The Liberal Mind: The Psychological Causes of Political Madness

Townhall.com Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr, MD December 4, 2006

Like all other human beings, the modern liberal reveals his true character, including his madness, in what he values and devalues, in what he articulates with passion. Of special interest, however, are the many values about which the modern liberal mind is not passionate: his agenda does not insist that the individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit; it does not idealize individual liberty and the structure of law and order essential to it; it does not defend the basic rights of property and contract; it does not aspire to ideals of authentic autonomy and mutuality; it does not preach an ethic of self-reliance and self-determination; it does not praise courage, forbearance or resilience; it does not celebrate the ethics of consent or the blessings of voluntary cooperation. It does not advocate moral rectitude or understand the critical role of morality in human relating. The liberal agenda does not comprehend an identity of competence, appreciate its importance, or analyze the developmental conditions and social institutions that promote its achievement. The liberal agenda does not understand or recognize personal sovereignty or impose strict limits on coercion by the state. It does not celebrate the genuine altruism of private charity. It does not learn history’s lessons on the evils of collectivism.

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Comments

  1. Dean Scourtes says:

    This author does the conservative movement no favors by depicting it as a group of clueless dunderheads in a state of complete denial over the problems our nation faces. According to this author the mere suggestion that our nation faces potential problems that our government may need to adress proactively, makes the suggester a liberal whiner. I would like to think that my conservative friends are more intelligent than that.

    This is the Herbert Hoover administration all over again, refusing to even acknowlege the existence of serious problems because to do so would require turning to remedies at odd with a rigid and narrow ideology. During the Great Depression, as 1 of every 3 Americans became unemployed, and investment dropped to zero because people were hording all the cash they had in their mattresses, Hoover continued to tell Americans that “Prosperity is just around the corner”. We all know how well that talking point worked for the Republican party. Now Dr. Rossiter is urging a similar strategy of denialism, advanced in a sneering tone of mocking contempt.

    I would ask my conservative friends to consider that the high water mark for the popularity of the Communist party in the United States was following Hoover’s Presidency. To ignore the problems of the people, to sit idly by while their economic situation steadily grows more dire, is to invite revolution. if you want to save capitalism you have to protect it against its own worst excesses.

    It is a fact that trends such as wage stagnation, jobs outsourcing, the gradual disappearance of private pennsion plans, the rising cost of health insurance and increased exposure to massive medial expenses, and the sky-rocketing cost of college tuition have combined to reduce upward economic mobility and to increase overall economic insecurity of middle-class Americans. As we continue to shred the social safety net and ignore even greater potential threats to our economic security the situation grows worse. It wouldn’t take much, a paralyzing terrorist attack, a disruption of foreign oil supplies, a collapse of our health care finance system, a further sharper slide in housing prices, a decision by China to stop financing our profligate federal deficit spending to plunge our nation into severe recession or Depression and bring about widespread hardship.

    To suggest as Dr. Rossiter does, that government has no role to play in averting these threatening scenarios, if they in any way impinge on individual liberty, is lunacy pure and simple.

  2. Dean Scourtes says:
  3. Dean Scourtes says:

    When, every Sunday, we pray that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, to whom are we directing that comment to? Are we sitting in our metaphoric easy chairs, kindly wishing God well, assuming that the task of doing God’s will is God’s job? Or are we declaring our commitment that God’s will be done on earth, through our actions and efforts, and assuming responsibility ourselves?

    According to Dr. Rossiter, the answer is the former. He writes that all we have to concern ourselves with is ourselves. he writes that that the “individual is the ultimate economic, social and political unit” and individual freedom is paramount. Any moral imperitive that suggests that we have a responsibility to take care of others is to be scorned and disdained as coercive and wrong. Furthermore, this loathsome man writes that any moral imperative that suggests that we should restructure our economic arrangements to mitgate the systemic poverty and suffering of others is an indication of moral weakness and mental illness.

    Dr. Rossiter would pervert religion in order to numb and blind us all to the evils of gross economic inequality and the steady erosion of our civil rights. Chris hedeges writes:

    These Christian utopians promise to replace this internal and external emptiness with a mythical world where time stops and all problems are solved. The mounting despair rippling across the United States, one I witnessed repeatedly as I traveled the country, remains unaddressed by the Democratic Party, which has abandoned the working class, like its Republican counterpart, for massive corporate funding. The Christian right has lured tens of millions of Americans, who rightly feel abandoned and betrayed by the political system, from the reality-based world to one of magic—to fantastic visions of angels and miracles, to a childlike belief that God has a plan for them and Jesus will guide and protect them.

    This mythological worldview, one that has no use for science or dispassionate, honest intellectual inquiry, one that promises that the loss of jobs and health insurance does not matter, as long as you are right with Jesus, offers a lying world of consistency that addresses the emotional yearnings of desperate followers at the expense of reality. It creates a world where facts become interchangeable with opinions, where lies become true—the very essence of the totalitarian state.

    It includes a dark license to kill, to obliterate all those who do not conform to this vision, from Muslims in the Middle East to those at home who refuse to submit to the movement. And it conveniently empowers a rapacious oligarchy whose god is maximum profit at the expense of citizens. We now live in a nation where the top 1 percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent combined, where we have legalized torture and can lock up citizens without trial.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20070128_christianists_on_the_march/

    Hedges may be a little extreme in his overall thesis, but there is no doubt that the wolves in sheeps’ clothing, like Dr. Rossiter, that Christ warned us about are among us now. They are using religion to promote a more cruel, harsh and oppressive vision for the world were the few profit by causing suffering for the many.

    God gave us brains to solve problems and make the world a better place for all, not to spin elaborate rationalizations to justify all the evils of the world, as well as our own laziness and selfishness.

  4. Tom Chresand says:

    Mr. Scourtes,

    Wow! I followed the link and read Chris Hedges article along with the accompanying comments. I find your half-hearted disclaimer “a little extreme in his thesis” troubling to say the least. Do you also subscribe to Mr. Hedges recent call to suppress Christian speech?

    In regard to the thrust of your comments on this topic, as well as much else that you write on this blog, you take it as axiomatic that statist economic policies and redistribution of wealth are expressions of Christian charity. Those of us who disagree do so because we do not accept the axiom, not because we are against Christian charity.

