October 05, 2005

Ten Big Things

OK, Joe tagged me with this meme several days ago. This one took some thought.

The source of the meme, Dan at Searchlight Crusade, explains his concept thus:

We've been allowing ourselves as a society to lose sight of the big stuff in amongst all the little day-to-day stuff that goes on every day, rather than keeping focused on the end result of the big projects.

Not everybody has the same list of Big Things, and most of them tend to be personal, not public or political in nature. It can be hard to keep them in sight, especially when you're thinking tactically from day to day and you need to be thinking strategically. People whose list of big things are different from one another, whether different in priority on the same items or having completely different items in the list of Big Things, are predictably going to have intractable arguments between themselves, which do not often admit of a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Nonetheless, if both sides to an argument are aware of their differences on Big Things, they are far more likely to come to an agreement to disagree more or less amicably, even if one wins the voting and the other loses.

Big Things tend to be broad based, not specific issues themselves. It is rare that one vote on one item directly resolves a Big Thing. Big Things take dedication and years of work to resolve; on a day to day basis there are victories and defeats, some more important than others but few, if any, critical to the point of being a sure overall victory or defeat.

So what are ten eight of my political "big things"? Check them out beyond the fold...

  1. The War Against Militant Islam.

    The main reason I voted a straight Republican ticket this last election was the utter failure of the Democratic Party to take the war declared against Western Civilization at all seriously. Mark Steyn reminds us of the nature of the struggle.

    I think Afghanistan has been a qualified success (especially given the dire predictions during the first week or two of the conflict). Capturing Osama would be nice, but at this point he has been largely neutralized without being martyred.

    As to Iraq, I think Wolfowitz had the right idea when he stated in an amazingly candid interview on September 13, 2001 that we must "end" states that sponsor terrorism to prevent another 9-11. That seems obvious. Too bad that was not the case made by our President when we went in. Unfortunately, I don't think our president likes to be bothered with big ideas, and distrusts ideologues, at a time when ideas and philosophy are critical weapons to preserve our way of life.

    And whatever one's feelings on going we shouldn't bring the troops home until the job is done. (Why the insistence on bringing them home so soon? We still have troops stationed throughout Europe and Asia as a result of WWII and the Korean War).

    Bottom line: as long as the political left continues to align itself with objectively illiberal and fascist regimes against American "hegemony", I will continue to be a very reluctant "clothespin" Republican for this reason.

  2. Respecting the Constitution.

    Despite its original failings (3/5ths and "such persons"), our constitution set up a system that keeps power from concentrating too much in any single place. When there are numerous competing sovereigns, the rights of the people are most secure against wholesale deprival.

    The Civil War and the "progressive" movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s led to some systemic changes (the 13th through 17th Amendments) that changed this balance.

    Joe describes government as the only "means to an answer" and distrusts corporations. I share some of his concern, but would ask from where corporations derive their power? They are fictional persons, created by the state, and playing by the rules of the state. I don't understand why government would be any more trustworthy of a monopoly. Our founders understood this and tried to create a system that would prevent a monopolization of power by anyone. I would like to see us move our system back toward that fragmentation of factions. Gridlock is good!

  3. Opposing Religious Fundamentalism.

    A corollary to the War on Militant Islam. I don't want to live in a "Christian" republic any more than an Islamic, Jewish, or Communist one. I like living in a secular nation. One in which all faiths are free to practice as they see fit, but none may force their beliefs on others through the clumsy machinery of the state. Next time a fundamentalist Christian tells you our country was founded as a Christian Nation, be sure to direct them to a history of Rhode Island, where Baptists originated the idea of freedom of religion from the state.

  4. Lowering Taxes.

    Another reason I voted for Bush last time around. I like keeping the money I make. Of course, we need to make sure the government cuts spending (or at least slows the rate of increase of spending) to match the tax cuts.

  5. Ending Prohibition of "Victimless" Crimes.

    My definition of a crime is an action by an individual that deprives a victim of some right of the victim through force or fraud and without justification or excuse. Purchasing and consuming drugs, procuring the services of a prostitute, sleeping with a member of the same sex -- none of these activities are crimes to me. Where is the victim? (Naturally, I see these activities as occurring between competent adults - activities where one party isn't competent to consent are a completely different matter).

