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February 22, 2010

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What seemingly unites current Republicans from those of an earlier era is anti-cosmopolitanism. Probably nobody personified this nexus better than Richard Nixon. When Julie Nixon Eisenhower announced in 2008 she was voting for Obama, it seemed like an era had passed. But it also suggested that politics can be a psychological process where old neuroses eventually smooth out with time and education.

The GOP's Southern aura contains so many retrograde elements (fundamentalism, know-nothingism, market idolatry, and quasi-racism) that it seems as if even conservatives of yore must wonder what's happened to their party. Republicans got to this point by magnifying divisions. The Southern Strategy worked like magic. Black magic, as it were, since the culture-war voodoo eventually outmaneuvered the cynics who deployed it. Now every Republican pol is afraid of being primaried from the Right.

Infused with passion and certitude, the party has become a church. This Great Awakening is now the primary political fact of our lives.


I certainly share your leftward tilt as age advances.

And, living in Arizona, obviously I'm in the minority set.

But it was like that back in college (in PA) too, where I was the staunch Reagan supportive conservative, dueling against the Democrats and centrist Republicans (I've not met too many actual "liberals" as defined by the gross caricatures the rightists lob). But, like you, have indeed encountered the archetypal conservative model sketched by political opponents.

Oh, posted before I included wrap-up blurb.

What moved me left was simply reading. Books. Via a well used library card, bookstores, and within past 10 years, an Amazon Prime account.

Initially, it was a couple of books by a former WSJ writer, Jonathan Kwitny (now deceased, also wrote an excellent biography on Pope John Paul) — Endless Enemies and another one (I've forgotten the title) that chronicled the folly in U.S. foreign policy and all the manipulative acts that were totally incongruent with freedom and democracy, despite the flowery proclamations to the contrary. The bibliography in that book along with opened eyes, propelling me to read more and more, exposed views from a variety of cultural and political lenses.

Then the internet delivered channels previously unimaginable, granting not just data and information (which can be narrow and shallow), but pointers and links to a font of perspectives hitherto denied by mainstream media channels that always relegated and/or banished such views. Not that truth is always (or even predominate) reflected there, but definitely eye opening to review cultural and historical matters from all the angles.

While I did not agree with him often, I truly miss the leadership of people like Barry Goldwater. For years, we exchanged letters. At one time, I called his office after he sent me a particularly nasty letter. I asked his secretary if he had composed the letter. She told me that, indeed, he had even though she warned him not to send it. She told me that I was one of the few citizens of Arizona that Senator Goldwater insisted on seeing all correspondence from. She told me there were a number of Governors of Arizona that he did not read their letters.

The last time I saw Senator Goldwater was at a car wash after he retired. I told him I was surprised he did not have a flunky getting his car washed. He told me he never had flunkies, and besides he was just an old man, glad to get out of the house for an hour or so to enjoy Arizona. It was a glorious spring day.

He also expressed concern over the direction politics in Arizona was heading. He was saddened to see people replacing him that were more concerned about their 'career' than the people that had given them the opportunity to serve them.

How right he was.....

Like Jon, many of us have drifted left as our former Republican party surged to the right. No doubt this has been driven in part by the evangelicals and their knack for denying reality. Looking forward, we need to focus more on the crying need to recognize and reward centrists and collaborators. With Independents now representing 30% of the registered voters in some states, perhaps we're actually moving toward the middle!

The Chancellor for Pima Community College recently had an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star. In it he made a solid argument for the economic value of Adult Basic Education and the GED program. And he made a solid argument for why our culture needs a more educated population.

One could question some of the numbers. I certainly did. But ultimately that was neither here nor there in regards to his argument. And that's because of this paragraph near the end of the piece:

"Gov. Jan Brewer has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2011 that contains no funding for adult education. Eliminating the state's $3.4 million allocation would cost Arizona an additional $11 million in matching federal funding, and would make Arizona the only state in the nation without GED testing capability."

How could you NOT invest 3.4 million dollars and get 11 million dollars in matching federal funds? That's a damn sweet return. How could you NOT do this especially in a recession? It is a absolute no-brainer...

Brewer's budget choice isn't just the obtuse dumbness that opts for penny-wise over pound-foolishness. Her appalling decision goes deeper than that. Her choice is the sort of sacred-cow stupidity where ideology trumps common sense and the common good: no matter what!