    It was particularly disingneuous of you to juxtapose the Hedges quote with that from John Paul II, as if the two supported one another. In fact, this sentence from JPII

    And when we are told that family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary association are parochial and repressive constraints on our self-expression, let us reply that only through such institutions can we as free people “exist, develop, and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others,” and come to a proper understanding and practice of self-government.

    conveys the exact opposite argument that you and Hedges make, and, in fact, supports the position of those who do not accept the statist axiom.

    Was all this the result of carelessness, or do you actually subscribe to Hedges and think that JPII would as well?

  5. Christopher says:

    This one seems to have gotten under Dean’s liberal skin. Careful Tom, Dean is not here to listen or dialogue, only to “debate” in that middle school style…

  6. Dean Scourtes says:
  7. Note 6. Dean, for the record, Sullivan created the concept of “Christiantism” out of frustration with Christians who resist his crusade for gay marriage. You would be wise not to use it in broader debates about social policy. (It’s a polemical device, not a legitimate sociological or political category.)

  8. Tom Chresand says:

    Mr. Scourtes,

    The essay containing John Paul’s quotes came by way of the Acton Institute, which seeks to “articulate a vision of society that is both free and virtuous, the end of which is human flourishing”. The author, Michael Joyce, is President of the Bradley Foundation, a well known conservative grant making organization which is “devoted to strengthening American democratic capitalism and the institutions, principles, and values that sustain and nurture it”. The JPII quotes clearly support a vision of society based on subsidiarity, which is “a principle in social organization: functions which subordinate or local organizations perform effectively belong more properly to them than to a dominant central organization”.

    These organizations, and the ideas expressed in the essay, are anathema to people like Chris Hedges, and to anyone who favors statist social policy. By citing this essay to support your contentions you are either being deceptive or don’t understand the issues well enough to make clear distinctions. Maybe it’s just carelessness or lassitude: you did call me “Bob” for some unkown reason.

    Orthodox Christians can hold a wide latitude of opinions on economic issues, and there are fundamentalist Protestants that hold strange views. But if you fully support the following

    …from the reality-based world to one of magic—to fantastic visions of angels and miracles, to a childlike belief that God has a plan for them and Jesus will guide and protect them. This mythological worldview, one that has no use for science or dispassionate, honest intellectual inquiry, one that promises that the loss of jobs and health insurance does not matter, as long as you are right with Jesus, offers a lying world of consistency that addresses the emotional yearnings of desperate followers at the expense of reality.

    I have a hard time seeing how you can call yourself an Orthodox Christian.

  9. Dean Scourtes says:

    Mr. Chresand:

    I anticipated your objection which is why I attempted to comment a little on the relationship between prayer and action. It is not “child-like” to pray and ask for divine intercession, but we should understand that we are also empowered by God to solve a lot of our own problems, and a lot of the world’s problems. We can pray to God to help a sick child, or we can hold a fund-raiser to pay for the childs medical care, or we can support universal health care so that in the future any child can get treatment regardless of their financial resources.

    What I object to is the assertion that we should not use government to proactively prevent social problems and social ills that result in suffering. If the argument is that government solutions are too large, inefficient, misdirected or unaccountable than I say – fix them and make them better and I will reward you with my vote. But to assume that we should put the entire burden of solving the world’s problems on God, or on whatever private charity may or may not exist, is an abdication of responsibility. That is magical thinking.

    Tom, I’m very sorry for mixing up your name (I was distracted by questions from my wife and daughter as I typed).

  10. Tom Chresand says:

    Mr. Scourtes,

    Thank you for the polite reply.

    You wrote

    Pope John Paul writes that “we come to be fully human, fully moral, and fully free only within “natural units or groupings”–family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary association”. These are collective entities.

    Conspicuously absent from the list is “government”, especially “large centralized government”. Not to be deterred, you added those to the list in your next paragraph

    What is Government in a democratic society but a simiilar voluntary collective entity only on a much larger scale – a scale appropriate to adress the magnitude of the underlying tasks or problems it was founded to address.

    You are free to make any list or definition you choose, but you cannot claim that JPII’s quote supports your thesis. You are altering the quote and then claiming that it was what JPII intended.

    The reason that “large centralized government=collectivism” was not in the Pope’s list is that he understood the inevitable tendency for such to usurp the role of “natural units or groupings”–family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary association”. This is the crux of the issue: not whether government is efficient or wasteful, but whether it is circumscribed to its proper role. The article at the top of the thread argues that liberals have mis-understood government’s proper role. Do we need to struggle to find an example of an improper government role? Let’s see, how about federal mandates to have girls cheer for boys as often as for girls?

    As to your hypothetical sick child, I want to help him as much as you do, and some sort of societal action is required. There are, however, a multitude of possibilities short of “single-payer federal health care”. Whatever strategy is chosen, though, must not destroy the “natural units or groupings” that are the basis of a free society. You might claim that this is over-wrought or paranoid, but I disagree in advance. There is abundant evidence from around the world as to societal harm resulting from collectivism. There is a reason that Cubans – in possession of “free health care” get on rafts and risk death or prison to make it to Florida, while poor Americans don’t get on rafts and flee to Cuba.

    All the best.

  11. Michael Bauman says:

    Dean in #6 you write: “What is Government in a democratic society but a simiilar voluntary collective entity only on a much larger scale”

    Government is never voluntary, the Civil War proved that. The current case of Mr. Brown in New Hampshire also proves that. Ultimately he will be killed for refusing to submit to the authority of the government. All government power and authority is ultimately based on the use of deadly force. Democratic government is designed to limit the use of such deadly force to only those times when it is really needful, i.e, in defense of the body politic and defend or restore public order.

    Of course, the government’s argument that they have to force Mr. Brown to pay his taxes is that if he is allowed to get off, the law looses all power. That would not be the case if the law had widespread support and moral legitimacy.

    Mr. Rossiter is wrong to assert such an unqualified thesis in the support of individualism as that too leads to totalitarianism throught anarchy. But you, Dean, have a naive, dangerous view of the nature of government. A view that if left to run its course will end up in the oppression of all forms of faith and genuine humanity.

