This post is excerpted from a thread dated 10/6/2002. Based upon many of the continuing explorations of political ideology and parties here, I thought it would be relevant to repost it here now. MBM
I'll try to be brief, though it won't seem like it! To make the most sense I'll also provide a brief explanation of my role of government before elaborating on the conservative - liberal dynamic.
The Role of The Federal Government
The Federal Governement should have two primary driving factors from which the vast majority of its activities should flow: 1) maximizing the prudent growth of the economy, and 2) providing a minimum "safety net" for the least fortunate of Americans.
Explanation: As we are a capitalist nation, the functioning of our economy naturally forms the foundation of our society. From a robust economy, comes all manner of positive things in the way of more jobs, greater consumer spending, a higher savings rate etc. - all which generally keep the country headed in the right direction. Growing economies permit people to afford everything from good quality health care and education, to homes, automobiles, and other consumer goods. It allows them to finance their retirement comfortably and pass along wealth to future generations. The symbiotic relationship that non-inflationary, high growth economic policy creates between business and consumers is profound and fundamental to the American Way of Life. It should be the government's responsibility to utilize its power to do those things, both domestically and abroad, to aggressively stimulate the growth and health of our economy.
The societal "cost" of government economic stimulation (NOT MANAGEMENT) is that we guarantee a minimum level of existence for all Americans. We create the platform that stimulates greater (with no limits) personal wealth and accumulation, but we also ensure that the weakest of Americans are not completely ignored. Essentially, the government creates the mechanism for all Americans to be on the 'Gravy Train', and there is help for those that fall through the cracks.
This philosophy is based upon a realistic view of Americans in a consumption-driven economic system. I believe that most healthy Americans will always both strive to be the best they can be, but also endeavor to always have more for themselves and their families. I believe that Americans are socialized to strive to always achieve more, to provide the best for their families, and to seize opportunity when it presents itself. The government "floor" is a safety net that prevents those who (for whatever reason) cannot meaningfully participate in the American Way to live in dignity.
Are there people that abuse the system and only aspire to live off the government? Sure? Is this the vast minority of the cases though? Absolutely; and IMO policy should not be built on these exceptions.
Government Activism: In a capitalist economy the profit motive is such that (as we have seen recently) people are sometimes apt to do things in the interests of personal greed that can have the negative effect of hurting the average citizen. The Federal Government should be active in ensuring that while those on top are encouraged to do more to create wealth and net worth through economic/entrepreneurial growth, that the common person is not harmed by those actions.
So, economic growth and a human "safety net". We grow the economy. We invest in Americans to provide the best (most healthy, best educated, etc.) work force in the world. That means we are much more aggressive about creating better quality public schools, education, and training for Americans. We are more agressive about ensuring adequate health care to all. etc. There is also a measure of national pride that prevents me from turning away from the fact that we have deep pockets of poverty and poor health here. Someone important in history once said that we are only as strong as our weakest link. I agree. It bothers me that we do not lead the world in indices of literacy, infant mortality, life expectancy etc. Under the guise of creating the best work force in the world, I believe in investing in things that help people be the best they can be - whatever that is.
Foreign policy and national security are evaluated against this filter as well. We do not export democracy just for the sake of spreading ideology. I believe in the fundamental right of people all over the world to self determination. Now - in the interest of creating new markets for American business we "invest" in all manner of international governments, but creating economic opportunity must be the guiding principle behind the actions. I look at foreign countries like investing in stocks - investment decisions are based upon where the greatest returns can be found. BTW - to this point - the continent of Africa would be a primary investment focal point. There is extraordinary opportunity to stimulate economic growth and wealth (for us and them) by investing there.
Democrats and Republicans; Conservatives and Liberals
I have to provide my understanding of the foundations of conservative and liberal political thought to explain why I believe what I do. This is not meant to be judgemental in any way - just an explanation of the genesis of my personal thinking. Also, I believe people choose to be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, based upon either of two factors: self interest and ideology.
