I have a good example of why you should read me rather than Ezra Klein: I don’t waste your time. And I’m a hell of a lot more colorful. Today, over at Vox, Klein wrote a very interesting article, Why Democrats and Republicans Don’t Understand Each Other. We will leave aside the fact that his article is not about that; it is about what makes Democrats and Republicans different. It’s only been many years that I’ve known why Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other: they are different. But the question is: why do Republicans and Democrats act so differently.
Klein spends 2,000 words on this question, throwing lots and lots of data at the reader. And much of it is very old. For example, there are a lot more self-identified conservatives than liberals. Yet these same people consistently associate themselves with the Democratic Party by six or more percentage points. What could be the reason?! Well, part of it is just that for the last four decades the Republican Party has systematically vilified the word “liberal.” If you have any questions, see Geoffrey Nunberg’s excellent book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show.
But more important is just the fact that the Democratic Party and the liberal movement itself is not ideological. Or at least, not nearly as ideological as the Republican Party. It is, at its core, a practical movement that is interested in improving the living conditions of the people of this country and the world. As a result, most liberals don’t even think of themselves that way. They think of themselves as practical problem solvers. It never occurs to them that Social Security is a collectivist attack on “freedom.” It’s just a program that improves the lives of the elderly without otherwise causing a great deal of disruption.
Conservatives, on the other hand, live in theoretical world where any law is just the leading edge of the End of Freedom™ as we know it. They have been making the same arguments since the income tax was created. The End of Freedom™ never comes, but they continue to see it right around the corner. They would be seen as loony if they continued to attack Social Security (although many still do), and that’s why whatever is new is the thing that brings the End of Freedom™. Hence: Obamacare!
The best example of this is something I’ve talked about many times here: government size. At least in theory, conservatives are for a small government. They have no reason for being for small government except for some irrational fear that a large government will destroy “freedom.” At the same time, these very same conservatives believe in big government when it comes to the things that governments traditionally use to oppress their people: the military and police services. But it is the big government that feeds the poor and subsidizes public libraries that they think will cause the End of Freedom™. Whatever.
Liberals, in contrast, have absolutely no interest in the size of government. They are interested in results. Does it take big government to feed the poor? Fine! Can it be done with a small government? Fine! Can it be done without any government at all? Fine! It doesn’t matter to us because we aren’t interested in theory about the size of the government. We want to feed the poor. We are a practical people.
I think that modern American conservatives are crazy and delusional. But I don’t think ideology is necessarily a bad thing. I too believe in maximizing freedom. But I live in the real world. I know what freedom actually is. I know that I’m much more likely to have my freedom harmed by a cop who mistakes me someone else than I am by a small increase in tax rates. And that gets to the very heart of worrying about theoretical “freedom.” It allows demagogues to manipulate you.
As a liberal, I don’t have to worry about that. When Obamacare was being debated, the terms were very clear: greatly increasing the number of people who have health insurance in exchange for tiny tax increases. That’s a fine deal. But that wasn’t the way that Obamacare was presented by conservatives. It was presented as: the government taking over healthcare (not true) in exchange for destroying good care (not true) and increasing prices (not true) and eliminating your choice (not true) and killing old people (not true). Notice that the conservative argument against Obamacare was never honest: it raised taxes on the rich to provide healthcare for the poor. That was the real argument, but the demagogues knew that argument would never fly!
So I feel that the liberal pragmatic approach to politics is the more sane one. All conservatives offers to people is an ideology that hides what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is a very practical ideology of taking from the poor and giving it to the rich. There are lots of ideologies one could follow. The ideology followed by conservatives is just one designed to hide the practical results, which most conservatives would hate.
So there you go: with half the words, I’ve described the difference between the parties. And I’ve done it with far more flair.