Saturday, 27 January 2007

We Right-of-Center Liberals

As reality has finally descended onto mainstream political discourse in America, the occasional continued chirpings of staunch Bush apologists has taken on more of an other-worldly, cornered-animal, delusional gloss than they had when mainstream attention gave them undeserved legitimacy. Surely it's only a matter of time until national policy will catch up with that reality. In the meantime, I will chuckle every time I see Democratic politicians referred to as "far-left liberals" or socialists.

There are many measures of conservatism and liberalism, but none of them have much relation to whether one acknowledges that our decision to occupy Iraq was the colossal error that most now realize it to have been. Pro-war Lieberman and newly anti-war Brownback should serve as testament to that.

But of all the measures used to measure ideology, the one most often employed is the extent to which one adheres to a market economy model vs. a centrally planned economy model. Some think capitalist vs. socialist, others command economy vs free enterprise, communist vs laissez-faire, but each is an expression of the same dichotomy, though there are many different flavors at each end and in the middle.

Most reasonable people today would acknowledge the problems associated with strict adherence to either extreme along this continuum, and in fact all western democracies have some form of mixed economy which combines elements from each. In these United States we have Social Security, Medicare, a nationalized Postal Service & defense, highly regulated utilities, a Federal Reserve, anti-trust laws, a minimum wage, and many other elements which distance us from a pure market economy, but market forces still remain the driving force for our economy as a whole. We have chosen a market economy with an overlay of some planned elements to keep in check some of the excesses associated with unreined free market capitalism, exposed in an earlier age by writers such as Charles Dickens and Upton Sinclair.

The really remarkable thing in America is the extent of agreement across more than 90% of the political spectrum with our choice of a market based mixed economy. From Dennis Kucinich to Orrin Hatch we are agreed on this. It is not surprising that even very conservative Americans who may think of themselves as pure free marketeers will concede that some aspects of central planning currently in place are desirable. It is somewhat more surprising given the excesses of corporatism evident today, that there aren't more who advocate moving to a planned model with market driven elements. But most of us recognize the dangers associated with ceding too much planning power to a central agency, and have witnessed from afar the far graver excesses of such central power when Stalin ruthlessly purged and punished dissent, or when Mao megalomaniacally exerted his power in the now defamed Cultural Revolution. Some democratically elected governments in Europe have enjoyed some measure of success with a more planned economy, but still I agree with most of my fellow Democrats that we are best served retaining a market based system, even as we advocate for more reasonable controls to counter corporate excess.

By definition, along this economic measure of left and right, a belief that we should retain a market based mixed economy, makes the vast majority of Democrats and liberals in America right of center. At the very least charges that we are far-left, fringe, or socialist are simply laughable. A democratic socialist perspective, far more common in Europe, ought to be a perfectly respectable one, and I think it sad that such views are routinely mocked or worse considered traitorous, in spite of my belief that America is better off retaining a market based model. The more purist views trotted out by the Heritage Foundation, Richard Viguerie, or Grover Norquist surely strike this observer as more extreme than those of a European style democratic socialist.

Ah well, I can live with that as long as America can continue the process of refinding her center, and begin to marginalize the divisive policies foisted upon us by the boardroom bought Republican leadership which at least no longer controls the agenda in Congress. Perhaps she can also find greater civility in political discourse as politicians on BOTH sides of the aisle respond to the disgust of the voters with the status quo and find language that can unite us, in spite of retained differences.

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