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Conversation With a Young Liberal

This is a transcript from a recent Facebook exchange between a late-20’s liberal and myself (a late-50’s conservative.) In the interests of full disclosure, it is only the second half of the exchange. I have included the second half only in the interests of both brevity for the reader and privacy for the other individual invilved. I think it illustrates several core characteristics about liberals and conservatives, including which camp typically offers logical reasons and facts for their positions, and which camp typically does not. In the text below, I have numbered her statements and provided responses in the paragraphs immediately following each statement.

1. I’m for big government, and food stamps and welfare, I like the idea of equal pay for women (silly me!) and also staunchly pro-choice, Obama is my choice.

Without doubt, if you like big government, food stamps, and welfare then Obama is the right choice for you. His implementation of big government practices have resulted in a need for food stamps and welfare that is unmatched in recent history. As CBS recently reported: “The nation’s official poverty rate increased for the third year in a row – 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. In the last three years, the poverty rate has risen faster than any other three-year period since the early 1980s. Real median household income in the United States also fell in 2010, to $49,445 (a 2.3 percent drop from 2009).” So if you like food stamps and welfare, you have to love Obama; he has created a greater need for these programs than at any time in my memory, and I’m twice as old as you.

If you like the idea of equal pay for women, though, it’s hard to understand why that would drive you to vote for Obama. His administration’s actions on this topic are diametrically opposed to his rhetoric. As (even the mainstream) press is reporting this week: “On average, women working in Obama’s Senate office were paid at least $6,000 below the average man working for the Illinois senator . . . . Of the five people in Obama’s Senate office who were paid $100,000 or more on an annual basis, only one – Obama’s administrative manager – was a woman.”

As for being pro-choice, I support a woman’s right to choose whether to have unprotected sex. Obama supports a woman’s right to choose whether an unborn child to be killed in the womb and discarded. Since roughly half of those unborn babies are female, this seems like a rather selective view of women’s rights to me, but it is certainly your prerogative to align with that position.

2. Do you think I’m unaware of what goes on in other countries? I’m a history major. I’m at least moderately educated on the historical foundations of what caused the current situations. Dictatorships and religious regimes are not counted under ‘big government’ I’m using it in the American sense of the word because we are in fact speaking of America.

I understand that you are “aware you are of what is going on in other countries.” However, I also know how “aware” I was at your age, having – like you – lived and worked only in the Quad Cities my entire life. All I could know of the world was what I read and what I heard from the media. (Yes, I had Political Science and History courses as an undergraduate, too. That said, I’m sure you are a much better student than I was.) Now that I have spent many years working and living outside of the US, I have come to understand how biased, limited, and filtered those sources of information are.

I was hopeful that your time at college would have exposed you to faculty members who had some experience outside of the classroom with other parts of the world – especially the Middle East, where so much of our foreign policy is so critical to national security and to the expenditure of American treasure and lives during your lifetime. Last week I reached out to the department chairs of both History and Political Science at your college to determine whether they or their faculty members have any significant international experience, especially in the Middle East. (I did not mention why I was asking, and made no reference to you.) It was pretty disappointing. For example, the response I received from the department chair in Political Science was that neither the chairmen nor any member of their faculties have “any experience living or working in the Middle East.” Reviewing their on-line vitas, these folks seem to be teaching about government and history based almost entirely on the content of their academic studies, with very little actual experience involved. I believe that real world experience makes a great deal of difference.

