The Polite Liberal

A rant-free discussion of liberal philosophy and policies.


The Polite Liberal is the pseudonym of a "nontraditional" graduate student in mathematics (for nonacademics, "nontraditional," is a polite way of saying, "older than 25.") The Polite Liberal is an attempt to spur real policy debate, instead of partisan insults and conspiracy theories. Conservatives (and liberals, of course!) are welcome.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

On Impugning Motives

I'm going to take a break from arguing policy for the moment to talk about politeness.

I'd long resisted creating a blog myself. I finally decided to create The Polite Liberal because I was worried about the tone that political discourse in this country was sinking to. The most obvious problem is the hurled insults--it's hard to talk about policy when conservatives and liberals are simply seeing who can scream about "liberal elites" or "redneck racists" the loudest. There's a second problem, though, which is at once more subtle and more damaging.

The problem is that neither side is willing to assume that the other side is being honest about its motives. This leads liberals to screech that the war in Iraq is an excuse to grab that nation's oil, or conservatives to suggest that gun control is a prelude to seizing all guns in the country and imposing tyranny. It led a previous commenter on this site to write, in the middle of an otherwise reasonable disagreement with my last post:

"Is it possible that they are using my hard earned money to buy votes, to create a class of citizens dependent on the federal government? "

This sort of thing makes honest debate impossible. If we really want to debate policy, we have to assume that both sides are acting honestly, and are genuinely trying to create a better United States of America. We strongly disagree as to the means, but very, very few of us (on either side) are acting dishonestly. You can argue that welfare doesn't help the poor (this was in fact the thrust of the aforementioned comment), but not that liberals don't intend it to. These are all matters about which good people may in good conscience disagree.

Those of us on my side are political liberals, not the fifth column of the Red Army. Those of you on the other side are political conservatives, not aspiring brownshirts or corporate shills. We are all of us Americans, here. Let's act like it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Elegance appears to be out of the picture. Many who voted for the president seem to feel they are now owed something. they want everything to change to their way of thinking. Politeness has been shoved to the back of the cupboard - "Dirty Harry" and machismo is the code of the day. No disagreement - obedience and pay back time are the words of the day. Are we doomed? With luck, only for a short time.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I may quote you:

“Conservatives want the larger government as well (judging by their actions since they won effective control over the government in 2002)…”


“The usual conservative response is ‘cutting the size of government,’ but we haven't seen any sign of the current government doing that, despite nominal conservatives controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency.”

So, if I understand you correctly, it’s proper to use anecdotal evidence to establish conservatives as somewhat less than honest, but improper to question the motives of liberals.


8:36 AM  
Blogger The Polite Liberal said...

So "convervatives would prefer a larger government, but believe that tax cuts will stimulate the economy enough to return large enough tax receipts to pay for it" is equivalent to "Liberals want to buy the votes of the poor?"

What exactly is it, then, that conservatives do want? I'm not even talking about motives here--what are your intentions with respect to the government? A conservative party has been in control of the country for the previous two years, and had effective control in the early '80s. At what point may we see your actual policies? If conservatives want a dramatically smaller (or even slightly smaller) government, when do we get to see a policy to that effect? A proposal? Anything at all, beyond rhetoric?

Claiming that conservatives were in favor of drastic cuts in government was a reasonable position during Mr. Clinton's administration--at the time we controlled the Presidency and the Senate, so your party didn't have the power to implement any changes you might have wanted. At the moment, you do.

Note that I'm not (as you did, and as I called you on) questioning your motives. I'm actually asking: regardless of your motives, what are your policies? I wouldn't have complained (and in fact, expressly didn't) if you were simply arguing "Democrats favor welfare, which hasn't worked and won't." You'd have a certain number of facts backing you, then. When you make the leap from that to "and they're only doing it to buy votes," you've gone from arguing politics to simple insult.

9:48 AM  

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