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April 22, 2006

More Thoughts on the Common Good and the New Patriotism

Shakes here…

Like Neil, I’m rather dubious about the Common Good argument, although for a slightly different reason. In fact, for one big reason—religion. As I noted in the comments to his post, I struggle to see a way to effectively use the Common Good argument to address a possible majority that believes it's in their best interest to require prayer in school, or the teaching of intelligent design, etc. And, perhaps even more importantly than that, I’m concerned that some of the important issues Neil mentions—abortion, gay equality—are so inextricably linked to religion on one side of the debate that the Common Good argument, if it cannot dexterously manage majority viewpoints rooted in religion, will inevitably fail to adequately serve as the core of the Democratic message.

It strikes me as rather absurd to try to convince a majority group who’s compelled by their belief system (or at least, their interpretation of it) not only to live their own lives by its rules, but to enforce those rules upon others, that the Common Good doesn’t accommodate their views. There is a particular flavor of Christianity in America right now (to which our president is an adherent) that sees their own attempt to legislate morality as imperative to the Common Good, which leaves us with competing themes, rather than a unique argument—in other words, exactly where we’ve always been.

For this reason, I tend to favor an argument rooted in “My rights end where yours begin,” when it comes to addressing policy issues, especially personal issues that find strong religion-based dissension on one side of the coin. It leaves no room for squabbling over who’s got the market cornered on the definition of “Common Good” or “moral values.” It is what it is, and what it isn’t is a launching pad for an inspirational message, so that must be dealt with separately, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good politics aren’t always convenient.

I agree with Tomasky’s notion, as Atrios described it, “many people do want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, something they feel is a force for good.”

The Dems’ limp “Together, America can do better,” though the most milquetoast attempt conceivable, is nonetheless a nod at this idea. It encapsulates the notion that America can be better, can move forward, and that it takes more than just policy initiatives to get us there. Democrats must be flatly willing to identify Bush’s entire tenure as a massive failure and propose leading America in an entirely new direction—to cast energy independence as the new space program, universal healthcare as the New Deal for a new generation, stem cell technology as a medical advancement as revolutionary as penicillin.

Of course, this will take money, and voter support, so they can’t be afraid to give voice once again to the virtue of sacrifice.

Neil touches on this with his nod to John Edwards’ framing. I’m a bit more of a cynic than John Edwards, so I’d take it a step further and turn on its head one of the GOP’s most opportunistic bits of sloaganeering: Support the Troops, a mantra which is invoked even as they slash funding for protective armor and veterans’ healthcare. It’s as easy as this: Are you willing to let our troops be the only ones who must give of themselves for the safety and success of America?

Anyone who would answer yes will be too busy screaming about how liberals don’t support the troops to hear the question. And they’d never vote for the Democrats, anyway.

Once upon a time, sacrifice was a patriotic idea. But under the gluttonous avarice of the GOP leadership, barrel-chested barons of a new Gilded Age stand astride the bodies of those who have been condemned to less fortunate fates, singing the praises of social Darwinism and bellowing about the superfluity of a social safety net—“The government never gave me anything!” they declare, as they deposit their million-dollar checks from their latest no-bid Defense Department contract then head off to Tiffany’s to get The Little Woman a bauble with their fat tax return.

That’s the new patriotism, and it should disgust all of us. The Democrats need to remind Americans that sometimes they must earn the fortune that being American affords them.

April 22, 2006 | Permalink


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One thing I really don't know about is how much of the Christian population of this country is radical enough to be totally unreachable by any liberal arguments whatsoever. Really, I see us as playing for the moderates here, and I think there are enough of them to make possible a winning Democratic message that doesn't concede anything especially significant. Is this 'common good' stuff the way to reach these moderates? Well, that's the big question. Personally, and this is in large part guesswork, I'm thinking that working-class whites and Hispanics will be more responsive to a message about the common good than about rights, while middle-class professionals go the opposite way. I'm more eager to grab the former group (I think it's a larger group) so I'm on the common good side for the time being.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Apr 22, 2006 8:42:42 PM

“Together, America can do better,” reminds me of something my Mom would say - though with a sigh thrown in somewhere for good measure.