  12. Dean Scourtes says:

    Michael: I do have an idealistic view of government, you are right about that. But I am not so naive either to think that the government we have comes close to the ideal.

    Government has departed so much from the ideal, not because of any inherent flaw, but through our own neglect and indifference. We appoint political hacks to run state and federal agencies instead of seasoned professionals. We don’t hold them accountable to any objective standards of performance. We don’t ask for a strict accounting of how are tax dollars are spent. We hardly make an effort to be informed and pay attention to what our government is doing. Our leaders lie to us and we respond with approving nods.

    In Why so Few Christian Patriots, which Father has posted, Frank Pastore writes that the our democratic form government is itself evidence that the United States is a Christian nation.

    Every American ought to be indebted to the Judeo-Christian value system that is the foundation of our American superstructure. Every Christian, regardless of where they’re from, should admire this wondrous thing called America that has been the best political expression of our Lord’s teachings.

    Jesus may never have raised an army, levied a tax, guided a policy debate in a legislature, or administered a government. But He has raised us up to do these things in His name. May we be faithful to His high calling

    .
    If our government fails whose fault is it then, but our own.

  13. Michael Bauman says:

    The nature and quality of government is always the responsibility of the citizens who are being governed–even in a tryanny–look at Venezuela.

    The problems you list with government are correct, all the more reason why they should not be given more power. It is like continuing to allow your teenager to drive with either accidents or speeding tickets. It may be convenient, but it is not prudent.

    It is especially ill-advised when the government, such as ours, is more and more unconcerned with morality.

  14. Note 7: The term “Christianist” seems appropriate for endeavors like the Iraq conflict, which, after much discussion and debate, appears to have been entered into not out of a moral necessity in saving Iraqis or even out of preservation of our nation but because “God willed it.” Now, for many Orthodox and Catholic believers who insist that God always wills what is good and that He cannot will anything contrary to justice, there would be no conflict here. Our evangelical friends, however, tend to believe that whatever God wills is good, no matter how wildly misanthropic it may first appear. *As our President considers himself a born-again evangelical, it would be prudent to reflect on what is being whispered in his ear. Popular evangelist John Hagee in his best-selling book “Jerusalem Countdown” “insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the book’s publication, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, as the Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said would cause ‘a political earthquake.’”

    It has been acknowledged that Bush considers the advice by, if not Hagee, many like him, in his decision making.

    As I have said, I don’t dislike President Bush. His faith has evidently made him a better man in the personal realm. In political terms, however, it seems to have replaced caution, prudence and reason with a certain degree of hubris (mislabeled as “faith”). “Christianist” seems a reasonable term.

    * The story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son takes on a different slant, depending on your faith. For many of us, we would not interpret a command to murder our children as being from the Almighty. God would simply not will such a thing. Other varieties of Christianity seem to believe that the story implies a necessity of embracing any command from what is believed to be from the Almighty, no matter how questionable its adherence to moral standards.

  15. J R Dittbrenner says:

    Dr. Rossiter, MD paper.
    Under the “Feighner Criteria” or the “Research Diagnostic Criteria” there appears no definition of Political Madness; yes, there are terms as psychosis, neurosis and schizophrenia but no Madness. Madness has not be a psychological term since around the 1970s. He must use the term to gather attention to himself and his writtings; of course he is barking mad-a very common English phrase in general use.
    J R Dittbrenner

  16. Christopher says:

    “Note 7: The term “Christianist” seems appropriate for endeavors like the Iraq conflict, which, after much discussion and debate, appears to have been entered into not out of a moral necessity in saving Iraqis or even out of preservation of our nation but because “God willed it.””

    Bah! This site REALLY needs a moderator…

  17. J R Dittbrenner says:

    Dear Mr. Chresand:
    In number 10 you stated, “comspicuously absent from the list is “government”,”.
    JP was the supreme head of state of a vast governmental entity with very centralized control. He even had/has ambassadors to world capitals.
    His leaving “government” out must have been just an oversite.
    The Papal states use to comprise a central swath of Italy and the past Popes went to war to protect these states; with horse, armour, army and all that.
    Sincerely, J R Dittbrenner

  18. Tom Chresand says:

    Dear Mr. Dittbrenner:

    Your comment #17 is too clever by half, but does not warrant a response.

    I asked Dean Scourtes whether he subscribed to the thesis of the Chris Hedges article that he cited; namely, that traditional Christianity is an opiate for the masses that allows them to be exploited by capitalists. He did not give a straight reply. I also pointed out that it was misleading of him to cite the article by Joyce which quoted John Paul II as if it supported his contentions, when in fact it argued against his contentions.

    These are straightforward questions and I would expect straightforward answers, if not from him, maybe from you? If neither of you can deliver I’ll have to find a better use of my time than to continue the dialogue.

    All the best.

  19. Patrick Coffey says:

    Mr. Scourtes,

    My understanding of the article by Lyle Rossiter–whom I had never heard of till today–is not that he wants to do away with government programs, but that he wants to isolate, for our consideration, a certain persistent, irrational component in the modern liberal world-view. Some government programs work and some are counter-productive, but Rossiter doesn’t go into detail about which specific programs he would curtail, if any–at least not in this article. You respond to his article as if Rossiter were calling for a blanket dismantling of government programs and a return to the dog-eat-dog, Darwinian economics of the late nineteenth century. Perhaps he has done so in other writings; not having read them, I can’t say. But in this piece, he is examining the psychological implications of modern liberalism (what some would call “post-sixties” liberalism) through the eyes of a mental-health practitioner who has certain ideas about the confluence of mental health, morality and personal responsibility. Morality and mental health might be separate subjects for some head-shrinks, but apparently not for Rossiter.

    To boil it down, Rossiter seems to be saying three things: He is pointing out the limitations of the nanny state in trying to save people from the consequences of their own behaviour. He is reminding us of something that we’ve already observed: When the government subsidizes self-destructive behaviour, we get more of it, just as when the government subsidizes rice farmers, we get more rice. And he is saying that the persistent goal of modern liberalism, which looks to the creation of a wise, powerful, compassionate State to give all citizens, regardless of their behaviour, a risk-free world of physical, economic and emotional security and self-esteem, is so at variance with the lessons of history and of common sense, that the persistence of modern liberalism in supporting the insupportable can only be explained as a complex of frustrated emotional needs that are left over from childhood. In this view, it is the opposite of ironic that the infantile wellsprings of modern liberalism seek the (unspoken) goal of infantalizing people by anticipating their every need. In the ideal liberal State, no one will ever fail, or have his or her feelings hurt, or have to make hard decisions that entail taking personal responsibility. The State will always be there to make those hard decisions.

