I had dinner last night with one of the most important conservative media voices in America and some of his friends. I had gone to the dinner expecting some fireworks, but was totally caught off guard by his charm and what he had to say.
First, he was disgusted by “the pygmies” in the Republican Presidential Race. As much as he dislikes Obama, there was not a one of the current Republican candidates that he could be enthusiastic about.
Second, we found ourselves in agreement that the issue of Crony Capitalism is perhaps the most pernicious threat to our Republic. Crony Capitalism distorts everything from Crop subsidies flowing to agribusiness to our inability to cancel useless Pentagon weapon systems. And the disease effects both political parties.
As the evening progressed I kept trying to move us beyond the Left-Right dialectic we are trapped in and to suggest that we might find some common ground in the liberal principles that are the basis for our Republic:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now the word “liberal” is seen as poisonous to conservatives, but it’s origins in John Locke’s Natural Rights theory were the basis for our revolution. The basis of Liberal Philosophy is fairly straightforward.
At its very root, liberalism is a philosophy about the meaning of humanity and society. Political philosopher John Gray identified the common strands in liberal thought as being individualist, egalitarian, meliorist, and universalist. The individualist element avers the ethical primacy of the human being against the pressures of social collectivism, the egalitarian element assigns the same moral worth and status to all individuals, the meliorist element asserts that successive generations can improve their sociopolitical arrangements, and the universalist element affirms the moral unity of the human species and marginalizes local cultural differences.
I have a feeling my new conservative acquaintances could sign on to those four principals. So what would a Liberal Party stand for?
- Subsidiarity-“Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.”(Wikipedia). That means the devolution of power and money away from the Federal Government towards the States and Cities. Lower Federal taxes and budgets, but a growth in State and City revenues perhaps through sales or VAT tax. This also mean expanded state and city ability to experiment in how we teach our children. Thats the individualist.
- Equality of Opportunity-Poor First Graders should have the same access to great teachers as rich First Graders. Middle Class kids should not have to leave college with $200,000 of debt to begin their working lives. The state should provide a decent education for a reasonable price for in state students from K-College. Thats the egalitarian
- Technology and Productivity-We live in a Moore’s Law World–technology and communications will get faster and cheaper every year. These technologies will empower people seeking freedom from dictatorships around the world. As with the founding of the Internet, smart Public/Private partnerships can help spur innovation and raise living standards. That’s the meliorist.
- Sustainability-We need to create an economy in sync with the times. On one side we have an abundance–electronic spectrum, cheaper microprocessors, cameras. On the other side we have the beginnings of scarcity.Here is a bit from a recent private research report on Energy return on investment (EROI): “The petroleum sector’s EROI in USA was about 100-to-1 in the 1930s, meaning one had to burn approximately 1 barrel of oil’s worth of energy to get 100 barrels out of the ground. By the 1990s, that number slid to less than 36-to-1, and further down to 19-to-1 by 2006. It has fallen even further in recent years. Oil extraction has evolved by leaps and bounds since the early 1900s, and yet companies must expend much more energy to get less and less oil than they did a hundred years ago. If one were to go from using a 19-to-1 energy return on fuel down to a 3-to-1 EROI, economic disruption is guaranteed as nothing is left for other economic activity at all!” The challenges of sustainability are real, not fake. We must somehow figure out how to leave this planet in decent shape to our grandchildren. This is the Universalist
- Foreign Policy-We no longer want to be the unpaid cop of the world. We will make sure of our own defense, but we will pull back our military footprint substantially from the rest of the world. We will no longer borrow money from China to fight wars to keep their oil flowing.
- Personhood-Liberals believe in the “primacy of the human being” and so disavow “the personhood of corporations”, that is currently laying waste to our democratic systems with Super Pacs. We totally support Senator Bernie Sanders’ Saving American Democracy Amendment.
I’m not saying there is an easy meeting ground for the left and the right in a New Liberalism. But I was struck by an article this morning on some internal polling Ron Paul had done about his foreign policy stance.
Jesse Benton, Mr. Paul’s national chairman, says internal polling has found that more than 70 percent of probable Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire would be more likely to support someone who wanted to bring troops home, foster a strong national defense and end the United States’ role as the world’s policeman.
Well if they are even close to being right, there is clearly an anti Imperialist fervor on both the left and the right. Whether we could also agree on subsidiarity, personhood, sustainability and our other issues would be the interesting challenge.