Think about this in terms of these two key Talton sentences:

"One reality it rejects is that government must indeed do certain things, and do them very well, in a populous, dynamic, diverse, modern and heavily urbanized, society. Worst of all, it totally spurns the old idea of a shared common good."

Which is all to say, there is no shared common good in Arizona. The kooks will cut off Arizona's nose to spite her face. When a state adopts that sort of dog-eat-dog politics... When a state willfully turns its back on free money that will create jobs to help lift people up... It has become a state that isn't worth living in, and isn't worth raising your leg up to spit yellow on.

I can identify with a lot of this.

I too moved to the left as I aged. I can recall hearing the announcement in high-school that Reagan had been shot and feeling like the bottom of my world had dropped out.

I too was conservative when it was "cool" to be liberal, and am now on the left when "liberal" has become a dirty word.

I'm still fairly conservative (especially personally) socially. It's in the economic sphere where I tend to lean most strongly to the left. Again, that runs contrary to many of today's Democrats, who are socially liberal and economically conservative.

I also think that when the bleating sheep are baa-ing most loudly, either on the right or the left, that someone, anyone, ought to stand up and argue, intelligently, as a kind of "devil's advocate", because chances are they're missing some important fundamental points.

I think that for this sort of shift in political philosophy, from right to left, to occur, it takes a life-changing experience which causes one to doubt authority, to question the worldview one has been presented with, and to be more open-minded toward competing views. At least, this is true of America for someone who was conservative in the Reagan era.

I never really knew anything about the "left" growing up. I come from a solidly middle-class background and in fact the family home was within half a mile of John McCain's former Central Avenue residence.

What I knew was what I saw on television. Basically, that was whiny, naive left-liberals arguing that serious criminals should be coddled because they came from deprived homes (I cheered the first Death Wish movie); some of these same individuals claimed that the Soviets were misunderstood and just needed a good hug instead of all that aggressive posturing against them; hippies, drug use and other things I had contempt for; and loads of welfare cheats (whom I had no personal experience of whatsoever, but it sure sounded bad). And of course, there were all those 1970s police dramas (e.g., Starsky and Hutch) with all the lessons they had to impart (explicitly and tacitly) to impressionable, inexperienced young minds.

Conservatism, I find, is more about identifying with those whose social characteristics you find congenial, than about a serious analysis of issues. Reagan seemed to me characteristic of a strong moral sense (which I felt was strongly lacking in the society of the 1970s, possibly because the idealism of the 1960s had evaporated and what was left was drug use and a kind of reflexive social iconoclasm); I had no understanding of his background as Governor of California, or the coterie he had surrounded himself with; I simply felt that he was a good man, and a strong, no-nonsense, leader who was going to put things right. Of course, Reagan was a professional actor.

Once you identify with role models on the basis of their social characteristics, you tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and discount, or refuse to listen to, those who strongly criticize them.

Furthermore, everybody naturally wants to believe that their country is good, insofar as they identify with their country (in the same way that some identify with their sports teams); that means the authorities who run it must be good, too.

To believe the liberal agenda was to conclude that the country was run by cynical, abusive scoundrels; that police departments were agents of injustice (where racial minorities were concerned) rather than agents of justice; that wealth rather than merit played a strong role in who came out on top; and other things too terrible to believe for an idealistic young mind.

Basically, in my personal experience, the most annoying thing about liberalism was liberals. (Later, I found that the same thing is also true of conservatives -- at the time I didn't know any.)

Once I cut myself off from contact with my supposed peers and began to consider things independently, I was much freer to arrive at less formulaic conclusions, to judge issues on their merits rather than through the lens of personifications (negative or positive); and to seriously consider sources for information I would never have sought out. As a conservative, it's easy to dismiss out of hand anything smacking of "liberal propaganda" -- it never gets past the filters, much less sinks in.

Also, once "the left" (i.e., 1970s counter-culture) ceased to function as a repository for the kind of gratuitously corrosive ideas which stood for everything I hate, the idea of exploring and even identifying with some ideas on the other side of the political spectrum became more palatable.

Very touching, Jon. While my viewpoints took a slightly different trajectory -- for I am a child of a different era -- I completely relate with your story. Perhaps more than anything, we ought to encourage people to again find a respect for intellectualism (as in, advancing knowledge for all rather than an intellectual elite).