    The ideal liberal State will create an all-encompassing comfort zone by compelling people who speak improperly to enter sensitivity training programs. It will magically create a world free of gender “bias” while hypocritically holding men and women in sports, police, fire-fighting units and the military to different standards. It will generate programs to make us all comfortable with our sexuality by making life uncomfortable for those who take exception to the programs. It will be an enabler for people who habitually engage in risky sexual behavior. It will create a generational culture of poverty by subsidizing social and personal irresponsibility. Mexicans by the tens of thousands can cross deserts, and Haitians can cross over in leaky, homemade boat–and find jobs. So what? Blacks in inner-city ghettos will still be told by liberals that there are no jobs for them because the government doesn’t care enough. All of these liberal goals point to one trend–the infantilizing of the citizenry by an intrusive nanny state. Of course modern liberalism is seen as being informed and energized by neurosis, if not insanity. How else can one possibly explain it?

    A psychological view of modern liberalism need not be confused with a desire to return to laissez faire economics. In fact, it was during the post-sixties blossoming of liberal social activism on behalf of an ever-expanding list of “minorities”, that working men and women began to fall behind in America. Even with the best of intentions, one cannot be everywhere at once, and when liberal social activists made a choice to take on the percieved problems of black, female, and homosexual activists, they made a concommitant choice to abandon working-class people, as such. If the Democratic party were still the working man’s party that it was during the time of Harry Truman and Jack Kennedy, America might well be a better place for working-class people to live in today. But those days are long gone. The center of gravity for the Democrats today has moved to the elite precincts of vinyard liberalism. These are folks who seldom see working people–except for nannies and gardeners–let alone interact with them and get to know them. The plight of blue-collar workers might be partly the result of the fact that post-sixties liberals went off on a tangent when they discovered, to their dismay, that it wasn’t emotionally rewarding to try to infantalize working people, so they moved off to greener pastures with scarcely a backward glance.

  20. J R Dittbrenner says:

    Dear Mr. Chresand,
    I was commenting on the lack of inclusion of ‘government’. The RC is for government as an institution. St Thomas was all for it; how-be-it, in his time the governers were kings. His work laid the foundations ‘divine right’. I was not commenting on your coments as such.
    Sincerely, J R Dittbrenner

  21. Mr. Coffey,
    Though there are some people who abuse social service programs through dishonesty or fraud, I’m not certain where you get the impression that the programs were created with those ends in mind.

    With the welfare reforms of the last decade and a half, recidivism is relatively low. In addition, TANF recipients who are single parents are “required to participate in work activities for at least 30 hours per week. Two-parent families must participate in work activities 35 or 55 hours a week, depending upon circumstances. Failure to participate in work requirements can result in a reduction or termination of benefits to the family.”

    I’m all for personal responsibility for one’s own life, and when people who are capable of working choose not to do so, they should not receive benefits. However, all of this about fostering a “nanny state” is backed by no data that I am aware of.
    Who supports this?

    What liberal politician has supported programs that allow able-bodied persons to sit home all day and collect checks from the government while doing nothing to better their lives while adhering to the service’s guidelines and criteria for aid?

  22. Tom Chresand says:

    # 20 JR Dittbrenner – OK, fair enough.

    # 19 Patrick Coffey – Applause.

  23. Jim Holman says:

    Patrick writes: “My understanding of the article by Lyle Rossiter–whom I had never heard of till today–is not that he wants to do away with government programs, but that he wants to isolate, for our consideration, a certain persistent, irrational component in the modern liberal world-view. Some government programs work and some are counter-productive, but Rossiter doesn’t go into detail about which specific programs he would curtail, if any–at least not in this article.”

    Rossiter’s piece is the typical anti-liberal screed. Liberals are dumb, liberals are evil, liberals are traitors, etc. Now, according to Rossiter they are mentally ill too. Perhaps some day someone will do us all a favor and publish the ultimate catalog of “what liberals are.”

    The purpose of pieces such as this is not information. It is not based on any kind of research or analysis. According to his web site Rossiter is a forensic psychiatrist, a hired gun available for criminal trials, so that’s supposed to satisfy us.

    After you’ve read about a thousand pieces like this — which actually make up a significant percentage of articles on this site — you begin to understand that the purpose of such pieces is to keep the faithful in a continual state of outrage, continually amped-up on Just How Bad the liberals are. But Rossiter is a low-level, relatively mild drug. Reading him gives the faithful about as much of a high as an unfiltered Camel. Good to wake you up in the morning, but not much more than that. When the faithful really want to take a hit on the crack pipe, they go to Limbaugh. When even Limbaugh isn’t enough, the faithful ingest the crystal meth of Coulter and Michael Savage. Since this is a Christian blog the stronger drugs are typically not available here. Fr. Hans offers smokes and coffee, but if you want the hard stuff you have to go elsewhere.

    But like all drugs, the high becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. So the faithful need ever stronger doses, ever more extreme claims, an even more reprehensible enemy to contend with.

    Rossiter can’t “go into detail about which specific programs he would curtail,” because that’s not what he is all about. In fact there are an amazing number of conservatives who also cannot articulate that.

    A few years ago I called in to a local right-wing talk show, the now-defunct Victor Bok program. Bok was a kind of low-rent Limbaugh, all that the local market could afford. Anyway, one day he was on a rant about liberals, taxes, and government programs. So I called in and asked a simple question: “what social programs do you think government should fund?” Well, Bok hemmed and hawed, dodged and weaved. The bottom line was that he couldn’t think of any.

    One of my favorite recreations is trying to get right-wingers to be clear about what they are actually talking about. So I hear some guy talking about the evil liberals, the sin of redistributing income, the great virtues of self-reliance, etc. So I say great, let’s just eliminate Medicare, and then old people can just die. Oh no! the right-winger will reply. That’s not what I’m talking about at all.

