27 April 2009

Rebranding Versus Reforming, Part III

While conservatives should reform by way of refocusing primarily on what it means to be conservative, the growing movement on the left deserves a new title. The Liberal title has always been a bad moniker; it confuses, which I suppose is its point. Progressive is a poor moniker as well because it presupposes that all policies put forward by the group will move something forward, and that something is assumed to be society. Far from it.

I side with the viewpoint put forward in Mark Levin’s new book, Liberty and Tyranny. The proper name for the left’s policies, and therefore for the left, is statist. Whereas socialism and fascism have loaded connotations attached to them – indeed, some folks seem to believe that one or both are movements of the right – statism has neither. It simply has a definition: concentration of power in government at the cost of personal liberty.

The simplicity of this definition is key its utility. Rebranding the left’s movement as statist allows for a proper reframing of the argument between Conservatives and the left. Using this moniker repeatedly when referring to the left may well make it stick. Coupling the rebranding with consistent reminders of its definition – statism is the concentration of power in the government at the cost of personal liberty – is a must, lest the term’s connotation become twisted and duplicitous, like liberal or progressive.

The most important aspect, though, is that the rebranding of the left as statist provides a basis for an argument which conservatives can win. When government conferred “benefits” and “investments” and other programs are discussed, conservatives must always, always show how greater government will result in less personal liberty. Conservatives should be prepared to give specific, everyday examples of what liberties may be lost is statist policies are implemented. These examples should be as simple and straight-forward as possible.

What’s more, the statist term allows for conservatives to reject even erroneous policies put forward by those who are right of center based on the weighing of personal liberty versus government power. This is important when it comes to maintaining conservative principles. So when the urge comes, as it surely will, to grow government – the urge toward “compassionate conservatism” - this reframing of the argument would prompt conservatives to police each other when it comes to policy. Thus this rebranding serves not only to correctly define the objective of the opposition on the left, but also to inoculate those who are right of center against the lure of growing their own power.

(Previous article on statism here.)

24 April 2009

Secretary Duncan and the Unaccountable

In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal two days ago (22 April 2009), education secretary Arnie Duncan discusses school reform, stimulus billions, best practices, and stakeholders who ought to want kids to have better educational opportunities. But through all of his chatter about billions and change, one group is conspicuously left out: students.

That Mr. Duncan would so plainly leave out what I would argue is one of the most important groups when regarding educational accountability is a bit strange. The only slight nod to student accountability – and one would have to read a lot into it to get there – is a reference that the country should be “pursuing what works best for kids”.

Here’s a quick stab, in the few minutes I have to write here before I go to work for the day, at what I think “works best for kids”. I think that setting a limited number of clear, understandable, and measureable learning objectives is a good start. Those should be stated up front and reviewed from time to time with the students. Then, students should be taught to those objectives (and beyond, if the occasion arises). This should be done in a way so that the students internalize core knowledge. Finally, students should prove that they have met and mastered the learning objectives. This does not mean perfection on the part of the student. It means that the student can work with a level of proficiency appropriate for his age (and beyond, for those who can).

School and teacher responsibility rests in setting up such learning objectives, providing a good classroom environment, to include the knowledge dispensed, and properly measuring student proficiency. The students, and their parents by extension, are responsible for the students’ learning.

As I’ve written before, this model requires a great deal of professionalism. There can be few or no “victims” in this system. And there must be honest, ongoing, and frank assessments of abilities, limitations, and shortcomings on the part of all involved in this system, along with individual commitments to always, always improve themselves. Students included. Learning is a serious business, and it is important that those who engage it in most regularly – students and teachers – view it in this way.

I do not expect this to happen on a national level; I do not share the federal government’s belief that the federal government can provide the basis for equally wonderful education across our entire country. This is a utopian vision. It would be nice, though, if localities in public education were given a free hand to strike forth on their own and find better ways to education the children in their districts, to use accountability models that work for them. But in a land in which the growing thrust is toward central planning, education seems to be a leading indicator. No Child Left Behind was the beginning, and it may well be that Mr. Duncan and the Obama administration will look to push a unified vision of reform and progress on all schools. But given Mr. Duncan’s own words, we might expect that students, and most importantly, student accountability, will be left behind.

21 April 2009

The Original Sin of Respiration

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prompted by a Supreme Court ruling on the Clean Air Act, has begun the process of regulating the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, including methane (link here and here). Both of these gasses are produced by animals – all of them. Supposedly, this action by the EPA will push Congress into creating legislation to curb or cap emissions of greenhouse gasses. One way or another, it appears that the Global Warming / Climate Change (GW/CC) crowd is going to have its way on this matter.

