Science Getting It Right

The modern world is the world of science getting it right. Computers and cell phones are dependent upon silicon computer chips that are the product of advanced materials sciences that rely, in part on the teachings of quantum mechanics to explain how electrons are transmitted within the chips. Modern communication technology, including cell phones, the internet, wireless communications, and data transmission satellites are all the product of modern science, including esoteric number theories, quantum mechanics, and advanced astronomy and cosmology that allow the precise positioning of geosynchronous communication satellites. It all works because science got it right.

We live increasingly long and healthy lives because of scientific advances in medicine, which are dependent upon modern understanding of biology, which is largely dependent upon understanding how genes operate and interact, and all of this is dependent upon the process of evolution. We live long and healthy lives, we benefit from many marvels of modern medicine, because science gets it right.
Every time a person uses a cell phone, logs onto the internet, uses GPS to determine their location or get directions, or benefits from modern medicine, they are essentially endorsing the modern world of science. They may not realize it, they may even doubt the science, but the reality is that modern technology works because science got it right.

I’m baffled then when I hear people, particularly intelligent people with advanced degrees, question the science of climate change. The science of climate change is based upon the same scientific principles, theories, methods and protocols that make computer chips work, that allow cell phones to make a call, that send rockets with rovers to Mars, that create disease resistant crops, and that eradicated diseases and improved health around the world.

How have all of these scientific advances worked, when somehow science gets it wrong regarding climate change?

The scientific principles underlying climate change are extraordinarily simple. No quantum mechanics, no warping of the space time continuum. The scientific theories underlying climate change has been around for well over a century, and in that time has been tested and confirmed. Like it or not, we live in the world of science getting it right. And that applies to climate change.

It’s All Jefferson’s Fault

[Originally Published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Feb 23, 2004]

The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry. The response from President Bush and most conservatives was predictable: This was the work of “activist judges.”

But the real villains aren’t judicial activists, they are radicals named Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote: “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.”

The idea of equality and individual rights wasn’t Jefferson’s — philosophers had discussed it for years — but he was the first person radical enough to propose the idea as the foundation of a government. Many who joined Jefferson in signing the Declaration understood the implication of his idea. They knew that equality, if followed to its logical conclusion, would certainly end slavery and probably many other so-called traditions.

So, while Jefferson was away, serving as ambassador to France, they drafted the Constitution without his broad vision of equality. They ignored Jefferson’s ideal and granted rights only to white males. Many people were outraged by this, particularly by the idea that slaves were only three-fifths human, and set about to change things. But change comes slowly, and it took nearly 80 years to happen.

One of the men outraged by the hypocrisy of a nation that was founded on the principal of equality but refused to provide equality in its laws was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, like politicians today, struggled with how to resolve the competing interests of equality and tradition. He believed that the principle of equality was a worthy goal, but he worried about the incredible social disruption that would likely occur if laws were changed to implement that goal. Many Southerners did not trust Lincoln to craft the proper balance between these competing interests, so when he was elected president, most Southern states seceded.

Lincoln initially focused on fighting the war, but by 1862, as Union fortunes improved, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing many slaves. Then, after the Union Army successfully repelled a Southern invasion at Gettysburg, Lincoln noted that the founders created a new nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He said the purpose of the Civil War was to ensure that such a nation “shall not perish from the Earth.”

Due largely to Lincoln’s eloquence at Gettysburg and his tragic assassination, the Constitution was amended to incorporate Jefferson’s idea of equality. Under the Constitution, equality doesn’t mean that everyone is the same, but it does mean that everyone must be treated the same. The 14th Amendment says that the government shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Lincoln taught us that Jefferson’s phrase “all men” did not just mean white men, and subsequent history — suffrage and civil rights — shows that “men” means “mankind” and includes women. So if our nation is founded on the principal that all people should be treated equally, how can we justify treating some people differently when it comes to property, inheritance or parentage rights? The inescapable answer is that, according to the Constitution and its history, we can’t.

That’s all that the Massachusetts Supreme Court said. If that is activist or even radical, we have no one to blame but Jefferson and Lincoln.

The Changing World Economy

The world’s economy has changed dramatically in the last twenty years or so. Computers have changed the modern workplace and software has replaced entire categories of workers. Automation has altered manufacturing and now companies make more products at lower cost and with fewer workers. Globalization has allowed companies to shift manufacturing overseas. International competition and low cost international shipping has created a glut of low cost clothing and consumer goods. And the internet has altered the commercial landscape, and internet merchants, like, have displaced brick and mortar stores in many categories.

