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I continue to be surprised when it's expressed, as in this recent book by Matt Bai--that liberals and the left in the U.S. are out of ideas, or do not have the intellectual power or subtlety of conservatives.

First off, this seems just about 180 degrees from the picture I have.

And that's mainly because I think the liberal netroots blogosphere is responding to what we see on the right. Often we express rage in our blogs (and becoming angry over politics while blogging is a bipartisan phenomenon--must be something about the medium) because the right has said or done something outrageous.

For the Clinton decade (or so) we had to put up with right wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and during the Bush years we've had Karl Rove who ran the government along partisan lines and tried to push the image of anyone intelligent from the Northeast as effete and anyone opposed to conservative politics as nearly a traitor. And now with Fox News there's a major news outlet which I understand is transparently partisan in outlook.

And some of it may be that Bush's policies have not just been conservative but radical--he's wanted to roll back not just the Great Society but also the New Deal. There is the point that the economy has been changing: becoming globalized, with a growing "information sector"--but it's not clear either how much of this is inevitable nor that Republicans, who isolate the U.S. and who deny evolution and global warming and who are too squeamish for embryonic stell cell research are in the best position to promote future science and technology.

Now, some of my innate feeling that the left is the party of intelligence and ideas may be because we are "resting on our laurels"--in that almost anyone in a liberal arts college environment is liberal. I consider myself intelligent from the years growing up when I kept acing the standardized tests they gave me and kept skipping grades in math. But I am not a social scientist and have never studied economics seriously.

I think the crux of the issue must come to play in the evaluation of political ideas. Conservatives have had heavily-funded Think Tanks where they have honed their ideas and have their own newspapers like the Washington Times where they trumpeted their world-view.

The question is: was all that an echo-chamber? What's come to me through conservative blogs or e-mail list conversations hasn't seemed to me to be particularly insightful or subtle.

The NY Times book review of Bai's book calls the founder of Daily Kos an "intellectual lightweight" for not having read a founding book on Libertarianism--now to me that sounds pretty obscure (not like not reading J.S. Mill's "On Liberty" for example!), but perhaps conservatives, while pounding their "Willie Hortons" and "smoking guns as mushroom clouds" and all sorts of other rubbish to the public "debate" have had worthy ideas that they just haven't publicized that much? I've read Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, clearly trash, which many libertarians endorse, but ok, maybe there's room for me to learn stuff.

I think the fact is that liberals and conservatives find different kinds of argument convincing--it's not merely a matter of who is making more rhetorical points or employing more fallacies. And these arguments appeal in the end to different visions of what's valuable.

As it is, I'm pretty baffled by this claim of intellectual vacuity from the left. We're the ones who've been damaged by the "egghead" label since Adlai Stevenson...

* * *


What gets me about the Iraq war, which isn't hammered home enough, has been the outrageous cost. "Well maybe we can still win this, don't you care about winning?" No, I don't care about "winning". "Winning" is for sports teams. It didn't matter whether the U.S. "won" or "lost" in Vietnam. Arguably, it didn't matter which side won World War I. Arguably, it's a very rare war which really makes a difference--history's made by evolution more than revolution, which is frequently unstable.

What I care about is that every week the U.S. is throwing away $3 billion, or the equivalent of the cost of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope:

  • Gave the first accurate measurement of the Hubble constant (expansion rate of the Universe)
  • Helped settle the ages of the oldest stars in the Universe
  • By detecting far away supernovas helped measure and confirm the acceleration of the Universe
  • Has contributed to education in the U.S.
  • Has through Deep Field images given estimates of the number of galaxies in the Universe and has told us of the very earliest galaxies
  • Studied transits of extrasolar planets
  • Provided inspiring images and data available to anyone in the world to download
  • Studied the first modern nearby supernova (SN 1987a)


all those beautiful nebulas and galaxies and gravitational lenses etc. etc.

