Sunday, May 03, 2009


A Contrary Opinion

Having passed my 86th birthday, I have to keep proving to myself that my brain is still functioning as well as it did on my 76th birthday, my 66th birthday, etc. As you conclude when you read this blog, I belong to a class of writers who are loosely called “liberal.” In fact, my friend H considers me to be a far leftie, perhaps even more “left” than Senator Kennedy.

I plead guilty to H’s charge. H and I exchange e-mails often. We accuse each other of being set in our ways of thinking. He can not think of a single good thing to say about “liberals.” I can not think of a good thing to say about “conservatives.”

There is a reporter here in Los Angeles who writes a blog about the political doings, both above and below the board, in our city. I wrote to a friend that he seems to be concerned about inefficiency, waste, and fraud in government and that these are standard and respectable Republican issues. My friend wrote back that the reporter is actually a Democrat. Democrat or Republican, I have to approve of his task of exposing inefficiency, waste, and fraud among our civic leaders.

My thinking doesn’t always go in a straight line. This experience of guessing wrong about the reporter’s political preference led me to consider writing an essay about an imaginary debate, in the style of Galileo, with characters defending and attacking the admirable features of conservative and liberal thought. I realized that I am no Galileo, and decided instead to try to write something to justify the thinking of an honest and sincere conservative. Most of the time I think of H as honest and sincere, even though wrong.

Conservative thought in this country seems centered on the question of government. How big and powerful should government be? Should government try to stave off a severe depression by spending oodles of money to spur the economy, as Mr. Obama is doing? It seems to me that an honest conservative fears the consequences of a government powerful enough to prevent a depression as being worse than the depression itself. Hence, there is sincere conservative opposition to Obama’s economic plan.

I have to concede that there is good reason for this conservative fear. The world has been treated to countries that managed their economies. A good example is the former Soviet Union. The government not only set goals for all the various economic activities in the country, but also used its power to stifle criticism and dissent. Although many argue that Russia, as part of the Soviet Union, was a special case in that criticism and dissent were never encouraged under the previous regime of the czar, we all have to respect the saying of the British political philosopher Lord Acton, that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Both Czar Nicholas and Josef Stalin demonstrated the validity of that saying.

One definition of conservatism is that the conservative knows that conditions are not very good, but he or she is reluctant to try to make changes because the changed condition may be worse than the original one. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” At present we know about the devil of depression. Or, at least we think we do. We forget that a severe depression can lead to a revolution. Franklin Roosevelt could not prevent or cure the great Depression of the 1930’s but I believe that he did save the nation from a communist revolution. A conservative probably wouldn’t share my belief.

To summarize, conservatives fear big government. They have good reasons. Liberals like me, who advocate some serious reforms in certain aspects of society, like health care and the welfare of workers, have to be able to convince conservatives to take some chances on experiments. Obama’s economic policy is an experiment. A change in our health care system will be an experiment. There are degrees to the depth of belief among conservatives. Some will agree to some experimentation, others will not. We liberals will have to make compelling arguments and be willing to accept compromises that we won’t like very much if we are going to persuade the public to try to make changes.

I’ll leave the original question to you, the reader. Is my brain (mind) operating as well as it did ten, twenty, thirty, or more years ago? Do you detect incipient mental degradation? Am I about to succumb to dementia? I certainly hope not.

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