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Tilting at Windmills

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April 28, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE COMMON GOOD...."Common good" is the watchword of the week as in, "If liberals want to win elections, they need to appeal to the common good and ditch the Balkanized identity politics of the 60s and 70s." Mike Tomasky says it here, and John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira explain at considerably greater length here, here, here, and here. I haven't yet read all of this stuff myself, but there's pushback already. Max Sawicky goes first:

There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult. "Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit. It discounts claims to fundamental rights. We will always need rights, as long as people are treated as less than human.

And Matt Yglesias has a different criticism:

I think it's indicative of the sort of problems Democrats face that in part four of the Teixeira/Halpin epic on "The Politics of Definition" ideas about defining progressive national security policy come third on the list behind ideas about defining progressive economic policy and defining progressive culture/values policy. It's also tellingly problematic that of the five bullet points on foreign policy, one ("Transform existing global institutions to better control the downsides of globalization") is more-or-less just an extension of liberal economic policy and another ("Create the political will and leadership to finally address global warming") is an extension of liberal environmental policy....There's nothing wrong with either of those ideas. But insofar as the public has doubts about Democrats as leaders of American's national security apparatus, we all know that those aren't the subjects the doubts are about.

I tentatively agree with Max and Matt, and I have yet another critique to add to theirs. But I'll save it until I've read and digested all these pieces over the weekend. I'll bet you can't wait, can you?

Kevin Drum 1:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (136)

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Comments

Yeah -- go with The Common Good. Just come right out and tell everyone that you're commies!

Al, tbroz, and I knew all along.

Posted by: Freedom Phukher on April 28, 2006 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing gets me going like waiting for Kevin to digest!

Posted by: craigie on April 28, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

"There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult. "Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit. It discounts claims to fundamental rights. We will always need rights, as long as people are treated as less than human."

Translation: We like the politics of accusing (or at least implying) all of our critics of racism/sexism/fill-in-the-blankism whether or not that actually helps us win an election and we aren't going to change.

This country would be better off if we had three rather than two major parties.

Posted by: mark safranski on April 28, 2006 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

What order the 5 priorities come in is important?
Oh please, that's kinda dumb. For what it's worth if I make a 5 point list, I want the first to be the most important and the fifth to be the second most important - because those are the two most likely to stick in people's minds.

And you bet the the longtern common good should be the holy grill. Isn't that what politics is supposed to be about?

And yes, I find it incredibly insulting to women (who are the majority), latinos, African Americans get labeled as "special interests", when they insist on their basic human rights. But of course getting upset doesn't do much. How should a progressive party push back on this type of garbage labeling?

My only thought: by calling it out.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 28, 2006 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Well, it's not as if we want to define ourselves as "We're going to kick some ass in the world."

Rather, it's a recognition that we're all interconnected. Poverty and ignorance in Afghanistan certainly had an effect on us.

Americans would like to see America as having a positive influence on the rest of the world. "Strengthening international institutions" is a snoozer of a phrase, even though it's pretty much accurate.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on April 28, 2006 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

This should get pushback.

I've got no problem using a new paradigm to wrap our existing policies. Sounds like a very good thing to me. And the "common good" is a nice sentiment.

But it's more than a little bizarre that in so many liberal circles opposition to the Patriot Act is presented as a more serious or legitimate privacy concern than opposition to legal restrictions on abortion.

The modern Republican party is not just looking to screw over non-rich people, they're looking to screw over women and minorities. Part of their appeal is to convince white males that it's women and minorities who are to blame for their problesm. I fail to understand why opposition to policies that disenfranchise large groups of American citizens is "interest politics" when it's education for minorities, but is "progressive values" when it's about the minimum wage.

It just worries me that we're backing into another attempt to "be more moderate" by compromising our core values in order to appeal to sexist and racist notions held by various sections of American society and Washington Punditry. No wonder nobody votes for us. We're STILL not standing for anything.

Posted by: theorajones on April 28, 2006 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sawicky, much as I agree with him usually, is missing the forest for the trees.

What Texiera et al. are saying is that having the Democratic platform be no more than an agglomeration of the ideals of certain subsets of Democrats results in an amorphous and undefined party. Throwing pasta at the wall: "well, we get lots to stick!" is not the best way to make fettucini alfredo.

Instead, finding a strong, unifying commonality that undergirds all big-D Democratic principles, gives the party an identifiable shape, a definition. "You want to know what Democratic government would look lie? It would look like this."

Texiera is saying that merely bunching the policy goals of different Democrats together isn't enough. They need to be clearly shown to belong together.

Posted by: dunno on April 28, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I have never understood the need for re-definition of the democratic party. To accept that the need exists is to claim that the party is essentially moribund, and that we should start a new one. That's complete nonsense.

Posted by: lib on April 28, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Edit: para. three: "would look like?"

Shows me to try to type fast.

Posted by: dunno on April 28, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think you have to consider Tomasky's argument in toto to appreciate what he's trying to accomplish. His Prospect article specifically addresses the issue that the pre-1968 liberal "common good" consensus splintered because it failed to address the pressing needs of civil rights and equal rights for women, and that this was necessary. His intent is to build a new consensus liberal understanding of the common good that incorporates a vigorous set of civil rights and civil liberties.

The fact of the matter is that identity politics, however well-intentioned, tend to appear to outside observers like Democrats are a grab-bag coalition of interest groups that play the "racism/sexism/fill-in-the-blankism" cards, as mark safranski put it. Even I occasionally feel this way, and I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.

Elections are about perceptions, not intent. We can't just sit around and bitch about Karl Rove when people have the wrong image of liberalism> We have to change that image. And I think the "common good" ideal should be a central plank, though by no means the only one, in the Democratic platform.

Posted by: ajl on April 28, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

"We'll always need rights..." Huh?

We're BORN with rights, and the purpose of government is to protect 'em. Governments derive their just powers from OUR CONSENT.

Golly, progressives of all people oughta start with the notion that We, the People are the Boss. The idea that a progressive would even say "we'll always need rights" is telling, like Gore's famous malapropism that E Pluribus Unum means "from one, many."

We'll be singing the Star-Spangled Banner in Spanish next, with rap lyrics. THAT will show voters who believes in America.

Democrats ought to adopt the Meyer Lansky insight into what's wrong with Republicans. Lansky was the genius who persuaded organized crime that it was bad business to run gambling on a rigged basis, because it drove away the customers.

Rich people will ALWAYS get a break in life. They're rich. (no, d-uh)

What makes Republicans unpopular is that once in power, they cannot help but try to rig the system to benefit rich people beyond their natural tendency to use the advantages of their money.

That's why the Clinton approach, to appeal to the folks who play by the rules, is so powerful.

It would also help if progressives had a simple answer to the question how we propose to protect our national security.

Personally, I think more Democrats ought to repeat the late Colonel Harry Summers' wisdom: the purpose of our military is to kill people and destroy things. Its capacity to do that in a very focused way on a very large scale is what defends our nation. There are more than a few people on the planet whom we might one day have to kill (start with bin Laden), and a whole lot of things that should be destroyed, aren't there?

Democrats should say that more often, just for practice.

The point of national security is to be GOOD at it. Is there anybody who looks at Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their minions on the Hill and thinks they're any good at this stuff?

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 28, 2006 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

dunno--

You're right, and if that's what's actually happening, I could not possibly be more on board. The parts ARE part of a unified whole, and we need to make the philosophy that unites them explicit. That would be SO amazing.

But my fear is that this isn't what they're doing, and that it's going to be a "well, let's forget about civil rights, or abortion, and pick up that 2% of the vote."

51% politics needs to be OVER. Democrats need to formally reject it. It's not a Democratic value, and it's sure as hell an un-American one.

Posted by: theorajones on April 28, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK
"Common good" is the watchword of the week

Bleah. It communicates nothing. But then, there are the criticisms -- Max's:

There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult.

Its factually correct, is what it is. There are a number of definable issue where there is a strong association of particular position with race or sex. They are constituencies or interest groups, whether Max likes that or not.

"Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit. It discounts claims to fundamental rights. We will always need rights, as long as people are treated as less than human.

Pretending that African-Americans and women aren't voting communities with preferences different from the broader community -- that they aren't "interest groups" or distinct "constituencies" discounts the fact that they have received historically different treatment with regard to fundamental rights, that they are especially sensitive where it concerns particular rights, and that remnants of that unequal treatment have not been entirely eradicated.

I know Max is trying to attack the idea that these groups interests should be deprioritized in favor of the "common good", but attacking the fact that they are distinct constituencies seems a monumentally stupid way of going about it. They are such constituencies for a reason, and it is a reason that fundamentally underlies any argument for why their interests need to be addressed.

As for Matt's, well, I think Matt is blowing it the way he usually does. He seems to want to play within the Republican frame, rather than work to define our own frame. Now, that's not surprising -- its the short-term easier route to gain a little ground, but long-term its self-defeating. The Republicans didn't become ascendant by playing that game, and we shouldn't expect to upset that ascendancy by doing so, either.

Yeah, selling a broad, comprehensive vision is a lot of work. But that's what the battle is about. Matt wants to play around the edges, and as usually he thinks that defining the US role "on the world stage" (i.e., in foreign policy) is the be-all, end-all of strategy, and to do that we must somehow work within the Republican frame where foreign security issues are entirely distinct from domestic culture issues including our values and views of human rights, and also entirely separate from economics, which is itself also separate from values and rights. But this compartmentalization naturally leads to exactly the Republican positions on security and trade.

Matt wants to convince people that Democrats have better ideas -- while accepting a framework that lends the strongest possible support to the status quo Republican position.

Sorry, that won't work.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 28, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

So, 51% of the American people want the Democratic Party to nuke a few countries and THEN we're allowed to mention straightening out the healthcare mess.

Matt Yglesias' arguments would be better with one less convolution.

Freedom Phuker is right, though. Anything with the phrase "common good" attached to it is like Viagra for the Ayn Randers infesting our electorate.

Fine. Let's nuke Iran, Iraq, and China. Let's take out Texas and few other Red States, too.

All that matters to me, at this point, is winning.