You’ve said that dictatorships and despotic regimes are not counted under “big government”. Using the completely un-fact-checked source Wikipedia, I was able to develop the following definition: “Big government is a term used by conservatives and libertarians to describe a government or public sector considered to be excessively large, corrupt and inefficient, or inappropriately involved in certain areas of public policy or the private sector. The term may also be used specifically in relation to government policies that attempt to regulate matters considered to be private or personal, such as private sexual behavior or individual food choices. The term has also been used to define a dominant federal government that seeks to control the authority of local institutions – an example being the overriding of state authority in favor of federal legislation.” Having lived and worked in several countries, I have had an opportunity to observe at close hand a wide spectrum of Big and even Bigger Government; a pretty full spectrum of these approaches. I lived and worked in Canada for a few years, for example, which I would consider to be very close to the next-most-liberal version of our own situation here in the US. At the far end of that spectrum, as you know, I have lived and worked in the Middle East, in countries that you describe as “despotic regimes” that are “not to be counted as “big government” countries. I have also worked in many countries between those extremes, ranging from Asia (Japan, China) to Europe (France, Israel, Italy, etc.) to Australia to Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic). I haven’t only read about these places, I have worked with industry and government officials in these places. In a bigger-than-US government country like Canada, they have things like government run health care. When I lived and worked in Canada, I got some first-hand experience with the quality and availability of health care in that scenario. To be kind, I was not impressed. (One of my colleagues up in Ottawa limped around for 18 months awaiting his knee replacement surgery.) At the other end of the spectrum we have Iraq and Afghanistan. While you discount these as “despotic regimes”, they are in fact logical extensions of the “Big Government” you support. In these countries, the government runs EVERYTHING. If you want to operate a business, if you want to get health care, if you want to do much more than breathe, you need government permission. This manifests itself differently in different “big government” countries such as China’s mandates against having female children. When I arrived in Baghdad for the first time back in 2006, I found that the Ministry of Industry and Mining (MIM) ran every company there. If the government decided that 6 more busses were needed in a city, for example, they would tell the State-owned Company for Automotive industries (SCAI) to produce 6 more. As a result, there was no internal capability to develop a sales / marketing plan or increase their revenue because some government bureaucrat with little or no experience in the automotive industry or in manufacturing makes it impossible for this company to be competitive, grow, and contribute to their economy. Similarly, the first company I visited in Iraq was one of their largest textile factories. At this factory, they were operating at a fraction of their historical capacity. Yet the company was required by the government to retain their full work force on the payroll. So when I arrived I found a situation where a few people were actually working, but the vast majority were just standing or milling around aimlessly. Why? Because that was Iraq’s version of welfare. Companies were required to keep people on their payroll whether they had anything for them to do or not. This, of course, – again – made these companies completely uncompetitive not only in the world economy but even among the neighboring countries in their region. This is “Big Government” at work; destroying the ability of businesses to compete, people to be productively employed, and the economy to sustain itself. Not long after that, I met with the Prime Minister of Kurdistan and his cabinet members in Erbil. One of the things we talked about was health care. The Prime Minister was very open about the fact that because they were reliant upon the central national government for things like medical supplies and instruments, anyone who had an emergency (like an appendectomy) could get the needed care only by arranging with their doctor to travel to a neighboring country and have the procedure performed there. This of course meant that only those with money could get decent health care. Life expectancy in these countries is about half of the life expectancy we enjoy, largely as a result of extreme government control. When we were leaving the meeting, I was looking out of the window of our vehicle at the people on the street. I saw a little girl about 3 years old in a bright red woolen coat holding the hand of her mother waiting to cross the street. I said to the US State Department (USAID) guy seated behind me: “So what happens here if that little girl gets really sick, and her family doesn’t have the money to travel to Iran or Turkey?” I’ll never forget his impassive response: “She dies.” I recall writing home about this encounter right after it happened; it provided me with a very real example of what happens when government control falls into the hands of a small central group who decides on the (re)distribution of all resources, wresting the control of those resources from local communities and governments for their own purposes. Despotism doesn’t always come with a violent overthrow – it often creeps in over many years of increasingly centralized control. While the US doesn’t yet have a Ministry of Industry and Mining, our Federal Government has already installed Government “czars” in areas like manufacturing. – in fact, Wikipedia currently lists 29 “czars” that have been assigned since 2009 in the Executive Branch. (In fairness, tons of others have been established by other Presidents before Obama.) My worry is that big government in the United States grows constantly bigger, and through the imposition of endless regulations and centralization of oversight, makes it harder and harder to be competitive and grow in American business. Having been involved in business for more than 30 years, I have experienced this first hand.

3. I actually donated money to rehabilitate girls who were raped and abused in Africa by men of the ‘government’. I know about female genital mutilation, I’m aware of the stoning and killing of women in Muslim countries. Just because I have not witnessed them first hand does not mean that I am not aware of their existence. I am aware of how lucky I am to be an American woman, that does not mean, however, that I don’t deserve equal pay here because “hey, it’s better than some of the other places” I will still fight for equality in MY country with MY vote.

