Monday, October 4, 2010


Here is something of a "discovery" I made this evening while talking with my wife. We were talking about a candidate for the State House [Ma.] who claimed to be "pro-life" but was in favor of capital punishment. I said I thought this was "Bullshit." How can one claim to be "pro-life" but favor putting people to death? It just did not make sense.

But then I thought that this is hardly a defensible "conservative" position. Traditionally, conservatives favor or trust individuals to make decisions and distrust government from making decisions. Hence, the hue and cry about taxes or the new health care law, which imply that government knows better than we do how to spend our money. This argument gets a lot of traction among current "conservatives." But when it comes to abortion and capital punishment, these same "conservatives" take exactly the opposite position. That is, they distrust women or couples from making certain medical decisions regarding pregnancies and trust the government to make decisions regarding putting people to death. The same disconnect happens to many "conservatives" when it comes to what are often called "end of life issues." That is, they, these alleged "conservatives," distrust people to make their own choices while trusting the government to make these same decisions. Now, these "conservatives" could respond as follows: "Well, the government is not actually making these decisions; it is merely forbidding people from making certain decisions, just as it forbids people from enslaving other people or assaulting them." And this has a certain logic to it, except for the fact that when it comes to capital punishment, the government is making decisions about who is to live and who to die, whereas when it comes to terminating a pregnancy, it is not allowing women or couples to make their own decisions. And, of course, this is a decision by the government, just as government is making a decision for me when it tells me it is illegal for me to end my own life with dignity or freely.

So what is up with these "conservatives?" At the very least, they can be charged with inconsistency, which I admit is not always a virtue in politics. But if we dig a bit deeper, I think there is more going on here than inconsistency. Some would argue that our "pro-life conservatives" have an animus against women, and there may be some truth to that. But I think it is something a bit different because here our "conservatives" move over toward the "liberal" side of our alleged liberal/conservative divide, insofar as current liberals seem more than willing to limit individual choice for the sake of what they consider to be the greater or common good. What begins to emerge is the thought that our alleged liberal/conservative divide is not as basic as we like to think it is. And, moreover, this "divide" just possibly hides or obscures more basic divides, e.g., that between men and women or that between the wealthy and the rest of us. That is to ask: What are the most basic issues, the most permanent issues of politics, liberal v. conservative or gender or class issues? And if it is the latter sets of issues, what happens to politics when these are "hidden" or "obscured?" Que bono? If you have been reading this blog, I suspect to know what my answer to this question might be.

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