Monday, March 22, 2010

A critique or an alternative worldview?

Two blog posts today reminded me of the essential division I believe I'm seeing in American politics. Democracy in America has a post suggesting how much the Republicans have influenced the health care plan and how their cooperation can move things forward to make a better plan. It is written as suggestions as to how the President should have addressed Republicans. Two excerpts:

"The health-care reform that just passed is an entirely private-sector-based reform, and that is the result of Republican influence. Had there been no Republican or conservative influence on the health-care debate over the past 17 years, the reform that just passed might have been a single-payer system, or it might have looked like Hillarycare..."

"If Republicans are sceptical that Democrats will truly cap the employer health-insurance tax exclusion in 2018, then Republicans can help make sure it happens by providing the votes for it."

All this and several more suggestions on how Republicans could improve health care within the new system. I largely agree with this. The Republicans views do offer a lot that could be used to make the plan better. However, the Republicans have a big C Conservative base that probably doesn't see things this way. This will have to be supported better in later posts but my belief is that Conservatives do not see their views as a critique of what they refer to as "liberal" views (I'd call it the post-WWII western consensus). Instead, as they keep saying in blog after blog, they believe the liberal view is fundamentally flawed (not in these words but you get the gist) and that they offer a better alternative.

What drives my thoughts in this direction, is that in addition to its appeal to real bipartisanship, is that DIA then mentions Ross Douthat's column in today's New York Times. A large section of it details how both liberals and conservatives believe the bill will function, and that one will be right, one wrong. Personally, I feel that he is overstating liberal's positions on a few issues, but this is beside the point. I get the sense from this column that the Conservative view is an either/or type of thing and that there is not some kind of workable middle ground between the two views.

Some evidence for this:
"Likewise, liberals are convinced that reform will cut the deficit, rather than increase it."
Followed by:
"Right now, these assumptions are hotly contested between left and right. But if the bill passes, by 2018 we’ll find out who’s right."

"The same goes for all the things that liberals are sure won’t happen. We’ll find out if the bill makes premiums skyrocket. We’ll find out if it creates doctor shortages. We’ll find out if the array of new taxes destroys more jobs than the new spending creates."

He ends his column with "“Experience keeps a dear school,” Ben Franklin said, “but fools will learn in no other.” Whether liberals or conservatives are the fools in this story remains to be seen."

And in a blog post, in which he lays out three potential scenarios suggests this about the one he sees as most likely: "The result will be semi-universal health care, yes, but at the cost of a permanent fiscal crisis, in which every budget battle becomes a struggle over how to jury-rig the health care system sufficiently to stave off fiscal disaster for another year or two. We’ll be Greece, or California."

Either the Conservative worldview is largely right, or the liberal worldview is. The notion that each side may represent part of the truth isn't really presented as an alternative. These are two, largely exclusive, distinct viewpoints. They are not offering a critique of liberalism meant to provide an alternative viewpoint to improve a broadly centrist consensus vision. Instead the implication seems to be they are offering an alternative worldview. Either they are right and liberals are wrong, or vice-versa. I don't mean to single out Douthat too much, after all I enjoy his column, and generally think he sounds fairly reasonable, even if I usually disagree with him but these particular posts do illustrate the idea I'm trying to get at. Liberals seem to make the mistake that we are all functioning within roughly the same world view and that Conservatives don't disagree on major elements of it. I don't believe this is how Conservatives view it and liberals aren't doing themselves any favors by ignoring Conservative statements that hint at a deep divide in viewpoints.

This is why we won't see compromise positions any time soon. I believe Conservatives will eventually have to face up to the idea that there are a lot of things that really are known that they are currently mislabeling as distortions of the main-stream media , as well as that viewpoints aside from their own are not necessarily "liberal" and may in fact be a broader western consensus that is broad enough for both them and the liberals, and realize their viewpoint is only a critique, not a complete alternative view. I don't think they're there yet.

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