Shingles, sigh, you can do better.

Anyhow, as noted by Shakes and others the idea of the "Common Good" can be problematic. The first thing that popped into my mind, for some odd reason, was Kelo vs. New London. And the next thing was, well, who exactly determines what "the Common Good" is? Hasn't this concept been essentially used to justify almost any atrocity in the past.

This is where Shakes' point comes in nicely. If you're going to make a pitch for the common good, you've got to throw in a little "my rights end where yours begin", almost as a restraint or check upon unfettered Common Good-ness.

I would also add that the common good or common welfare is in my self-interest. So stressing the common good by itself, or altruism for altruism's sake, seems ineffectual and unpersuasive - instead, I'd argue that you've got to make the connection to this self-interest. I.e., it’s in my self-interest to have breathable air, less crime, etc.

But what do I know, I'm not a Democrat.

Posted by: shingles | Apr 22, 2006 10:43:25 PM

One thing I really don't know about is how much of the Christian population of this country is radical enough to be totally unreachable by any liberal arguments whatsoever.

Lately there has often been mention of the superb job the GOP has done in putting together its Noise Machine. But as strong as it looks from the outside, you really have to see it - no, experience it from the inside to understand just how powerful a force it is. There are people I know whose every waking moment is simply one reinforcement after another of the current GOP talking points. They get it on TV, on the radio, in the newspaper columnists they choose to read, in their Sunday School lessons, Small Group Bible studies, Men's Wednesday morning prayer breakfasts, weekend "crops," sermons and lunch after church with the rest of the deacons at Furr's Cafeteria. As we all know, this message is twofold, one side telling them how great the GOP and its platform is, and the other side telling them how demonic the Democrats are. Many, far too many of these folks are lost to us. But there are still many others who are not, who would be amenable to the message that the Democrats have if only they could hear it in an honest setting.

That's a lot of why my wife and I have stayed in our denomination. People in my church know where we stand, and it tends to throw them off-kilter, which allows us to present the Gospel to them, so to speak. I'm not trying to be all "tooting my own horn" here, but I know that there are several people whose ideas about what it means to be a "Christian voter" have been subtly changed, and a few people who have radically changed their views largely because of our influence.

Anyway, it's not that we're looking for those few moderates hiding out in the ranks of the fundies. What we need to do - how, I don't know - is separate the few real fundies apart from what I believe is the unknowing, misled majority. Get them to hear the real message, and we can start getting some votes.

Posted by: Stephen | Apr 23, 2006 1:02:13 AM

"Democrats must be flatly willing to identify Bush’s entire tenure as a massive failure and propose leading America in an entirely new direction—to cast energy independence as the new space program, universal healthcare as the New Deal for a new generation, stem cell technology as a medical advancement as revolutionary as penicillin."

Bingo...(although maybe the stem cell thing is too controversial still--not to worry, thanks to Ah-nold, the industry is alive and well in California).

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Apr 23, 2006 1:19:55 AM

While I feel luke warm on the Common Good approach, I think it allows plenty of room for religion as a part of that dialog.

I suppose we need something to define us and I think this is a step in the right direction. I just don't think this is strong enough.

Posted by: Fr33d0m | Apr 24, 2006 9:20:22 AM

Today was a complete loss. I've just been hanging out doing nothing. I've more or less been doing nothing. I can't be bothered with anything recently. I guess it doesn't bother me.

Posted by: aadvantage airline american program | Aug 29, 2007 2:39:20 PM

More or less not much exciting happening today. I just don't have anything to say. More or less nothing seems worth bothering with.

Posted by: Lee | Oct 4, 2007 8:30:58 AM

Prejudice will always be a part of society

Posted by: hobby | Oct 16, 2007 1:43:09 PM

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