
    Social Security is a welfare program, not a retirement system. The Supreme Court has ruled that, and that no one is entitled do one red cent. And the system is bankrupt.


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