    What about the deaths involved in the drug trade? What about prostitutes getting raped or murdered by their pimps or johns? Aren't those people victims? Of course. But they are victims of the crimes of murder, rape, assault, etc. And they are victims of the legal regime that criminalizes consenting behavior.

    The war on drugs has been disastrous: driving the drug market underground has led to the (predictable) consequences of any black market. We obviously didn't learn the lessons of Prohibition (one "progressive" experiment that -- thankfully -- was repealed). Mandatory prison sentences, erosion of fourth amendment protections, civil forfeiture laws that give the police the incentive to take private property to finance their operations, wiretapping laws, and many other tools that were originally designed to win the war on drugs are no longer used just to prosecute drug crimes. What about when the government decides to criminalize consumption of fatty foods? What about when the government decides to criminalize sharing an opinion negative of the war on terror?

  6. Biotechnology and Medical Ethics.

    I believe we should research embryonic and adult stem cells. I think therapeutic cloning could lead to the development of healthy, rejection-free organs to replace diseased ones without a donor. I don't think human life starts at conception, and I think the argument that it does is based on religious mysticism rather than science or an honest assessment of what makes us human. (More here).

    Having said all that, I actually cannot condemn the President for withholding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research any more than I could condemn him for not financing abortions or not paying for granny's prescriptions. Oh, wait. He mortgaged the future to give the boomers a huge and unearned prescription drug benefit, so I guess I need to condemn him about that.

    There is no constitutional basis for federal financing of medical research or medical procedures, so see item 2 above.

  7. Shrinking the Nanny State.

    This goes with respecting the Constitution. Another outdated "progressive" notion to me: the idea that agency administrators can best decide how legislation should be implemented and enforced. The technical enabling laws are subject to drafting by special interest groups and the agencies thus created are highly likely to be captured by the very businesses they are supposed to regulate. And even when they work, the agencies impose costs that ripple through the whole system. When you have thousands of regulations on the books, there is no way possible to comply with them all, so you basically create a nation of petty criminals that don't obey the law. This, I believe, eventually erodes the confidence that makes the rule of law work in our culture.

  8. Reforming the Legal System.

    I'm a lawyer. I think our system needs some radical changes. In every state of the union, our profession is a monopoly empowered by the legislature or highest state court (or both). I think breaking the state monopoly on lawyering would improve legal services across the board. There would be some wrinkles (mainly some effect on the attorney-client privilege), but de-regulation and competition always leads to improvements. I also think we should have the "English rule" -- i.e., losing party pays, as a deterrent to frivolous litigation.

That's all I could think about for now, though I may update at some point in the future. I appreciate Joe's prompting me to reflect on these and I appreciate his reasonableness and courtesy in handling topics that can be so divisive.

Posted by JohnL at October 5, 2005 11:05 PM | TrackBack

terrific list. I prefer the War Against Militant Islam formulation. Much better than the war on terror.

I'm not so fond of the "gridlock is good" argument. I understand the premise that slowing things down is good, but stopping them altogether is another story. We saw that in New Orleans, no matter who you blame. In New York, during Rudy Giuliani's reign, people liked him because he broke through New York's notorious bureaucratic morass and got things done. He really shined during 9/11.

I'm also on record as believing we need to increase taxes. This idea of cutting spending usually means "cut someone else's programs but not the ones I like or that benefit me." Across the board cuts, which try to address that concern, are problematic because there are those programs where there is no fat and no room to cut. We can't spend like a drunken sailor, on war or recovery from natural disaster or new medicare programs, without paying. It's a problem that we seem to believe we can get something for nothing.

Taxes are our shared sacrifice in times of need, and our investment in our society in other times. Civic pride has been reducced to tokenism. I'd like to see it come back.

We're in agreement on 3 and 5 and most of 6, 7 and 8 (I bet you can guess which parts). Great post!

Posted by: joe at October 6, 2005 01:43 PM
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