I would hazard that the world’s economy has changed more in the last twenty years than in any previous twenty year period. These economic changes have caused a number of other changes in the economy, in politics, and in society.

The first and most obvious changes are in employment and the modern workplace. Computers and software have eliminated millions of typists, secretaries, clerks, bookkeepers, draftsmen, and many other careers. Many people lament the loss of manufacturing jobs to outsourcing and overseas competition, but far more jobs have been lost to automation. Most people may not realize that the United States is still the world’s largest industrial manufacturing nation, but we make more products – when measured by value – than ever, but we do it with far fewer people. From the end of World War Two until the late 1990’s, manufacturing employed between 15 and 20% of the U.S. workforce, but since 2000 than number has slipped to just under 10%.

These changes in employment are a large part of the reason that economic recoveries in the last two decades have been so shallow and slow. There are fewer and fewer jobs, and often, when a slowdown hits, a company will lay off workers and incorporate new computers or software or automated equipment, and then when the economy recovers the jobs don’t return. This means that overall employment rates are going down, and it also means that good paying jobs are harder and harder to find. And this change in the structure of employment accounts, in part, for the growing disparity between rich and poor. A company that is selling as much but with fewer employees has more money for executives and shareholders. And so the gap between rich and poor widens.

These changes in employment and the overall changes in the economy are having a profound impact on society. Young people have fewer opportunities, and a growing sense of disillusionment springs from that. Youth unemployment is high and this often leads to a variety of social ills like increased drug use. Single motherhood is partly a product of the fact that in some poor communities there are fewer and fewer men with stable jobs and good future prospects, so more and more women chose to be single mothers. But single motherhood is also a major contributor to poverty. So single motherhood is both a symptom of the changing economy, and a major contributor to poverty.

These changes in employment trends are also having an impact on politics. Young people are frustrated and dislocated, and older people see these economic changes and are concerned for the opportunities of their children and grandchildren. People in the job market have come to learn that they are fungible, that they can and will be replaced by business owners who only care about the bottom line. People are frustrated and feel dislocated and adrift, and so they look for answers. Both the Occupy Wall Street movement of a few years ago and the rise of the Tea Party are a result of economic anxiety. Those with clear and simplistic answers have a receptive audience. Hence the rise of the Tea Party. Their answer is that every economic problem is and was caused by liberals and liberal policy, and so their solution is to stop, by any means, liberal policies and liberal politicians. This has added bitterness with an ugly undertone to the already fraught political environment.

These economic problems are not just happening in the United States, they are happening around the world. Economic growth has been stagnant in most of the developed world. Believe it or not, the US is one of the strongest economies in the world. You wouldn’t know that from watching the news, where it’s all doom and gloom, particularly on conservative and business news, but most of the developed world is in a period of extremely slow growth and austerity. And China, which has been growing significantly in the last decade, has had growth slowed dramatically in the last couple of years. It also turns out that much of China’s growth is due to government spending and not the growth of the Chinese private sector.

Recent riots and political instability across the globe are due, in no small part, to these economic changes. The clearest example of the connection between economic change and political instability is the Ukraine. Recent protests started when the Prime Minister rejected a trade pact with the European Union and instead signed an agreement with Russia. The protest that are threatening to destabilize the country are literally over national trade policy. The people see openness and trade with the West as the best chance for economic prosperity, and see alignment with Russia as an economic dead end.

There’s also little doubt that the Arab Spring of a few years ago – and that continues in mutated form in Egypt and Syria today – is about economic opportunity. Because of demographic changes, an exploding birth rate and improved medicine, the Arab nations skew very young, and because of technological changes noted above, have very high youth unemployment. The protests were initially sparked by the death of a fruit merchant in Tunis, Tunisia. He was a college graduate who was working as a street vendor because he couldn’t find anything better. He committed suicide (by self-immolation) after being hassled by police and local officials. His frustration burned over, literally. He felt that the people who were hassling him should actually be helping him and those like him. His fiery protest struck a chord with young people across the region because they all felt much the same frustrations.

In response to this worldwide trend and worldwide turmoil, we have politicians in the US who don’t even seem to recognize that this is happening. The vast majority of American politicians never mention these worldwide trends. I don’t know how you can address a problem when you don’t seem to recognize the cause. Certainly there are many contributing factors to our current economic problems, and there are many possible solutions. It is possible that some conservative ideas may be part of the solution, but I’m skeptical when politicians don’t address the broader worldwide trends, or specifically how their proposed solutions relate to the causes of our economic problems.

