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In politics, do we all want the same things?

Posted by Chance on February 10, 2007

I was in a blog discussion one time when someone asked if we all want the same things. That’s an interesting question, conservatives, liberals, libertarians, etc all have their own ideal version of society. Is it that we all want the same things, but we just have different ideas how to get there?

Well, yes and no.

To illustrate my point, let us talk about the war on terrorism. Now, no one wants terrorist attacks, and we all want a safe society. In fact, ideally, we would have a completely safe society. However, where we differ is what trade-offs we want for a safe society, and how we prioritize this safety. Conservatives are typically more aggressive on the War on Terror, typically willing to sacrifice some civil liberties on the matter, as long as it keeps people safe. Liberals and civil libertarians, however, have been more cautionary the past 5 or so years and have emphasized the civil liberties aspect of the war on terror. It’s not that they do not want a safe society, no one wants another attack, but they do not think our safety is worth a complete erosion of the freedoms we had in the first place.

I tend to depart somewhat from my conservative brethren. I am not saying I agree completely with the liberals and civil libertarians in all instances, but I do think it worth heeding caution and balancing our freedoms vs. our protection. It is not so much an issue of what policies I agree or disagree with, I see it more as an issue of attitude.In my view, conservatives can often put too much emphasis on protection without considering the costs in basic freedoms.

Again, it’s not that conservatives want to prevent terrorist attacks and others don’t, it is just that other groups tend to view protection measures in light of the issue of civil liberties.

So let’s look at the issue of government programs and commerce. Liberals favor the regulation of commerce and the abundance of government programs to ensure that people have their basic needs. In a sense, they want a measure of safety for people when it comes to their groceries, health care, etc… And these are noble goals for the liberals.

Let’s look at conservatives and, and their more extreme counterpart in the economic arena, the libertarians. Conservatives don’t want people to starve. They don’t want people to be poor. In fact, many conservatives want some government programs to avoid leaving people in the gutter. There are a few parts to the conservative/libertarian approach.

First of all, they believe that voluntary programs are generally more effective, and that too many government programs can do more harm than good. It’s not that they don’t want help for the poor, but that the government is not actually “helping” people in many cases. They believe helping the poor should be primarily (or completely in the case of some libertarians) the role of private charities. And Christian conservatives at least, back that up on a personal level.

Thirdly, as with the terrorism issue, they believe that the existence of programs should be measured in light of the loss of economic freedom. Now, many liberals may roll their eyes at the phrase “economic freedom”, because it can often mean, simply having more money, less taxes, etc… I don’t quite mean that in this case. What I mean is an allowance of opportunity. I was always raised with the idea that one of the reasons the U.S. is great is because it is a land of opportunity. People can start with nothing and make a name for themselves, whether it is being a scientist, a sports star, a businessman, etc… That notion always captivated me, and I grew up with the idea that literally, I could do anything, that there was no limit to my success. And I do not speak about success in monetary terms, but just in terms of having a goal and being able to go about it.

I believe that too much government in the area of commerce can limit this opportunity. By attempting to go for safety, we lose not only freedom, but our safety as well. We’ve seen societies that try to attempt a completely secure environment as far as people having enough to eat, having a guaranteed job, etc.. and it was disastrous. If someone wants to set up a hot dog stand, or become a plumber, or do someone’s nails, they should do so with as little interference as possible. I am not saying there should be no regulations, I just don’t think people should have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to make a living for themselves. People often complain that the poor have to take a low-wage job for some rich corporation and a jerk boss, well, to help with that problem, let us make it easy for people to start on their own. And let us also make it easier for people to be hired that do work for someone else.

Concerning the existence of government programs, I don’t think people should have guaranteed groceries. People need to grow up with the idea that what they have costs something. It is not their entitlement, someone had to work to produce that food. I am not saying eliminate food stamps, but there is a wide line between a) having a few food stamps or free school lunch programs (like my wife received for a while) and b) having guaranteed groceries for everyone. It is not that I don’t want people to have food on the table, it is just that I think such a program is an actual detriment to society. By fighting for so much safety when it comes to people’s needs, I believe we make it worse for everyone.

So, in short, no, we don’t want the same things. We want what is best for our country, but we disagree on exactly what that is. Again, we can respect the goals of other sides. Wanting a society safe from terrorism is noble. Wanting a society where people have their basic needs is noble. However, fighting terrorism can lose sight of its purpose if we no longer have any freedom to defend. Fighting poverty can lose its purpose when we make it harder for people to get out from under poverty.

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2 Responses to “In politics, do we all want the same things?”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    This was an important and well-reasoned post. I agree. Sometimes we want the same things, but disagree how to get them. Sometimes we want the same things, but rank differently which are the most important and how important the methods are for getting them. And sometimes we just want radically different things.

    We even frame the issues differently.

    It’s not just a trade-off issue on civil liberties and terrorism, for instance. I am convinced that the policies which rob us of our liberties ALSO do little or nothing to combat terrorism and often make the problem worse.

  2. Chance said

    Thanks for the kind words Michael.

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