Posted by: John Thullen on April 28, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

I think this is a much better strategy for the Dems:

http://www.voicesofreason.info/2006/04/new-vision-for-left-part-2-revised.html

Common good sounds like communism.

J.S.

Posted by: J.S. on April 28, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Is Max missing the point? I haven't read it all, either, but I have read the Tomasky, and I thought his point was that whatever issue we take on, we need to take it on because the result is good for everyone. That leaves us open to working on anything - anything, including civil rights, national security, global warming, the Iran nuclear issue, health care, whatever - as long as the acknowledged result is clearly going to benefit a very wide and diverse range of the American people.

Posted by: grkoutnik on April 28, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

lib.

Starting in 1948 with the integration of the armed sevices, the Democratic party underwent a tectonic redefinition. As late as the Wilson Administration it had enshrined racism, and during the thirties and forties the question was left as a wash. But starting in '48, the Democratic party was the the party of progressive civil rights change, at least on the national platform level.

Nobody would claim that the postwar Democratic party, more powerful than ever before or since, was considered moribund. And I hope no one would claim they should have avoided the redefinition.

Redefinition prevents morbidity, it doesn't result from it. No true progressive would say that a healthy system avoids change.

Posted by: dunno on April 28, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm working on a book that indicates that yes, the common good is the right approach to take for the next forty years. Talk of individual rights will go out of style, but that doesn't mean we can't still work to preserve them --- it's just time to take them out of our mainstream message. There are many dangers during a period where "the common good" is the predominant political theme of both parties, but it's also a time when much can be achieved --- projects like national healthcare. If we focus on progressive interests that are connected to the common good, we can win the White House, the Congress, and the hearts of the people. If we don't change our focus, the conservatives will win on their common good themes, and their common good themes could be very dangerous to rights of the individual.

The best way to protect the rights of the individual are to adapt our political message sufficiently to the current times so that we can be in positions of power to see that those rights aren't undermined. Our inflexibility in the past is a good part of the reason why we are in this current mess.

Posted by: catherineD on April 28, 2006 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

theorajones.

Thanks. You made it more clear than I did. It's not about kicking people out of the tent, it's about communicating to voters why this tent.

Posted by: dunno on April 28, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

When Democrats talk about "The Common Good", they come across like know-it-all elitists.

Who decides what "The Common Good" is? It's the billionaire do-gooders like Teresa Heinz Kerry, it's the Ivy League professors, it's the earnest-but-goofy globalists like Al Gore.

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on April 28, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah -- go with The Common Good. Just come right out and tell everyone that you're commies!

from President George W. Bush's Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001

"What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens: citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character."

GWB = Commie, eh? OK.

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

"Friends don't sit there and have a score card that says, well, he did this, or he did that, and therefore, somebody is -- there's a deficit. Our relationship is much bigger than that. Our relationship is one where we work closely together for the common good of our own people and for the common good of the world."

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/12/20041204-2.html

That damn Commie.

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

"There is more to citizenship than voting -- though I urge you to do it. (Laughter.) There is more to citizenship than paying your taxes -- though I'd strongly advise you to pay them. (Laughter.) Citizenship is empty without concern for our fellow citizens, without the ties that bind us to one another and build a common good....

So let me return to Lyndon Johnson's charge. You're the generation that must decide. Will you ratify poverty and division with your apathy -- or will you build a common good with your idealism? Will you be the spectator in the renewal of your country -- or a citizen?"

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/05/20010521-1.html

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

What Tomasky touches on but doesn't outright realize is that things that serve "the common good" invariably provide benefits single women and African-Americans as well as whites or other "acceptable" constituencies. It's the nature of anything that serves "the common good."

Right-wing voters are willing to cut off their nose to spite their face by opposing programs targetting at "the public good" (or at least spread benefits throughout the country) in order to ensure that single women and African-Americans do not gain anything that these right-wingers feel they don't "deserve," even if they themselves would benefit as well.

Posted by: Constantine on April 28, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Quite frankly, I think President Clinton hit a home run with his "Make Work Pay". The idea that people who work hard and play by the rules should have a living wage, be able to support a family, send the kids to college, have access to health care and enjoy retirement is instinctually appealing to the majority of Americans.

Posted by: bakho on April 28, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK
What Tomasky touches on but doesn't outright realize is that things that serve "the common good" invariably provide benefits single women and African-Americans as well as whites or other "acceptable" constituencies. It's the nature of anything that serves "the common good."

If you define "common good" so broadly as to include only those things which benefit everyone and which present no one with a net loss, this is true.

But defined that narrowly, there are very few things for which there is even a good argument that they are really "common good", once you get into detailed implementation.

"Common good" is mostly just a vague fuzzy feel-good term, not anything of substance. It might be useful in selling a platform, but its not much for defining it.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 28, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

The notion that promoting the common good, and securing rights for all constituencies, are somehow in opposition to each other, rather than naturally compatible, just escapes me.

Talk about your false dilemmas.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 28, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

If a group X is systematically worse off than the average, and seeks to become EQUAL to the average, that's not an interest group. The "common good" is a great notion, but we have to focus not just on elevating the average, but making sure that those who have been forcefully kept well below average (blacks, women, latinos, blue-collar workers, gays, etc) can move up and join the "common good" (which of course usually = white men).

Posted by: Tollie on April 28, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

If you let those damn Democrats do things for the Common Good, next thing you know, they'll want to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. Commies, indeed.

Posted by: sc on April 28, 2006 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

dunno

To me, re-definition means abandoning old core principles for some new ones. Of course the policy prescriptions that derive from these core principles are always in a state of flux.

Perhaps our disagreements arise from semantics.

Posted by: lib on April 28, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

"The first and most important conclusion from the principles we have established thus far is that the general will alone may direct the forces of the State to achieve the goal for which it was founded, the common good...."

- from that noted Communist Jean Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract", 1763

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

You can WORK for the common good, but if you're not selling self interest, you're wasting your time.

The Republicans win by selling protection from terrorists in the form of randomly bombing Middle Eastern countries and free money in the form of tax cuts.

The Democrats want to run on the environment, the economy, education and healthcare. Unless the local water is polluted, people don't care about the environment. People only care about the economy when they don't have a job. People only care about education when their local schools are bad. People only care about healthcare when they can't get any.

These are all things Democrats should fight for, but selling these as the common good is a waste of time.

The Republicans are selling fear and money which always trump the common good.

Posted by: Monkey on April 28, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK
If a group X is systematically worse off than the average, and seeks to become EQUAL to the average, that's not an interest group.

Yes, it very clearly is an interest group; it is a group with a clearly distinct interest from the rest of the electorate.

There is nothing inherently bad about an "interest group".


Posted by: cmdicely on April 28, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps this award is called the Medal of Freedom also because our Nation allowed these great Americans to pursue their interests unhindered. And when individuals are free to follow their hearts and talents, the common good benefits. America has given these honorees freedom, and they've discharged that responsibility with brilliant distinction."

- virulent Communist, Ronald Reagan

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

The Republicans are selling fear and money which always trump the common good.

Question: Why does the 22nd Amendment exist?

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

What is Sawicky trying to say?

Do citizens make up a constituency? Is that somewhat disturbing or practically an insult?

Is he talking about claims and rights or about women and African Americans?

As far as interest connoting a quest for privilege or advantage - read the history of the United States. The country was founded on the idea that groups can freely form for their mutual advantage.

The idea of common good is great - how about looking for those groups that generate common harm?

Posted by: peBird on April 28, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult.


So what if it is an "insult"? The definition of an interest group is one that thinks it has asserted a claim just because it has been "labled" or "insulted."

Posted by: Thinker on April 28, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult. "Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit.

This complaint is at least as old as Madison and Hamilton. Yet the people retain the right to petition the government for redress of grievences, and whenever a group has a common grievence, they constitute a faction, and a lobby, and an interest group. Everybody is a member of many interest groups, and the lobbyists, and letter-writing campaigns, and literal petitions are presented to the elected representatives by those interest groups in great numbers every day: representatives of consumers, farmers, businesses, retired military, and so on.

I think it would be more realistic and useful to assert that African-Americans need different policies than what they needed in the 60s. We have now had two African-American Supreme court justices, and two African-American Secretaries of state. There are more African-American owned businesses than ever before (about 6 times as many as 20 years ago). Prejudice, and the consequences of prior prejudice, persist, but current needs of African-Americans are different from before. Contrary to liberal expectations, the Clinton-Republican reduction in welfare was a considerable assist to poor African-Americans.

In conclusion: interest groups "yes", in coalitions; old 60s-style liberal policies "no".

It's hard to figure out what the "common interest" is. It may, or may not, be in the "common interest" to subisdize farmers to grow food; it may, or may not, be in the common interest to subsidize farmers to grow feedstocks for fuel. Either way, there is no need for farmers to be embarrassed to support (or others to oppose) their special interests as they see them.

At the present time, I believe that California businesses represent "common intersts" more than California teachers' unions. Obviously this is debatable, but there is no reason for either group to feel shy about promoting its own interests. Congress and the voters can hash out the competing interests.

Posted by: republicrat on April 28, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

What makes Republicans unpopular is that once in power, they cannot help but try to rig the system to benefit rich people beyond their natural tendency to use the advantages of their money.

Zell Miller made the same point when he nominated Bill Clinton for president in 1992. It is an idea that resonates, and there is plenty of supporting evidence right now. However, the Republican/Clinton reduction in welfare supports in 1996 showed a considerably more complex side of Republicanism, and the Byrd/Hollohan combo in W. Virginia shows a less admirable side of Democracy (that's a mostly 19th century usage of "Democracy").

Posted by: republicrat on April 28, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the common good isn't difficult to figure out. Clean air = common good. Educated citizenry = common good.

The question is always going to be how to best achieve the common good and deal with interests who want to erode some aspect of it for their narrow benefit.

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

If you define "common good" so broadly as to include only those things which benefit everyone and which present no one with a net loss, this is true.
But defined that narrowly, there are very few things for which there is even a good argument that they are really "common good", once you get into detailed implementation.