Another point to consider is that in this rapidly changing worldwide economy, we are actively competing with nations around the world. This should be kept in mind when we talk about possible solutions to our economic problems. Conservatives say that the solution to our current economic malaise is to remove government from the equation. That might be true, but when you look at those countries around the world that have the strongest economies, like China and Germany, they have a great deal of government involvement in their economies. Perhaps in theory it’s a good idea to let businesses operate uninhibited in the free market, but in the real world (and not the fantasy world in Fredrick Hayek and Rand Paul’s head), governments are heavily involved in the economy. How is an American company supposed to compete on an even footing with a French or Chinese or German company, when those companies have government support? Perhaps in the abstract the solution is to remove government support in all of these other countries, but that is simply not going to happen. To suggest otherwise is a naïve pipe dream. So how does limiting government help those companies competing with Chinese companies that are backed by the Chinese government?

So we have politicians who offer solutions that have little or no relation to the actual causes of our economic problems. And we have politicians trying to end government support for business at precisely the same time when our main worldwide competitors are ramping up government support.

We also have politicians who are spending an inordinate amount of time on issues that have absolutely no bearing on the realities of our economic problems. We have one group of politicians who are absolutely convinced that America’s economic decline is the product of America’s supposed moral decline, so they propose laws that they believe will reverse this supposed decline. Laws like restrictions on abortion or broadening gun rights. Meanwhile the leaders of other countries are actually addressing economic issues. They are building infrastructure to put people to work and to move goods around the country. They are increasing support for basic research, and spending money to improve their nation’s education. But we’re not. We’re fighting over trivia.

Most people seem to understand this. But it seems that most politicians don’t. They talk as if the policy solutions from the 1980’s will work to solve the problems of the new world economy. The reality is that 1980’s solutions won’t solve the problems of the 21st Century.

Does Raising the Minimum Wage Increase Unemployment?

That is the standard conservative line. Every time Democrats suggest raising the minimum wage conservatives say it will increase the cost of labor and therefore drive down employment. I did a quick chart of the increases in the minimum wage since 1980 and compared the unemployment rates in the quarter before the rate was raised and the two quarters after. Here’s the chart:

The minimum wage has been increased nine times since 1980. The results show that the unemployment rate went up five times, went down once, and stayed the same three times. That would indicate that there is no iron rule that raising the minimum wage absolutely creates higher unemployment. (There is no doubt that the numbers do indicate a tendency to increase unemployment, but it is not a forgone fact as conservatives suggest.)

The most interesting numbers are GDP, which is a measure of economic activity. GDP actually increased six of the nine times the wage was raised. This would indicate that raising the minimum wage increases economic activity.

There are obviously many other things going on, but the bottom line is that raising the minimum wage does not automatically impact the employment rate.

The Fallacy of Federalism

Conservatives frequently say that political power, and the development of political policies, should be devolved to the lowest level of government since that is closest to the people. This is one key aspect of “federalism,” idea seems simple enough. Local officials know their constituents. State legislators and city council members live and work among the people they represent, and so they are more likely to know their constituents and therefore more likely to actually know what the public wants. As a result they should be more attuned with local issues and problems, and more likely to be able to fashion a local solution based on the needs of the people.

The flip side of this is the idea that citizens are much more directly impacted by local issues and so are more aware of them, and much more likely to know more about the problems and possible solutions. And because they are more aware, they are much more likely to interact with their elected officials in a meaningful way. The result is that they are much more likely to know their local representatives than their national representatives, and so make more informed choices when voting.

But how true is that? Are people more involved locally? Do they know, and interact, with their state and local officials? One way to measure that is to look at the election of national, state and local officials. If voting trends and familiarity with elected officials are any indication, there is far less democracy at the local level than at the national level. Presidential elections typically get about 55% – 60% of the vote. (Good news, voting has been inching up lately, in part, I believe, due to increased political discussion on talk radio and coverage on cable news, and also due to the effect of social media.) In 2012, approximately 72% of registered voters actual cast ballots, but because not all of those who are eligible to vote are registered, the actually voting rate for potentially eligible voters was 54%.

