Dwight Meredith has written the best descriptions of "Liberal" and "Conservative" I have seen in a long time. Even better than Ambrose Bierce's definitions ("Conservative: someone enamored of existing evils as opposed to a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with new ones.") Unfortumately I can't get the hyperlinks to work, so am stealing the whole post. This one can't get lost. It's too good. [Later: It's working now, but I still stole it. Go read the original. His format is better than mine. Unless he objects, I want to keep this copy for my own reference.]
Some years ago, among certain people, it was considered witty to remark that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged. Google returns 138,000 hits for “conservative” + “liberal” + “mugged”.
Let’s turn the adage around and ask “a liberal is a conservative who has -----.” How can we fill in the blank?
Craig Westover points us to the story of Ron Carey.
Ron Carey is the Chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota. He is a fiscal conservative generally opposed to government spending. He became Chairman of the party, in part, because some Republicans feared that Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was too free in spending government money.
Carey also has an eight year old autistic son. His son needed ABA services that were available at the Minnesota Autism Center. The Center receives the majority of its funding from the federal and state governments. Some of the kids serviced by the Center need intensive therapy. That therapy can cost upwards of $100,000 per year.
Despite Carey’s general attitude against government spending, he accepted the taxpayer support for the services his son needed and supported the taxpayer funding of services for other kids.
Some have argued that the two positions make Carey a hypocrite. I do not see it that way.
Carey makes the point that spending money on autistic kids saves money in the long run:
"There's research that shows this program is very effective," Carey said. "Kids are being helped to become indistinguishable from the rest of the society. These kids can grow up to be independent, tax-paying citizens. As a fiscal conservative, I can argue that a dollar spent on this saves $10 down the line."Not only do I think that is right, but I think Carey’s position is inevitable:
But it may have been David Strom, who heads the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, the organization devoted to lowering taxes, who best cut through the contradictory lives we lead.
"I can't speak directly to his situation," Strom said of Carey. "But I think no parent, given a chance to do something for his child, would turn that chance down."
By virtue of having an autistic child, Carey has seen the benefit of publicly funded autism programs. He knows that ABA is the state of the art therapy for young autistics and sees the public benefit in providing such services. I do not see that as contradicting the position of being against ineffective government spending. As Carey says:
"Government by nature is not bad," Carey said. "It's abuse that's bad. It's waste that's bad."
Carey’s personal experience with an autistic child has demonstrated to him that public spending on the Minnesota Autism Center is good public policy.
There is nothing inherently contradictory about that even for a fiscal conservative. Indeed, the list of “conservatives” who support “liberal” programs based on personal experience with the issue is extensive.
Dick Cheney is a pretty conservative guy. During the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, the subject of gay marriage arose. The conservative position opposes any recognition by the state of gay couples. Indeed, the GOP is pushing a constitutional amendment to prevent individual states from making individual choices in the matter. What was Dick Cheney’s position?
The fact of the matter is we live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. We shouldn't be able to choose and say you get to live free and you don't. That means people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's no one's business in terms of regulating behavior in that regard. The next step then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction of the relationships or if they should be treated the same as a traditional marriage. That's a tougher problem. That's not a slam dunk. The fact of the matter is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area. I try to be open minded about it as much as I can and tolerant of those relationships. And like Joe, I'm also wrestling with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.
Mr. Cheney happens to have a lesbian daughter. It seems clear that his personal experience has shaped his views on the issue.
One current issue is whether the United States should ever engage in torture or abusive conduct towards detainees in the war on terror. The administration’s position is that such measures should not be specifically outlawed by statute. Conservative Republican Senator John McCain is leading the fight to pass legislation outlawing such treatment of detainees. Did John McCain’s personal experience animate his position on the issue? Of course it did:
Former combat pilot John McCain was often tortured during his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Because his father was an admiral, he was offered earlier release by his captors but refused to be freed before prisoners who had been held longer.
During the Senate debate on his amendment, McCain cited the letter he had received from Captain Ian Fishback (whom he later met), and also recalled his years in a North Vietnamese cell:
"Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us—every single one of us—knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies."
When the issue of University of Michigan's affirmative action case came to the Supreme Court, the conservative position was that such program was unconstitutional. Many groups filed amicus curiae with the Supreme Court. Among those asking that the Court uphold the Michigan affirmative action program were a number of organization that do not often take what are generally considered to be liberal positions. Those groups included retired military leaders and a whole host of Fortune 500 companies.
Neither big business nor the military are widely as hotbeds of liberalism. Among the administration leaders supporting affirmative action were Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
New Mexico's Pete Domenici is a pretty conservative Senator with a 2004 American Conservative Union rating of 95.
On one issue, mental health, Domenici teamed up with the late Senator Paul Wellstone to push legislation that many would consider liberal. From Domenici’s web site:
It was not too long ago that society considered many mental illnesses untreatable. However, over the years, a strong commitment to addressing mental health issues has led to landmark breakthroughs in our understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses. During his years in the Senate, Senator Domenici has taken an active leadership role with issues relating to mental illness like: mental health parity, increased funding for cutting edge mental health research, erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, and increasing funding for those in prison or homeless suffering from a mental illness…
Many insurance companies believe illnesses of the brain should receive less coverage than illnesses or injuries to the body. As such, Senator Domenici introduced the first ever Congressional legislation requiring insurance companies to provide parity between mental health benefits and medical and surgical benefits. The landmark "Mental Health Parity Act of 1996" passed Congress and was signed into law.
While this was a historic first step, more must be done and Senator Domenici is currently working to expand the 1996 law to provide full parity between all mental health benefits and medical and surgical benefits. Specifically, the "Senator Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act of 2003" seeks to prohibit a group health plan from imposing treatment limitations or financial requirements on mental health benefits unless comparable limitations are imposed on medical and surgical benefits.
Is it coincidence that a conservative like Domenici would take such seemingly liberal positions on mental health or could it be related to the fact that he has special expertise on ths issue bu virtue of the fact that he has a daughter who suffers from mental illness?
We now have our answers. A liberal is a conservative with an autistic son. A liberal is a conservative with a lesbian daughter. A liberal is a conservative who has been tortured. A liberal is a conservative who has felt the sting of racial discrimination. A liberal is a conservative with a mentally ill relative.
Perhaps, though, we should just listen to people whose personal experience provides them with particular insight on an issue and not worry about whether than makes them a liberal or a conservative.
Posted by Dwight Meredith at 02:21 PM
I say Wow!