Wednesday, September 08, 2004Response to "The Politics of Division"
Thorough readers of this blog might have caught a comment by my mother below pointing out the lack of space for a full response to an earlier post. She emailed me the full response, which I have posted below along with my response to her response. Her words are in italics, and are completely unedited except to make room for my reply.
It's a bit, y'know, long.
A beautifully written commentary, which I am saving to my personal
Well, shucks. Thanks.
First let me say that I consider myself a Conservative, not a Republican. I have never paid dues or monetarily supported the Republican party, though more often than not, I do vote for Republican candidates. On many subjects I am close to Libertarian, and that is ultimately where the minds may almost meet.
Your argument is fair and solid, and yes, I can agree with your stated belief in almost every case, with a few thoughts to be added from the conservative perspective:
To start with the gun issue - I do not own a gun, and have only owned a gun for a short time many years ago. When I was held up at gun point in my small retail shop in 1988, I was thankful that I had taken the gun home because I knew that I probably could never have used it, and it would have only made the armed robber mad if he had seen me pull it out. As it was, I was only a defenseless middle aged woman to him, and he was merciful. Hence, I am still walking around available for needling. There is currently a shot gun in our home, used only for protection from an occasional snake or coyote (the coyotes would love to make a meal of one of our four plump cats, who I will defend to the death) encountered on our rural Mississippi acreage. I am glad that we have the gun for my own protection and that of my beloved cats. I have no problem with gun registration, I am happy to tell anyone that we have the shotgun. It is unfortunate that there are people in our society that do horrible things with guns, but I don't know what the answer to this problem is. If there were no guns, they would find other ways to hurt people. Sodium Nitrate can be used for growing beautiful grass or blowing up buildings...
What I would like to see is simply a registration of firearms, only so that we know who is responsible for the guns that are legally owned. As our constitution is written, the right to keep and bear arms is guaranteed; I am willing to accept an interpretation that law-abiding private citizens are covered by its wording. However, I think "well-ordered" leaves room for us to make sure that we know where the guns are, who is responsible for them, and that they are safely maintained. Even our literal militia, the US military, maintains records of who has what weapons. I think it's a reasonable request to make.
I think that education is virtually free in our society and has been for many years. I think that in modern America, anyone can pursue an advanced degree with a bit of effort on their part. Conservatives would like to make better education accessible to all through a school voucher program, but are fought on this issue by the Teachers Union (a strong arm of the democratic party), and that is our complaint with the education hierarchy. Schools are funded to the tune of billions, and the lazy, under worked teaching bureaucracy scarf's up increasing funds each year, little of which ever gets to the student. And that, in a nut shell, is the conservative complaint. We are tired of throwing our hard earned dollars down the black hole of government bureaucracy, and we are looking for ways to correct the problem. When we come up with a workable solution, like School Vouchers, that would offer a better education to the underprivileged, the government bureaucracy (i.e. - in this case the Teachers' Unions) don't support it for fear of change, and what it may do to their cushy situation. Students be damned.
The issue that liberals have with the voucher system -- and I do believe that it's a reasonable issue, and one that conservative supporters have not adequately addressed -- is the simple fact that unlike public schools, private schools can select their students, rejecting those they choose (for whatever reason) not to deal with. Whereas the public schools system is obligated to make a place for every student who comes to them -- the physically and mentally disabled, the emotionally and behaviorally troubled, those from extremely difficult backgrounds, those with problematic families, etc. -- private schools retain the right to turn those students away if they so choose. They can turn students away based on faith, based on behavioral problems, based on academic standing; they want public support without the obligations that come with genuinely public education.
The conflict that arises is that while voucher schools sound great as a theory -- I actually have no problem with most forms of faith-based education, as long as they maintain adequate academic standards (and some do not) -- as the proposals are currently written they still have the potential to devolve into nothing more than a coupon system for those people who are already sending their children to private schools.