    So I say, ok, let’s eliminate vocational rehab programs, and when someone gets injured on the job, he can just be a cripple for the rest of his life. Oh no! sez the right-winger. I’m not talking about that either.

    So I continue with “let’s eliminate State Medicaid programs, and do away with nursing home payments for indigent elderly people, who can then simply die in the street. Again, the right-winger says oh no!! I’m not talking about that either.

    Looking for something that we can finally eliminate, I say let’s just stop funding foster care for abused children, so they can learn self-reliance from the start. Oh no! exclaims the right-winger. I’m not suggesting anything like that!

    This goes on for about ten minutes. Finally I say well dude, what the “H” ARE you talking about??

    At this point the right-winger leaps into action. He has Just The Answer: private charity! This is all the role of the church — a role that has been stolen by the Evil Liberal Government. I say wow, this is wonderful. We’ll go ahead and eliminate all social programs. Just give me the address of your church and we’ll send them the bill for their share of the costs.

    Oh no! protests the right-winger. That’s not what I’m talking about. . . . .

  24. Dean Scourtes says:

    Mr. Coffey:

    Then Mr. Rossiter is attacking a false stereotype and not reality. It was Democratic President who announced the “the era of big government is over”. It was A Democratic President who signed the welfare reform act. It was a Democratic President who shrunk the federal workforce and balanced the federal budget.

    Bill Clinton was able to steal the one attribute of conservatism that I admired the most, its commitment to fiscal restraint and efficient, business like government, and the amazing thing is that modern-day conservatives have willingly ceded it away. Under Bush conservatism has become synonomous with deficits, cronyism and the awarding of lucrative contracts to political favorites.

    How can you possibly reconcile Rossiter’s indictment of the Democrats as the party of the big government nanny state with the reality the George W. Bush has increased government spending more than any President since Lyndon Johnson?

  25. Patrick Coffey says:

    Mr. Scourtes,

    As you know, the most important requirement for any politician’s survival is flexibility. To stay in the game, he must always be sniffing the political winds and adjusting course, and if possible, it helps to do it in such a way that his twists and turns redound to his credit. No politician alive today is better at this than Bill Clinton. His handling of welfare-reform legislation is a case in point. It was forced on him by a Republican Congress, and rather than sulk and pout, he signed it with an affirming proclamation that made it seem that the idea of welfare reform had his support from the start.

    As for President Bush, he has been a hugh disappointment to his fiscal and social conservative base. That partly explains the Republican defeats in the mid-term elections, along with Iraq, of course. Conservatives think that Bush has betrayed them on a number of issues. They think that he has dawdled in the appointment of constructionist judges, caving in to a Democratic minority when he did not have to. They are especially frustrated by Bush’s nonchalance over immigration reform and his currying favor with various voting blocs through reckless spending. On these issues, they see Bush as worse than liberal. He is seen a something of a traitor. There was the Abramoff affair, which didn’t help Bush’s image among conservatives. As for Iraq, Pat Buchanan and George Will are far from being alone among conservatives in their disapproval of Bush’s hubristical efforts to force political reform on the Mideast. Some pundits on the Right have been saying that Republicans need to be put out of power for a while, hoping that a few nights spent out in the cold will help them to collect their wits and return to their roots. They may be right.

    In any case, talking about Clinton and Bush does not clarify the subject. They are not the unblemished avatars, respectively, of liberalism and conservativism. They are political warriors, skilled at maneuvering, deception, comprimise and camouflage. That’s pretty much how they got to be Presidents.

    This discussion of the political maneuverings of Clinton and Bush has carried us away from the subject of Rossiter’s essay, which is not politics per se, but the emotional grounds of modern liberalism. This is a subject not well served by a discussion of which President or party did exactly what. (And for that matter, Rossiter certainly doesn’t seem to be saying or hinting that every social program initiated by the government since FDR should be scrapped–although his opponents won’t fail to accuse him of that.) In fact, Rossiter’s subject is not politics itself. His subject is the deep, emotional wellspring of liberal sentiments. Since it is from these sentiments that liberal politics devolve, it is these sentiments that call for analysis. Their actual political expression may be seen as a symptom, and well worth analyzing as such.

    It will be extremely difficult to keep ourselves on track, as Rossiter has warned. We will have to keep reminding ourselves of this. Liberals will do their considerable best to deflect such a discussion. They will be dismissive. They will change the subject. They will accuse. They will point out superficial ironies, as you have done in your most recent post. They will jump up and down. They will claim the high moral ground by saying that liberal motives don’t need examining, that it’s all a political ploy and a great waste of time. They will adamantly refuse to acknowledge the complex emotional foundations of their good intentions. They will say that all that matters is that people need to be cared for and that Bush and his heartless conservative supporters don’t care. As a group, liberals are already in high dudgeon over the general, slow decline of support for liberal projects since the early seventies. If Rossiter’s thesis–by some miracle–gains wide-spread attention, we can strap ourselves in for a rough ride.

  26. Dean Scourtes says:
  27. Christopher says:

    Are government interventions designed to improve the lives of citizens

    by which you mean liberal activism

    always emotional in origin and a form of coddling,

    yes, because the liberal view of man (anthropology) is wrong (and anti-Christian to boot)

    or can they represent prudent and proactive actions designed to promote economic stability, and social order.

    no, again because they are based on wrong assumptions about man (anthropology), and thus wrong assumptions about how man is to relate to his niegbor.

    we ask again, what is man?

  28. Dean Scourtes says:

    Man is an agent of God’s justice. We can understand why the concept of Justice is so central and intrinsic to our faith when we consider the theological dilemma of the Jews in the last few centuries before Christ. The Jews struggled with the question of why good people are made to suffer while the wicked often enjoy lives of comfort and ease. They realized that the answer to their question was that in the Afterlife a Just God will reward the good and righteous and punish the evil and disobedient. In other words God identifies with the good people who are made to suffer during their earthly existence and will be their avenger and redeemer in the afterlife

    God did not desire that good people be made to suffer on earth, as a condition of their heavenly reward, but expected all good people to ease the suffering of their neighbors. From books of the Old Testament the Jews identified 613 religious duties, or Mitzvot, that people obedient to God must observe. Prominent among these Mitzvot, or duties, is “Tzedekah”.

