10 November 2009

cutting into the brain fat

I've fallen behind on my backlog of things to comment upon. So here's the going

Starting now

Studying the mainstream politics of America is a hobby of mine. When your ideological perspectives are outside the mainstream, it is sort of amusing after all to watch all the hubbub over a few measly scraps of power changing hands every couple years. What is of more interest and less amusement is who supports these scraps, because that often helps determine what the power centers will be in the future. Being of a small independent party that doesn't seem to have a broad appeal outside of a few economists and anti-drug war/civil liberties advocates, the demographic trends are of particular interest. For example, the core "woman libertarian" that gets referred to is Ayn Rand. An example which I would be just as happy to be rid of, if such things were up to me. The point is that there haven't been many women prominently pushing such advocacy for individual liberties. Of course, I'm also not aware of a libertarian plank which dramatically empowers women as an oppressed agent in society nor of any which seeks to dispossess their individual autonomy relative to men. It's pretty much a gender neutral theory that, for reasons I'm not totally familiar with, doesn't appeal to women broadly.

By contrast, conservatism has become rather more openly hostile. I'm fascinated with these supposed examples of Palin or Bachmann being held up by the right as icons, and who possess politics (at least those politics which can be adequately determined as their real views) which are so dramatically anti-liberty, anti-woman, xenophobic, internationally belligerent, and so on. If I recall correctly, during the 08 campaign, there was a good deal of coverage on a supposed liberal backlash against women, taking its form in Palin. My view on this was the liberal backlash was against Bush. And Palin was merely a female version of Bush with even less truthiness attached to her statements and speeches. Long on platitudes to mollify the base, short on reasonable policy proposals and understanding required to make them. The whole thing was not so much anti-woman as it was anti-anti-intellectualism, that sort.

So it comes as no surprise that we can find, despite these outliers, that there are fewer and fewer women representing and espousing the views of conservatism (one could presumably also find a similar story regarding minorities, in particular blacks, relative to the prominent positioning of Michael Steele, Thomas Sowell, or even Alan Keyes within the conservative spectrum). Even with the ones who still do so proceeding at a shrill breakneck standard for their high marks on speed of assumption, volume of message, and shallowness of argument.

Keeping all that in mind, what is still more curious is that even with a ratio of 2:1 over the GOP, Democrats are trailing behind Pakistan in a demographic representation of women in elected legislative positions. I guess putting us in rough parity with Canada and Pakistan for gender equality in roles of power is a start, certainly better than the world the GOP now inhabits, which seems to be more male dominated than even Japanese culture. But it does demonstrate in a way why some of the politics on core issues play out as they do.

As example: abortion rights. Legally this was settled 30-40 years ago. I don't think even if Roe v Wade was to be overturned that we would then be going back to a status where abortions were illegal everywhere in America. Probably half the states would retain them and others wouldn't (leading to a lot of wacky intrastate competition in a few places where neighbouring states would try to make it difficult for pregnant women to seek an abortion out of state). That said, even with the permanent ban option removed from the table, there are all sorts of marginal ways to squeeze abortion out of a local or state environment, even using federal initiatives as well. These sorts of tactics aren't typically supported by supposed progressive representatives. But they are not actively opposed and resisted either. And it appears clear that one manner that they are not is that there aren't really that many women involved in the decisions to legislate or preside legally over this issue.

I've seen much commentary in the aftermath of the recent election which deigns to set each party on a path of "doubling-down" their resources toward their partisan goals and to demand such accountability toward that base. I submit that a better use of progressives time would be to find suitable women in government (or who would like to be in government), promote their achievements, and get them elected to Congress and state legislatures. Because the net effect of "doubling-down" is precisely what the GOP is going through right now. A lot of clamoring and shouting and not a lot of actual and useful resistance or any serious implementation of their party's goals and values. Loss of power is not a proven and effective way to get people to suddenly take your ideas more seriously. As a third-party voter, I can attest to this. It is true that a progressive supporting a Democrat isn't getting much of what they want. The reason is simple: what are their real alternatives? It's not like they're going to swing vote for a GOP that actively attempts to hamstring a progressive, or even a libertarian, agenda. They can not vote or participate in the political process generally, which I've seen studies which suggest this would be fine too, but it still doesn't generate support for what are often otherwise worthy goals (apart from abortion as a singular right demonstrative of a feminist or progressive policy platform, there are others which are less controversial as well as approaches to the abortion issue itself which are more rational in the knowledge that bans do not reduce abortion demand, only move the supply elsewhere outside of a monitored system of health care). I suspect, at least on this issue, that the appropriate answer is simply to get more people who could plausibly demand abortions and understand the difficulty or personal and individual nature of those decisions into office in order to legislate effectively on it. And not to worry about what score they received from NOW or Right to Life or what not simply because that's unlikely to matter as much in the long run as the actual physical capacity to understand a simple question from a perspective different than the ones presently being used.

What seems to verify this whole problem: Olympia Snowe is about to be run out of the Republican Party. Even with mostly right of center politics (she, along with most women in Congress generally, are often somewhat left of center on a few key social issues), especially for Maine, it doesn't seem like conservatives seem interested in anything other than the "double-down" strategy. I don't particularly care if they lose or win elections. But the fact that they're busy trying to make themselves irrelevant nationally isn't very helpful. I could probably stomach it if they were able to raise cogent questions about the topics of the day, even if I disagreed with their plausible responses to them. I would probably stomach it if their party simply moved more center/neutral on social matters and adopted a more pro-market stance (sort of closer to where I am), even though that's arguably less popular and less understood than their current asinine real positions. But I don't think it's been a historical case that a political hegemony has been useful on a national scale (and perhaps on local and state levels either). Guaranteeing a political margin of success to one's opponents is not a good way to get back into the good graces of the public either. In essence, that's like saying that they get to take turns either failing the public or watching and heckling the other as it fails the public.

Please wake me if this seems like a bad dream to anybody else as well, but I would prefer it if they (government) would be capable of addressing matters as they are once in a while, asking important and meaningful questions on the behalf of the public to our appointed agencies (rather than superficially meaningful questions that address the worn out vexations of bygone ages that exist only in a netherworld of nostalgia), and actually having to contest and debate issues on their most meritorious arguments in a public sphere. Quite simply, on rare occasions there appears to be a conservative or a republican-leaning character who seems to have a good grasp of economics or economic policy. Just as there are frequent examples of liberals who have some rather kooky ideas about the veracity and utility of unions in my opinion (to be clear, I think unions are fine for bargaining for general rights of labour and workers or even particular trades to govern internal behavior and assure quality labour production to the consumers of it, but have outlived their message and utility in a modern setting with most of their agenda enacted as law either directly or as unintended consequences of other laws). It is of some use to us as the ignorant peasants to have political representatives who will oppose stupid ideas and will present good ones, from time to time. And I suspect this is far more likely to occur outside of a hegemonic environment. If we continue to have one for a while, which I don't doubt we will, the only source of blame is the double-down toward message with even less attention to preparedness for governing. That's why I'm skeptical of progressives who took away from this past election a rallying cry to do so. They (along with conservatives) should have been paying attention to how the two governor's races were won by conservatives: by not doubling-down and by arguing over local concerns.
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