If a young child with behavioral problems and a learning disability, from a rough neighborhood and a bad home on the far side of town, wants to come to a nice suburban private prep school and benefit from the education to be had there, can you genuinely guarantee me that he or she will find a place? If private schools won't play by the same rules as public schools, and take on all the same challenges and issues, why should they get to benefit from public funding? If private schools want to participate in public funding, they must take every student that approaches them, on a first-come, first-served basis, without looking at any aspect of their background or current situation, until they reach a student body size commesurate with a typical public school in the area; ie, accept students in exactly the same way public schools do. They can still teach, obviously, with their existing methods; I would be curious to see if those methods still stand up if students are not carefully selected as they generally are now. You might protest that were they to do this, they would be much less able to maintain their standing as "good" schools, and this is precisely the point; the public schools suffer because they have a much greater burden, with much less support, than do the great majority of private schools. The public still has an obligation to educate, as best they can, those students that are less desireable; if private schools want to share the public wealth, they must take on their share of that burden.
Incidentally, the current cost of the Iraq war is equal to the annual salaries of roughly two-and-a-half million public school teachers. I think I know where we can cut some costs to make that beaureaucratic black hole a bit less deep.
Universal healthcare is a similar situation... Currently anyone who is truly destitute in this country can get healthcare through numerous programs and at many hospitals. Is it the absolute best that money can buy? No. And no conservative will tell you that they wouldn't like for everyone to have the best healthcare available, or... that they think the insurance providers or the drug companies are perfect. But we also don't think that creating another bloated government bureaucracy to soak up most of the tax money set aside is the answer.
I personally am not eligible for any form of state-sponsored health care, and there are currently approximately 30 million Americans in exactly the same situation. The simple fact remains that nations that do maintain universal health care typically enjoy a higher level of health and reap the economic rewards of a healthy, productive society. Just as Wal-Mart can afford to make goods less expensive by the sheer size of their customer base, a nation of people buying their healthcare en masse can make that care less expensive for everyone. There are trade-offs, of course, and I am not necessarily suggesting that any healthcare system we were to implement would have to resemble any currently existing. But I do believe that, by whatever means, universal health care is a major priority, especially as the Boomer generation begins to age.
We do have freedom of speech in this country and I will defend it to death. I do however, reserve the right to protect children from certain books, movies, music and literature until they are old enough to understand the difference between good and bad (and wisdom tells us that for most children that age is 21). As a parent, I don't think that I ever denied my child (you, dear Sister) access to any book, movie, music, etc that was important in their intellectual development. But it was my right as a parent to decide what that was, and no school has the right to circumvent that.
My statements about freedom of expression are more theoretical than reflective of any particular issue; it's just something I consider incredibly important. I'd also point out that I was dealing in highly controversial subject matter when I was thirteen or fourteen years old; the fact that I had a parent who was willing to let me explore freely, accompanied by an educational system that gave me some understanding of the media and criticial thinking skills, let me get through it all unscathed. The point being, some kids are able to deal with more than others, just as some adults can handle more complex material than others. The limits of the less-sophisticated should not, however, be used to define the access of those who can handle greater complexity. The lowest common denominator isn't a sufficient measure. Parents should indeed play a major role in determining what their children do and do not have access to; they should, in some cases, play that role more actively, rather than expecting society to restrict on their behalf the access of others for the sake of their children.
Just as corporations should bare a responsibility not to do harm, so should doctors. Every society has to have laws against some crimes. It is never okay to murder another person. There is certainly disagreement about whether life begins at conception or birth. I personally have delved deeply into this question during my own life. I have had an abortion, I worked for several years in an abortion clinic, and from what I saw during that time, I ultimately came to the conclusion that life begins long before birth. I would never have another abortion, nor would I council anyone close to me to do so. I believe that abortion is not a legitimate form of birth control (Planned Parenthood does), and should only be permitted when the mother's life is threatened or when the child being carried stands no chance of leading a normal healthy life. I would not outlaw abortion completely, but I would certainly put many more restrictions on it. I also do not believe in capital punishment, and I don't understand those who support one but not the other. I believe that life should be sacred and the ending of life should not be hastened by man. As far as the stem cell debate, I don't have a problem with using stem cells IF they were not the result of the inappropriate termination of a life, and I do not necessarily support the Presidents stand on this. I think that more community discussion on this will be forthcoming.
