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Understanding the liberal agenda

By Robert S. Sargent Jr.
web posted August 2, 2004

… to promote an egalitarian society is not just ethical but admirable. From The Ethicist by Randy Cohen.

What drives the liberal agenda? And what drives the conservative agenda? To me, the conservative agenda is an agenda that adheres to the original concept of our Constitution. That concept is one of a very limited federal government, and a system that decides social policy through a local, democratic process.

I say "conservative" and not Republican for a reason. I don't think most Republicans think in terms of the Tenth Amendment, or that lower taxes might lead to a smaller government. I think most Republicans think in terms of lower taxes meaning people can keep more of what they earn. Or, people should take the consequences for their own actions. Or, we are losing the virtues that make America great, and so on. I also don't think that Republican politicians think in terms of a central driving agenda. If they have to abandon principle to get votes, they certainly will. President Bush has expanded the federal government in ways that we thought only liberals would do, and I'm sure he's thinking it will get him votes.

In the same way, I don't think Democrats think in terms of a driving principle. They think in terms of issues like abortion, racism, gay rights, what's fair for the little guy, and so on. And Democratic politicians are the same as their Republican counterpoint. When John Edwards campaigns in North Carolina, he speaks of Kerry's "values." And even though most Democrats, I believe, opposed the Vietnam War, Kerry is touting his service there. All politicians go to where they perceive they can win votes.

But underneath it all are the intellectuals, the activists, the influencers. Both parties have them. The think tanks, the writers of policy books and so on. So what is the underlying principle that drives the liberal (not Democratic) agenda? I'm convinced it's egalitarianism. It is a constant drive toward equality.

Over the years, I have questioned some of the beliefs of the left. After being confronted with the atrocities of the Soviet Union, how could intellectuals of the 1930s and 40s, have possibly admired Stalin and Communism? Similarly, how can spokesmen of the left like Harry Belefonte praise a Fidel Castro, a dictator of a totalitarian government? That wasn't the point. The point is that these were and are egalitarian societies. How can the left support a system, Social Security, which takes money from the workers and hands it over to the retired, many who are very wealthy? That's not the point. Social Security is for all retirees. Similarly, there is Medicare, and the concept of universal healthcare. Why not let the rich pay for their own health care, which they can easily afford, and have the government just help the poor? That's not the point. Universal healthcare makes everyone equal. And, finally, if it were possible to demonstrate that the poor in the United States were better off than 90% of the rest of the world, it would be irrelevant. The point is the disparity between the rich and the poor.

This egalitarian drive can be seen in the effort to make black people "equal." The 1964 Civil Rights Act said, "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." With no discrimination allowed, that meant everybody started the race at the same starting place.

It was thought that, since discrimination still existed, programs to find qualified blacks should be implemented. Fair enough, but it was quickly perceived that starting the race at the same point was unfair to blacks who had been held back for so long, and finding qualified blacks was sometimes a problem. The solution? By lowering standards, blacks were admitted to many schools and programs previously denied them. The next step was to extend entitlements to all ethnic groups (except males of European descent) regardless of any history of discrimination. Where we are today has little relationship to the mandate of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: we are accepting the idea of equal results, rather than equal opportunity.

We find this movement toward egalitarian principles in the feminist movement, gay rights movement and in our courts. With Brown v. Board, the "One person one vote" decisions of the 1960s, through the recent decisions dealing with sodomy laws and gay marriage, the courts have been partners with the egalitarian forces.

Many of these outcomes have been good for the country and square with conservative principles. Brown v. Board was a great decision upholding the 14th Amendment of our Constitution. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, barring any discrimination, was so morally compelling that few would argue against it. To a conservative, it meant that achievement would be rewarded no matter who you were. We've drifted a long way from that concept.

While I may argue that the conservative idea of a federal system is better for everybody, liberal and conservative, in that it allows for diverse opinions to be arrived at through democratic means, it is an illusion to think that liberals would ever agree. Egalitarianism means everybody is equal, and that must be instituted from a central source: the Federal Government.

I understand that this idea of egalitarianism isn't new, (Robert Bork and many others have articulated it) but I have to admit it's been only recently that it has sunk in with me. And I'm not sure what good it will do me, except help me understand the liberal mind. Less than 6 months ago at a dinner party, I was told that the money Bill Gates had was disgusting. I'm thinking, why? If his money is new money, that is, he hasn't taken any of your money, and he creates jobs, and contributes to our technology, why do you care? Now I know: It's the disparity, stupid. 

Robert S. Sargent, Jr. is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right. He can be reached at rssjr@citcom.net.

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