The left forgot what's right

imsmith responded to my rant about the need for a new Democratic agendaon ofbyandfor.org. It's an interesting response worth reading. I then posted this reponse:

The very assumption that morality = Christianity is what I question. The Dems have bowed to that equation, and allowed themselves to be painted into the left corner. The answer I'm suggesting is not dragging a secular humanist dialogue over to the right, but rather declaring moral rightness of many positions traditionally held by the left.

Reponding (loosely) topic by topic....

Where are the films about teenagers grappling with homosexuality, you ask? They're out there, at film festivals, online here and there. But you won't see them in the mainstream because the right has claimed the moral authority on this topic, and their fear that homosexuality is a choice, like choosing to be vegetarian, drives away any realistic discussion.

Yet traditional appeals to reason are not going to sway public views of homosexuality. Homophobia arises out of fear and sexual insecurity. Jon Stewart captured it well last night: "No more looking at dudes!" But the right's arguments are founded upon erroneous moral assumptions. Nobody really stood up and said, "Homosexuals don't threaten the sanctity of my marriage!" No, the Dems, including John Kerry, hemmed and hawed and tried to bargain their way around a moral position instead of facing it head on.

You're right, the Gay Pride circus doesn't help matters. By parading around in ridiculous costumes, they don't engage in the moral debate, they try to avoid it altogether with ostentatious I-don't-give-a-fuck attitudes, which makes them seem almost like screwy versions of pod people. Maybe they will become more savvy in the coming years. But when I look at gays, I'm no more threatened by them than by those RPG folks who dress up in armour and swing broadswords on the third Saturday of every month. I don't "agree with" or clearly understand homosexuality, but morally I feel they should be free to do what they will. And if they want to be stand-up citizens making lifelong commitments, I think that's great!

You say someone should say birth control is wrong, but it's not the government's job to ban it. I'm sorry, but that is spoken just like a man, someone who never has had to face the implications of unwanted pregnancy. Birth control is a right of women, helping us retain control over our own lives. Personally I don't think that the rights of just over half the American population should be sacrificed in the name of political expedience. Birth control is a moral issue: women are not chattel, women are not baby machines, women are not property of the Catholic Church, and it's time paternalistic attitudes behind such ridiculous positions by the right are questioned and exorcized from the public policy debate.

Regarding guns, I can't say I've heard any concise or compelling arguments either way, except for what Michael Moore said in Bowling for Columbine: [paraphrasing] Guns themselves aren't the problem. But in our fear-mongering culture, we Americans are just a bit too emotionally unbalanced for it to make sense to have so many guns around.

Having lived in a rural area, though, I understand the desire to "assert my second amendment rights." When you live a 30-minute drive from the nearest police station, out in a country of misogynist hicks, having a gun is a real line of defense. Even the appearance of having a gun provides some measure of security. In case you haven't noticed, 1/3 of all women in this country have been or will be raped in their lifetime. That's 50 million American women who have or will be raped. (Which takes us back to the birth control issue.) Not all of us live on West 72nd Street with 10,000 neighbors around to deter, stop or witness violence done against us.

As for health care, the 900-pound gorilla nobody is talking about is the insurance companies. Everyone talks about rising premiums, but nobody talks about who's raising them. Everyone talks about fears of government control over our health care, but nobody talks about the un-elected corporate control over our health care. The tone was truly set in the '90s, when the CEO of USHealthCare (I believe) merged companies and laid off tons of doctors and nurses. The company's board of directors gave him an $800 million bonus that year -- enough money to pay all those laid off workers for three years. Outrageous? Not to our politicians. Bush scored points in the debate by pointing out the obvious: The problem is that the consumers are not involved in the spending decisions. Ironically his healthcare plan is more of the same: Doctors recommend, insurance companies approve and deny, and patients pay pay pay. But Bush won just for pointing out what we all know.

Should everyone be entitled to health care? I think so. But it's a moral case the Dems never have really made. Universal health care in some form or another has been on the Dem platform since Harry Truman, but they have never won on this issue. Why? I submit that the public still is not convinced of the moral right to health care. It's a case that needs to be made. The problem needs to be clearly pointed out, not with numbers but with implications for everyone -- in self-interest terms and in moral terms. Is it right for a few old men to make millions of dollars at the expense of decent healthcare for the patients? What kind of society denies a child health care? Those are the moral questions.

I'm one of the people not expecting to see any Social Security benefits when I retire. The Dems lost on this one by not pointing out that this is a pay-as-you-go system, not a savings account. Sure, I would love to get a chunk of money to invest for myself; I feel pretty sure I could manage it better than your average knucklehead. But dammit, FICA owes me money! I paid in and I want to get paid, not some shell game solution of privatizing it all. Which companies will get to administer those billions of dollars? I wonder. Is it moral for a few private individuals and private (and even international) companies to profit so greatly from a public policy decision? How do we balance profits against dividends when it comes to a government-mandated program?

The moral issue lost here is the question of the role of government. I'm not for big government, but at least government is moderately answerable to the people -- presumably, that is (but I have many questions about these black box voting machines manufactured, programmed, managed and viciously protected by the lawyers of private corporations). What kind of government do we want? One that regulates the public realm and protects the private realm? Or one that rigs the public realm and regulates the private realm?

It's not a matter of moving towards the center. John Kerry was pretty centrist in his presidential campaign, but it wasn't enough. It's a matter of moral vision and clarity. Most people are voting on that these days, and when they look at the Dems, it's not all that easy to discern what that moral vision might be.

Thanks for responding to my little rant with such a thoughtful reply. I hope this kind of discussion happens inside the Beltway ... and in the homes of Democrats everywhere. I'm an independent, not a registered Democrat, but it sure is sickening to see blow-out after blow-out, where the Dems just seem lost and confused. Looking at the Red Sox, you could see in their faces that they knew who they were, and how good they were. Who are the Democrats? Do they know?

I welcome your comments -- here or at Of, By, andFor.

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