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July 30, 2004
I Believe....

Because none of you have done anything in particular to annoy me recently, I'll spare you the two thousand words of rambling and background musing for this post.

After three months of essentially unnecessary (but very interesting) research, I'm no closer to being able to articulate what I believe than I ever was. *

Even more than that, I'm starting not to care. On the off chance any of you remember that I said I was thinking about it, I'd like to suggest that you clear that particular thought from your memory. I've managed without a unified theory of politics for the last 40 years and I think I can muddle along without one for the next 40 years as well.

I know I believe in public education, universal health care, protecting the ecosystem, safeguarding children, and space exploration. I believe in freedom, equality, and a decent life for everyone willing to do a reasonable amount of work to attain it.

I know that when I listened to John Edwards' speech the other night, I found myself nodding again and again. Yeah. What he said. That's what I believe. Tonight I'll listen to the Kerry speech that I taped last night. I hope I find myself saying, "Yes, that's what I believe."

Beyond that, I haven't a clue.

* I considered posting, "I now know what I believe, but I don't believe I feel like telling you about it" but a simple admission of defeat seems more honest. Anyone who would like to chime in with an explanation of what they believe is more than welcome, of course.

Posted by AnneZook at 05:17 PM


"I know I believe in public education, universal health care, protecting the ecosystem, safeguarding children, and space exploration. I believe in freedom, equality, and a decent life for everyone willing to do a reasonable amount of work to attain it."

You are, in general, so wonderfully articulate and insightful, I find it surprising you are not able to put a label on whatever underlying ideal motivates the above list of "things considered good." I'll ask again in 6 months and maybe by then you'll be able to put some names to your various ideals? I'm curious, after all, about what motivates other people's progressive politics.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at July 31, 2004 08:48 AM

Perhaps there is no current label for Anne's political belief system that would elucidate more than it obscures. I have the same problem: there are many valuable values out there, and distilling them down to a small enough (yet still all-encompassing) set so as to put a lable on them is terribly difficult.

While I did participate in the "New Liberal Vision" project (http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/4657.html), the word liberal has too many (sometimes contradictory) uses and abuses to be terribly descriptive. At one time I described myself as a 'religious humanist' but nobody else seems to quite understand the political values that extend from that. Pragmatic socialist idealist, or practical Green, or Frankfurt School pacifist.....

No, labels don't actually help, often. I think Anne has done a fine job of articulating important ideas, identifying crucial problems, and proposing solutions, or at least nominees for problem solvers.

One very good reason to NOT articulate clear values and principles, is that people tend to hold YOU to what THEY think they mean. Then you have to redefine, and backtrack and it gets ugly and nothing actually gets done.

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at July 31, 2004 02:06 PM

I distrust labels. You never know where they're going to take you.

The Democratic Party in 1875 was not the Democratic Party of 1975. The Republican Party of 1964 is not today's Republican Party. The Green Party began laudably, with Nader's passions for protecting the environment and worker/product safety, but he's become a nut and if the party survives, it will be 20 years fixing the damage he's doing.

I understand the urge to label things. To label is to define. To label is to identify. "Good." "Bad." "Dangerous." "Trustworthy." I share the (conservative) streak in human nature that drives us to identify, define, and pigeonhole our environment, but I indulge that urge with a certain amount of caution.

Those inclined to think and to share their thoughts have a responsibility to do so with care, no matter how small their audience. This is no longer a world where every individual has the time or the ability to evaluate every cause or to consider the consequence of every policy. If someone is listening, simple humanity demands that we not knowingly lie to them.

If we choose to discuss, no matter how casually, the idea of redefining the Left, or of re-making the Democratic Party into something that more nearly suits our beliefs, we should do so with due and careful consideration for the consequences of the policies we propose.

It's not enough to simply oppose the status quo. As we have seen amply demonstrated by the current Administration, blind faith in an idea dooms you to failure. Whatever they thought they were going to accomplish, the simple truth is that their complete failure to plan for setbacks, alternatives, or outright failure is crippling them. We can't do what they've done, only "for our side." We have to do better than that.

Poorly thought-out, impractical, and unworkable policies on the Left will not produce better results than the same kind of policies from the Right have produced.

You want to start with a label. I say that's dangerous. A word without a definition has a force. It draws to it everything unattached in its vicinity and defines itself before you know it.

Start with the definition. Start with your destination clearly in mind.

Set goals that don't limit your methods. (I want universal health care. That's a goal. If I mandate it's to be provided by the government, or that it must be privately funded, those are limiting methods.)

Now work backward from there. What do you need to do to reach your target? How will you accomplish those things? How should you explain the project and the process to those whose cooperation you need? What might go wrong?

What should you put in place today to help you overcome missteps or opposing pressures in the future? What signs should you look for that will tell you when your project is one the right, or the wrong, track?

I'm not saying these are things that have to be set in stone before you choose a label for what you're trying to do. I'm saying that what you're trying to do is more important than the label, and that if you define your goals clearly enough, you'll find that they label themselves.

Posted by: Anne at August 1, 2004 10:43 AM

(duplicate deleted)

Posted by: Anne at August 1, 2004 10:56 AM

"Perhaps there is no current label for Anne's political belief system that would elucidate more than it obscures."

I'm not sure to what Jonathan is refering. I never asked Anne to label her political beliefs, though I don't read every comment and I realize one of the other frequent commenters here may have asked her to do so. Like Anne and like Jonathan, I can not think of any current popular label that describes my politics.

A few months ago I asked Anne what she believed in. I assume that this weblog entry is in reference to that request. I'm sure Jonathan is aware of the difference between describing what you believe in and coming up with a political label. An example of a belief is "all humans are created equal". An example of a political label is "liberal". Like Anne and Jonathan, I believe that political labels tend to obscure more than they reveal. I think leaving them out of political conversations helps foster clarity. However, leaving one's ideals out of a political conversation is quite a different matter. A political conversation that does not touch upon ideals is hardly going to foster clarity. This is why I asked Anne what she believed in. I've been reading her weblog consistenly for many months now, and I find that sometimes she supports the same policies that I support, and other times she supports policies that I oppose, and, somewhat frustratingly, I was not able to see any pattern to what she supported and what she opposed. I assumed that if I understood her underlying beliefs, then I would be able to see a pattern in what she supported and what did not support. Thus, my interest in the ideals that motivate her politics. I've been active in progressive politics for 13 years now, and I've long had a curiosity about what motivates other people's progressive politics.

Personally, I consider myself on the Left, but I also believe that local control is usually better than centralized control. Because of this, I sometimes support policies that are thought of as "right-wing". For instance, I'd like to keep the Federal government out of education, because I believe that local or state control of the schools is better than attempting to run the nation's school system from Washington. My fellow progressives might find the policies I support confusing (yes to a living wage, no to Federal funding of the schools) unless they understood what my underlying ideals were. Knowing my underlying ideals, a person should be able to predict what policies I'll support and what policies I'll oppose. I respect Anne's intelligence and I admire much of what she writes and so, hoping to understand her politics better, I asked about her underlying ideals.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at August 1, 2004 03:53 PM

Lawrence, I think Jonathan was responding to my wording of my non-response to your question more than to your question. I'm the one who reframed the question into a matter of "labels." (And I doubt that anyone but you and I remember the conversation.)

More later....

Posted by: Anne at August 2, 2004 02:52 PM