    “Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzade-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.

    Source Judaism 101: http://www.jewfaq.org/tzedakah.htm

    The teachings of Jesus Christ are entirely consistent with the concept of Tzadekah. In the Beatitudes Christ reaffirms that God will be the champion of the suffering and downtrodden and that He expect those who are not among the sufferring and downtrodden to be his agents in assisting their less fortunate neighbors. Blessed are those who suffer (the poor of spirit, the hungry, those who mourn) and blessed are those who help them (the merciful, the peacemakers, those who who hunger and thirst for justice, those who who suffer persecution for justice sake). It is up to us to make sure that “God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Helping the poor is not something we do for extra credit, it is something we must do to even pass the test.

    Because we desire justice for the poor in accordance with God’s will, expressed to us clearly and directly by His prophets and His Son, we want to construct a society that delivers that justice. This doesn’t mean equality of outcome or result, as some suggest, but equality of opportunity. We are not asking the fast in the race to halt for the slow, but for everyone to begin the race at the same starting line, wearing the same pair of running shoes, beginning at the sound of same starting gun.

  29. Jim Holman says:

    Christopher writes: “no, again because they are based on wrong assumptions about man (anthropology), and thus wrong assumptions about how man is to relate to his nieghbor.”

    I think your argument here is really with the Catholic church. From the 1931 papal encyclical Quadragesima Anno:

    . . . Wherefore the wise Pontiff declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes. . . . Yet when the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods, which the Author of nature in His most wise providence ordained for the support of human life, from causing intolerable evils and thus rushing to its own destruction; it does not destroy private possessions, but safeguards them; and it does not weaken private property rights, but strengthens them.

  30. Tom Chresand says:

    Mr. Holman,

    I see you have joined Dean Scourtes in the Pope-quoting business.

    I doubt even Milton Friedman would have disagreed with the quote. The rub is in what constitutes “the common good”. When we “ordered liberty” types try to make this distinction we are met with “you don’t want the common good”. But we do want the common good, we just disagree with persons like you and Dean about what it is.

    I have found that, more often than not, the disagreement stems from mis-understanding the long-term, unintended consequences of policies that seem “compassionate” at first glance. It would be hard to find a better example than that of US welfare policy prior to mid-90s reform. All the abstract points raised previously in this thread – “subsidizing destructive behavior”, “disrupting the role of natural units or groupings”, “incorrect anthropology”, etc. – were made manifest by this social policy. Our society, or at least some parts of our society, learned the lesson the hard way. But if you look back to the debate when the welfare policies were first put in place, you would see that some (usually free-market economists) had predicted as much.

    As a start to dialogue, can you at least admit that welfare policies prior to the mid-90s were more destructive than beneficial? And that, therefore, not all efforts to re-distribute wealth support “the common good”?

  31. Jim Holman says:

    Tom writes: “I see you have joined Dean Scourtes in the Pope-quoting business.”

    I’m not really in that business, as you call it, but I think such quotations do put the burden of proof on those who believe that government-funded social programs are anti-Christian.

    Tom: “As a start to dialogue, can you at least admit that welfare policies prior to the mid-90s were more destructive than beneficial?”

    Tom, I really don’t know how to respond to that. And I’m not trying to be evasive. I just don’t have the data. That said, I have no doubt whatsoever that in many cases those policies were in fact more destructive than positive. During the time period under question I had personal knowledge of only one case. In that case a couple with three children divorced because the husband had been sexually abusing his three year old daughter. Prior to that the wife had taken care of the kids and the husband earned the income. After they split up the wife and kids were left without income.

    So she and the kids went on welfare. I was very difficult for all of them. With the help of welfare mom finished a two-year degree at the local community college, got a job, went off welfare, and eventually finished a four year degree and supported herself and her children.

    My belief is that her experience was not untypical. Was it the experience of the majority? I don’t know. Certainly many ended up as long-term welfare cases. Overall, was welfare more destructive than positive? I don’t know how to measure that.

    I can tell you that we don’t have people starving to death in the U.S. We don’t have people living by scavenging through garbage dumps. We don’t have people dying from easily treatable diseases. I think these are all good things. What would the U.S. have been like without welfare programs? Good question.

    All the right-wingers like to focus on welfare, but there are social programs that have nothing to do with welfare. We have programs that provide surgical treatment to poor children with unfortunate medical conditions. We have foster care programs. We have programs for vocational rehabilitation. We take care of indigent people with psychiatric programs. Medicaid pays for nursing home care for indigent elderly people. We have workers comp and unemployment insurance. There are a large number of such programs, and these programs, not welfare, make up the bulk of social programs.

    A lot of this comes down to a simple question: what kind of country do you want to live in? Do you want to have crippled people begging in the street? Do you want to have pregnant women without access to prenatal care? Do you want injured workers to remain unrehabilitated and unemployed? Do you want to have children with uncorrected facial deformities walking around so that taxpayers can save a little money. There are a lot of countries in which these things are the norm. We can do that too. It just depends on what we want.

    Tom: “And that, therefore, not all efforts to re-distribute wealth support “the common good”?”

    Of course not. But there is no large-scale government program that is entirely successful. Look at the military. How many weapons programs turn out to be failures? How many billions of dollars do we spend on systems that never go anywhere? But that’s not an argument to eliminate military spending.

    When social programs don’t work well, the answer is reform, not the elimination of social programs. Whenever you try to do something good, you ALWAYS experience a certain amount of failure. That’s the way the world is. And I’m interested in having a good world, not a perfect world.

  32. Dean Scourtes says:
  33. Christopher says:

    we want to construct a society that delivers that justice.

    By which you mean, liberalism and the attending materialist view of man, thus repudiating your attempt to tie in the biblical and Christian view of man.

    We are not asking the fast in the race to halt for the slow

    yes you are, that’s EXACTLY what you are asking for, not that it’s really relevant because your view of man is wrong.

    but for everyone to begin the race at the same starting line, wearing the same pair of running shoes, beginning at the sound of same starting gun.

    IF you had a Christian view of man, nature, etc. you would realize just how unreal and totalitarian that is.