Take national health care, improvements in infrastructure, or environmental cleanups. Spending money on these things is going to end up helping everyone, but they will disproportionately help the poor and African-Americans. As a consequence, there is less political will for supporting these "common good" policies because they will be seen as helping groups that don't "deserve" it.

Posted by: Constantine on April 28, 2006 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Pretending that African-Americans and women aren't voting communities with preferences different from the broader community -- that they aren't "interest groups" or distinct "constituencies" discounts the fact that they have received historically different treatment with regard to fundamental rights, that they are especially sensitive where it concerns particular rights, and that remnants of that unequal treatment have not been entirely eradicated.

Pretending that a civil rights movement has not been going on for more than half a century, pretending that other groups ( eg., the Irish, Eastern Europeans, Appalachians ) have not had problems, pretending that middle class women have not enjoyed speical favors from day one, pretending that political correctness does not exist or that many so-called liberals are themselves hatemongers, all serve to discredit liberalism and give rise to serious and legitimate questions about the real motives of those who hold to these pretenses.

There are, indeed, serious questions of economic injustice in this country - and I favor address these regardless of what group or groups are thereby affected.

However, I really don't care if blacks' or women's "sensitivities" are ruffled. They can suck it up and take it with the same good cheer that so many "stupid white men" are expected to take their portayal on TV advertisements and sitcoms.

Posted by: Thinker on April 28, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

They can suck it up and take it with the same good cheer that so many "stupid white men" are expected to take their portayal on TV advertisements and sitcoms.

Oh, yes, the poor, aggrieved, emasculated (lower) middle class white male being lampooned on the center of his life -- the idiot box. The horror.

Posted by: BB on April 28, 2006 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

I'm going to be really suprised if Dems make any gains at all in Washington in 2006. They're far too busy telling each other to be scared stiff of Bush and company.

Nope, it's the same old Howard Dean fight redux.

Only this time it's Feingold who is going to take the liberal hate dive. Must not say anything bad about congressional Republicans or Bush, like the way Bush and Republican say bad things about Democrats. Nobody amires cowards that would no serious meanfulling talk to voters who appear to looking for a change if its just a Republican change of face.

Feingold won't get behind two-faced Pelosi, no that I blame him anymore that Pelsoi would get behind Feingold. Pelsoi doesn't really want to be house speaker anyway - it's much safer to be a Washington lobbyiest right along beside good old fellow housewhip Tom DeLay.

This rapid hate for Gore, Dean, and Feingold is simply leave liberals with another flip-flopper like John Kerry only this time it's Hillary, who will be sorry of everthing she says that right-wings radicals dislike.

Frankly folks, I'd rather vote for Republican than I would for Hillery and lets face it, it was Bill Frist that wants oil companies to pay back Americans. Poor old Hillary would not dare cross big oil any more than she did those bankruptcy bill lobbiest.

Posted by: Chery on April 28, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

As long as we're talking politically sellable slogans for the upcoming cycle and not discussing core philosophy, here's the one I like best:

"Return to Normalcy."

Foreign policy, gas prices, terrorism/civil liberties, being respected around the world, getting our *mojo* back as a country.

Like we had under Clinton. I really think that says it all.

As a slogan, I don't like "the common good" because I think Americans are dyed-in-the-wool individualists regardless of party. We need things framed in ways that will benefit us, or that we can directly relate to. That's why identity politics suck -- it's fighting for them, not us. And it's why Clinton's "people who work hard and play by the rules" was so powerful. We could all relate to that Bubba guy Clinton was talking about, because the hard workin', rule playin' by dude was US.

Equal rights are important. Fuck if I haven't always supported Affirmative Action and gay rights, yadda yadda.

But we do need to be talking about why Democrats benefit US, not THEM.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 28, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Part Four is where all the meat is. Looking forward to Kevin's comments.

Some interesting concepts in the domestic arena. National security ideas are still a load of gas, but I didn't expect much else.

Posted by: tbrosz on April 28, 2006 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to change the subject, but check this out. Is it Fitzmas Eve?

http://patrickjfitzgerald.blogspot.com/

Posted by: tim on April 28, 2006 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK


CMDICELY: Yes, it very clearly is an interest group; it is a group with a clearly distinct interest from the rest of the electorate.
Tens of thousands of Americans are victims of murder every year. Hundreds of thousands are raped. Millions are property crime victims. Tens of millions are unemployed and receive some sort of public assistance.

If the "interest groups" representing the people mentioned above were able to bring about legislation which reduced the incidence of their suffering, it would benefit not only them, but also, quite substantially, the public at large. Ergo, common good. Common good is, at its core, the only purpose of government.


Posted by: jayarbee on April 28, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

As long as there is this need to do the "identity politics" thing, than it diminishes the ability of Democrats to appeal to ordinary people (not leftist activists, who like identity politics, and can't be weaned from it). Bill Clinton understands it, and Hillary, too. That was how Bill won presidential elections, if that is of interest to anyone. I am a non-fan of President Clinton, but he knew how to win elections and gain support of "real people" (such as that elusive critter, the Reagan Democrat).

Posted by: Jim Bender on April 28, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

If people really think that old red herring "communism" still holds real sway now adays (and I suppose it probably does), and that "common good" is really going to evoke communism, then why not use the much more palatable phrase "public interest"?

Then you can have a neat slogan like "Democrats: The People are Our Only Special Interest" or "Democrats: Working for the Public since 1932" or some such stuff.

And some special interest policies are in the larger public interest, like child care reforms for women in the workplace, things like that - maybe call it parenting assistance or something. Whatever.

Tomasky's got the right road, we just have to figure out how best to travel it. I think Yglesias & Sawicky are just missing the point a little.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on April 28, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Jim Bender:

That's essentially my point.

jayarbee:

I completely agree with you that the common good is the only purpose of government.

But the Republicans have turned "the common good" into code for "interest group" (read: not YOU), and thus have used this bedrock Democratic value to demolish Democratic ideology.

I'm not saying this like I *advocate* it. Sheesh, I'm hardly less left than you. Just saying that "the common good" has been framed against us to mean interest group politics.

We have to somehow redefine "common" to mean US not THEM.

How? -- I'm not sure yet. I'm only certain that it has to happen if we're going to start winning some big ones.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 28, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

lib.

I agree that it is mostly a semantic issue--and go further to say that it it effects more the politics side of things than the policy--Texeira is above all a pollster.

For me, because I like the policy end of the Democratic platform, but believe that more electoral success is needed to implement it, I push for a redefinition. Not a "New and Improved Slices Tomatos and Waxes Cars 33% Free" redefintion, but what could better be called a re-explanation. "We stand for X, Y, and Z, and A is what it is about them that makes us think they're important."

The fact that it is only semantics is, I think, why these intramural debates get so heated. I forget who it is said the reason the First World War was so vicious was they were fighting over so little.

The Democratic Party is inches away from electoral majority, and has been for almost a decade. Fighting over how to gain those inches (you get one chance in seven hundred days), over the semantics of an attractive platform (the flimsiest of paper), is bound to be a knucklebrawl (I wish it weren't, but it is).

Posted by: dunno on April 28, 2006 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

dunno:

> The fact that it is only semantics is, I think, why these intramural
> debates get so heated. I forget who it is said the reason the First
> World War was so vicious was they were fighting over so little.

Sigmund Freud called it the narcissism of small differences.

I totally agree with you, btw. I like the policy end of the
Dem platform as well (though it could also include IRV, universal
healthcare, public campaign financing -- but hey, I'm a realist :),
and think the trick is to link all these elements together.

The *real* trick is to conflate the
common good with voter self-interest.

*That's* the Holy Grail.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 28, 2006 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK


RMCK1: We have to somehow redefine "common" to mean US not THEM.
Well, we might approach it from a spiritual angle, hoping to snare some evangelicals. After all, according to Matthew 25:40, Jesus did say, "If you do this for the least of them, you do it unto me."


Posted by: jayarbee on April 28, 2006 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK
Tens of thousands of Americans are victims of murder every year. Hundreds of thousands are raped. Millions are property crime victims. Tens of millions are unemployed and receive some sort of public assistance.

If the "interest groups" representing the people mentioned above were able to bring about legislation which reduced the incidence of their suffering, it would benefit not only them, but also, quite substantially, the public at large.

Um, no. If the group of people representing people who have been victims pushed a policy that addressed their particular suffering, it would have no necessary effect on the public at large -- it could be good, bad, or indifferent. "Victim's Rights" groups often push for legislation to alleviate the feelings of powerlessness that victim's have, their distinct interest, which often would directly serve to erode the rights of the criminally accused, the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, due process rights, etc. This is not clearly and unequivocally good for society, though it probably would reduce one kind of suffering -- that resulting from perceived powerlessness and inadequate social attention to their harm -- experienced by those who have been victims.

Now, of course, if a group of victims advocates for policy that would actually reduce the crime that had targetted them, sure, that would (assuming that it had no costs that outweigh those benefits) benefit society. But then its hardly clear that ex-victims are particularly either more interested in policies that would actually reduce crime than the general population.

I would agree that, once you define "common good" right (Rawls concept of justice as fairness could be one guide, here, though I wouldn't call it perfect), it is, indeed, the defining function of government.

But just using the words "common good" confers very different ideas, not merely as to practical implications but fundamental definition. Its a fuzzy feel-good term that most people using it haven't defined well and aren't interested in defining well, a spin-point rather than a point of substance.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 28, 2006 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK
Pretending that a civil rights movement has not been going on for more than half a century, pretending that other groups ( eg., the Irish, Eastern Europeans, Appalachians ) have not had problems, pretending that middle class women have not enjoyed speical favors from day one, pretending that political correctness does not exist or that many so-called liberals are themselves hatemongers, all serve to discredit liberalism and give rise to serious and legitimate questions about the real motives of those who hold to these pretenses.

So who is pretending that, Thinker? Or is today, like every other day, Strawman Day for the Trolls?

Posted by: cmdicely on April 28, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

GOP participates in 'corporate identity' politics, in which the lobbyists and corporate folks get to define bills based on their view of corporate identity and corporate rights. To the GOP this if perfectly fine. Let women seek rights, and that is viewed as 'typically liberal' and horrible.