In off-year national elections, for Senators and Representatives, the turn-out number is typically closer to 40%. In 2010 for example, voter turnout was 41% nationwide. In state specific elections voter turnout averages around 25%. In the 2011 Kentucky election in which all “Constitutional Officers” (meaning Governor, Secretary of State, etc.), turn-out was just over 28%. In the hotly contested Governor’s race in Virginia in 2013, turnout was about 37%. In local elections, for example for mayor, or for things like bond issues, voter turn-out is typically closer to 10%. In the recent city election in Houston (for mayor, city council, a ballot measure asking whether or not to tear down the Astrodome) voter turnout was about 13 percent.
By the measure of voting, local elections have far lower turnout than national elections: the higher the office on the ballot the greater the turnout. If the number of people at the polls are taken as a measure of democracy and citizen participation, then state and local elections are far less democratic than national elections. Based on these results, it is almost laughable to say that state and local elections are more democratic than national elections. It is laughable to suggest that people are more involved.

[Much of this data is from the George Mason University’s United States Election Project, available at See also, Information Please at And NonProfit Vote at]

Most people are also much less familiar with their local elected officials than their national officials. In public opinion surveys, a surprisingly low number of people know the names of their elected representatives. While most people know the President, the numbers drop quickly from there. Only about 65% can name their state’s governor, and only about half can name their United States Senator, and barely 25% can name both Senators. [ ]

I suspect less than half can name their U.S. Representative and far fewer can name their state senator or representative. In my highly unscientific poll of my friends and neighbors, almost none know the name of their state senator or representatives. Fewer still can name their council members, though most know who the Mayor is. This despite the fact that most of my friends are highly politically engaged. And don’t even get me started on state or local judges.

So how is government closer to the people when most people have no idea who their state or local representatives are? How is it more democratic when fewer people actually participate? And what does this say about this particular conservative explanation of federalism? It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
[See, ]

There is also far less news coverage of state and local political issues. The local media reports on fires and robberies, but very little on governmental affairs. There is certainly some political reporting, but it is nowhere near the level as on the national stage. My local news paper (the Lexington Herald-Leader) reports on major issues when the legislature is in session, but it is rarely front page news. This is in stark contrast to the media interest in events in Washington DC. There are literally dozens of major news outlets watching every aspect of Congress and the Federal government, but only a few watching state government. And except for the big issues, almost none at the local level.

2014 is an election year for both state and national offices, but in Kentucky at least, most of the political news involves the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Senator, and Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and the Democratic challenger, current Kentucky Secretary of State Alisson Lundregan Grims. It is certainly a big race, but it seems to take almost all of the ink away from most every other race.

This lack of knowledge and participation in the political process at the local level is not only less democratic, it leaves open a far greater possibility for undue influence. Take a local bond issue, for example. If less than 10% of the voting public participates, a group might be able to sway the results with a few hundred extra votes. And if prosecutions for political malfeasance is any indication, there is far more corruption at the local or state level than at the national level.

Because of the lack of knowledge and participation in state and local issues, a small group of influential people can have enormous sway over local elected officials and over local elections. That is one of the reasons that many activist groups have shifted their tactics to the state level. There are a number of conservative groups, like ALEC and the NRA, that are pushing many bills at the state level because they know that they have more influence, and are far less susceptible to opposition from an informed electorate. In many cases the public is surprised when certain bills get passed.

The reality is that if you want to influence legislation it is much easier to do it at the local level than at the national level. Most state legislators and local council members are part time politicians, so they have little time to invest in learning about complex issues. They generally have few staff members, and are generally poorly paid for the level of responsibility they bear. The end result is that they are much easier to influence than national level politicians.

So, basically, the conservative argument in favor of this aspect of federalism is simply false. And this makes me wonder whether their calls for “federalism” are really about democracy, or more about influence.

The 500 Year Losing Streak

Republicans seem to have come off the rails. They shut down the government in a temper tantrum over Obamacare, but that’s only the most visible part of it. Some Republicans are now blaming Obama for letting the government get shut down, while others, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, are calling Obamacare a criminal act. They scream about more and more, and they seem madder and madder. What accounts for this nearly unhinged rage?

I think the only way to understand this rage is to know a bit of the history of conservatism. The basis of conservatism is a desire for stability and a skepticism of change. It’s right there in the name, they want to “conserve” things. Conservatism as a distinct political philosophy was born out of Edmund Burke’s horror at the bizarre turn of events of the French Revolution. What began as a movement for liberty, equality, and fraternity, descended into a chaotic bloodbath. Conservatives have been trying to stop, or at least slow, changes in society ever since. But more often than not they’ve failed.