I do believe that our two parties break largely along economic lines. I believe that conservatives are generally the party of the "haves", and that liberals are the party of the "have nots". My understanding of conservatism is that it is predicated largely upon preserving things: institutions, policies, programs, personal interests etc. People that have already accumulated wealth and priviledge naturally are interested in preserving what they have. Hence, the interest in smaller government with less intrusion in the form of both taxes and policy. If I were white, wealthy, older, and not particularly moved by ideology of any kind, my default would be to be conservative.
Here's my analogy for conservatism: Dean Smith's "Four Corners" offense. Before the shot clock, Dean used to get leads on teams and then spread the offense out and purposefully pass the ball back and forth (without looking to score) with the sole purpose of running the clock down and not allowing the other team opportunities to score. He understood that you could just as effectively get a "W" by winning 30 - 20, as by winning 75-70. One way of looking at this is that he brilliantly exploited the rules to his favor and won lots of games as a result. Another way is that Dean exploited a loop hole in the rules and bastardized the spirit of the game just for the sake of a victory.
Conservative idelogy, IMO, is similar in that, through various means, conservatives have acheived a "lead" in American society and now naturally want to do things to preserve that lead. Unfortunately, these actions have the impact, often times, of limiting opportunity for others. In our often times 'zero-sum' economy, reducing government programs that create opportunity for others is a means to do that. Reducing taxes not only lessens the amount taken, it also limits the resources to fund government programs that might somehow take from them as well. They are obviously conservative because it meets their personal interests to retain/preserve their personal way of life.
(Back to the hoop analogy, the NCAA changing the rules and introducing a shot clock is like establishing laws creating opportunities for others. While Carolina fans, I'm sure, saw it as patently unfair, changing the rules levels the playing field and creates a better, more fair game for all.)
Liberals, on the other hand, are largely coming from the position of being "have nots". Therefore, to them, change and an active government assisting them in their efforts to create greater opportunities, only makes sense. As this country was initially founded for wealthy white males (remember only white males with significant property could vote), all others have from time to time benefitted from government intervention on their behalf.
(Note: I do not believe that government is the natural solution for every problem. On the other hand, I do not believe that it always the problem either. I believe that significant effort must be invested to make government more effective and more efficient. America has grown to accept mediocre performance from government. This must change. I've laid out my broader thoughts about the large/small government debate in the editorials forum.
Obviously there are exceptions to this conservative/liberal generalization. For the most part those exceptions occur when people are moved by ideology. The Kennedy clan is liberal because they embrace certain ideological principles around assisting the less fortunate (to those whom much is given, much is expected). Their adherance to ideology, in this case, supercedes personal economic self interest, which might otherwise make them conservative. On the other side of the aisle, there are obviously also people who are not wealthy, but who are conservative. They are so for other, personal, ideologically-driven reasons as well.
Most people are not ideologically based, however, they vote for personal interests. This dynamic accounts for much of America being in the political center, as well as people evolving from one ideology to the other based upon their changing economic circumstances.
As basically a "have not", I personally am much more moved by what I perceive to be an activist interpretation of government. Ideologically, I also believe in things that one might characterize as "liberal". Further, as an African American, in my lifetime I have seen the benefits of an activist/liberal government with respect to increasing my civil rights, opportunities, and freedoms. I remember segregation, the struggles to gain the vote, and other of the battles that we've fought.
My vision of America would endeavor to create a level playing field, allowing everyone to compete equally for opportunity and wealth. Back to my 'role of government' above, government should work to ensure that the tide is always rising as aggressively as is prudent. It should ensure that Americans are in a position to maximize economic growth by being the best trained, most healthy, best paid "workers" in the world. But there should be a completely even opportunity to gain that wealth by all in American society. Government should aggressively counter self-interest (captialism gone wild) as well work to ensure an equal chance for all to achieve at the best of their ability.
[This message was edited by MBM on October 06, 2002 at 12:03 PM.]