We should legislate that corporations be defined as women-- to make it fair then.

Posted by: notpatrick on April 28, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Max Sawicky DOES miss the point.

I am one of ones who has been harping on the "common good" theme for years.

Why?...because over the years the politicans have managed to "seperate" and "divide" Americans into special interest and single issue groups for their own political purposes.

What is it that people don't get about the fact that ethical representation of the "Common Good" would by it's very nature, and was always intended to, include justice and fairness for all.

I am sick of the single issue people, the whiners who want everything to be about them and their cause and set up anyone else who isn't as gung ho on their one issue as a political enemy.

I have some issues of my own, one being the insurance and health care issue, the enviroment and several other things...BUT..I will not vote for the dems or the repubs on the basis of them "pandering" to ME on this. ..while they also "pander" to illegals..and "pander" to gay rights..or pander to gay haters, or "pander" to AIPAC...or pander to pro life..or "pander" to christians..or "pander" to the corps,...pander,pander, pander,pander,pander after f****** pander.

Favortism for political gain to one interest or another just means they will also sell you out when another special interest becomes more politically useful than yours.

There needs to be ONE standard in this country from which all exceptions and special needs and greivences can be considered, and you won't get true fairness for any or everyone in this country until you put an end to political pandering as a way of deciding what is right and wrong, worthy or unworthy.


Posted by: Carroll on April 28, 2006 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with Identy Politics and Special Interests and Professional Activists is that Feminists don't for Labor Issues and Greens dont fight for civil rights and Labor doesnt fight for immigrants.

Issue by Issue, the polls show we win. More people support gun control than the NRA, more people support a secular government than Theocracy. Even Republicans have to pretend to support the environment. We already have the right issues, what we lack is the coordination.

How can we be getting beat in elections by people supporting unpopular policies? Thatss the first question, not an attempt to come up with new issues.

If the majority of people support abortion, gun control, environmental regulation, labor rights,and just about every other progressive/liberal issue? why are we a minority party?

Posted by: jimmy on April 28, 2006 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

What is remarkable is that the party that not too long ago actively supported Pinochet and the apartheid regime of South Africa and other assorted two-bit dictators and gave us the Iran Contra and Watergate, has been able, in such a short time, to successfully project itself (fraudulently, I believe) as the party that stands for morality, democracy and freedom and human rights. And while this transformation was taking place, the Democratic leaders just stood by, appearing to almost gladly cede ground on the these important issues. So the problem is not so much as to what the Democrats should stand for but, rather, who in the party would stand for something. Sadly, no amount of blogging and writing multi-part treatises will correct this problem unless we have some leaders who are willing to say that we stand for those big things without eliciting snark from the press and the people.

Posted by: lib on April 28, 2006 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

The common good is not the antithesis of individual rights; it is the antithesis of individual selfishness of the kind that the GOP has institutionalized. Individual rights are essential to the functioning of a democracy, as the GOP seems to have forgotten. But the comnmon good as a philosophy informs what we think the purpose of a polity is---not just to provide a framework in which pressure groups contest for pieces of the pie, but to forge a kind of consensus that opportunity has to be open to all, and that everyone has to benefit at least to a baseline degree. The game can't be rigged for the rich to constantly get more, because it's wrong, undemocratic, and society loses too much. I really think that people who see the common good as antithetical to individual rights are missing the point.

Posted by: Mimikatz on April 28, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

When Democrats talk about "The Common Good", they come across like know-it-all elitists.

I think you should ask yourself why this is your experience.

Are you suggesting that a Republican who talks about the common good does not sound elitist to you? Are you suggesting that talking about the common good is something Republicans don't do?

The ultimate elitist(s), IMO, were Plato & Socrates. Using Socrates as his mouthpiece, Plato laid out what he considered the legitimate basis for power, which was knowledge. We should be ruled, Socrates said, "by the one who knows." While the business of common people was "to do as they are told."

Now, Plato & Socrates are also the ideological forebearers of modern conservatism. They hated democracy on the grounds that it empowered the ignorant masses. That's elitism, fella.

At least when Democrats speak about the common good they do not generally presume to close off debate when they are finished speaking.

GWB, OTOH, doesn't debate. He doesn't believe in debate, he doesn't need debate. He's "the decider"!

Posted by: obscure on April 28, 2006 at 6:07 PM | PERMALINK

*Addendum to my comments above:

I would guess, Frequency, that what bothers you about Democrats speaking about the common good is that someone--a virtual stranger in most cases--is pricking your conscience.

Generally speaking, people don't like having their conscience pricked. If I'm not mistaken, that's what got Jesus killed. Martin Luther King, too.

Posted by: obscure on April 28, 2006 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Mimikatz:

I agree very strongly with you. Some of the strongest liberals are ardent civil libertarians who take a back seat to no one on individual rights.

But unfortunately -- that's the way the Republicans have framed it.

They have exploited the reflexive tendency of non-intellectual voters to naturally see the world through their own eyes.

And I don't think we can change that, because in order to support "the public good" (over what's good for oneself), one has to have a social analysis of the problem. We Dems miss this because we can connect the dots.

The trick isn't to connect the dots for them -- we try and try and try and continually fail, because at the end of the day, "society" is an abstract concept. We have to reconceptualize the problems to put the voters in the center of them.

We can't repudiate self-interest. We have to learn how to harness it the way Clinton was so skilled at doing.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 28, 2006 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

lib:

I also agree very strongly with your point that if the Dems had leaders who actually *stood for something*, it would probably mean more than simply finding any sort of framing device.

Character, principle, integrity. Where is a politician who will rise to this mantle and become a *statesman*?

*siiigghhhh*

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 28, 2006 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Translation: We like the politics of accusing (or at least implying) all of our critics of racism/sexism/fill-in-the-blankism whether or not that actually helps us win an election and we aren't going to change.

Translation: I have absolutely no response to the question of why it is not offensive to state that African Americans and women are 'special' interest groups because they form political organizations to advance and protect their own civil rights. Therefore, I'll just jack around on the internet putting words in other people's mouths so I can take down an argument they never made.


Posted by: spacebaby on April 28, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

To paraphrase the late, great Adlai Stevenson:

You'll have the votes of every American who places the common good above all else.

"But I need a majority!"

Posted by: david on April 28, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Interest groups resist having their issues folded into broader platforms like "the Common Good" because they believe that the Democratic Party first and foremost addresses white, male concerns. I'd guess that the interest groups' response to this would be to say that we can start talking about the Common Good when 30% of Democratic senators are minorities and 60% are women.

Posted by: mike on April 28, 2006 at 7:33 PM | PERMALINK

You wanna know what's uncommonly good? The fact that that fat fuck Rush Limbaugh got busted today. Snark, snark.

Posted by: The Fool on April 28, 2006 at 9:26 PM | PERMALINK

With the cost of Bushs unnecessary war in Iraq at an obscene$320 billion and counting, why are we even debating the meager costs of any so-called liberal social programs? There isn't any left-leaning agenda item, from hydrogen cars to food for all to universal health care to free Yoga lessons, that we couldn't fund and implement, if it wasn't for Bush's selfish campaign to get Saddam for picking on his daddy. Sheesh, you conservatives are dense.

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on April 28, 2006 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

Am the only one here, who's voted for a Dem in the past and may do so again, interested in reading about where the party stands on, oh, the following scenarios:
-the implosion of North Korea. What should we do as a result?
-Iran launches a missile strike at the Saudis. What should be our response? What should be our stance towards the Iranians and the Syrians?
-all things China: what is the party's stance on the valuation of the Chinese currency? What is the policy in the instance that Beijing decides to invade Tawain? How do we handle the rise of a second potential economic superpower?
-South America and Africa: do we do anything about tin-pot autocrats? If so, what?

Please. I CAN'T be the only one here interested in where a party that I just may decide to vote into power stands on those issues.... can I?

Posted by: JohnnyTremaine on April 28, 2006 at 10:56 PM | PERMALINK

No, "the common good" is NOT the sole, nor even necessarily a legitimate purpose of government.

Don't you guys ever read the Declaration and the Constitution?

As a slogan, "the common good" is simply a handy way to explain why stacking the government's deck to benefit rich people is NOT, in fact, the best way.

Don't turn a slogan into a governing philosophy or you'll lose its value. Stick with Meyer Lansky, it's more honest.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 28, 2006 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

Stick with Meyer Lansky, it's more honest.

Some weird kind of fella wrote this.

Posted by: obscure on April 29, 2006 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

The common good would be served by showing some spine and a distinct platform when people are ready and willing to listen to alternatives.

Posted by: Jimm on April 29, 2006 at 4:02 AM | PERMALINK

Just what WAS the Civil Rights movement all about?

It was about black folks being treated like human beings.

Really? Then why wasn't it called the Black Rights movement instead of the Civil Rights movement? I don't see anything in the words "civil rights" indicating is was only about black folks.

As for Max Sawicky's:
There is something disturbing in the idea of African-Americans or women as constituencies or interest groups. It's practically an insult. "Interest" connotes a quest for privilege or advantage or narrow benefit. It discounts claims to fundamental rights. We will always need rights, as long as people are treated as less than human.

Max shows his own failure to understand Tomasky's piece by saying "It discounts claims to fundamental rights."

What makes those rights fundamental? Are women's rights or African-American rights applicable to men or people of other colors? And what's this business about treating people like human beings? I thought we were talking about things specific to women or African-Americans. You mean women are addressing issues that concern men too? And the African-Americans are addressing things that include whites and people of other colors too?

If they are how I can I tell that from the names they give themselves?

If they are dealing with the fundamental rights of human beings why don't they just refer to their issues as a human rights issue? Who can argue with the inalienable rights of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness regardless of sex, color, race, religion, orientation, etc.?

And THAT is the point Tomasky is making. Find the broadest common denominator that connects all the disenfranchised, in the same way the black folks did in the Civil Rights movement, and you will collect the greater part of the population to support the cause.

Failure to do so will ensure that wedge issues will trump lucid policy every time.