The Iraq war has:

  • Isolated the U.S.
  • Killed 4000 of our citizens (more than died on 9/11)
  • Wounded many more--who will require support all their lives
  • Exhausted the U.S. armed forces
  • Taken attention away from Afghanistan and the search for individual terrorists
  • Made millions of Iraqis into refugees


There may have been some silver lining to this fog of war, but it's hard to see one amid millions of refugees!

Money's limited and I'd rather have it spent by the government on projects that could uplift humanity and make life worth living.

I think what's most important here is not intellectual power (which perhaps conservatives have behind the scene but mostly one sees Limbaugh and his ilk) but one's vision of what society should be like. The conservative ideal is Sparta--like that move that was popular a year ago--it's life as war. Literal war, or unforgiving free market economics.
(deleted comment)

Date: 2007-09-03 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bram.livejournal.com
Saddam Hussein didn't just plop himself into Iraq as an evil dictator. Political forces larger than Hussein were responsible, including the American need for stability in the region (while turning a blind eye to supression of political dissent).

For example, note the harsh religious punishments still meted out in Saudi Arabia and the lack of real political life there, or rights for women. Note that almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. And note how little the U.S. cares about speeding political change within Saudi Arabia.

I think, given that most countries want us to leave, it would be perfectly fine for us to leave! The 1980s saw an Iran-Iraq war, and we accidentally re-started it. Eventually it will end. I agree with you that "Iraqis are going to have to resolve it themselves." And think that $3 billion a week could be better spent on other hot spots around the world, on the problems of the U.S., or on culture, science, and technology.

I think if you were casting about for something that would increase public participation in political life in the Middle East, something like the Al Jazeera network would be what you were looking for--something that emerged locally and gradually without any bloodshed.

Date: 2007-09-04 01:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] auriam.livejournal.com
Naqoyqatsi, life as war...
You ever watch the Qatsi movies? (Godfrey Reggio, music by Philip Glass)

Date: 2007-09-06 03:07 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bram.livejournal.com
Yes, I love the 1st two of those movies, but the 3rd wasn't as good.

That's a good way to put how I feel about the Bush administration: that it's Life as War...

Date: 2007-09-06 10:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] auriam.livejournal.com
Koyaanisqatsi was definitely the best of the three, visually... musically, the first two were great, the third less so, yeah.

Well, we probably won't have to worry about the Bush admin for very much longer, and then we'll have a Democratic administration which will do its best to satisfy voters for another four years, and eventually it'll become complacent and corrupt, and eventually the cycle will repeat itself. I think it's just that power corrupts and anyone who can succeed in our current governmental / electoral system is probably succeeding for the wrong reasons...

$3 Billion

Date: 2007-09-05 02:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jwfromnj.livejournal.com
Is that correct? That is perverse. I am sickened by this war and the casualties. I hate reading about how wonderful the advances are in prostetic limbs.
Your post put the number in perspective. How many clinics or water treatment plants in developing nations does that buy. (Yes, it is the Reagan loving classmate from 1985 talking). How many americans could be covered by healthcare for that much? I spent one night in the E.R. in July for diabetes issues and it cost six thousand dollars. Thats more than my car is worth. I could have cruised on the Queen Mary 2 for that.
The war is a sham. And it's being controlled by forces in the shadows. Heres something to Google. Blackwater, the mercenary "security" firm in Iraq just placed an order for combat support fighter planes from Embraer in Brazil. They are turboprops, not jets, but will carry weapons and fly close air support missins independent (yeah, sure) of out military. Are you comfortable with a private company operating combat aircraft in a war zone with U.S. Forces in the area?
I could share other insane outsourcing and war profiteering stories. Have spoken to a few Army food service guys who have been sent to the sidelines for outsourced (Halliburton) food providers.

Re: $3 Billion

Date: 2007-09-06 03:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bram.livejournal.com
Yikes! Sorry to hear about the diabetes.

I'm pretty sure the $3/billion a week is right. That's $150 billion a year which sounds right. I'll get you some links.

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