Most of the changes that conservatives have opposed over the years have been proposed by, championed by, and driven by liberals. This includes such major movements toward liberty as the abolition of slavery, the expansion of women’s rights through suffrage, and the civil rights movement, but includes thousands of minor policies. At each step conservatives tried to stop change, but more often than not liberals won.

In this country, particularly from the 1930’s to the 1980’s and the election of Ronald Reagan, conservatives fought a losing battle. Conservatives fought, and lost, the battles over welfare, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, the voting rights act, affirmative action, and a broad range of government regulation of the economy, from workplace safety regulation to environmental protection. In each fight the conservative argument has been remarkably consistent: these changes will not just alter a legal issue, but will also change the nature of society. From the beginning, ever since Burke, conservatives have seen their fight as not solely political or economic, but primarily social and cultural. They believe that certain economic conditions and government policies are essential to the maintenance and preservation of a successful culture.

The election of Reagan seemed to indicate a turning point in the long and futile battle against the advances of liberalism. Finally a true conservative had won nationwide. But while Reagan’s victory was a political success, it didn’t turn the tide on the culture. Conservatives tried to engage on cultural issues – spawning the “culture wars” – but this was futile. It quickly became obvious that, despite their political gains, conservatives were losing the culture.

But they had to keep fighting because they were fighting (in their minds at least) for the soul of America. So every battle, regardless of how trivial, had to be engaged. They won many political battles (elections of Presidents, appointments of conservative Justices, gains in the Senate, control of the House in 1994), and most economic battles (widespread deregulation and ascendency of their small government and anti-tax ethos), but none of those victories produced the social restoration they envisioned. To top it all off, the culture continued to degrade. And since political and economic victories were not producing the cultural revival they envisioned, they grew increasingly frustrated.

To a very real extend conservatives have been on a five hundred year losing streak. For five hundred years, traditions, norms, and social institutions have been eroded, chipped away, and fallen. Modern conservatives may dispute this history, but they feel the loss in their bones. And this deep seated sense of loss creates a frustration that permeates their approach to politics.

Because they are fighting to preserve the culture, and because they are not succeeding, each battle, political, economic or cultural, becomes more important. For conservatives, each battle is a rear-guard action. With each loss they give more ground. Take, as one example, the fight in the 1990’s over expanding the opportunities for women in the military. They lost that fight, and then they had to try to stop gays from serving openly in the military. They were able to stop that advance, at least temporarily in the 1990’s, with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But then, some twenty years later, that prohibition fell. Now the Pentagon is planning to open most combat roles to women. For conservatives this steady erosion of their values has been played out in most every public policy issue, from civil rights to business and environmental regulation. They have learned that if they give ground once, they will be constantly pushed back.

With each loss, conservatives lose something they once held dear; with each loss a social or cultural norm is forever abandoned. They know that if they lose any fight it only means that they will be pushed back even further, and will have to fight again deeper in their own territory. And so every fight is critical, and must be engaged at all costs. They also know that no issue is too trivial to ignore. Every issue is the tip of the iceberg, evidence of bigger things yet to come. Every liberal proposal is the camel’s nose under the tent flap. Conservatives know that many liberal policies start out in academia, then fall blithely from a politicians lips, then gain a constituency and eventually become a piece of legislation. And the history of the last century has been the history of repeated conservative inability to stop the liberal advance. If you doubt me, think about how gay rights have advanced in the last twenty years.

For many conservatives the election of Barack Obama was the last straw. They would’ve been outraged by the election of any Democrat, since it indicated that the conservative tide (which began with the election of Reagan and crested with the election of George W. Bush) had crested and was beginning to recede. But to them Obama isn’t just any Democrat. He embodies many of the government programs that they loathed, including Civil Rights, Affirmative Action, Welfare, and government backed student loans, to name a few. But he also embodies new cultural norms they disdained: he’s urban, mixed race, academic, raised by a single mother, culturally aware, and sort of hip. He’s the face of a changing society. He’s the face of the changes that conservatives have fought against for nearly a century.

Obama represents everything conservatives oppose, and so his proposals – for anything – are anathema. And then he proposed a government reform of the American health care system. This was too much. Conservatives have fought against government involvement in medicine since the 1930’s. Ronald Reagan made the transition from actor to politician based in part on his lecture tour warning about the evils of socialized medicine. Reagan said that “one of the traditional methods of imposing … socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project, most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can’t afford it.” But this is just the “foot in the door” and eventually “your son won’t decide when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him.” And in issue after issue over the last century, conservatives see what happens when liberals get a foot in the door.

