Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What does reform look like?

As the Republicans argue over whether to reform at all, we can ask ourselves, what would reform look like?  We actually have a recent historical precedent:  the Democratic party.  Of course, it is not news that Bill Clinton is credited with having dragged the party toward the middle, thereby saving it.

Democrats, and liberals in general, bought into some really wacky theories.   Find someone who thought medical researchers had long ago found the cure to cancer, but were hiding it so they could keep their jobs, and that person was most likely a Democrat.  Liberals bought into the idea that who we are is 100% nurture, and tried to persuade everyone that boys and girls are really, really the same until we get our culturally biased paws on them and corrupt them.  Well, in the post-structuralist ivory tower, that may be an interesting philosophical exercise, and in some kind of abstract reality, it may even be true.  But for millions of people trying to raise children and confronted with the practical realities, it was just an insulting assertion.

The Democrats accomplished something profoundly important in the New Deal and the civil rights advances of the 1960's,  but they allowed the battle to sink into trivialities which ended up destroying their credibility.  By getting mired in "self esteem" classes, ethnic studies curricula and other exercises grounded in separatism, and pushing public funding for nonsense like "grief counselors", standing by in every town in case there is a mass shooting, they sullied their original mission of giving everyone a fair chance.  By structuring AFDC (welfare) to create incentives for fathers to be absent, they fueled the tragic disintegration of families in both inner cities and trailer parks.

Every dogma has its perverse and unexpected consequences, and perhaps no case is more tragic than the liberal push to abolish the draft.  The result is that children of the rich do not have to fear conscription, and the rich therefore have no incentive to oppose the endless wars we seem to get ourselves into.  The burden of service falls on the poor and brown.  No surprise that the Republicans don't want to spend a dime on these people once they come back, no matter how grievously wounded.  They were expendable from the start.  And it was liberals who unwittingly created the endless supply of cannon fodder for Republican wars.

The rise of labor unions was a huge boon to working people in this and many other countries. Unfortunately, the leaders of the largest unions stopped working in the best interests of their members.  The worst case is the teachers' unions, which have backed themselves into a box, fanatically protecting the bad teachers while rejecting the idea of greater pay for the good teachers. 

Starting with Clinton, the Democrats have managed to marginalize or walk back some of their stupidest bits of dogma.  No one of any political stripe seriously tries to insist any more that we raise boys and girls identically.  Ironically, the hard-wired nature of gayness may have contributed to the demise of the old nurture-is-all dogma.   The recent exciting victories for gay rights have been based heavily on the understanding that gender orientation is not a choice.  Pedantic multiculturalism has become less relevant, as de-facto multiculturalism becomes more and more the reality.  President Obama has taken Black youth to task for their gangsta' posing and their taste for misogynistic music and sagging pants.  Confronted with the weirdly obtuse Republican rejection of science, the Democrats have embraced science, and one rarely hears them championing bee pollen over real medicine any more.

This writer disagrees with Obama's continuation and expansion of the Bush doctrine, but at least you have to say that under Obama, the Democrats didn't just surrender to our enemies as so many right-wing commentators insisted they would. 

This is what reform looks like.  When your previous precepts are exposed as mistaken or downright stupid, you change your views.  You may not own up to your previous mistake, but you change course nonetheless.  Right now, the Republican party is in the grip of a philosophy that if the facts prove you wrong, you just create new "facts", and shout them as loudly as possible.

After 2012, the Republicans vowed to reform.  They didn't actually do anything to further that goal, and then 2014 seemed to vindicate their decision not to change.  Since then, they seem to have raced even further to the extreme right, so that their current presidential candidates are competing to appeal to the most regressive, ignorant and racist elements in the party.  If this proves to be a successful strategy, the country is in real trouble.

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