27 Jul
2011
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Two Recent Discussions on Politics

Any Member of the New York Republican Club will tell you that life in New York City presents many occasions in which you may feel uncomfortable.  Whether it’s a conversation with coworkers about the news of the day, talking with friends and/or friends of friends, or someone else in your day simply assuming you’re a liberal democrat and saying something rather off-putting, it’s difficult to get through a month without being forced to speak about your unorthodox (i.e. conservative or Republican) views.  While sometimes it is easier to brush this off and go with the flow, other times – assuming you are unwilling to lie – you’re forced to speak your mind.  It is after you make the decision to speak out that you must decide whether to deftly parry the disagreeable point, or fully engage.  I’d like to recount two recent discussions during which I chose to fully engage two coworkers, and reflect on what I learned about liberal Democrats in NYC.

I was in a car with them.  One, a middle-aged woman who is also my quasi-superior, and the other a male graduate student intern.  The woman (we’ll call her Susan) asks me what I think of the debt ceiling debate.  Susan knows my politics, and considers me a political pariah.  She is a quintessential New York liberal: although highly intelligent and a very thoughtful and decent person, cannot make a coherent political argument.

Caught off guard with the question but well-informed, I began by explaining that the idea we’ll default in the next week is unthinkable.  I chided the news media for being utterly irresponsible in their reporting, and accusing them of towing the Democrat talking point about the August 2 Armageddon.  The purpose of this myth, I explained, was to mobilize public opinion against the Republicans.  The case for default is untenable for several reasons.  As only $29 billion a month is required to service the debt, and this represents the first dime out of every tax dollar, actual default would require Obama to direct the Treasury to not pay interest on the debt.  Not only would this be an impeachable offense in violation of the 14th Amendment, the aftermath of such a decision would be so detrimental to the economy of the world that Obama would lose all public support and likely the support of his party.  And that’s assuming Geithner would comply.  Further, I noted that all essential spending plus Social Security will be paid, but that Obama would be in the position of cutting the federal budget and thus be forced to prioritize spending and cut many his newest programs.  The power over the purse is Congress’ greatest power, and thus limiting the Democrat’s ability to spend taxpayer dollars is essentially a check on their power.  Moreover, I noted that Obama had failed in all discussions with Congressional leaders and that recent news suggested his party is feeling frustrated with his intransigence.  I then professed my belief that because of President Obama’s miserable performance and doctrinaire liberalism, he would loose in a landslide come 2012.

After I finished about a minute later, she was speechless. To be fair, I don’t think she were prepared for such a sweeping analysis.  I waited a couple seconds and then asked her what she thought.

“I think the Republicans are being assholes!”  And, “Other countries don’t even have a debt limit.”  Why was Europe broke, then?  “Greeks are being greedy.  Berlusconi is greedy.”  What about Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland?  Are they all greedy?  “The EU complicates the situation.”  This was the beginning and end of her argument.  My account of her position leaves out only trivial details.   I suggested that Obama had made his big-spending-big-deficits bed and now had come time to lay in it.  The conversation ended soon after I said that the Greek violence may very well find its way here if we don’t get serious now.

What disturbs me most about this exchange and the point on which I’d like to focus is that I was talking to a very competent, multilingual, scientifically fluent, mid-level executive.  Susan is no slouch, yet when it came to very basic civics, I think that a 5th grader would know more.  (Perhaps Jeff Foxworthy could help us confirm this assertion.)  Obama has spent more than any other person in world history, resulting in a genuine concern that is shared by millions of Americans and financial institutions alike, and Susan blames Republicans for not allowing him to spend more.  That Europe was experiencing the inevitable result of reckless spending was basically irrelevant to consider.

Basic civics, like electing honest officials and protecting well-established private property rights, seemed a foreign topic.  To Susan, economic literacy was the language of the right, rather than an enlightening field of genuine knowledge and recorded experience.  My logical conclusion in considering type of mentality is that Susan feels entitled to her opinions, and no amount of proof will dissuade her.  Now, for example, we expect a Christian and a Jew never to agree whether or not Jesus was in fact the Son of God.  With the attitude that Susan brings to political beliefs, politics has become a kind of religion.  She is a true Liberal, always will be, and to her Liberalism is dogmatic.

I write the following as much for my audience as I do to record an experience I found deeply disturbing. Although it may appear uncharitable, from the perspective of a political activist who is familiar with a good amount of political and economic literature, these are my thoughts.  Please bear in mind that this is my third discussion with Susan about politics, always at her prompting.