At some point, I wish people would learn the Preamble of the Constitution. It specifies the goals and duties of We the People in a binding contract with ourselves to govern our affairs. That is has dropped out of American consciousness and is now at risk of being totally ditched is precisely what Tocqueville predicted in 1835.

Posted by: NeoLotus on April 29, 2006 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

Please. I CAN'T be the only one here interested in where a party that I just may decide to vote into power stands on those issues.... can I?
-- Johnny Tremaine

Johnny,

Point taken, the Dems and hopefully, a viable third party, need to articulate a cohesive foreign policy that doesn't involve "shock and awe" and AC-130 gunships or they don't deserve to govern.

One of my biggest problems with the Bushies (and I have many) is how poor they are at evaluating risk. Iraq? Small potatoes. What about Pakistan? That country is one bullet away from being a loopy Islamic theocracy armed to the teeth with nukes! Also, China, as you point out, is eating our lunch economically. What about India, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela? These nimrods are obsessed with countries that aren't even close to being our biggest threats.

SK

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on April 29, 2006 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

LOL -- ah, somebody doesn't get the Meyer Lansky insight. Typical.

The "common good" is a powerful slogan, to the extent it means that progressives as a movement, and the Democrats as a political party, stand for the fact that self-interest has limited value in a free society.

As a political philosophy, the "common good" is just a mask for a kind of tyranny, people with power who know better than individuals what "the common good" is.

As a political tool for persuading Americans, "the common good" can be taken too far, to smack on a major vulnerability for Democrats, as somebody pointed out: it's Harvard elitists and identity politics, 'trust us cuz we're the government and we're SMARTER than you'.

There are a couple pillars to that vulnerability -- the national security issue is probably the most important, and simple patriotism is essential (yeah, that American exceptionalism rap that so many of you guys object to cuz it's true) but the whole rich/poor thing is central.

Which is where the Meyer Lansky insight comes into it.

Once more: Republicans (like organized crime) can't resist rigging games that don't need to be rigged. Republicans are a party that, since at least William Howard Taft, are organized around the idea that rich people should get ALL the breaks.

But rich people don't NEED all the breaks. It's not like it would suddenly suck to be rich, if that meant you had to pay your fair share of taxes for the nearly limitless advantages a rich American has in this world.

Lansky was the guy who persuaded organized crime that it made more sense NOT to rig gambling. The house always wins, anyway -- it's the house. An honest game attracts more customers and makes more money than a rigged one.

That's not a bad insight for progressives as a movement and Democrats as a political party: we're not against people becoming rich.

We're against rigging the game.

More clear this time, Obscure?

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 29, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

The 'common good' would include wresting control from a predator government.

Please see:

James K. Galbraith: 'The predator state'
Date: Saturday, April 29 @ 09:17:06 EDT
Topic: Economic Policy
http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2006/05/predator_state.html

Enron, Tyco, WorldCom... and the U.S. government?

James K. Galbraith, Mother Jones

"WHAT IS THE REAL NATURE of American capitalism today? Is it a grand national adventure, as politicians and textbooks aver, in which markets provide the framework for benign competition, from which emerges the greatest good for the greatest number? Or is it the domain of class struggle, even a "global class war," as the title of Jeff Faux's new book would have it, in which the "party of Davos" outmaneuvers the remnants of the organized working class?"

"Today, the signature of modern American capitalism is neither benign competition, nor class struggle, nor an inclusive middle-class utopia. Instead, predation has become the dominant feature--a system wherein the rich have come to feast on decaying systems built for the middle class. The predatory class is not the whole of the wealthy; it may be opposed by many others of similar wealth. But it is the defining feature, the leading force. And its agents are in full control of the government under which we live."

"For in a predatory regime, nothing is done for public reasons. Indeed, the men in charge do not recognize that "public purposes" exist. They have friends, and enemies, and as for the rest--we're the prey. Hurricane Katrina illustrated this perfectly, as Halliburton scooped up contracts and Bush hamstrung Kathleen Blanco, the Democratic governor of Louisiana. The population of New Orleans was, at best, an afterthought; once dispersed, it was quickly forgotten.

The predator-prey model explains some things that other models cannot: in particular, cycles of prosperity and depression. Growth among the prey stimulates predation. The two populations grow together at first, but when the balance of power shifts toward the predators (through rising interest rates, utility rates, oil prices, or embezzlement), both can crash abruptly. When they do, it takes a long time for either to recover."
*******

And crash it most certainly will.

Posted by: CFShep on April 29, 2006 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

I think Sawicky is off track on this one and his arguments smack of the elder's anger at young tyros. A pox... etc.

I go with NeoLotus who gets it just right

Posted by: PW on April 29, 2006 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

CF, that's the biggest crock of academia bullshit I've ever read, thanks for the laugh.

"Bush hamstrung Blanco". hahahahahaha
Actually her tiny little brain hamstrung her. Deer caught in the headlights kind of thing.

Posted by: Jay on April 29, 2006 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

No, "the common good" is NOT the sole, nor even necessarily a legitimate purpose of government.

Really? Than what's its purpose?

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

then, not than

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

The governments purpose is too enforce the laws and borders and protect the national soveriegnty. Sorry you missed that in your poli-sci class. Only in a communist or socialist state does the "common good" factor in. We're not that, nor should we be.

Posted by: Jay on April 29, 2006 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Only in a communist or socialist state does the "common good" factor in.

So Bush and Reagan are communists? They both repeatedly use that phrase.

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Do you think enforcing the laws promotes the common good?

Posted by: Jay on April 29, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

The governments purpose is too enforce the laws

I see - so who makes those laws and what is the purpose of those laws?

Sorry you missed that in your poli-sci class.

I have a strong suspicion you've never taken one.

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Do you think enforcing the laws promotes the common good?

Are Reagan and Bush communists? Yes or no?

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

BB -- the legitimate purpose of government is set out in the Declaration of Independence, because "all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, THAT TO SECURE THESE RIGHTS governments are instituted among men, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED..." (caps added, of course.)

And that answers, or at least refers to your question about the laws and the common good.

Some laws are good, some are bad, some are just muddled -- something like 'em would be a good idea, but they could definitely be improved.

What this thread's about, I think, is the theme that progressives and/or Democrats might develop to explain the difference.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 29, 2006 at 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

And that answers, or at least refers to your question about the laws and the common good.

First of all, I'm well aware of what the DoI says. It is not the sole reference point about what we as a nation deem to be the purpose of government, nor is it the sole source of any kind of universal belief about government.

That said, Jefferson is simply expanding the notion that Rousseau (and others) set forth before him about how the trade-off of human society is giving up certain natural freedoms and rights for the benefits of living in a society. For example, in nature, killing is not a wrong, but a survival necessity. But in a society of humans, it is destructive. So we temper that natural freedom/right as a tradeoff for living with one another and working together to achieve what we cannot do by ourselves.

Jefferson refers to *all* men, and "we" -- he doesn't speak of government as serving specific individuals. The "common good" is not simply an amalgamation of individual self-interest. How can my life be secured among other people but by giving up some aspects of complete freedom? How can liberty be secured if we don't do things to collectively protect ourselves from tyranny from without and within? And happiness means nothing for an individual in isolation.

The whole point and function of government is to be the institution by which we act for our collective interests and do things that we cannot achieve (or cannot achieve effectively) by disconnected, individual action.

It's not a very esoteric, or even controversial, idea.

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

What MattY totally misses is that our "national security" problem is bundled with our national racism and a bellicose international posture that thinks we should get a quarter of the world's energy because we have ten tousand nuclear warheads.

Treating hispanics equally and with respect is not just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, the thing we would need to do even if it weren't right.

Quick geography lesson folks- what is to the south of us? That's right, an entire continent filled with brown people. What is to the west of us? Right again, China, with a billion people, making plowshares instead of guns, and selling them to us because we make guns instead of plowshares.

In a trainwreck of these proportions, it's not about winning an election. The government may actually fail, if it hasn't already, because of issues that certainly have received no discussion in this thread.

For example, we could easily save enough with national healthcare to finance the transition to solar power. Aging baby boomers would be happy to work building co-housing near transit for their sunset years. Treating women and people of color with respect is something we should do because they are the majority.

It ain't rocket science, and, frankly, we've already had too much rocket science. We need to be informed and use our heads. Or at least make sure there's a paper trail for the ballots.

Posted by: serial catowner on April 29, 2006 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Why do we have laws in the first place? Say, for example, that murdering people makes me happy. If the notion that the DoI refers to securing the happiness of specific individuals as they see fit, then there's no reason we should punish someone who derives happiness from murder.

That's why those notions of "natural rights" being "secured by government" necessarily refer to those things as we all enjoy them.

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Americanist,

You're tough to beat for sheer pomposity, inscrutably turbid and florid prose. How did you get so darn impressed with yourself?

(Don't answer that.)

"The common good" is a phrase, not a "philosophy" or a "political tool" or even a "slogan."

A very close synonym is found in the preamble, "the general welfare." So it is a phrase that our founders chose because they felt it an accurate descriptor of the purpose of our government.

Thank you for the info on Mr. Meyer Lansky. You should know that Lansky is not the only businessman who ever figured out that honest business is good business.

As a phrase, "the common good"--cmdicely already pointed this out--is indeed necessarily vague. Nonetheless, many a serious statesman has found it to be useful, including the Founders.

Maybe you should go into the Balloon business?

Posted by: obscure on April 29, 2006 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK
Do you think enforcing the laws promotes the common good?

I'd say that depends rather heavily on what the laws are.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 29, 2006 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK
The governments purpose is too enforce the laws and borders and protect the national soveriegnty. Sorry you missed that in your poli-sci class. Only in a communist or socialist state does the "common good" factor in.

Strange, in the political science, history, etc., classes I had to take to get a Political Science-Public Service degree, the idea that the purpose of government was limited to enforcing the law and involved no consideration of the public good in determining what the law should be wasn't even discussed as an influential theory, much less some kind of established universal fact.

Perhaps because its a mind-bogglingly stupid idea that has never been a major force in any political movement in history: almost every political theory -- including the ones influential in the formation of the US -- holds the common good as a central purpose of government, though of course what constitutes the common good and how to achieve it varies from theory to theory.

