Monday, January 11, 2010

Why I Am Not A Conservative

The Political Compass places me as a "left libertarian;" that is, my economic and social views mark me as a social libertarian and economic leftist.  Basically, I favor the individual in contention with authority and in contention with economic forces. I believe in Roosevelt's Four Freedoms: Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, freedom from fear. 

No human being should be left wondering whence food and shelter shall arrive, nor fear the knock on the door. For the self-styled "richest country in the world" to denigrate and ignore the hungry, the destitute and the dying, is not beyond comprehension; but it's beyond excuse.

During the first  Gulf War, I was online via  FidoNet. We used what was known as echomail to communicate. Echomail worked something like Usenet, message feeds that propagated periodically from points of origin to all other points (generally called 'nodes') on the FidoNet network.   One of the echomail groups that I belonged to was a group devoted to discussing politics. This group was comprised almost exclusively of conservatives, some of them extremely far to the right. For the handful of us who were liberals, it could be tough sledding, sometimes.

There was a lot of bad behavior online in those days. If you got
someone sufficiently irked, they might send you an "ANSI bomb".  This was a message that contained either in the body or in the message subject ANSI codes that would execute when the message was loaded into a viewer. These were most often confined to graphical effects that would make your screen unreadable (very difficult to delete the message when your screen is reprogrammed so you don't know where to put the cursor to access the message). Or, somebody might "mail bomb" you with dozens or hundreds of resends of the same message, usually one with graphically rude language, even threats. I recall one latter campaign from the politics group; I would create filters to block messages from a particular username. But due to the nature of echomail, there were no "accounts" as we would think of them today, and any user could change his username at will. So, the guy would change his username every day or so and send me a hundred insulting messages, which then would get through and I'd have to update the filter. This went on for a couple of weeks.

You sort of had to take that kind of thing and make the best of it.  Most of the people using FidoNet had better than average computer skills. You had to. Software in those days was primitive; there were no comprehensive packages such as we have today. Today, my mail client includes a calendar, a daily planner, a mail client that connects to multiple mail servers, an address book. Twenty years ago, I had separate tools for each function I wanted to implement, and chained them together. I was working from a console (prettified by using ANSI graphics).

This is all background for the experience I had in the politics group that forever turned me away from American conservative politics.  Because there is some bad behavior that is just unconscionable. You know that the medium of exchange, long distance text messages sent among computers, invites thoughtless behavior. But there are levels of cruelty that are revealing of more than an outburst of aggression sparked by anger.

I had a friend in that group, Art Abelson. Art actually lived across the river from me in Vancouver, WA. Art was a retired laborer, former union organizer and Wobbly.  Art was a good guy and I liked him.

Art had a daughter in the Army, who was shipped to the Gulf during the war. He received a call from her, from Kuwait, and she told him that her unit was going into Iraq and she would be out of contact while they were in the combat zone. Two days went by, and no word. Art was worried, and expressed his concern in the politics group.  Immediately, a group of a half-dozen far-right extremists began messaging that they hoped she was killed in combat and it would serve her and him right -- because of his leftist political views. Now, there are always nutters like that, whereever conservatives gather.  But the tell in this case was this: not a single one of the so-called moderate conservatives would condemn this outrageous activity.  Not one. 

Art was going at it hammer-and-tongs with these guys and I was pitching lead right there with him. He wanted them to admit that wishing for a US soldier to be killed in battle was wrong, in any event; and wrong for them to wish her to die because they didn't like her father's political views. But those kinds of battles are never really won. Those guys didn't care -- they were out to inflict personal pain; the more you engage them, the more convinced they are that they are being successful and the more they will have at you.

Art and I met in a bar one night, not too far from where I live. We drank some microbrew and talked about this process. It was crushing him; he was trying to make sense of the senseless. Walk away, I told him. You can't win this fight. Don't put yourself through hell dealing with guys who want you to suffer. The more you dispute this topic with them, the more they are going to stick in the knife and the more misery it will cause you.

He couldn't let it go. They were in the wrong, he was in the right, and he "had to fight for what's right."

Well, the takeaway for me was the gutless refusal of the so-called moderates to stand up for what was right. "The enemy of my friend is my enemy." Because they saw themselves as politically affiliated with the self-styled conservatives who were pitching into Art, and opposed to Art on other political issues, they would not stand with him, even when he clearly was in the right.

In the past, I have crossed party lines to vote for candidates who held positions that were significant to me. I voted for Mark Hatfield for senator, several times, because of his strong opposition to nuclear arms and strong support for nuclear disarmament. Even though he was opposed to abortion rights. There were other Republican or Independent candidates in Oregon politics, over the years, that got my vote. 

But Art's battle made me realize that Republicans, as the self-styled conservative party, value party loyalty over honor and justice. It made me realize that they will not stand up for what is right, if what is right is coming from "the enemy," the liberal or Democratic Party.  Their views may be "moderate" when compared to the extremists; but there's nothing moderate about their loyalty. It is first and foremost to the party. They are every bit the apparatchiks of conservatism. Conservativism, as defined by its representation in the Republican party, is fundamentally morally corrupt.

I have never voted for a Republican candidate since then. Nor will I, for the foreseeable future. No matter what they say on the stump or in an interview, after the party caucus they will do what they're told. And what they are told to do is what is politically convenient for the party, not what is good for the country, or moral, or honest.

I believe in God, family and country. In that order. "Political party" is not in that list. "Markets" is not in that list. I believe that if you are faithful to the first item in that list, the other two will fall into place as they should. You will know what to do, and when to do it. And you will do it.

I believe that we should all take responsibility for our own actions. I believe that we should never use that as an excuse to withhold help from the needy and the disadvantaged. I believe that when the Lord said, "... just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me," he was giving us our marching orders and a warning.

When I pull the lever in the voting booth, I know this about the Democratic candidates: that they are like a herd of cats. That the principles of the Democratic Party (partially enshrined in the Four Freedoms) are the guide for the candidates. As much as we party members may groan and shake our heads at our party's political infighting; as much as we may wish for more consistent messaging from party members and party leaders; we are what we are because our principles are our guide: not our party duty.

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