I've recently argued with some of my more conservative friends that our current political debate tends to revolve around two opposing brands of collectivism: corporatism and socialism. This is clearly a false dichotomy, yet our political and media cultures have stifled many great ideas that would provide better insight into the problems at hand. Thankfully, on the road to better questioning and understanding what's going wrong in society, there was a great column in yesterday's NY Times about the plague of narcissism in modern culture: http://nyti.ms/9BAFpL. Good stuff, indeed -- I just hope it gains traction.

Very provocative piece for me too. We're close in age and I spent my early years in Phoenix, but grew up in Tucson, before bolting mid college for California. My father was a Goldwater Republican in the sixties and didn't think much of our Rep. Udall in the seventies. I had my flirtation with Libertarianism too, but living in California in the early 80s burned it out of me pretty quickly.

I think I moved back to Arizona at the same time you did Jon, and oddly, I left for Seattle the same time you did. (My own choice, I quit my job-- it was because I hated Phoenix, and what it had become, and it seemed hopeless.) Now I am so glad to be back in Seattle, and love it. But I may be hired back in Phoenix soon, and the recession may cause me to take the job. (Not in Real Estate or Car Sales!) It's very frustrating to think of going back there. I'm now fully a Liberal who misses a republican party opposition that still had principles.

My dad made an even greater transition, and voted for Obama. I think GWB was his last straw too.

Mr. Talton wrote:

"I support tough love for the hardcore male homeless population that would scandalize most liberals."

I don't know what kind of alternative universe exists in Oregon, but here in Arizona there is no support to speak of for adult, single, male homeless.

If you're going to insist that others work to eat (on the public dime) then you'd better make sure you guarantee employment, otherwise it's an exercise in perversity. And it has to be something they're qualified for and fit to perform. Anybody can scrub graffiti off walls or pick up garbage from highways and blighted areas.

Don't forget that 40 percent of the current unemployed (not homeless, ALL unemployed) nationally have been jobless for more than six months: and most of those individuals have what they need (theoretically) to get work and have been actively searching:

http://www.nbc26.com/global/story.asp?s=11904016&ClientType=Printable

Most employers won't hire someone with no home, no private transportation (in the job ads it's called "reliable transportation", but that isn't what they actually mean), no telephone, no access to showers, etc.; or a non-existent or sketchy recent employment history, or few or no personal references outside family.

There is no government agency in Arizona dedicated to lining up employment for this group. There is no private charity that does so. St. Vincent de Paul claims to do this, but what they actually offer is access to a telephone, to computers (which you can get at the public library already) and instruction on "resume writing" (laughable). No list of employers willing to hire the able and willing but homeless population, willing to make allowances for their predictable shortcomings.

And even if they could get work, try living on the streets for six months and then see how you feel about trying to work full-time while continuing to be homeless.

Most homeless shelters are reserved for youth, women or families, and even those have beds for dozens when there are thousands of homeless. Arizona has exactly one "everybody welcome" facility, the Overflow Shelter. It's open only half the year. You line up in the afternoon (rain or shine) to see if you can get in during the evening. Even with the population sleeping on mats on the floor, there isn't remotely enough space. If you don't get in, you might be stuck downtown after dark (not a great neighborhood to be sleeping out of doors in).

Some of these individuals get arrest records for trespassing on private property, simply by looking for a safe place to sleep (with or without shelter from the elements). Unable to pay a fine they may spend time in jail. Another blot on their record.

Homeless afflicted with serious mental illness aren't going to go job hunting even if there was a market for their labor. To deny them the basic necessities of civilized life is simply cruel.

On the other hand, institutionalization is much more expensive because then you not only have to subsidize them, but also their keepers, the facilities, and a whole medical bureaucracy. And there have been enough abuses where involuntary detention has occurred, so that the courts have ruled that, unless someone is demonstrably a danger to themselves or others, they cannot be committed to an institution. That's one reason why you see more homeless today than in past decades.

Another reason is that vagrancy laws have also been overturned so that the police can't simply round up everybody who looks scroungy and doesn't have money in their pocket or a permanent address. (Good thing, too: why do we want to criminalize poverty?)

As for those with substance abuse issues, admittedly that can be difficult and sometimes intractable. However, those without home or hope may have little motive to eliminate the one thing that elevates their mood and makes life tolerable; and even if they are motivated, where are the treatment alternatives? Non-existent.

What the homeless need is shelter and an income, in that order. Get them shelter; address their substance abuse problems if they exist, without fear of arrest as long as they adhere to the rules, but making sure they DO adhere to the rules (yes, law enforcement is the stick which must back up this carrot). Arrange work for them.