  34. Tom Chresand says:

    Jim Holman-

    Thank you for a thoughtful reply.

    You wrote:

    I’m not really in that business, as you call it, but I think such quotations do put the burden of proof on those who believe that government-funded social programs are anti-Christian.

    I’m quite sure I have never thought or said such a thing.

    You offered one anecdote and expressed a sort of agnosticism as to whether 60s-70s welfare had been beneficial or destructive on balance. It seems to me that you have to ignore a tidal wave of evidence to hold to this position. You really think that the 70% out-of-wedlock birthrate in inner cities and the social pathologies that arose over this time period were not tied to the welfare policies? Especially when these consequences were predicted in advance?

    I can tell you that we don’t have people starving to death in the U.S. We don’t have people living by scavenging through garbage dumps. We don’t have people dying from easily treatable diseases. I think these are all good things. What would the U.S. have been like without welfare programs?

    It is much more plausible that these facts are true because our free-market system has made significant economic growth possible. To the extent that we do have such pathologies it might be that destructive statist policies were to blame.

    A lot of this comes down to a simple question: what kind of country do you want to live in? Do you want to have crippled people begging in the street? Do you want to have pregnant women without access to prenatal care? Do you want injured workers to remain unrehabilitated and unemployed? Do you want to have children with uncorrected facial deformities walking around so that taxpayers can save a little money. There are a lot of countries in which these things are the norm. We can do that too. It just depends on what we want.

    Once again, you assume that I don’t want to address societal problems. Im not sure where I ever said that. What I have said (and what the Popes and Ben Bernanke would probably agree with) is that it is best when the principle of subsidiarity guides social policy, and that statist economic policies often have disasterous unintended consequences.

  35. Jim Holman says:

    Dean asks: “Is it too strong a statement to say that some right-wing ultra-conservatives want to turn America into a Banana Republic?”

    It often seems to me that the ideal society as described by the right bears a family resemblance to several of the poorer countries in Central America.

    Over the years I have hosted a number of students from Central America and Mexico who came to the U.S.on a scholarship program with the Agency for International Development. The situations that they describe in their home countries is very similar to what seems to be the ideal world as envisioned by people on the right.

    I have a good friend to came to the U.S. from El Salvador as a teenager after both of his parents were murdered by government death squads. He told me of his astonishment when he started school in Texas. Books! The school actually had books. And school lunches, so poor students weren’t hungry all day.

    A student from Nicaragua said that he was ten years old before he had shoes. A neighbor bought him a pair of shoes so he could attend school with shoes on his feet. When I asked him about his house he replied “Well . . . it’s not really a house. It is . . . how you say . . . more like camping . . . a tent.”

    A student from Mexico was missing one of his fingers, amputated in farming machinery. He explained that if you lost an arm at work, then you just didn’t have an arm. If you were crippled, then you begged in the street. If you were a child from a poor family you didn’t go to school; you worked, even if “work” was scavenging through garbage dumps.

    When I went to Mexico 12 years ago, my first stop was at one of the colonias — slums — of Juarez, called Anapra. Around 40,000 people lived in shacks made out of scrap wood and cardboard. There was no running water, but people kept water in discarded industrial barrels. The interesting thing is that most of these people worked at American border factories for 80 cents an hour.

    For many of right-wing persuasion, these places are the True Paradise — you’re on your own, and if something bad happens, that’s your problem. And if nothing bad happens, you can work at low wages and live in a slum in the service of the upper classes — until something bad happens. What’s not to like?

  36. Jim Holman says:

    Tom writes: “You offered one anecdote and expressed a sort of agnosticism as to whether 60s-70s welfare had been beneficial or destructive on balance. It seems to me that you have to ignore a tidal wave of evidence to hold to this position. You really think that the 70% out-of-wedlock birthrate in inner cities and the social pathologies that arose over this time period were not tied to the welfare policies? Especially when these consequences were predicted in advance?”

    You may very well be right. At that time I lived in kind of a backwater city, a city with a small fraction of the population of a Chicago or a Houston. We didn’t have an “inner city,” just a city. To the extent that you are right, that speaks to me of programs that very much need to be reformed, not eliminated. In other words, government has a responsibility not just to throw money at a problem, but to make sure that the programs deliver the desired results. I have a problem with people who say that government has no role in such situations. There is a role, but it has to be a responsible and accountable role.

    Tom: “Once again, you assume that I don’t want to address societal problems.”

    Well, in this venue it is often hard for me to know what exactly people are asserting. It would be very helpful to me if you could be clear on what government programs you believe are appropriate and those you believe are not.

  37. Tom Chresand says:

    Jim Holman:

    Thanks for another constructive reply.

    I will sum up what I’ve been trying to say and then check out. You can have the last word if you want it.

    It’s not necessarily the size or efficiency of government that is of most concern, it’s the role of government. If government is not circumscribed to its proper role, destructive consequences will follow, particularly if the government usurps the role of family and local community. As a matter of practical reality, a properly constrained government will tend to have a smaller role than that of family and community.

    Welfare is used for illustration not because of any indignation over “those lazy bums” or “the welfare queens” but because the societal lessons have been so compelling and well-documented, particularly regarding usurpation of the family role. To put it baldly, if someone can’t recognize the principles at work in this issue, they will never comprehend more complex issues.

    You want specific examples, so I will try one that is a little more ncomplex than the welfare issue.

    At the end of Clintons 2nd term the EPA put down a mandate for the level of arsenic in drinking water. Western states complained immediately since they tend to have large concentrations of naturally occurring arsenic in the water supplies. One half of the chattering class poured forth with commentary about “compassion”, “common good”, “protecting the public and mother earth”, etc. By gosh, there is only one way to look at this and the Washington bureaucrats had spoken and you’d better fall in line or you are mean and uncaring.

    The reason that the Western states complained is that it costs a great deal of money to remove trace contaminants from local water supplies, and costs skyrocket for every factor of 10 reduction. The local communities have choices to make with their dollars, and it might well be that a greater benefit to the common good would be made by spending the money on traffic problems, or trash collection, or whatever. Maybe a handful of hypothetical illnesses over the course of a lifetime is not worth huge expenditures of money today.

