SECOND UPDATE: more replies and responses.
Third UPDATE: this thread continues here.
Guest blogging on SC&A, boomr properly pleads for reasoned debate. After that we part company--because he insists a new "centrist" party is the fastest path to civility and moderation. Below, I dispute some of boomr's analysis and recommendations.
- Party differences: Boomr wants it both ways, arguing Republicans and Democrats are different yet identical. First, he claims Republicans are "ruled by Biblical doctrine and by corporate bottom lines," while Democrats are motivated "by reaction to what the Republicans are doing and by social policies without focus." Next he insists neither group cares about "what may be the best thing for all the people in our country," and both favor "exclusion of other political voices." Though I disagree with boomr's description of Republicans, I'm certain both parties genuinely want the best for America and believe their platform would best achieve it. They just disagree about what's best and partisans (like me) think one approach superior to the other; boomr's differing characterizations (however inaccurate) demonstrate he too does distinguish.1
As for excluding other voices, boomr's point is either trivial (each party wants to win elections, and therefore exclude the voice of the other party's candidate) or flatly wrong regarding Republicans. It is Republicans and conservatives, after all, who favor debate followed by elections, where all voices may be heard and counted. By contrast, Democrats distrust the people and propel their platform via the unelected judiciary--thus narrowing the relevant voices from the hundreds of millions to nine.
Hey, look at me: a voice excluded by Democrats. Everyone's entitled to choose, but the parties are different.
- Outlawing loyalty: Boomr blames the current acrimony on each party's insistence on loyalty. So boomr's proposed party would ban it, an idea with which MaxedOutMama appears to agree. The new group's "central tenent" would allow disagreements which, allegedly, will promote "benevolent compromise."
I have no objection, but it's either meaningless or impossible. Neither party suppresses opinions or debate on the latest questions.2 They do enforce party discipline once a policy is chosen (however accomplished). Why assume that's not "benevolent" or a "compromise?" On the other hand, if the centrist central tenant encourages members to undermine settled positions, boomr's new party will have a half-life measured in months. Boomr's approach creates a college-dorm bull-session, not an electable coalition.
- A "No Religious Test" Test: I share boomr's commitment to religious freedom. The vast majority agree that certain entanglements between government and religion are unwise and unconstitutional. Normally, the government can neither force, nor prevent, church attendance. But that's the easy part.
Boomr's proposed party would be well more radical, "absolutely preclud[ing]" legislating based on "one group of citizens' idea of morality." This hostility to religious motivation, and his new leap to "morals," is neither explained, justified nor workable, as I've previously discussed. Neither law nor any proffered policy objective exclude religion from the public sphere, for example, on coins and in Congress. See, e.g., Walz v. Tax Comm'n, 397 U.S. 664, 671 (1970); Abington Sch. Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 213 (1963); Zorach v. Clausen, 343 U.S. 306, 312-13 (1954). Boomr's idea is unconstitutional.
And neither "religion" nor "morals" are easily defined. Take, for example, the "Golden Rule," which the various holy books require of Jews, Christians and Muslims. Would boomr's centrist party oppose laws that implement or further interpersonal reciprocity (say, for example, noise codes prohibiting sounds above a certain decibel level)? Would it matter if the lawmakers were "motivated" by the Golden Rule? If so, how would boomr propose to distinguish permissible and impermissible intent?
As another example, six of the Ten Commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:16-21) neither mention God nor any particular faith (e.g., "Thou shalt not kill."). And those six are codified as crimes under state and Federal law. Are such laws impermissibly "religious?" If not, are they unacceptably "moral?" If a legislator wants theft to remain a crime, is he imposing his religion or morals on others?
Boomr says a centrist party should "tolerate a range of ideas [and] morals." Fine. My idea is that adultery is immoral and hurts others (thus violating the Golden Rule). So suppose I favor criminalizing adultery.3 Would boomr tolerate my idea and morality? Or, as the late John Rawls once argued, are there "reasonable" and "ignorable" moralities? How could such a line be drawn? Wouldn't everyone draw it a bit different? That's not coherent, it's chaos.