The alternative is probably more expensive to society in the long run. Someone who is homeless, unless they have an angle, might choose between begging, theft or other property crimes, or petty drug dealing. The cost to jail them, or otherwise institutionalize them, the cost of emergency medical care, and the cost to private individuals, is probably greater than the cost of arranging basic housing, getting those individuals who need it and want it free of addiction, and arranging gainful employment.

P.S. I meant to reference my experience with the day-labor racket, which took place when the minimum wage was $5.15 an hour. This is what they paid those who signed up to work with them, but god only knows what the private parties who contract with the day-labor companies pay, per head. Obviously much more than minimum, otherwise the day labor companies couldn't pay for physical offices, their own administrative employees, and equipment, in addition to the wages of day laborers, and still make a tidy profit for their owners.

These companies require prospective employees to show up at about 4:00 am -- often before the city buses are running -- in order to have a realistic chance of obtaining work for the day, since it is more or less first-come, first-serve, and those who sign-in as soon as they open have the best chance of getting something.

Then, you generally sit around for several hours, say until 6 or 7 am, until a work order arrives or is otherwise determined; then they load groups into a van (not all the members of which are destined to work at the same job-site), and everyone is slowly shuttled around the metropolitan area, frequently outlying points, for another hour or two or three as each sub-group is dropped off at their jobsite.

Finally, you arrive at a location where you are expected to perform unskilled manual labor, sometimes of a particularly taxing variety, such as demolishing the rebar-reinforced concrete wall of a residence with a sledgehammer, in the middle of a Phoenix summer.

More often than not, whatever the work, it ends after a short time (say, three hours); then you are off the clock and must make your way back to the day-labor office on your own expense, a journey that may take another two hours.

Finally, arriving, you spend some time arranging to collect a check for three hours work at minimum wage, which took you eight or ten hours to obtain, if travel to and from the day-labor office, waiting, and travel to and from the actual worksite, is included.

There is no possibility of working your way into stability from such arrangements, and it is extremely inequitable to spend a full day earning part-time minimum wages for a brief period -- assuming you are one of the lucky ones who actually goes out at all.

No doubt the local or state government could charge these employers half of what the day labor companies contract to do, running their operations on a non-profit (expenses only) basis, and capping the salaries of agency administrators, so as to pay for their own operation, and manage to provide better hours in the bargain: but private capital would raise holy hell about government undercutting their business.

I recently obtained a copy of a Republican Strategy Survey, sent by U.S. Senator John Cornyn (Phoenix, Arizona, District 3) to various city residents. There were more than 30 highly leading questions (statements, really), and possible multiple choice answer categories for each, ranging from "Agree Strongly" to "Disagree Strongly" with a final category of "Uncertain". The document provides an interesting window into Republican values, dogma, and priorities, so I'll share a few of them here.

1. I do not believe our government should raise our taxes.

2. The Federal tax system is too complex.

(Well, no doubt it is, in the actual tax code, which is why tax attorneys and specialized CPAs find their jobs so lucrative. The solution to that is to legislate out of existence the labyrinthine mass of specialized and arcane loopholes, most of which apply only to private business and especially corporations, and to those wealthy enough to take itemized deductions; exceptions for non-profits could remain.)

3. Americans are overtaxed.

(No frame of reference here. They certainly aren't overtaxed compared to Americans from the Golden Years of middle-class American prosperity: from the end of WW II until 1963, spanning the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations, the top marginal tax bracket for personal income ranged from 82 to 92 percent. Nor are they overtaxed compared to most Europeans.

But it is true that the working and middle classes have been made to bear increasing shares of total tax burdens, thanks due to increasing sales taxes and payroll taxes (the latter capped so as not to tax most of the earnings of the wealthy).)

4. I favor a flat tax.

(Perspicacious readers of Rogue Columnist may at this point perceive a pattern developing...)

5. Our government has grown too large.

6. The Federal government is too wasteful.

7. My family and I are benefitting from the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.

9. In order to balance the Federal budget we should: (a) increase taxes; (b) decrease government waste and spending.

(No mention of using Keynesian deficits in the short term to grow the economy so that long-term deficits (which are what really count) are manageable, i.e., so that mandatory future interest payments are a smaller percentage of future GDP.)

10. I do not believe more government regulation will help our ailing economy.

11. I believe special interests have too much influence in Washington.
(Well, obviously...but see the following question...)