    I don’t know the specifics of this case, and I think in the end the Western states went along with the mandate. But, the point is that every human or societal action invoves tradeoffs, and families or communities – because of their proximity to the issue – are in a much better position than a distant government to decide on the tradeoffs.

    Thanks again for the exchange.

  38. Tom Chresand says:

    Mr. Scourtes:

    Re #32

    I enjoyed a constructive dialogue with Jim Holman and was going to check out, but this post really provoked me. Your characterization of the Heritage Foundation study was just dishonest, as anyone who might bother to read it will discover. Cherrypicking a couple of anomalous results and then claiming that the study proved that “Under right-wing extremist ideology freedom doesn’t mean freedom from poverty, crime, disease or sufferering; freedom is the liberty to exploit and neglect others without fear of government interfence.” was really mendacious.

    Comparing the top twenty or thirty countries with the bottom twenty or thirty clearly establishes the importance of economic freedom to societal well-being.

    A little integrity goes a long way toward persuading other who are willing to listen and think.

  39. Note 35. Jim writes:

    For many of right-wing persuasion, these places are the True Paradise — you’re on your own, and if something bad happens, that’s your problem. And if nothing bad happens, you can work at low wages and live in a slum in the service of the upper classes — until something bad happens. What’s not to like?

    Jim, please. This is just preposterous. The argument here is statist social policy that institutionalizes poverty, keeps children poor and ignorant, destroys male headed households, and such — in short most Democratic controlled American inner cities — which in fact are probably closer to Nicaraguan standards than most of the rest of America.

    Nobody wants poverty, even liberals I suppose, although in some cities I think poverty is desired, New Orleans for example, given that an entire poverty bureaucracy exists that keeps politicians in power and a lot of people employed through patronage. Then you have the poverty merchants like Jesse Jackson who has marshalled his “concern” for the poor into a career that has made him a very wealthy man.

    I’d give the liberal critique a bit more creedence if they would allow, say, school choice. Inner city schools graduate seniors with an eight grade reading level, almost no math skills, and such. They are woefully unprepared to enter the labor force except for the most menial jobs — if those jobs exist at all which often they don’t because the social skills necessary for a viable labor force has been eroded with the destruction of the family.

    It’s really a matter of the old solutions being proved inadequate. Claiming that the critics of liberalism favors Nicaraguan level poverty is just the old ploy of branding anyone who dares challenge liberal dogma as against the poor. It just doesn’t work anymore.

  40. Dean Scourtes says:

    Mr. Chresand: The Heritage Index would not have produced “anamolous results” if its methodology had not employed such a narrow definition of freedom.

    Go up to number 26 and read the remarks of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the need for equality of economic opportunity, which he says is “general principle is grounded in economic practicality as well as our sense of fairness”. If you click on the link you can read for yourself that Chairman Bernanke is clearly troubled by growing economic inequality and marginalization in the United States.

    Yes, Heritage is correct that, to a great extent, economic opportunity requires the freedom to take economic risks without burdensome government constraints. However many in our society lack the means to even take those risks.

    The criteria of freedom utilized by the Heritage Index do little to maintain or widen economic opportunity for the economically disenfranchised, but rather reflect a bias against such efforts. Nor do they acknowlege that sometimes a small amount of sacrifice by particpants in the economy in the form of taxes or regulation can produce a more favorable environment for business overall.

  41. Jim Holman says:

    Fr. Hans writes: “It’s really a matter of the old solutions being proved inadequate.”

    Yeah, if you’re talking about welfare programs in the 1970s. But we’re not there any more. We’re 30 years down the line, and there have been welfare reforms. Oregon was one of the first states to explore welfare-to-work programs, and the state spent three years doing research on that very topic. From 1994 to 2003 Oregon cut welfare rolls by around 60 percent. But you talk about this as of the last 30 years hadn’t happened. Well — news flash — they did happen, and things are different now.

    More importantly, many in the right seem to think that government social programs consist ONLY of traditional welfare. They don’t. The lion’s share of money is not spent on traditional welfare but on various medical assistance programs including programs for disabled children, mental health, programs for seniors and the disabled, vocational rehabilitation, and so on.

    Fr. Hans: “Claiming that the critics of liberalism favors Nicaraguan level poverty is just the old ploy of branding anyone who dares challenge liberal dogma as against the poor. It just doesn’t work anymore.”

    A large number of people on the right state very explicitly that the government should not be in the business of providing social services. Rather, it is said that such services should be provided by the church and other private charities. (How all of that is supposed to work is never explained.) They say that it is the job of the individual to care for himself, and the government is not to be involved. For example, it is said that there should be no workers compensation programs; if you get injured on the job, it’s your problem — get a lawyer if you think you have a case.

    These are the kinds of things that many on YOUR SIDE are advocating. If you remove all of the programs that these people want to remove, then what is left looks very much to me like Nicaragua.

    You will say that ain’t the case. Fair enough. But when I’ve tried to actually pin down people on the right as to what programs they actually support, they hem and haw and shuffle their feet and can’t to anything but say that the evil liberals are sending the country to hell in a handbasket.

    Welfare! Welfare! they cry, welfare is evil! I say great, let’s eliminate welfare. What’s going to happen to your crippled and elderly neighbors next door in the assisted living facility when their welfare funding is eliminated. Oh, no, the right-wingers exclaim! I don’t want to cut that! But welfare is evil!

    I’m at the point where I honestly don’t know what you guys are talking about. To be honest, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about. I think the purpose of this continual denunciation of welfare is all about making people angry at the liberals, and much of it bears little relationship to the actual situation of real people on the ground. And yes, I know that things are bad in New Orleans, but you may have noticed that the United States is at least slightly larger than the city limits of New Orleans.

  42. Note 41. Jim, again, the charge that conservatism favors Nicaraguan style poverty came from you, remember? Yes, welfare has changed from the grandiose one-size-fits-all school of social engineering predominant in the sixties and seventies, but no thanks to the aging progressives who still advocate that thinking and, in the inner cities of most American cities, still hold power.

    I am not interested in a tit-for-tat, but your charge that conservativism favors throwing poor people on the street is still the old progressive boilerplate that guages ideas by intentions rather then results. It avoids critical engagement with the failures of liberal welfare policy and other social engineering schemes.