I am gratified to learn that you have a greater understanding about “what is going on in other countries” than I did at your age. I sincerely hope that a large percentage of your donation to African female rehabilitation actually reaches your intended target. My experience observing these kinds of operations has been that it’s often a very “leaky” pipeline between the donor and the recipient.

I’m also gratified to hear you declare that you are “lucky to be an American woman”. You are indeed. I also believe you deserve equal pay for equal work. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) shows a disparity between the average wage levels for men and women in the US to be around 19%. However, as is often pointed out (and ignored by most), “If your goal is to highlight that gender discrimination exists in the workplace, then the statistic you should be using is: “Women workers earn 7.6 cents less per dollar than men because of apparent gender discrimination.” Those 7.6 cents reflect 40 percent of the 19-percentage-point difference based on the crude estimate. If you’re willing to instead take 40 percent of the more meaningful wage gap measure presented above, you’ll drop it down to 5.4 cents, thus resolving 72 percent of the implied gender-discrimination gap. The statistic you should not be using is the 81:100 claim, and if you do use that statistic (even though you should not be using it), you should not imply that the gap is entirely or even mostly attributable to gender discrimination. To do so is beyond purposefully misleading — it’s purposefully lying. I say this as someone who believes that gender discrimination is a real problem in workplaces in the U.S., and who believes that no one should be paid less simply because of their sex.” ( ) But as I mentioned earlier, if you really want to “fight for equality in MY country with MY vote”, Obama is clearly not your guy. He performs in this category at a level that’s more than twice as bad as the 7.6%, and on a par with the the widely proclaimed 19%.

4. I have also worked in a grocery store, and now their pharmacy, where people sometimes reek of poverty, and are receiving assistance from the government for their much needed medicines. And I also watch private insurance not live up to what it should be doing. So yes, I support the government assisting people. I think it’s more important to make sure people who need the assistance have it, than to make sure those who don’t need it aren’t getting it.

Here again, if you like the performance of the Obama Administration, you like policies where: “The nation’s official poverty rate increased for the third year in a row – 15.1 percent in 2010, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. In the last three years, the poverty rate has risen faster than any other three-year period since the early 1980s. Real median household income in the United States also fell in 2010, to $49,445 (a 2.3 percent drop from 2009).” Like you, I think it’s important to provide help to those who need it – whatever form that help takes, including Food Stamps). But I prefer an approach where more people are employed so that there are fewer people who “reek of poverty”, and more people who “reek of self-reliance and even wealth”. I yearn for a return to the days of full employment, and a much smaller percent of the population who require government assistance just to eat. This isn’t about “making sure those who don’t need it aren’t getting it”, it’s about making sure fewer people need it.

5. I don’t have time to discuss every point, but I can tell you I use a fairly unbiased source for my fact checking, and I’ve noticed you don’t. Yes, I read your posts. But I respect your opinions, and your right to have those opinions.

You’re certainly right that I don’t use, a self-described non-partisan, nonprofit website that describes itself as a ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” It is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation. The Annenberg Foundation has become quite liberal over recent years, and relying upon them to produce unbiased judgments, in my view, would be akin to appointing OJ Simpson to a commission investigating ‘Who really killed Nicole?’ However, since you at least occasionally read my blog, I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is an opportunity to post any responses or corrections, and there are a few folks who have done so. I have never seen one from you.

6. When it comes to American politics, I’ve been taught to vote for the party in college level government and history classes, and I do, because in almost every category where there is a difference between the two, I side with democrats.

I understand what you are saying here, and I would be curious to know – if you are willing to share it – which professor taught you to vote for the party rather than the individual. I’d like to follow up with him or her the next time I am in the Quad Cities, if they would be so kind as to chat with me for a few minutes. I have no desire to start an argument, I’d just like to understand their rationale for such advice. It seems like the kind of approach that results in voting for people who do not really share your values – like the equal pay for women thing – just because they have a party label behind their name on the ballot. That just doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

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