I wonder is Susan has ever really reflected on what makes a society exceptional.  In discussing politics with her, I detect no trace of reflection or reasoned argument.  Politics to her is more like Mets vs. Yankees, and Mets fans never root for the Yankees.  To suggest that politics is more about the government vs. the people, and maintaining a careful balance between rigid order (law) and liberty is preposterous, if not downright loony.  The notion that the proper role of government is to preserve liberty is antiquarian, nebulous, and quaint.  Principles are to take a backseat to pragmatism, and thus Obamacare will work if given enough time, all evidence to the contrary be damned.  Frankly, it’s difficult for me to place in perspective the threat to society that occurs when so many of the educated and intelligent are politically hopeless.  Can a society survive long when its so-called elite advocate policies of doom with the zeal of true believers?  Will the vogue of the current “right thinking” (in this context, to be clear, that’s Liberalism) establishment come to dominate, or will the ordinary folk who still cling to common sense as a guide assert their democratic right and elect their own to power?  Will Obama be defeated by the millions of Americans who refuse to reject their heritage and change America into Europe?  And past Obama, will Liberalism in the future hold the high moral position it feigns to hold today?

For a possible answer, let’s turn to the third person in the car: the intern, “Harry.”  Although mostly silent during my discussion with Susan, Harry brought up the topic of politics with me the following day.  Busy and not looking to repeat myself, I said flatly “Harry, I don’t find that many liberals can have an intelligent political conversation.  If you think Obama is going a good job, then please explain 9.2% unemployment, $14 trillion in debt, and inflation.”  The reply from this 25 year-old?  “It’s Bush’s fault.”  A minute later, I learned that Jon Stewart and Bill Maher were his news sources.  The stereotypical performance of a 20-something ignoramus nearly complete, he said Obama was “doing the right thing,” and that “millionaires and billionaires” should pay for the “middle class.”  Obama should note that 2.5 years of class warfare are having their intended effects.  The engineer MBA student could not produce a single fact compelling fact.  I gently pointed this out to him, and reiterated my initial comments as to the adeptness of liberals at political conversation.  He joked, smiled, acted as if it wasn’t his concern.  And that was that.  Back to work.

My experience with Harry confirms a fear: namely, that my generation is unaware that they’re unaware.  Whereas Susan was dogmatic, Harry was clueless.  Susan was a liberal by choice; Harry was a liberal by default.  To Susan, conservatives were to be defeated because they were wrong; for Harry, it’s enough to know that Bush was stupid and Obama is smart.  While both remained totally unencumbered with facts and analysis, Harry was a liberal because it was cool (at least to the extent that Bill Maher is cool, which to me rings oxymoron) and Susan because conservatism represents a form of soullessness.

From these discussions I draw two lessons for conservatives.  The first is that the Republican party, if it is to be a conservative party, must work with other organizations to encourage the teaching of genuine civic knowledge.  This includes sound economics, an end to the constant disparagement of religion and tradition, and the clear teaching of principles of governance  enshrined in our Constitution.  Civic education is sorely lacking, and even the assertion that one can be wrong politically (in the technical sense) is written off as violating the right to have an opinion.  Relativism reigns indeed, and until there is broader agreement on the fundamentals of a free society tyrannical forces will always have an upper hand.

The second lesson for conservatives is that our battle is as much cultural as it is strictly political.  I am convinced my generation is not dogmatically leftist, but simply has not been presented with a robust,  alternative way of thinking about government.  I admit that it is easier to promise handouts rather than explain why a free market is more beneficial to society as a whole than socialism, but to win the battle we must elevate the dialogue and get out of the habit of communicating in petty talking points.  It is important to identify and promote eloquent, popular, and mainstream figures who can relate to the youth.  We should embrace this charge: as Obama’s economy flounders, more and more young people are out of work and frustrated.  If spoken to on their own terms, particularly when their future is at stake, we will find them natural conservatives.  The connection must be made between responsible behavior and opportunity.  Moreover, conservatives must reclaim the moral high ground on healthcare through vigorously promoting a freer market, and thus more productive and innovative, market in medicine.

In concluding my thoughts, the bad news for conservatives is that many who grew up in the 1960s would rather cut off their right hand than vote Republican.  To convert Susan and liberals of her generation, the GOP would have to wage the equivalent of holy war.  Their children, however, who are looking for jobs or early yet in their careers, are living with the consequences of a broadly implemented Liberalism at the Federal level.  Many are left unemployed.  Among the employed are mostly liberals of convenience, who know very little about politics.  Harry is hungry for something new, something cool, and something that works.  That something is called liberty.  This is the good news for conservatives.

DISCLAIMER: This post and the contents thereof are the views of only the author identified immediately above and do not necessarily represent the views of the New York Young Republican Club (the "NYYRC"), its officers or its members. The NYYRC expressly disclaims responsibility for the contents thereof and by its charter documents may not, and does not, endorse any candidate for any office, except in a general election.

2 Comments

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  • That was an absolute pleasure to read. Refreshing and endearing, your writing is full of passion and truth. You masterfully articulated experiences that must be felt by untold numbers of conservatives living in NYC, and I am proud to be counted in that lot. Thank you, sincerely.