Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Being A Liberal Is Hard

Conservatives now control the White House, both houses of Congress and, probably the most frightening in the long run, the Supreme Court. It's hard to be a liberal in that kind of political atmosphere, especially here in the South, where conservativism has been going nonstop since the Civil War.

Conservatives call us the "Hate America First" crowd, because we are critical of what America is doing. I have to echo Bill Maher's sentiments when I hear this: I don't have America. I love America. And I want it back from the yahoos who are running it into the ground. It fills me with sorrow to hear about some of the things that are coming out now about what the US has been doing lately. Allegations are just allegations, I know, but there is truth to at least some of the things that are being said. Systematic torture is unacceptable and unAmerican. Yet we are engaging in it every day, from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo to the Eastern European "black facilities" run by the CIA. And George W. Bush wants an exception for the CIA in proposed anti-torture legislation coming before Congress right now. Why? If, as he claims, we do not torture, then why does the CIA need an exception in legislation that makes it illegal for us as a country to torture? And that's not all.

I won't go into the morality/immorality of the war in Iraq. I think it was dishonestly sold to the US people, but Machiavelli was right when he said that, in essence, people are sheep who need to be led. But I can't help but feel that there was at least a slight case of payback involved here. Saddam did hire assassins to attack George H. W. Bush after he left office, after all, and it's only natural for a son to want to defend his father. But to use the power of the Presidency to do it cheapens both the office and the man who did it. Not that Georgie Porgie is all that classy a guy anway. I can't prove that that was W's prime motivation, but since we're dealing with a self-proclaimed cowboy here, I can't discount it, either.

You can argue all day long about whether torture is necessary and whether the war in Iraq is a good thing, but ultimately, those are such long-term issues that we'll have to have twenty or more years perspective before we can say what was necessary and what wasn't. My gut feeling is that this is a black time in American history, but I'm a pessimist, so maybe I'm wrong. Maybe everything in the foreign affairs arena will turn out okay. But that still leaves a lot of ground to cover. The environmental mismanagement that is currently going on in the conservative halls of power is even more depressing.

Congress recently approved drilling for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Why can't conservatives see that this is a huge mistake? I'm no environmentalist wacko who screams over saving one little spotted owl at the expense of hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the AWR is not just a single bird. It's thousands of species and millions of individual animals whose homeland is going to be disrupted by oil rigs and all the associated support structures, like roads, administrative buildings, worker housing, truck depots, etc. And why? So that domestic oil companies who are already posting record profits at the expense of gullible Americans can get even cheaper oil into their refineries and continue to charge exorbitant prices that will lead to even higher record profits next year. And the really bad part about all of this is that the oil companies are trying to turn it around and blame the consumers for sucking up the gas.

I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous. The gasoline consumption of the entire US car-owning population doesn't even begin to equal the amount of petroleum used around the world in non-gasoline functions. I'm not just talking about commercial shipping concerns, who mostly use diesel. I also mean all the raw materials that go into plastics, glues and rubbers around the world. China's blossoming industrial capacity is eating into world-wide supplies of all kinds of chemical raw materials. I know for a fact that the US chemical industry is having trouble keeping a ready of supply of acrylates for domestic use available. And it's no surprise that crude oil prices spike when this brand-spanking new market for petroleum-based products opens up. So, to blame the spike in US gas prices on Katrina, Rita and the greediness of the American consumer is both disingenous and vicious. It's a price-gouging money grab, and everyone knows it. The problem is that American conservatives don't care and American liberals don't have the knowledge or the power to do anything about it.

Now, I'll be the first to agree that Americans are gas guzzlers. I love my little S10 pickup truck, but it barely gets 20 miles per gallon. I feel guilty about that. I am seriously considering the switch to a hybrid, or maybe a dual fuel system diesel. The thing is that I was doing that before the $3.50/gallon gas prices hit. And the recent easing of those prices is not taking any real pressure off. But a realistic world-view allows one to realize that a jump of over 30% in gas prices, over night, has nothing to do with the temporary damage of one area of petroleum supply. The problem is that conservatives are willing to turn a blind eye to the facts in an effort to bolster profits, which in turn help their own portfolios. I can't honestly say that liberals would have done any better, but that doesn't excuse the fact that conservatives were the ones on watch when this happened.

On the social side, the one half of the liberal position is simple. What you do in your home is your business as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. Gay marriage? Doesn't hurt me. Bisexualism? Not a big deal. Polygamy/polyandry? Who cares? I don't. But the busy-body Mrs. Grundy-esque conservatives just gotta stick their noses in where it doesn't belong. I don't care what your little 2000 year old book says, two guys kissing doesn't hurt me in the least. Communal orgies would only bother me if I wasn't invited.