You might note that the purposes spelled out in the preamble to the US Constitution explicitly refer to synonyms for the common good or aspects of the common good -- "general welfare", "common defense" -- as among the purposes for which the Constitution was created.

And a review of Article I will find Congress authorized to raise and spend money for the "general welfare", as well. So not only is it foolish to say that the general purpose of government doesn't include the common good, it is also particularly foolish to claim that the purpose of the US government, as laid out in the Constitution of the United States, doesn't include consideration of the common good.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 29, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK
the legitimate purpose of government is set out in the Declaration of Independence,

If, as you suggest, that articulation is exhaustive of the legitimate purposes of government, you must, perforce, be an enemy of the work of the dastardly villains who wrote that later document on which our present government is founded, the Constitution of the United States, which cites different purposes for its motivation, and expressly authorizes the government it created to pursue those purposes not laid out in the passage you cite from the Declaration.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 29, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

An interesting discussion, thanks!

JayL"The governments purpose is too enforce the laws and borders and protect the national soveriegnty....Only in a communist or socialist state does the "common good" factor in

Government isn't about the common good??? I wonder why governments bother to enforce laws and borders and protect the national sovereignty then. Why not just hand the spoils over the the victor, kill/enslave the losers and be done with it?

tollie: "The "common good" is a great notion, but we have to focus not just on elevating the average, but making sure that those who have been forcefully kept well below average (blacks, women, latinos, blue-collar workers, gays, etc) can move up and join the "common good" (which of course usually = white men)."

I think this has been part of the problem. First, consider the approximate demographics:

Blacks = 12.3% of US population
Women = 51% of US population
Latinos = 12.5% of US population & growing
gays = ~1.5%
White working class = 52% (Ruy Teixera.)

If every single person in these groups voted for Democrats, Democrats would dominate elections. But they don't. A lot of immigrants vote Republican. The white working class votes Republican (70% voted Bush in 2004). Women tend to vote Democratic, but in 2004 48% voted for Bush.

Second, consider the zero-sum game. By definition, half the population will ALWAYS be below average. Is the goal a level playing field? Or are you proposing a different goal, that the rules should be changed to favor the previously oppressed? Is the goal to force white men (that 37% who have been doing the oppressing) to swap places with those who have been "forcefully" kept below average? A lot of Americans view the latter as the current goal of the Democratic party. So, go figure, they vote Republican.

The goal of "common good" involves striving for a level playing field, and may the best man/ woman, white/black/latino/asian succeed. Part of ensuring a level playing field is providing everyone with access to the key features of the game: good education, healthcare, energy, clean air, water, and so on.

NeoLotus:At some point, I wish people would learn the Preamble of the Constitution. It specifies the goals and duties of We the People in a binding contract with ourselves to govern our affairs. That is has dropped out of American consciousness and is now at risk of being totally ditched is precisely what Tocqueville predicted in 1835.

I agree! I think Democrats should propose that we recite the Preamble in schools and other public places instead of the Pledge of Allegiance. We could stand and put our hands over our hearts and recite:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

How inspiring would that be! So much more meaningful than the Pledge of Allegiance to a FLAG.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Just define the rights you want to give women and Africans; then assign them to all of us, problem solved.

Afterall, if women want equal pay for equal work, then why not men also? If Africans want special help for past discrimination, then why not all of us who have been discriminated get the same special rights?

If it is a good idea, then it should be treated as a good idea for all.

But, I get down to my one right, reasonable, non-discriminatory access to public commerce for all citizens. This one single platform covers everything the progressives might want to do, except for the illegals maybe.


Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

(shaking head) When pompous ignorance hits $20 a barrel, I want the drilling rights to these threads, ESPECIALLY the ones in which folks tell me how I'm impressed with myself while they quote Rousseau.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 29, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Americanist:

> (yeah, that American exceptionalism rap that so many of
> you guys object to cuz it's true)

American exceptionalism has a factual component and a mythic
component. Add them up, and it's supposed to tell us a story
about how we're a nation morally superior to the rest of the world.

Other than that, it doesn't have much partisan content. It's as
behind the failed idealism of Wilson as it is behind the crabbed
isolationism of Robert Taft. It undergirded the reactionary
Southern resistance to civil rights, just as it underwrote the
grand national folly of self-improvement known as Prohibition.

It's also a notion that's been under attack ever since it was
formulated, and systematically so ever since Frederick Jackson
Turner gave it a physical metaphor with the frountier as safety
valve. Americans are also temperamentally anti-aristocratic -- at
least we like to think of ourselves that way -- and we really *don't*
like feeling superior to others based on, you know, what we have.

Few have kind thoughts today about Manifest Destiny,
and even if we half-guiltily accept the premise that our
technologically advanced civilization "deserved" the land, a great
many of us ache in our hearts over what we did to our aboriginals
in the process of taking it from them by force and fraud.

Oh, we're an exceptional nation all right. Exceptionally naive.

The factual components of exceptionalism are only physical, and
that's what troubles the conscience about it. Would any group of
people, given a vast continent crammed with resources, invulnerable
to traditional enemies, separated from the world by two oceans,
have developed a different national character? Did the hearts
of Europeans suddenly and magically change when they stepped off
the boats? Could liberty, democracy, justice be conditioned by
low population density and the easy availability of farmland?

No, no and yes. And that's why the anti-aristocratic side
of the American character (so noted by Toqueville) finds
exceptionalism straight, no chaser, so perfectly revolting.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

frountier = frontier

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Americanist:

And before I get a ton o' guff about the Founding Fathers, consider that the Swiss had been practicing direct, plebiscitarian democracy for centuries prior to 1787.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

I don't see anything in the preamble tht favors one set of poliics over the another.

"Treating women and people of color with respect is something we should do because they are the majority."

I don't see any set of politics, except the nazis, that treat one race better than the other. If Repbuilicans favor big business, do they favor purple big business over reddish big business?

'And a review of Article I will find Congress authorized to raise and spend money for the "general welfare",'

The same article allows Congress to reduce spending for the general welfare, which Democrats have done successfully in the past.

"There are a number of definable issue where there is a strong association of particular position with race or sex."

Possibly but these are about fourth on their list. If you ask women and men, Mexican or African what the major issue is, they all say, jobs, income, prices, money, pocket book issues.

Wait!, you say, mothers need special attention to child care. Sure, but smokers need special attention to addiction control, suburban commuters need special attention to transportation costs, and so on.

In this kind of politics, you go down the groupings, get their fourth or fifth priority and create wht you think is that special majority. Then along comes a Reagan or a Clinton who addresses the first or second, and bingo you are stuck. This is Pelosi's problem, she can never get past her special constituencies, but Feinstein, however bad her politics, has managed to get back to basics, or at least pretend to.


Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Matt:

Do you believe that white skin privilege is real?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: "Do you believe that white skin privilege is real?

Can you define white skin privilege?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

The added suspicion that accrues to black people among strangers that cannot be accounted for by anything other than skin color.

The oft-noted inability, e.g. of a black stockbroker in a Brooks Brothers suit to hail a cab in Lower Manhattan at midnight in the pouring rain.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

And which woudn't accrue to white people if the roles were revered and all else were equal.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK

"Do you believe that white skin privilege is real?"

To be frank, what happens is that ghetto youth are discriminated against. It happens to Latino, Blacks, and White. Employers are afraid of kids raised without both parents who have not gone beyond the ghetto high school. No doubt.

I am not an employer, but even for me there are signs I avoid. To they "girlfriend or boyfriend" up before the support is in place. Is slang their language of choice. I look for signs of drug abuse, especially methamphetamine. Are they staying in touch with school advancement, even part time or trade schools. Do they have a past that appears on their job application, even playing in a band or sports? Are they even in contact with an adult?

Employers are so wary these days of disfunctional youth that these signs overwhelm any race misgivings they have. That is, even when they are wary of Blacks, they will grab a good Black kid, because there are so many other kids of all races that are in trouble.

Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

Matt:

Nice dance. Let's try again. A yes or no will suffice.

Do you believe that white skin privilege is real?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: "The added suspicion that accrues to black people among strangers that cannot be accounted for by anything other than skin color."

Hard to quantify.

"The oft-noted inability, e.g. of a black stockbroker in a Brooks Brothers suit to hail a cab in Lower Manhattan at midnight in the pouring rain."

And this differs from simple racism, how?

"And which woudn't accrue to white people if the roles were [reversed] and all else were equal.

Again, tricky. I'm not sure I understand what you mean by this. So, if whites were ~12.3% of the population, and all else were equal....so whites have higher rates of violent crime, ~16% of young white men are in jail, 75% of white children are born to unmarried mothers, only 15% graduate from college vs 33% of black youth, you think that whites would not be regarded with extra suspicion when they were among strangers? they would be picked up by black & white taxi drivers on dark, rainy nights? Is it only a black/white thing?

I ask the question because I hear "white privilege" used by liberal white men and women and persons of color--I use it myself--but I have yet to figure out if/how "white privilege" differs from "being a member of the groups that controls more resources," "being more prosperous," "sharing the norms of the dominant majority" and "gets to set the rules". Sometimes it sounds like white privilege means "people who have what I want and don't have." The difficulty is that some group will always be dominant, and is there some inherent evil in that?

I regard as white privilege the expectation when you go out, to a concert or shopping at a suburban mall, that people like you will be in the majority so you won't be regarded with suspicion. (this would be similar to your first example.) I regard as white privilege the experience that I have, when shopping in my local inner city grocery store, of being treated with deference: what did I do to deserve that? White privilege probably includes the common confusion of "American" and "white American."

Is it "white privilege" that a majority of white babies are born into families that hold what are called "middle class values"--mom and dad are married, stay married to each other, graduate from high school, don't do drugs & stay out of jail, have jobs, didn't have children until they were married. In a society that is structured around these values, holding these values ought to lead to greater stability, acceptance by the majority, and with that stability and acceptance better school achievement and job performance.

