January 18, 2006

Ideological Crazy Quilt

Hatched by Dafydd

A follow-up to and expansion of my previous post, Offered For Your Approval.

Today, on Daniel Weintraub's usually excellent Bee-blog California Insider, under the title Ideological samplers, he opined the following anent Hillary Rodham Clinton Rodham:

It's one thing to waffle, straddle or flip-flop, and both Clinton and Schwarzenegger have done some of that at times. But that is not the same thing as being an ideological sampler, picking and choosing positions from across the partisan spectrum. The critics would do well to note the difference. [Emphasis added]

Pardon my frankness, but this is absolute rot. And I'm surprised at Daniel for falling for this line; he is, I believe, a Democrat, and I'm sure he has been hearing this claim -- that the Democrats are not wafflers, they're ideological samplers -- ever since 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for office. It's the standard dodge to rationalize voting for the $87 billion before voting against it.

There are two ways to go about deciding one's positions on important issues. The wise way is first to decide what you really believe, deep down in your soul: what are your core principles? What animates your philosophy?

For example, some of my core beliefs are:

  • Human liberty is the most important goal.
  • Decent life is precious, but it is not infinitely precious.
  • We must have the courage to fight for what we believe.

From just these three animating principles (three among many others), I can draw a conclusion: we must fight to preserve and expand human liberty, even if the fight puts our own lives at risk. I would have been a patriot in 1776, not a loyalist. But this is a conclusion, not a core principle: it is derived from core principles.

I can also conclude that it's morally right for us to fight to liberate the Iraqis -- hence, that this war is honorable. Someone else might conclude the opposite, that since there is little chance (he may believe) that this fight will be successfull, we'll simply squander precious lives and put our own liberty at risk (by drawing counterattack, he decides, which would cause our government to curtail our liberties for the sake of our lives). Each of us draws valid conclusions from the same core principles (depending on our view of the facts on the gound), even if our conclusions are polar opposites.

When a person derives his conclusions from core principles, it shows: he is consistent, articulate, and even stalwart, because unless one of his core principles is that he is more important than anyone or anthing else in the universe, he will be willing to lay down his life to achieve critical goals derived from his core principles: protecting his family, defending his country, fighting for liberty and freedom, even -- in the case of jihadis -- dying to destroy the infidels who threaten the souls of the faithful. The principle, whatever it is, comes first; the policies are derived from the principles.

But there is another way to arrive at one's positions on the major issues... and that is the method here defended by Weintraub. If a person has no animating principles, he can simply pick one position from column A and two from column B, selecting them based upon expediency, the nature of the Now. The ideological sampler becomes an ideological crazy quilt, "a thing of shreds and patches" hastily stitched together, the banal seascapes sewn right up next to the hellish glimpses of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

In this mad worldview, the position du jour is the primary source, and any "principles" must simply be deduced from what the subject does. Sensationalism, sensualism, solipsism, and nihilism are the four main branches of this epistemology; its followers comprise adrenaline junkies, decadent dilettantes, ultimate egoists, and visionaries of the Void. Nowhere is coherence. All is higgledy-piggledy:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

(From W.B. Yeats, "the Second Coming," emphasis added)

It's easy to justify voting for it before voting against it, because in between Then and Now, the wind shifted: Then, the forces of wartime solidarity prevailed; but Now, the elections loom and Democrats seek ways to differentiate themselves from George W. Bush and the Republicans.

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we oppose same-sex marriage, because the American people have our ear; but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the Advocate and GLAAD are more strident, so we applaud Gavin Newsom and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. "Saturday night Bill" and "Sunday morning Bill" -- Dick Morris was specifically talking about Bill Clinton, but the strange interlude serves as metaphor for the entire Democratic Party, with a tiny number of exceptions (Joe Lieberman, Zell Miller, that lot).

Alas, as a Democrat -- or at least, a liberal Republican à la Lincoln Chafee -- Weintraub cannot see that a country founded upon core principles and moral certitudes cannot be run as an ideological crazy quilt, any more than a naked atheist can be the pope.