The intended consequences, however, seem to be quite clear. If the release of gasses like carbon dioxide is to be controlled and reduced, there will be a resulting rise in the price of energy – and everything that the resulting energy produces. That rise in price may come in the form of emissions control equipment (carbon-capture devices, perhaps) and/or punitive taxation for the emissions. I say punitive because no entity, to my knowledge, produces carbon dioxide as its main purpose. Other goods and services are produced; carbon dioxide is a by-product. Industries which produce the gasses as a by-product of their real business will be punished for it, . Punishing industry for various by-products is nothing new. But in my mind, there is something different about this latest push. It is a push to impede and eventually remove (with hopes of replacing) the lifeblood of our economy: safe, reliable, and relatively cheap energy.

A more cynical person might take the whole a drastic, but logical, step further. It might seem obvious that we, as human beings, cannot get around the cycle of photosynthesis and respiration, the cycle which takes oxygen, changes it into carbon dioxide, and then back to oxygen. The cycle involves all living things. Therefore, just through our breathing, each animal on the earth is a polluter. It is, from a GW/CC point of view, the “original sin” of man (and animal) to breathe and thus “dump” carbon dioxide into the earth’s fragile atmosphere. Cap and trade, curbing emissions until it hurts (and then some, and then some more) may then be seen as repentance and remuneration for the harm of the GW/CC original sin of breathing.

That might be taking it all a bit too far, but it might be best to not underestimate the argumentative lengths to which GW/CC true believers will go.

One look at living and travel habits of those who most vocally espouse the GW/CC dogma belies the seriousness and suggests other motives. From holding climate conferences in Bali to Mr. Gore’s world travels to proposed caps on the “carbon emissions” of us all, those who advocate GW/CC dogma do not, and I believe have no intention to, live by the words they preach. They are the gods among men, the ones who will judge the living and breathing. And they are the ones who will benefit from the policies – be those policies from the EPA or Congress – which will tax all of us down the economic ladder and create yet another deep and enormous footprint of the state on each of our private lives.

19 April 2009

Rebranding Versus Reforming, Part II

One of the problems with the current conservative label is that in the very recent past there has been very little practice of that which could rightly be called fiscally conservative. Indeed, government expansion under the Bush administration was a cause of alarm for more than a few conservatives, though I doubt the concerns matched those on the left. I, for one, had no problem at all with the Patriot Act, with wire-tapping calls involving foreign nationals, or with holding terrorists at Guantanamo. All of these can be viewed as responsible government reactions to a real and present threat.

What did bother me occurred on the domestic front; this thing called “compassionate conservatism” turned out to be nothing more than a statist euphemism. Federal intrusions into education through No Child Left Behind top my list. But not far behind are prescription drug “benefits” and government “partnering” with private charities. Then the Bush bailouts began, and President Bush admitted that he had “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system”. This was a bridge too far for me.

The conservative label, it seemed, became quite blurred with its supposed political opposite, especially on the economic front. But what had really happened, I believe, is that conservative politicians had somehow convinced themselves that government had somehow changed from an obstacle to a solution; indeed, government had become the solution.

(I realize that the above statement is a generalization. I generalize only to make a point, not to provide a comprehensive view of the situation as it was or is.)

So, from a domestic conservative/libertarian point of view, what politicians who would call themselves conservatives must do has nothing to do with rebranding. Though it may be tempting to rebrand conservatives as something else – say, traditionalists – I doubt the move would be very successful. The problem with rebranding for conservatives is that for them, definitions are supposed to matter. Being conservative means something: “belief in natural law, belief in established institutions, preference for liberty over equality, suspicion of power—and of human nature, belief in exceptionalism, [and] belief in the individual.” These are in stark contrast to the statist point of view.

What conservative politicians must do is to reform their governing policies to conform more so with the principles stated above. The two main difficulties that conservative politicians in office at the federal level face are that 1) they are in the minority, and 2) their brand is tainted. Because of these two factors, the road to reform will not be easy for them. It is imperative, however, that they (and those who would see true conservative governance return) work tirelessly to offer conservative policies and options to both their counterparts at the federal level and to the electorate at large. In doing so, conservative politics may reform itself into what it ought to have been and perhaps thwart the statist movement which is afoot.

17 April 2009

Rebranding Versus Reforming, Part I

Politics relies heavily on words, the meaning of words, and how people perceive words. Labels applied to people and movements are quite important, especially where connotations outweigh denotations. Once a label or designation gains a negative connotation, or perhaps even a perceived negative connotation, there is a good chance that the label will be changed. The hope is that negative connotations will be cast off along with the old brand name.

I believe that it was for this reason that global warming became climate change. Global warming became too tenuous a title, too constraining a dogma. If the climate happened to cool – which arguably it has in the last ten years – then the moniker becomes laughable. Thus global warming was rebranded as climate change. Any change in the climate can, through this rebranding, be blamed on greenhouse gas emissions produced through human activity – presumably including human respiration. Never mind that some things, including climate, are always changing, and controlling them is a pipe dream. If one wishes to believe enough, the logic granted through the rebranding is simply accepted. Even a global ice age may be explained through the trapping of heat by greenhouse gasses.