12. Democrats are catering to Big Labor and other liberal interests at my expense.

(This in a labor market where only 7.2 percent of the private workforce is unionized. Another similar pair:)

17. I am concerned about the rising cost of healthcare in America.

18. I DO NOT believe our healthcare system should be socialized.

(Nevermind that Medicare is already socialized.)

19. I believe frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of healthcare.

(Ah yes, darn those frivolous lawsuits. Unfortunately, the survey does not address the extent to which they contribute to these rising costs...)

20. Ensuring the long-term fiscal stability of Social Security should be a top priority.

23. I believe that cutting funding for our military compromises our troops.

(When was the last time that military spending was cut rather than increased?)

32. I believe Democrats' efforts to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine would restrict my freedom of speech.

There is more -- I can post the rest if anyone requests it -- but I thought that I would stop here and consider these statements.

These are not so much reasoned political positions as they are religious dogma. In essence, they argue, without exception and without reference to specific conditions, to maintain spending (except for unspecified "waste and abuse") while cutting taxes; to control healthcare costs while refusing to regulate them; to regulate (there's that word again!) compensation of awards to individual victims of medical malpractice (which are already frequently reduced on appeal) while allowing medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical corporations to run hog-wild in the name of freedom; to restrict special interests catering to workers (and not incidentally, Democrats) but not those catering to big corporations, most of whom don't have to worry about unions these days; to protect free-speech by preventing equal time and by maintaining the stranglehold which wealthy (and generally conservative) interests have over the nation's media and media chains.

Tacitly, the claim is made that government can do nothing right and can only waste money.

The hold that the Right has on the media in general, and political discourse in particular, is reflected in the near complete absence of credible alternative visions presented in mainstream American society, even by the (generally conservative) leadership of the Democratic Party. Here's a counterexample which you'll never hear because it shreds Republican talking points:

In Norway, 1/3 of its publicly listed companies are state owned, and the state has large ownership positions in key industrial sectors (energy, telecommunications, banking, merchant fleet shipping, and natural resources like minerals, fishing, and timber).

The Labour Party has controlled the government there for most of the time since WW II. Taxes are higher there than in the United States.

And yet, Norway enjoys the second or third highest (depending on which measure is used) per capita income in the world (above the United States).

Norway held first place in the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index for 7 of the last 9 years (since 2001), including 2009.

Norway has universal healthcare, subsidized higher education, and a comprehensive social security system. Hourly wages and productivity levels are among the highest in the world, yet the difference between the incomes of CEOs and the lowest paid workers is among the lowest in the developed world. Foreign Policy magazine (those Communists!) judged Norway to be the world's most well-functioning and stable country in 2009.

Norway's sovereign wealth fund, a government pension fund for the general public, is among the most highly capitalized in the world, and helps even out the boom and bust cycle associated with Norway's economy.

Recently, Norway's pension fund was the largest in Europe and has been one of the largest capital funds in the world, giving Norway a very high savings rate. Investment of the fund is governed by ethical guidelines and this, as well as many other aspects of Norway's government, are highly transparent both to its citizens and to international researchers.

Norway weathered the current economic crisis quite well, and currently has an unemployment rate of around 3 percent (in 2007 it was just 1.3 percent).

Though it exports oil and gas in large quantities, Norway's own generation of electrical power is more than 98 percent hydroelectric. Norway runs a 7 percent state budget surplus and was the only Western country to do so as of July 2009. Last year, Norway held parliamentary elections in which the "Red-Green" (socialist/environmentalist) ruling coalition gained seats.

The conservative response to Norway is to claim that it is riding high on its revenues from oil and natural gas exports, which it distributes to its citizens as a kind of lucky largesse. Yet, these exports constitute only about 1/5 of Norway's GDP: and the real question is how well these resources are managed. Nigeria has large oil resources, but has squandered them rather than manage them for the public weal, as Norway has since the 1960s. Regardless of its sources of income, the conservative argument that government can't manage public wealth efficiently for public benefit simply doesn't apply to Norway.

Been awhile since I have seen/read an Emil Pulsifer post(s)!

Much the same for me, All the men in my family were Republicans, my mother was not openly political, and Grandma voted a straight Democrat ticket every election. The usual flirting with libertarianism in last teens. Then Reagan. Have moved further left ever since, especially since I consider the current Democrats to be Reagan Republicans. Thank you Tip O’Nell and Bill @nd Hillary.

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