The question is, then, if a black family holds middle class values, do they experience the same kind of aceptance, opportunities for education or jobs as whites? Your example of the black stockbroker would say no, at least not in that setting.

White privilege may also include the privilege of setting norms of conduct that are comfortable for whites of a certain income level to follow, and that are harder for those below a certain income line, such as many African Americans, to follow.

I apologise for going OT, but I am genuinely curious.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

(shaking head) When pompous ignorance hits $20 a barrel, I want the drilling rights to these threads, ESPECIALLY the ones in which folks tell me how I'm impressed with myself while they quote Rousseau.

Where did I say you are "impressed with yourself"? Is this your way of tossing off an insult because you have no reasonable response to what I said?

Posted by: BB on April 29, 2006 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

An interesting article by Robert Jensen explaining why Leftists are sold out by liberals.
here

Posted by: Hostile on April 29, 2006 at 5:44 PM | PERMALINK

BB,

He got you and me confused.

If he wasn't so arrogant he wouldn't be so punchy. Poor dear.

Posted by: obscure on April 29, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Do you believe that white skin privilege is real?"

OK, I'll try again, the answer is the the opposite where I come from now, central California. I am white.

The construction trades are increasingly dominated by Latino, especially second generation Mexican. Even if I were younger and wanted to work in that trade, I would have a hard time. The construction foremen are increasingly Latino.

My neighbor, a Mexican is building his dream house, all, 100%, Mexican labor, his pals from the construction trade. They use a lot of 'black market' labor and equipment, meaning week end labor with equipment they borrow for the weekend from their day jobs. I could never have access to that equipment, I would be forced to use open market rental, no Mexican construction crew would ever give me the same rates that this guy gets from his contacts.

I talk to some of the guys that hang around, and they freely acknowledge what is going on, this sort of group conspiracy to borrow equipment and labor. The house construction businesses that employ these people in their day jobs know the score, and they get a kickback in the form of cheaper labor.

As far as Blacks out here, most of them are screwed. No jobs, and rarely hired by mexican bosses. If a young white skilled labor wanted to work for the Mexicans, they could. It is not really an anti-white conspiracy, as it is really a gray market conspiracy among mexicans. They do not mean to be discriminatory, I know, I have talked to them. It is just that this is how they do business, and young whites are not used to that.

The young white tradesmen, and I know a lot of them, come from bad parenting and are often in trouble. I know a lot of them, mephamphetamine use is rampant. In fact, I am generally more suspicious of a young white tradesman working on the black market alone than I am suspicious of an organized Mexican work crew.

I am selling my house, and I get a lot of enquiries from parents helping their young son in a starter home. It will be owner financed, and around here, when I know the white parents are helping a 28-40 year old son who is a plumber or carpenter, I think methamphetamine user and my alarms go way up.

I have a lady friend who only dates blacks, she is white and her daughter is mixed. Her current black husband is someone I would not want to meet, apriori, I can tell you, simply because he bought into her black only scheme without question, and alarms go off in my head about that, (and about her). Does she think black culture is somehow really special?

The school system in the northern part of the town is very sports oriented, more sports than academics, but funded by the wealthier. They recruit, and recruit heavily where ever they can get players, academics be damned and school board members are buldozed into allowing kids to cross boundaries. They don't care what color you are as long as you help the top ten baseball, top two basketball, top one wrestling. Color don't matter, not these these parents.

It is not that the parents are racist or not racist. They do not go out of their way to help these kids in busing or car pooling, they just want winners. They want winners so bad they will bury their racism.

The Mong (sp??) come from the Viet Nam war, they run the small farm vegetable business, they meet in Mong groups, they share Mong equipment, they do the same thing the Mexicans do in the construction trades.

Indian skihks, great friendly people, same thing in the small market retail sector.

Large chains, Home Depot, Supermarkets, Starbucks all have a more mixed race employment crew, but then they are easily measured for discrimination.


Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

Oh dear me, no apologies necessary. I'm probably the PA all-time champeen of going off on tangents orthogonal (as cmdicely likes to say) to the thread topic. It *is* a fascinating subject.

What I'm trying to do is get to the nub of the matter, to burn off all the sociology that can support both liberal and conservative views of causes and remediation, and try to capture its essence.

Racism isn't "simple." Prejudice is simple, a form of suspicion. Sometimes it's prudent; many other times it's excessive and harmful.

Racism is closer to a kind of ideology. Someone once described it as "prejudice + power," but I dunno if I buy that. Louis Farrahkan and the Nation of Islam are a minority of a minority and have little political influence on the broader American society, but surely they spew a lot of "white devil" conspiracy theories that are at least racialist, if you don't like to call them racist for that reason.

Others have argued that racism arose with the development of chattel slavery. In order to enslave a person for profit, you need a view of him as less human than you are. And there's no question that racist ideas are sustained by a whole raft of assumptions from religion, history and pesudoscience.

White skin privilege is not a doctrine, though. It's more effect than cause, and is defined empirically. It's either real or it isn't.

I suppose you could do a thought experiment and imagine a world with blacks in the numerical majority, and America as an outgrowth of black culture, and ask if whites wouldn't be the ones to suffer from "black skin privilege." Perhaps, in theory -- but we'll never know.

And once again -- well-dressed black stockbrokers seem to suffer from a discrimination that seems to have no other explanation but skin color. From what I understand, that kind of petty indignity occurs time after time in the lives of blacks. Little things, like getting the hairy eyeball from a store clerk in a way that the Asian guy next to you didn't. Slow service from white clerks and waitresses. And while other nonwhites no doubt endure a form of it, there seems to be a decided color gradient, with the blackest, most negroid blacks suffering the most of it.

Is this real? Can an experiment be envisioned which isolates out all other factors (socioeconomic class, education, manners in public, etc) and determine how much of this exists as skin privilege, pure and simple? I don't know, but probably.

What does my intuition tell me?

I've had black roommates and plenty of black coworkers.

White skin privilege is quite real and well-established, even among people who hold nothing remotely resembling racial or bigoted ideas. It's more like an unconscious conditioning, a component of structural racism.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Matt: "The construction trades are increasingly dominated by Latino, especially second generation Mexican. Even if I were younger and wanted to work in that trade, I would have a hard time. The construction foremen are increasingly Latino."

Interesting examples. So, should we start talking about latino privilege in the construction trades in California? When we are talking about "white privilege" are we just describing the group that gets to set the rules and, by doing so, can control who gets admitted into the club to get the goodies?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

Well no, that's hardly "Latino privilege" considering that Matt's crew of Mexican pirate laborers are being paid way under the above-ground going rate. It's closer to the sort of mafia-esque, more-or-less informal mutual aid societies that have always sustained immigrant groups. Writ large and a couple generations in, and they become things like urban political machines.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

PTate,

The Latino domination is more focused on the tractor, concrete and foundation business, to be more honest. Owners of construction firms are mostly white, but like old New York, ethnicity often dominates the sub trades.

The other thing I must mention is that Mexicans have access to underground labor, and this has given them an edge in construction site forman jobs.

When I grew up in California, most of the white kids were first generation Californians, and I was Catholic. The Catholics at that time, the middle class always mixed with the Latinos who often were third or fourth generation Californians. We shared churches, shared schools, and shared community events. It still happens to this day that May 1st is both a Mexican and 'White' holiday; as are many of the religious holidays; but this is chaning rapidly.

Blacks around here are still ghettoized.

College was an interesting case, because when I went it was for the parties and the rebellion more than anything else. We accepted the Black power groups, went to their parties, burned police cars and banks with them. But as I think back, that really was a form of racism, on everyone's part, like having racially separated shock troops, like an alliance of convenience.

Gals are another topic if we want to get into that.

Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: "White skin privilege is quite real and well-established, even among people who hold nothing remotely resembling racial or bigoted ideas."

I agree with you, but I still don't have a good definition. Nevertheless, here's another example of white privilege. I used to walk over to Starbuck's to get coffee with a friend of mine, both of us respectable professionals, me white, her black. She would sometimes be asked for her ID when buying a latte with a ATM card. Me, never. And this despite the fact that the staff knew me well, and she was with me. I describe it as white privilege because it was only when she was carded that I realized that they accepted my ATM card without suspicion. I was also surprised when they didn't take the fact that she was with me as sufficient recommendation. I was part of the "in-crowd" and she was not.

Apropos nothing, in psychology we describe prejudice as an attitude with behavioral, cognitive and emotional components. It makes it quite operational.

In-group/out-group behavior is fascinating. Humans are wired to identify with and form groups. One classic psychological study looked at the minimal group paradigm. Participants were asked to express a preference for one of two paintings, by Monet or Picasso. Then they were asked to distribute resources, "$100" among four people--all the participant knew about each was his or her preference for Monet or Picasso. You'd think they would just distribute the money, $25 to each, but no. They gave more to the people who shared their art preference.

"White privilege" can be real, therefore, but a particular manifestation of usual human group dynamics. When one group has the institutional power to discriminate against another, being a member of the powerful group confers 'privilege.' It just happens that in the USA, the power structure has been white. It follows that justice refers to efforts to prevent the use of institutional power to deny resources and dignity to an "out-group." And this, leads to an actual on topic observation--justice is part of The Common Good.

I obviously keep trying to establish "white privilege" as a side effect of being a member of the dominant racial group in the US. But I also have had earnest friends use it as a cause, a synonym for racism, as in "I am successful because I am the beneficiary of white privilege and the opportunities being white affords me."

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Matt: "When I grew up in California, most of the white kids were first generation Californians"

You can hardly imagine how exotic California sounds to a Minnesotan. When I grew up here, there were no Latinos or Asians, and so few African Americans that Calvin Griffin thought it was okay to establish the Twins ballteam here. We did have a large native American population in Minnesota. We heard about migrant workers from Mexico, come up to harvest the soybean crop, but we never saw them. Rumor had it that they smoked something called marijuana...what was that?

Lots of Lutherans and Catholics. Over the past 10 years, Minneapolis and Saint Paul have changed color--our largest minority group is Asian: we have, among others, one of the largest Hmong settlements in the US. We also have a large population of Somali and Ethiopian refugees and a small but growing Latino community. Last I heard, 40% of the children starting public school in Saint Paul didn't speak English.