It may be argued that modern liberals became progressives in the recent past when a negative connotation surrounded the liberal label. This rebranding as I’m referring to it here only goes back as far as this past election cycle. Never mind that there is nothing liberal, in a classical sense, in the modern left-liberal-progressive agenda. The progression of an idea from individual liberty – an element of the classical liberal idea – to centralized, state dominated power structures does not, I would argue, ensure or suggest progress. It does not, I would argue, even employ “new or experimental methods.” The modern left-liberal-progressive agenda has been attempted, albeit without the homeland loathing attitude commonly espoused by the left’s glitterati. When it comes to policy, the name may change, but the song remains the same.

On the other side of the spectrum, the name has stayed the same, but the song in many cases changed. More on that in part two.

Dallas Tea Party Report

Originally posted at American Thinker (link) near the bottom of the page.

Yesterday evening (15 April 2009), I decided to drive the hour to Dallas so that I could take part in the Tea Party. I am nearly 40 years old and had never taken part in a protest of any type. I’m not really the “protesting” type – there is, I think, a stereotype protestor, one who screams slogans (mostly cheesy rhymes) and carries signs printed by organizations which the protestor is largely, and pitifully, ignorant of. The group I joined outside of Dallas City Hall was not the stereotypical bunch.

Most folks who had signs which they had obviously made themselves. There were not, as far as I could tell, any mass produced signs, though there were t-shirts aplenty. “Don’t Tread On Me” shirts were ubiquitous, and I must admit to seeking out the stand which sold them. I never did find it. Some folks even had “Right Wing Extremist” shirts, the product of a little quick, industrious work by some local shirt screener. There were also no cheesy slogans; no bullhorn-lead chants. While most people stood, there were lots of people with lawn chairs; about a third of the crowd were sitting and listening to the speakers. In fact, most of the crowd was listening to the speakers.

Outside of Mark Davis, a local radio host, I did not recognize most of the speakers. Some were from politically active groups, which is to be expected. But not one elected official was up to speak. The logic being, I suppose, that the electorate hears elected officials all of the time; this was a time for them to hear the electorate, the “regular” folks. One speaker was a mother of two (if I remember correctly) who talked about the decisions she made to work hard instead of joining the welfare rolls. Her story met with great applause, which was to be expected, given the crowd and its purpose.

One thing which one might not expect, though I certainly did, was that this was no partisan gathering. Republicans were skewered along with Democrats. Indeed, even Texas native President George W. Bush was derided for his big government approach, in particular the bail-outs and No Child Left Behind.

And that is one thing that folks who just dropped by or drove by might not understand, and perhaps something that the media chooses to not understand. This rally was not, in my mind, against all taxation. It was anti big government. The most tangible symptoms of big government (so far) are various taxes. It is a bridge too far to believe that the recent federal mega-spending spree will not, at some point, result in much higher taxes for everyone, not just the supposed “rich”. What’s more, as the federal government doles out money created from the ether, a growing number of people realize that the strings attached to that money are quite real, quite entangling. The more states and localities are bound though largesse to the federal government, the more the electorate will find itself limited in its freedom. Restrictions, constraints roll downhill.

People are beginning to understand that, and they are growing uncomfortable. Many are realizing that their tax dollars are funding the very policies and practices which limit their freedom. There is nothing partisan about it. Or perhaps there is, but not under the Democrat / Republican rubric under which we all supposedly fall.

16 April 2009

Back on the Blog

After a fairly short hiatus, it seems that I’m going to resume blogging. Two things in particular have nudged me in this direction.

First, a few weeks ago a friend of mine and I had a chat about why I stopped blogging. I explained my point of view briefly, mostly why I didn’t feel that my written opposition to policies and actions were needed. In the end, it seemed that my opposition might just seem angry, which was not (and is not) how I want to present my point of view. The only response my friend made was that this was the very time when reasoned points of view were needed and that I might rethink my decision. That started the ball rolling.

Second, I attended the tea party at Dallas City Hall. It was heartening to see so many folks who felt, at least someone, the same way that I do. (I hope to have a more complete account of the tea party up very soon.) Many of the speakers – none of which were elected officials – commented that like-minded folks cannot sit back and just hope that things work out okay. We must do something.

I do not pretend to think that simply writing a (rather obscure) blog will do much. I plan on becoming more involved, as much as I can without taking too much focus away from my primary occupation, which is a joyful time-sucker. But in this space again, I hope to put forward reasoned thought without hesitation to call a duck a duck. I hope to regain a reader or two and perhaps pick up some more. Thanks for reading. Cheers.