- Economics in the middle: Boomr's right about rejecting class warfare. But he's mostly wrong in arguing America needs a new "balance" between workers and business. That balance already exists, invented by Hayek and Reagan.
Despite widespread scorn for the "trickle down" economics, President Reagan was right that a rising tide lifts all boats, says Seth Norton in the CATO Journal:
The incomes of the poor are intimately linked to the incomes of the rich. While the relationship is not one-for-one, it is notable. The incomes of the poor rise more with increases in the incomes of the rich than vice versa. More importantly, the incomes of the rich have a discernible effect in reducing the UN's conventional measure of poverty. Notably, growth in the incomes of the rich reduces the effects of poverty proportionally more than is the case for increases in the incomes of the poor. In addition, economic growth clearly reduces poverty. The results for sub-Saharan Africa are not appreciably different from the rest of the world.Others agree that growth's the key to reducing poverty:
The term “trickle-down‚” is a misnomer: growth actually entails a cascade, not a trickle. The quality of growth may be important, but growth itself is the surest way to reduce human deprivation around the world.
[A] recent World Bank study that looked at growth in 65 developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s. The share of people in poverty, defined as those living on less than a dollar per day, almost always declined in countries that experienced growth and increased in countries that experienced economic contractions. The faster the growth, the study found, the faster the poverty reduction, and vice versa. For example, an economic expansion in per capita income of 8.2 percent translated into a 6.1 reduction in the poverty rate. A contraction of 1.9 percent in output led to an increase of 1.5 percent in the poverty rate.Data from the Bureau of Labor Statictics supports the notion that growth reduces poverty regardless of whether the rich benefit as well:
Comparison of GDP (click to enlarge)
Obviously, growth is good--even for the poor.
Now it's true that President Bush has departed from small government conservatism. He's wrong to do so--the recent Highway Bill, for example, should have been vetoed, not touted. But though Bush is off the reservation, there's widespread acknowledgment that "Reaganomics" -- also implemented by President Clinton beginning in 1995 -- strikes the appropriate balance, spurs growth and benefits all.
- Campaign Finance Reform: This one's easy. We've had a belly full of reforms, which suppressed speech and were ineffective. By silencing individual opinion, banning "issue ads" is simply outrageous (as boomr recognizes). And Congress can't keep up with loopholes, as last year's "527" fiasco proved.
So repeal it all. Replace the morass with a simple concept: disclosure. Money doesn't necessarily corrupt--it mostly amplifies a speaker's, or an idea's, audience. And we can't stop the money anyway. But we can, and should, know about it. If Richard Gephardt, for example, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the AFL-CIO, the voters can assess his candidacy in that light.
Make candidates promptly disclose the source and amount of every contribution (the FEC's computer system is nearly there already). Other than funding "coordinated" with a campaign (which fall under the above rule), private pressure/lobby groups must disclose the object and value of their spending (though not their contributors, see NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 461-63 (1958)). Such disclosure must be posted on the Internet within 48 hours. And, if -- as leftists imagine -- George Bush must paste a sticker on his forehead saying: "Property of "big oil" and Saudi Arabia," so be it. Why should boomr, or "the center," need more, especially (as boomr admits) where more chills speech?
It's a good effort. But few will join.
Boomr replies; I respond.
Another round of replies and responses.
1 Addressing abortion, boomr suggests that the existance of pro-choice Republicans and pro-life Democrats demonstrates the convergance of the parties. Nonsense. The overwhelming majority in each party agree as to abortion. As an example, all candidates in last year's Democrat presidential primary supported Federalized legalized abortion. And former Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey learned the costs of disputing settled Democrat doctrine. In any event, should abortion be the litmus test and lynchpin, the correlation would climb to about 2 sigma were the test rephrased as "favor retention of a judicially imposed absolute and unalterable Federalized Constitutional right."
2 I personally have observed this process within my party.
3 Supporting the criminalizing of particular conduct is not the same as supporting the agressive or intrusive enforcement of that crime.