Marriage as financial arrangement is understandable. Stop freaking out about the implications for altering or expanding those financial arrangements. Ultimately, it's not going to matter. Since there are roughly as many gay men as there are gay women in America, it doesn't change the financial situation at all. They cancel each other out, from a financial perspective. And stop wonking about the societal ills bullshit. Homosexuality is not a societal ill. It's part of the human experience. Learn to deal.

The other half of the liberal position is even more simple. Help those in need. That, at least, should be palatable to the conservatives. After all, their book says we're supposed to be charitable, right? Somehow, that seems to keep slipping the minds of the Religious Right. I don't hear Pat Robertson calling on the government to help out the poor people in Darfur who are being slaughtered daily. I hear him wailing and gnashing his teeth about Warren Beatty. Where in the nine hells of Dante does this guy think he's coming from? We, as the most powerful single polity in the world, have a responsibility to help those less fortunate, be they poor people in New Orleans who's homes are destroyed, or the poor people in Africa who are dying of AIDS and genocide. Bush said we'd be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis. He was right about being greeted as liberators, but he got the country wrong. Roll on out to Sudan and stop the killing. You'd be amazed at the number of people who would , figuratively speaking, fall down at the feet of American soldiers in thanks. But, sadly, that's not going to happen any time soon.

The last thing that makes being a liberal so hard is the attitude towards science that conservatives have. The scientific suppression by conservatives in the name of their deity is ming-boggling. I know that I've harped on this from different angles before, but how far behind does the US have to get in the scientific arena before someone realizes that our current science policy, and the lack of real leadership where American scientific endeavors are concerned, is doing more harm than good? How useful is it to have a nation full of scientifically illiterate country bumpkins who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, but can't explain the basic principles of how a light bulb works? "God did it" doesn't cut it. I realize that there are serious ethical issues that need to be mulled over before we continue with stem cell research and experimental human cloning. But the truth is that if we don't make some kind of progess in these areas, someone else will. And when that happens, when we fall so far behind in cutting edge science that we can't even see the edge anymore, we're done for.

Technological superiority comes from scientific excellence, and this country is only as strong as its technological superiority. I know that the heart of the average soldier is pure as the new-driven snow, and that our marines would take on tanks with their bare hands, but when it gets down to brass tacks, the guy with the better stick wins. And the US is in danger of losing the better stick within a generation. But conservatives seem to think that you can reject the parts of scientific inquiry that conflict with their own worldviews and keep the "good parts". That's not how science works. Biology does not work in isolation. It moves in lock-step with chemistry, which moves in lock-step with physics. Cosmology and geology also move in lock-step with physics. So, there's a sort of scientific Six Degrees of Separation principle at work. And once you deny part of it, you deny all of it, because you can't really separate any of it.

This is probably the most personal part of my problems with the conservatives. Stem cell research and therapeutic human cloning probably hold the keys to saving the life of someone I love dearly. And the idiots in power won't even consider the possibility of letting the necessary research be done. And by the time we can throw the idiots out of power, it may be too late. I think that's where my deep and abiding hatred for the monkey masquerading as a man who sits in the Oval Office comes from.

Now, a lot of the things I'm complaining about may have happened under a liberal regime, as well. I don't know that a Democrat would have handled Katrina better. But he or she sure couldn't have done any worse. I don't know that a Democrat would do anything different concerning Darfur. Or stem cell research. Or gay marriage. But I get depressed every time I look at the liberal side of American politics right now and see no leadership, because that means that we are stuck with the conservative goofballs that are making a hash of it right now. Richard Nixon, for all his faults, had a better record than the current administration on almost everything I've mentioned in this article. He ended the war in Viet Nam, he ended the draft, he started a broad environmental protection program, he strengthened diplomatic ties with the rest of the world, he was pro-education and was President when Armstrong landed on the Moon. Current conservative policy is unrecognizable when compared with that. Hell, I'm a flaming atheist and a staunch liberal and I'd vote for Nixon right now. He'd be better than what we have, Watergate and all.

Conservatives, by definition, don't like change. That means that any change in American policy is going to have to come about by a regime change. Liberals are going to have to throw the bums out of office, and we're going to have to do it soon if we want to inherit offices that still mean something.

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"Loyalty to petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul..." -- Mark Twain

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Fire does not wait for the sun to be hot,

Nor the wind for the moon, to be cool.

-- the Zenrin Kushu