When we have peace and prosperity, we can indulge the crazy quilters... for a short while. But in times of national stress, whether military, sociological, or economic -- well, like Paris Hilton, they simply become too high maintenance to afford.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 18, 2006, at the time of 10:43 PM

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The following hissed in response by: napablogger

Weintraub is actually a libertarian.

The thing about both Clintons is that they say what the audience wants to hear that they are in front of, and they mix and match so that everyone will eventually hear something they agree with. Clinton told a group of blacks at a church that they had been denied and he was going to get them a piece of that pie. Then a couple of days later he told a rich white audience in Texas that they were over taxed. What did he actually do? Raise taxes.

It is a campaign technique that Bill Clinton mastered, and when I was watching Hillary this week I saw she was trying the same thing. She was trying to have a Sister Soujah moment in reverse over the WH plantation quote. Today she is little Ms Superhawk. Something for everyone. I hope Weintraub and others, such as you have done, notice this more because it is going to get worse.

The key is to match what they actually do against their statements, because as you say, principles matter, and she does have them. One of them isn't honest rhetoric, however. Watch how fast that hawkish stance goes the next time there is a real tough choice to make and her calculation says, too many votes lost to stay a hawk.

Love or hate Bush, that is one thing you have to admire about him. He acts on his own convictions.

The above hissed in response by: napablogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 20, 2006 2:29 AM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Weintraub is actually a libertarian.

Yes, but he's a libertarian of the Left; I'm a libertarian of the Right. The gap between used to be but a crack, but now -- post 9/11 -- it's the Grand Canyon.

For example, he supports the Iraq war... but only on moral grounds; he doesn't accept that there is any strategic reason for taking down Saddam Hussein. Which means he deep down does not believe in the GWOT, or he would know why we did it (liberating Iraqis was nice but secondary).

He supports gay rights, by which I presume he would mean the sort of Sullivan v. Texas elimination of sodomy laws -- as do I. But Weintraub also supports either the complete elimination of legal marriage, or failing that, allowing gays to marry. (Has he thought the latter through? Would he also support polygamy, consanguineous marriage, group marriage?)

To take that position, however, is to assign virtually no importance to the culture and ultimate importance to the individual, a hallmark of libertarianism of the Left: perfect atomism.

As a libertarian of the Right, I strongly support the idea of community and culture as a way to permanently encode our values; I demand only that the culture respect actual rights and liberty interests of the individual... which in this instance means the free-association right to have sex with whomever you want (consenting adults), but never the power to demand that society sanction your union, which is what gay activists now demand.

You have a liberty interest to insist that I not stop you from living with your SO. But you have no right to insist that I agree that you are married. Marriage is a public, social status that the society has the right to define exclusively.

He supports physician-assisted suicide (with safeguards), but why? Why should a state licensed medicine man have the right to terminate life, but not my wife, my best friend, or my children? Since Dan obviously accepts that there is a legal distinction between an MD and a non-MD "healer," he must accept that the State can define that distinction.

And if the State can define the distinction, then it has the right to set moral standards that the MD cannot breach without losing his license. Once you accept the concept that the State gets to determine who is and is not a doctor, then the right to ban physician-assisted suicide falls naturally out of that.

(I wonder... does he support the AMA ban on doctors participating in legal executions, on pain of losing their license to practice medicine?)

I would be very surprised if Dan did not come to libertarianism from having earlier been a liberal; I came to it from having first been a conservative. They're very different, like Ted Knight and Doris Day.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 20, 2006 5:39 AM

The following hissed in response by: napablogger

Understood, as you clearly know better than I Weintraub is one of the few at least non liberal editorial writers around Nor Cal. I have come to appreciate his views on education and the employee unions that dominate state politics. I agree with you that he appears to be a fairly liberal libertarian.

I completely agree with your view that a politician must have some kind of principles/basic philosophy to animate their policy positions or it becomes meaningless pandering to whatever the poll numbers say this week, which is what I think the Clintons both are doing.

I think it is possible to have some views that don't fit in a line with one party or the other, support 2nd amendment and be in favor of gay marriage, both as an expression toward individual freedom for example, but I agree with you that Wientraub is wrong on Hillary here-that is not what she is doing.

The above hissed in response by: napablogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 21, 2006 12:32 PM

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