Nobody likes abortion, not even Planned Parenthood. As a former clinic counselor, I assume you're aware of that reality. Still, in the current political climate, even access to safe, effective birth control methods is being lessened, entirely due to pressure by religious conservatives. Those who genuinely want to see fewer abortions should realize that free, easy access to preventive birth control for everyone is the best way to achieve a lower abortion rate. As it happens, Planned Parenthood and organizations like it are currently the best means of providing that access; I'd have more respect for anti-abortion OB/GYN services if they handed out the morning-after pill as well as religious tracts. Until we can guarantee that end of reproductive rights -- and ideally, until we as a society can make more room for single mothers to live their own lives while providing for their children, and respect the work that goes into raising a child -- I don't think we can honestly restrict or punish any woman for making a choice that she personally feels is best for her. We must realize that we as a society also have a role to play in encouraging a preference for life.
Furthermore, the complete eradication of abortion, including what we would consider "elective" abortions, is never going to happen; the least we can do is ensure that those women who do have them can have them under safe, clean conditions. Even when abortion was illegal, they still occured, but the death rate from complications arising from botched abortions plummeted when they became legal. Whether you agree or disagree with a woman's right to choose, surely no woman deserves to die an agonizing death because she found herself faced with an impossible dilemma.
And nobody has suggested that stem-cell research should make use of viable, wanted embryos. As the technology currently stands, researchers would like to access unwanted pre-embryonic cells -- the byproducts of fertility treatments, thus ironically the result of the pursuit of "life" -- for use in a medical technology that can potentially save tens of millions of people. These non-embryos -- and there are plenty of them -- are already doomed; their genetic "parents" do not want them, and nobody else has a legal right to them. They can go to waste, as they will under current law as legislated by the Bush administration, or they can serve life by way of saving the lives of the sick. It will take time to achieve this, obviously, but the sooner we begin, the sooner we can begin helping people. As the boomers progress into their old age, they may well become the first major beneficiaries of the technology. You want to save a theoretical "life;" in reality, the life you save -- or sacrifice -- may be your own.
I do however believe that if a person or group threaten my life, I have the right to defend myself, as does my country have the right to defend against those that will harm it's citizens.
If the nation being defended against genuinely constitutes a real and immediate threat, I agree. To go to war carelessly, hastily, or mistakenly, however, is not defense; it's a moral failure.
I do believe in the sovereignty of nations, and that the USA must remain a sovereign nation and look out for itself. Under no circumstances should we center our foreign policy around what other nations think we should do. Should we consider them? Yes. But we ultimately have to do what is best for our country. Sometimes there will be a debate among countrymen as to what "Best" is, but that will always be true. Also, under no circumstance should we ever ask our soldiers, who are putting themselves in harms way for freedoms sake, to serve in the command of other nations or the UN. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could all just get along, but sometimes there are other nations that want to hurt us.
There was a time when the individual states said the same; a war was fought over the issue and many, many people died. "No state," they said (and I'm paraphrasing), "should be beholden to the wishes of any other." Ultimately, however, in spite of the still-lingering resentments of some, the United States was formed into a single body. The states have some rights; the nation as a whole has rights as well. This system, while once unpopular in some circles, has proven to be incredibly beneficial for 150 years. We are all stronger for it.
The world is changing. Our society doesn't end at our borders anymore; what we do affects how people live in places very far from us. We can travel vast distances in incredibly short periods of time; we can communicate in fractions of a second. Whereas once only Missourans and Kentuckians were our close neighbors, now Western Europe, Central America, and the Pacific Rim maintain closer relations than my great-great-great grandfather did with people in the next state. Society is becoming global, and if we are to maintain any semblance of respect or integrity in an international community (and it is becoming an international community whether conservatives like it or not), we must learn to get along with others, and learn to make compromises with other nations, including those we now consider enemies.
This is coming, just as it came on a smaller scale before. Whether it's easy or hard, whether it's beneficial or damaging for us in the United States, it IS coming. It's not a question of politics, of who's for it and who's against it; it's a simple inevitability. The world is moving on.
The communal good is of course important, as are individual rights. Compromise and balance between the sometimes-opposing views has proven possible for over 200 years in our wonderful democracy. Hind sight often forgets the particulars, but teaches us the truth. We debate, sometimes we fight and hopefully we will hold on to our freedom.