Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A fundamental difference in focus

In my latest dip into NPR, while I was driving all over the Houston area checking animal shelters for potentially hypoallergenic and adoptable puppies*, I happened to hear an interview with a fellow who was likening Indivisible to the Tea Party - I'm having trouble finding it now, but it was introduced as a discussion of whether today's protesting Dems could learn from the tactics of the Tea Party. The interview quickly established that the groups' aims were very different: the Tea Party's ire was aimed, according the interview at least, at "RINOs," primarily people on the same side of the aisle as they were but perceived to be doing it wrong, whereas Indivisible (a Doublespeak name if I've ever heard one) is up in arms about Republicans, people on the other side of the aisle who are inexplicably (to them) in control of almost everything, governance-wise.

All well and good. There's some truth to that formulation; initially, the Tea Party didn't actually want to be considered a separate party; they wanted to bring the GOP closer to its conservative roots. And the protesting Dems are indeed up in arms about the overwhelming Republican election victory (though, I must add, they seem to be protesting mainly the least overwhelming part of it: Trump's electoral college win of the Presidency, rather than the punishing losses the Democrats suffered in Congress, gubernatorial races, and state houses). But there the interviewer pretty much stopped doing or eliciting any meaningful analysis.

The important difference between the Tea Party and so-called Indivisible (I shouldn't be snarky; they can call themselves what they like. But it - whether the group or the name - is darn divisive.) is the reason the Tea Party was standing in opposition to (roughly) its own, and the reason the protesting Dems are standing in opposition to... those they always oppose. The Tea Party thoughtfully and intentionally embraced conservatism, having looked at the alternatives and decided that, no, those alternatives were still destined to fail and/or have bad unintended consequences in the long term, and also were frequently philosophically repugnant to them. (Nota bene: I am not a Tea Party member, but I think they went about their aims with gusto, ethics, and intelligence.) They also believed that there was a "silent majority," to coin a phrase, of Republicans who were deeply disenchanted with the party because of its departure from its philosophical underpinnings. So their fight was ultimately to bring the Republican party back to power because they believed that conservatism is the right way to go.

The protesting Dems, now: they are protesting an election loss. I'm not going to say that they don't believe what they say they believe. I think many of them do. They are, many of them, as committed to their philosophical stance as any Tea Partier. But instead of turning to their own party to see why they lost so badly and what they could do to reverse that loss in future (a "come to Jesus" with themselves, as they sometimes say here in Texas), they aren't acknowledging any systemic failure on their own side - only simple-minded tactical failures like the way Clinton's campaign was run. Instead, they are apparently trying to convince their political opponents that the opponents should abandon their political philosophy. And they're doing it by trying to shame those opponents - to make them feel inferior for holding the beliefs they hold. What they overlook, of course, is that their opponents are by and large not susceptible to shaming from that angle. We can be shamed - but not by strident claims that if we don't hold a particular Leftist niche issue sacred, we are soulless, or idiots, or both.

We have plenty of niche issues of our own, no question. And there are plenty of factions on on the Right who hold other Right factions in... if not contempt, then at least doubt, because they don't share the same sense of niche-issue priority. But overall what the Right is based on is the principle that that government governs best which governs least. We seldom live up to that ideal, and indeed in the world in which we live, it's hard to believe that it can be applied equally in all situations, but that is indeed our fundamental focus.

The fundamental focus on the Left is, in the short term, both more pragmatic and more humanistic: to relieve immediate suffering of whatever type or degree. A noble aim, certainly. But the methodology is also dismayingly pragmatic and not nearly so kind - in fact it seems generally of the end-justifies-the-means school. And the longer term very often if not always reveals dangerous incentive structures, which are then inadequately dealt with by symptomatic treatment. And the beat goes on.

* My inability to remember the details of the interview stems from the new puppy that we adopted! I am now sleep-deprived and excited by turns.

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