President Obama led Thursday's health care summit very well. Both in tone and on the issues, from introducing ideas to handling obstruction, anyone who wants to learn How To Lead A Meeting could study video of that summit. There was only one point where I thought the president might have been stronger, and I concede that meeting might not have been the appropriate venue for it.
Several times, President Obama referred to what he called "philosophical differences." The differences between conservatism and progressivism are not merely philosophical. They are moral differences. As James Carville wrote in 1996, We're Right, They're Wrong. And that's not just opinion. We have facts to prove it.
More below the fold....
The Beatings Will Continue, Part III - Making Them Stop (Non-Cynical Saturday)
This week Morning Feature has considered modern conservatism as a culture of sadism that sees the suffering of the less fortunate as a worthy goal - not merely a regrettable byproduct - of our political and economic systems. Sadism is the (im)moral core of conservatism. Thursday we examined its religious rationale. Yesterday we looked at its economic rationale. Today we explore whether that (im)moral code worsens the social ills it claims to cure, and how we progressives must reclaim our nation's moral dialogue and compass.
In comments this week, some have objected to my use of the word sadism to describe the conservative culture. I understand the objection. The word evokes images of a sexual fetish, and its use would offend committed conservatives and make it more difficult to reach out to them.
I'm not trying to reach out to committed conservatives. I'm trying to reach out to Fred, our archetypal median voter. If progressives reach the median voter, then we have a majority. Fred is not a conservative Republican. He's a moderate Independent. He takes issues one at a time, rather than applying an overarching ideology. Most simply, Fred wants his life and the lives of people he knows to get better, or as Stroszek wrote so eloquently in his "Letter from a Swing Voter":
I want things to stop sucking. Notice how things suck right now? I want that to stop.
That is our trump card as progressives. Conservatism makes Fred's life suck worse. That's not just opinion. That's a fact.
Conservatism celebrates inequality and suffering. That's sadism.
That's a strong statement. Yes, it's offensive. But I didn't invite Glenn Beck to speak at the CPAC convention, or write his speech, or sit in the audience and applaud. The Conservative Political Action Committee - the flagship of American political conservatism - invited him. He delivered the speech. Their members applauded him. They and he must own what Beck said, and the transcript of his speech makes it clear that celebrating inequality and suffering is exactly what he meant by "your right to fail." He talked about it in the context of "hitting bottom" as an alcoholic. His clear meaning was that a society that doesn't allow the less fortunate to hit bottom - to suffer - is a society infected by what he called "the disease" of progressivism.
The same sadistic attitude was evident in the health care summit on Thursday. It became most evident in the last hour, when the topic moved to whether and how to provide health care for the 45 million uninsured Americans. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said their suffering should be considered in light of the millions of Americans who already get good health care, and even cited a couple of wealthy foreigners who came here for surgery. He said that 50% of health care goes to the sickest 5% of Americans, then added that "most of them smoke, eat too much, and don't exercise enough." He said they become "better health care consumers" when they have to pay for their own treatment, because they have more "skin in the game."
The subtext of Sen. Barrasso's argument - It's their own fault, and if people know they will suffer more, they'll behave better - mirrors Beck's "right to fail." Inequality is good, and the less fortunate should suffer to give them more incentive to improve themselves.
This is what conservatives celebrate:
The following graphs are adapted from studies done by The Equality Trust, and their website offers details of statistical methodology. (Thanks to Pluto for bringing this site to my attention.) As conservatives often talk about "family values," let's see with what their beloved income inequality does for children:
I reduced the graphs to fit, so it may be hard to read. The upper left shows infant mortality among different countries. The upper right shows the UNICEF child wellness health score. The lower left shows the high school dropout rate by U.S. states. The lower right shows teenage births by countries. All show a strong correlation with income inequality. Put simply, conservatism produces: greater infant mortality, more sick kids, more high school dropouts, and more teenage pregnancies.
Conservatives also like to talk about how they're tough on crime, and how their policies make us safer. Oh really? Let's see:
The upper left shows rates of mental illness. The upper right shows rates of drug use. The lower left shows homicide rates. The lower right shows rates of imprisonment. Again, all show a strong correlation with income inequality. Again, put simply, conservatism produces: more mentally ill, more drug abuse, more murders, more people in prison.
"But, but, but," conservatives might argue, "that's income inequality. You're proving our point! Here in America anyone can get rich through good choices and hard work. If people want to avoid those bad things, they just have to make better choices and work harder!"
The U.S. ranks last among those nations in social mobility, whether the children of poor parents are likely to remain poor and the children of rich parents are likely to remain rich. (Another study found the U.S. ranked next to last, just ahead of the U.K.) As Dr. Paul Krugman said last September on Real Time with Bill Maher, "Horatio Alger moved to Europe."
Conservatism is immoral.
Cognitive linguist (and Kossack) George Lakoff has written extensively on progressives' need to make strong moral arguments. He uses the Strict Father metaphor to describe the conservative (im)moral model. I agree with his analysis, but "Strict Father" isn't strong enough for a movement that celebrates inequality and suffering and extols "your right to fail." That same movement also celebrates torture, harsher prisons, and says you will be a "better health care consumer" if you know getting sick will put you into foreclosure and poverty.
I might settle for Strict Fatherhood if the data showed conservative policies worked. Then it might arguably be "tough love." But the data prove their policies do not encourage self-improvement. Instead those policies produce higher infant morality, more sick kids, more high school dropouts, more teen pregnancies, more mental illness, more drug abuse, more homicides, more people in prison, and less hope that your kids might have a better life. That isn't "tough love." It's sadism.
Conservatism makes Fred's life worse, then tells him he should be grateful for his "right to fail." We progressives can't be shy about calling it what it is, and not only because powerful moral arguments are more politically effective. Fred and the people he knows need help, and conservatives want them to hurt more. If we want to make ordinary Americans' lives better - and that's what progressivism is all about - we have to call conservatism what it is: an immoral culture of sadism.
We progressives stand for something better than that:
The data in those diaries show that Fred agrees with our progressive moral manifesto. We need to make those arguments, and contrast them with conservative sadism.
We must make the beatings stop.