The battle over Obamacare is existential. It’s a fight that must be won at all costs. Opposition to “socialized medicine” is not some minor cultural issue, but an issue central to the conservative worldview. And so they are willing to do whatever it takes, shut down the government, destroy the nation’s credit rating, harm the nation’s economy, to stop it. They must stop it all costs because they believe that the harm in letting it pass is far far worse. It is the culmination of their worst fears, it indicates that they have indeed lost the final battle.

The Long Road to the Conservative Crack-Up

I’m amazed by the almost unquenchable Conservative anger. They’re angry at President Obama, certainly, and willing to do anything to destroy him and defeat his programs, but they’re also surprisingly angry at each other. Conservatives have been angry for a long time, but the intensity rose after Obama’s election, and boiled over after the Health Care reform law passed. This sent the Tea Party into the streets and started their jihad against moderate Republicans. Their anger is now an incoherent rage.

This underlying anger is baffling to many liberals. I know because I am one. Most of my friends are liberal, and much of what I read comes from liberal news sources. Liberals don’t understand the anger because, from their perspective, conservatives are winning. Conservative ideas dominate most areas of American political life, including the economy, foreign policy, and the law. This is a product of a thirty year conservative ascendancy, which began with Reagan and culminated in the Bush years, when Conservatives controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. Even now Conservatives control the House and have a virtual lock on the Senate. Conservatives are winning, but are madder than ever. Why is that?

I think that their political success is a major cause of their anger. Since the Fifties, if not before, conservatives have decried the supposed decline of America, and in particular, the decay of the American culture. This decay is brought about, in their minds, by government policy. Regulations hamstring the entrepreneurial spirit and stifle American’s innate drive. Welfare leads to dependency and contributes to the breakdown of the family, and this leaves people open to the allure of promiscuous sex and illicit drugs.

Movement conservatives have been plotting their take-over of the government for generations. Their goal has always been to save America, and they think that the only way to do this is to transform government. Since 1980 they’ve been remarkably successful. Reagan won in 1980, and Republicans have held the presidency 20 out of the last 33 years, and since the Republican revolution of 1994, they’ve controlled one or both Houses of Congress as often as Democrats. In that time taxes were cut, welfare reformed, the military bolstered, Originalists put on the bench, and bureaucrats friendly to industry and hostile to regulation peppered throughout the government. And conservative political theories (limited government and states’ rights), and legal theories (originalism) dominate the national political debate. Now even liberals accept these views. Refugees from Wall Street run the Obama administration economic team, Obama’s foreign policy is a pale legacy of Bush policies, and even ostensibly liberal judges base their rulings on the supposed original intent of the framers of the Constitution.

But here’s the problem: this political success hasn’t cured the social ills that Conservatives are fighting against. If anything, society has gotten more tolerant, or if you’re a conservative, more decadent. Popular entertainment is worse than ever. Divorce rates have stabilized, but remain at spectacularly high levels. Nearly half of all births are out of wedlock. Drugs are rampant, religion is fading.

There was a saying when I was a kid: “the faster I run, the behinder I get.” That’s how conservatives must feel. The more political victories they gain, the sicker society gets.

But there’s something else that must add to their despair. Conservatives are not only winning politically, they have won economically. Conservative economic theories—capitalism, free markets, limited regulation—dominate, not only at home, but around the world. In the grand, one-hundred-and-fifty year battle between capitalism and communism, between free markets and socialism, capitalism and free markets won. And won overwhelmingly. There are only a handful of communist nations left, and they’re a pathetic bunch: North Korea, Cuba, Burma. Even China has thrown off communism as an economic theory, though they hold on to aspects of dictatorship.

The free market won, but what has it wrought?

There’s no market more free than the marketplace of the American culture. Our debased culture is the product of nothing but the desires of the consuming public: no government control, no outside oversight. The only driving force is the desire to make money, which according to Adam Smith’s theory of the free market, should benefit society as a whole. There’s a demand, and someone creates a supply. Whether it’s hard core pornography, misogynistic music, moronic movies, a “liberal” news media, or a television culture disdainful of religion, tradition, morality, and family values, all of these exist because of the demands of the American people. The culture is a perfect free market. And it’s a sewer.