I recently saw an amusing locally produced TV special from 1992, on "How to speak Minnesotan." The humor came from Minnesota's Scandinavian heritage. I don't think it could be produced today, and it felt dated, a world that has been lost.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

PTate:

Really interesting posts and a pleasure to read.

Obviously our views on this are pretty similar. Despite my strong belief that white skin privilege is real, I share the concern I heard in your tone about people who use it stridently -- as if this factor was somehow in itself determinate.

I see it more as a death-by-a-thousand-cuts kind of phenomenon. There's a cululative effect to be sure on your coworker friend having to produce her ID when you don't, and there are effects larger than that. But I think white skin privilege is what we're left with after most overt, de jure racial discrimination has been eradicated.

It begs the question can American society ever get past racism to realize Dr. King's dream and become a truly colorblind society?

I understand your psychologist-type desire to "de-nature" white skin privilege and see it as an epiphenomenon of group dynamics, no different in essence than a preference for the most popular painter. It's what we liberals like to do; open up the doors, let the sunshine of rationality in. Kinda like how Americans interpreted Freud in the 50s and 60s: Sex -- good! Repression -- bad!

Heh. Most of that generation forgot to read Civilization and its Discontents. Repression according to Freud is also the mechanism that keeps us all from killing each other.

Malice is an ineluctable part of the human heart, and race will always be a tempting channel for its expression. I think that's probably about the best we might say in the final analysis.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 29, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

PTate,

My mom's side came from Superior/Deluth area, and we went back every summer. Us Californian kids often went barefoot during our summer visits, and the kids always used to think we were poor.

Our cousins in Deluth were great fisherman, but us California kids, growing up, literally in swimmng pools, always out swam them.

Hanging out on a dock once, at a lake, my cousin spotted this great Northern, 2 feet. He quickly swiped a horsefly, a safety pin, and some twine. In a minute he had leaned over and had him hooked, I always remember that.

The two cultures were French Canadian and Scandnavian. My grandma didn't speak English until she was 14.

Basements were a gas, we never had them in Califonia, and they were mysterious things to me with the everpresent pantry of goodies stored away.

Summer Mosquitos were a trip, smasing them yielded a blood splat, generally blood from one of my siblings.

You can always tell a northern Wisconsonite or Minnesotanite by asking them to say "How Now Brown Cow". To this day, as soon as someone gives me that 'ouw' sound, I say, Deluth!, and get it right about 75% of the time.


Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, another someone with Minnesota ties!! I have sometimes wondered if everyone on Washington Monthly has a hidden MN connection. Maybe that is our real common denominator...on WM, as in MN, the women are all strong, the men good-looking and the children above average?

Your family has the same background as my husband--French Canadian and Swedish! My husband's grandmother grew up speaking French. Ah, yes, "da Range". They were all immigrants there in 1900. The "ouw" is straight from the old country. The vowels other American's love to mock us for are German. Ja.

My people were from Southern Minnesota via New England. You still see these sub-cultural political differences between the labor union/populist north and the old school Republican/land-owning south.

& I've never understood how people can manage without a basement.

Saturday night. Can I be more off-topic?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

PTate,
We might be related.

My grandpa came from Vermont, ancestor Ethan Allen of the Green Mountain Boys, my libertarian roots I think.

Right about those cold weather women, they dominate, I guess because so much is indoors, where they rule.

Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

rmck1: "Malice is an ineluctable part of the human heart, and race will always be a tempting channel for its expression. I think that's probably about the best we might say in the final analysis."

That, and a recommendation to go back and read "Civilization and its Discontents." What evils lurk in the heart of man?

Until I went OT, this thread was about the Common Good. Can the common good be achieved unless we agree to repress our individual and group self-interest?

Peace!

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 9:34 PM | PERMALINK

cousin Matt,

My something-something-grandmother was Ethan Allen's aunt.

Imagine that!

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Matt,

...and of course, now that we have established that we're kin, we're in the same In-group. You know how it will go from here on out. We'll have to back each other up on other threads. Your people are my people.

If I have any opportunity to dole out resources, I promise to give you a bigger cut.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

PTate,

I have the tree. If you knew how many somethings, I could find your aunt and track you down.

Watch out!

Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 10:15 PM | PERMALINK

Matt: "If you knew how many somethings, I could find your aunt and track you down.

Watch out!"

well, jeeze. So much for kinship solidarity!

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 29, 2006 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

PTate,

Does the surname Ellis mean anything?

Posted by: Matt on April 29, 2006 at 11:14 PM | PERMALINK

Matt,

The surname Ellis has no special meaning for me.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 30, 2006 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, cousins! Y'all! That's not the thread.

Common good and all that!

Hope you all can agree with me that racism, tribalism and bias, are in-built, whether genetic or taught, and we should all learn to get over it.

Can we all?

Posted by: notthere on April 30, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK

notthere:"Hope you all can agree with me that racism, tribalism and bias, are in-built, whether genetic or taught, and we should all learn to get over it"

Yes, you see how quickly the common good slips away when we discover our kinship groups!

In theory, I would hope that we can all learn to get over tribalism, bias and discrimination against those not in our group, but those have been adaptive mechanisms for the human species until quite recently. So, can we "learn" to get over it? All major religions strive to teach their adherents to get over it, and we know how well that has turned out. Some argue that the progress we have made in achieving some measure of social justice among different groups is a function of economic growth and cheap oil. Take away a growing economy, take away cheap oil, and humans will revert to survival of the fittest.

I, of course, will try to protect my kinsman, Matt, as long as I can. But, for all I know, since I'm not an Ellis, I may be dead meat in his eyes already.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 30, 2006 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

Not to inject reality into you guys' social fantasies about "white skin privilege", but an interesting social science fact is that there's a lot of polling and other data documenting that immigrants of color, including foreign stock born here, regard racism as a much less significant barrier than native blacks.

Since this downgrading of the significance of "white skin privilege" persists beyond the foreign-born generation, it suggests that it isn't that new Americans don't yet know what America is like, but that what you're talking about isn't strictly speaking about race at all, but something else.

You can't make sense if you won't make distinctions.

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 30, 2006 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

theAmericanist: "Since this downgrading of the significance of "white skin privilege" persists beyond the foreign-born generation, it suggests that it isn't that new Americans don't yet know what America is like, but that what you're talking about isn't strictly speaking about race at all, but something else."

Heavens, we seem to agree! That's exactly why I keep pushing for good definitions of what "white privilege" is. I'm not at all convinced that it is what it was originally proposed to be. Something is going on, but what is it?!?? It is affects the experience of native born African Americans. It doesn't seem to have the same impact on African or Caribbean-born immigrants. That is the riddle to solve.

And more or less on topic, how do we define the common good in such a way that the good is in fact common. Is there any danger that "common good" could become a code for My-group privilege?

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 30, 2006 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Americanist:

> Not to inject reality

More like pomposity, but that's never stopped you before :)

> into you guys' social fantasies about "white skin privilege",

Spoken like a true white person :) You obviously haven't been
paying attention. White skin privilege isn't synonymous with
either prejudice or racism. It's more than simple suspicion or
a set of conscious ideas about racial and/or ethnic inferiority.

It's a reflex. It's more the effect at the end of the entire causal
matrix of cultural forces around racial issues -- and it is real.

There's simply no other way to explain why it's so hard for a
black stockbroker to hail a cab at midnight on a rainy night.

You'll notice also that there's no way for the cabdriver -- most
likely a brown person himself -- to tell if the guy in question's
an African-American or native African or West Indian. Just like
there was no way for the cashier at Starbucks to know from whence
came PTate's black friend who she IDed to by a latte on her bank card.

Why does this happen, Paul? If not skin privilege, what else
explains it? You have a better explanation, let's hear it.

> but an interesting social science fact is that there's
> a lot of polling and other data documenting that immigrants
> of color, including foreign stock born here, regard racism
> as a much less significant barrier than native blacks.

To be perfectly honest, I think you're spinning this conclusion.
What sort of racism are they talking about? Most forms of de jure
discrimination have been eradicated in America, and the kind of
garden-variety reflexive color prejudice we're talking about might
be much less in American society than it is in their home countries
-- but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent, either. And immigrants
have a vested interest in deemphasizing it to become assimilated.

If you live in a city for any length of time, it becomes obvious
that many immigrant blacks (especially Jamaicans) look down,
sometimes rather fiercely, on African-Americans. You don't need
a sociological model to explain it; it's obvious why. Immigrants
are a self-selected group. Black immigrants share more in common
with other immigrant groups than they do with American-born
blacks. They believe that African-Americans are unmotivated,
poorly socialized, have a disgusting chip on their shoulders about
racism and expect to be taken care of by the government -- attitudes
not too different than, say, poor Irish or Italian Americans toward
neighborhood blacks, except that with Jamaicans it's expressed with
crushing amounts of disdain that no white person could get away with.

Why? Well, it's part of the oft-noted more-American-than-thou
syndrome of immigrants who embrace assimilation. It's also
embarrassment and shame, that they'd be mistaken for American
blacks. Can this be de-racialized? Yes and no. You can explain
it in terms of the experience of American blacks being dragged here
in chains, and drawn to cities which are allowed to economically
decay. With horrendous schooling and no way up the ladder save
through the military or crime, with a larger society that feeds
parasitically off romanticized visions of street life ... well, call
racism what you will, but these are obviously a vastly different
set of experiences than economic-motivated immigrants from Jamaica.

> Since this downgrading of the significance of "white
> skin privilege" persists beyond the foreign-born generation,
> it suggests that it isn't that new Americans don't yet know
> what America is like, but that what you're talking about isn't
> strictly speaking about race at all, but something else.

And there's a component that distills down to race, and which
Jamaicans and native Africans cannot escape. Would what happened
to Amadou Diallo -- an immigrant from Africa -- have happened
to a man with lighter skin? I'm not so sure ... are you?

> You can't make sense if you won't make distinctions.

Plenty of fine sociological distinctions to be drawn.

At the end of the day you're in a Starbucks with your skin color.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 30, 2006 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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