Let me be clear, the free market didn’t debase the American culture. All the free market did was give Americans the choice, and they chose. Take music as one example. Every type of music under the sun is available on iTunes, from alternative to Zydeco, and literally everything in between. Opera? check. Classical? Absolutely. Bluegrass? Yep. Contemporary Christian, smooth jazz? You name it, it’s all there. But what’s at the top? Schlock, nonsense pop, and thuggish rap. The free market gave the American people the choice, and they chose the music, the television, the movies, in a word the culture, that we have today. Make no mistake, that which conservatives most revere—the free market—has produced that which conservatives most disdain—the American culture.

The unseen hand, which is supposed to guide free exchange based on supply, demand, and the profit motive to produce socially beneficial outcomes, has instead slapped us in the face.

Most conservatives don’t make this connection directly, but there’s no doubt they feel it in their bones. “The faster they run, the behinder the get.” They are closer than ever to the Government takeover they envisioned in the 1950’s, but their political and their economic success has only made things worse. When they win, they lose. Something seems wrong, but they can’t quite identify it. And it’s making them frantic.

A rational, disinterested observer (admittedly not me) might suggest that their underlying theory is flawed. But conservatives are unwilling to engage in critical self analysis and unable to question their theories of government, economics, and society. In their view the theory can’t be wrong, it must be something else. The most obvious target is their political opponents, and in their frenzy they accused liberals of all manner of treachery. And so we have Fox News and talk radio calling liberals treasonous, and Rick Santorum accusing President Obama of actually hoping that Iran develops nuclear weapons. Or as Newt Gingrich once said: “no grotesquery is too extreme.” But this tactic hasn’t succeeded because they’re attacking the wrong target. But rather than re-assess, they just get madder, and look for other targets. Now they purge the impure: Witness Tea Party candidates challenging moderated Republicans in the last few primary elections. But that too has failed, as it inevitably would.

Conservatives are now turning on themselves, like Soviet commissars casting about for blame for the failure of the latest five year plan. The theory must be sound; the problem lies in implementation. And so each group within the broad conservative coalition blames the others. The libertarians, Ron Paul and his supporters, blame the Bush era neo-cons for screwing things up when they were in charge. The Tea Party blames the moderates. The cultural warriors, like Rick Santorum, blame the moderate and the libertarians. Romney, the Rockefeller Republican, didn’t share the rage, and tried to rise above it all, and ended up as everyone’s target.

Conservatives must be confused. Their economic ideas have won, and they can win politically, yet they keep losing socially and culturally. At some point reality becomes inescapable, and they must feel, deep in the pit of their stomach, that there’s a problem with their underlying theories. But they can’t change because they’ve developed a perpetual motion machine of anger, a möbius strip of confusion that leads back to frustration, and as they go around and around they get madder and madder. Each economic success further debases the culture; each political victory is more futile.

There must be some disquiet, some deep angst in knowing that your lifelong goal is a failure. But not just a failure, more than that. Your pursuit of the beast has only made it stronger, more adept, more popular. It is as if, at the end, Ahab realizes that his pursuit of the whale has increased its virility, his chase allowed it to spread its seed beyond its natural realm, and now the oceans are full of white whales.

Conservatives like Senator Ted Cruse are like Ahab, roaming the deck and raging against forces beyond their control. Ahab thought his foe was a whale but he was really up against nature and a changing world. Conservatives think their foes are liberal politicians, “secular humanists,” and the “biased liberal media.” But, like Ahab, they are up against forces beyond their control. Perhaps, in the dark of night they recognize this, and they lay awake worrying that others may catch on. But during the day they lash out, using anger to mask their fear, and vicious attacks to hide their frustration. But their anger is leavened not just with shame but with the disbelief that as they get closer to one goal their ultimate goal slips further away.

Conservative anger has become an incoherent rage that is incapable of being sated. It is a rage that has become so hot that it is now self-consuming.

Through The Looking Glass

When Alice went through the looking glass she met a giant egg named Humpty Dumpty. After a brief discussion of their names, and what their names must mean, Humpty Dumpty informed Alice that “When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Conservatives call Obamacare “socialism.” The main component of Obamacare is the health care exchange, which is a web site where consumers can select insurance policies offered by a group of private insurance providers. The health care exchange is a marketplace of private insurance policies, and was developed as a conservative idea based on free market principles. Socialism began as the idea that the government controls the means of production, but has morphed into the idea that the government provides services once provided by private enterprise. Many countries have a national health service where the government runs hospitals, and therefore provides health services. That’s socialized medicine. A government website for private health insurance is little different than a city government providing a place for a farmers market. The fact that the Lexington Farmers’ market takes place at the city owned Cheapside Park doesn’t make it a socialist endeavor, any more than “Obamacare” is socialized medicine.

Many Republicans, including Representative Andy Barr, said that it was President Obama that shut down the government. This runs directly counter to recent history, which must be known to anyone who pays attention to the news. Conservative Republicans, led by Texas Senator Ted Cruz, said for months that they could extract concessions from President Obama by tying changes to the Affordable Care Act to the fight over funding the government. They explicitly talked about shutting down the government months ago. And then when it happened they blamed Obama. “We’ll shut down the government” became “he shut down the government.” Not only is that supreme chutzpah, it also makes mush of words.

The health care exchanges under Obamacare went live on October 1. On October 3 Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul published an Opinion piece in the Kentucky business magazine the Lane Report, with the headline, “Kentuckians Not Buying Obamacare.” In the on-line version of the Lane Report the very next headline read: “Kentuckians file nearly 11,000 applications for health care coverage on kynect.” Kynect, in case you don’t know, is the Kentucky exchange set up under Obamacare. How does thousands buying coverage become “not buying”?

It seems pretty clear that Republicans’ words have no relationship to reality.

Imagine trying to live in a world where words have no fixed meaning. But we don’t have to imagine. We live in a world where the free market health care exchange is socialism, where “we’ll do it” become “he did it,” and where “not buying” means that thousands are buying. Buying is not buying, capitalism is socialism, up is down, black is white. As Alice said, it gets “curiouser and curiouser.”

But it’s not just amusing. There are serious problems when words lose their meaning. How can you agree on anything when the words you use have no fixed meaning? Precise definition of words is the foundation of the law, of contracts, and of most business relations. And, as many conservatives will tell you, a world where rules and values are subject to varying meanings is a dangerous world indeed. Conservatives often complain about moral relativism, or the idea that moral values have no fixed meaning but are relative to the situation or the person. How can values be absolute when the words that define those values are changeable? They can’t be.

Is it possible that Representative Barr and Senators McConnell and Paul are relativists? Anything is possible when you go through the looking glass into a world where capitalism is socialism, where black is white, and where right is wrong.

The Battle of Ideas Placeholder Post

Most polls consistently indicate that the public supports policies and ideas supported by, and promoted by, Democrats. This is true even in conservative states. Despite this preference on the issues, Democrats are only able to eke out political victories. There are a number of reasons for this, which I plan to address in a series of essays under the topic heading of The Battle of Ideas.

This post is mainly to provide a link to an article from which describes some of the polling data showing support for liberal policies. Here’s the article:

Even Right Wingers are Liberals  

The Conservative Fear of the Community

Conservatives believe in individual autonomy and fear ceding any individual control to others. This view undergirds their disdain for any type of collective or communal activity. It is why they don’t like unions, why they don’t like the government, and why the disdain communism more than anything.

Unfortunately this hostility toward collective action shows a surprising ignorance of human nature, human history, and human behavior.

Human Nature: Humans are a social animal and cooperative species. We evolved in kin groups and evolved with a learned sense of living with, working with, and cooperating with, other human beings. While humans are not herd animals like bison, they are also not lone animals like wolves or sharks. Humans are primates, and virtually all primate species are social animals that live in extended family groups. Humans evolved with a sense of sharing and cooperation. Human survival depended on the ability of each person to work with the people around them.

Human History: Society is perhaps the greatest human invention. Humans began to dominate the world when they began to live in larger and larger groups. Humans only thrived when we became communal, when we invented civilization.

Human Behavior: Conservative disdain for group behavior seems based on faulty logic. They don’t seem to understand that there is a difference between cooperative behavior and outside control. Humans often work together, and there are various levels of interaction. The lowest level might be cooperation, where two or more people work individually but on a group project. A neighborhood pot-luck dinner might be an example. Everyone brings something to share. The next level might be collaboration. Same neighborhood, but now a Halloween Party where a couple of families arrange for the food and drinks, and invite everyone else. At the far extreme would be communism, where all property is owned communally. An example would be a Kibbutz in Israel.

There are undoubtedly many levels between cooperative behavior and communism, but most conservatives conflate it all. Any group effort, of any kind, is, in their mind, the first step toward the commune.