Monday, February 22, 2016

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

In the United States, there are two major political parties that spring from two very different general inclinations. Both of these dispositions offer some benefits. They serve important and legitimate purposes for individuals and the American citizenry as a whole. However, these impulses work best in balance. 

That is also to say that both conservatives and liberals (at their radical extremes) are damaging. This country works best when all sides work to find a middle way – a balanced common ground that produces the greatest possible common good while still allowing the greatest possible individual liberty.

The terms liberty and freedom should not be misapplied. The privilege of personal choice cannot be separated from the obligation to public responsibility. Personal beliefs cannot be forced upon unwilling others. Internal thoughts and values are private. External acts are subject to limitations within a community.We defend personal liberties and freedoms up to the point that they tread on the personal liberties and freedoms of others. In this way, we create communities of common good and protect justice for all.

If this country’s focus is entirely on conservative defense of traditions, the situation becomes too static and important changes become impossible. If this country’s focus is entirely on the liberal defense of liberties, then the situation becomes too uncontrolled and important changes become impossible. If you will not plant your seed corn, you will eventually have to eat it and you will then have nothing.

Like the oriental yin/yang symbol, both conservatism and liberalism must coexist in balance. In fact, they contain and express each other. They complement each other, rather than compete. They are natural parts of the same dynamic system.

Here is an example of liberalism vs. conservation.
  • In the spring, a farmer sows his field. This is an act of liberalism. He takes his resources and liberates them. To the extent that he takes the risk to liberally distribute his seed, it can grow. 
  • In the summer, the magic of earth’s dynamic and bounteous systems causes the planted fields to increase and multiply. Abundance is created in growth as an unearned blessing of vitality and life.
  • In the fall, the farmer harvests his field. This is an act of conservation. To the extent that he gathers in the crop and stores it in a safe place, it will be secure and safe. 
  • In the winter, the field is dormant. The farmer’s resources are available to be rationed and consumed with caution.

Liberalism and conservation contain each other. In the spring, the farmer may reserve some seed to replant the field in case of some disaster or crop failure. This is conservation within liberalism. In the fall, the farmer may give up some of his crop to a needy neighbor or a common community storehouse. This is liberalism within conservation. And the circle is completed. And the circle is repeated. This is the general pattern of things.

However, in real life, there may be complications. There are always complications. Unexpected circumstances arise that require individuals and communities to improvise, change plans, and cooperate in new ways. Also, not everyone willingly chooses to cooperate in a balanced community. Some care about others. Some care only about themselves.

Our American system embraces (and must respond to) the needs, attitudes, and actions of millions of people. This produces a web of complex dynamics that cannot be explained or managed simply. Nonetheless, some generalizations allow us to cope with this constantly changing swirl of competing interests. So, without quibbling at every step about every exception, let me offer up one man’s perspective on some real issues.

It is commendable that conservatives concern themselves with issues of individualism, family values, their faith and their communities. But, that is not the end of the conservative platform. Some men of wealth and power, seeking to continuously-increase their wealth and power have dressed themselves as wolves is sheep’s clothing. There is no evident sufficiency to their grasping, covetous, greedy pursuit of ever-more wealth and power.

These rapacious wolves wrap their collective agenda in terms of personal freedom. They talk about individual liberties while they maneuver for their corporations to be legally treated as people. They talk about dismantling governmental meddling in citizens’ lives while they lobby and bribe to dismantle governmental regulation of their predatory financial dealings, their discarding of industrial wastes, their looting of workers’ pensions, their reduction of insurance benefits and their insider trading. It just keeps going on and on.

They tell you that they want to lower all taxes and then they lobby for loopholes, exemptions, special credits and subsidies for themselves. They argue that the government needs to favor “job creators” and then they send jobs to factories overseas. They make profit and financial gain sound like it will trickle down to every household. Instead, they hoard their profits, using them to buy other companies, dismantle them, consolidate their management and fire their workers.

I will say it again. It is commendable that conservatives profess to concern themselves with issues of individualism, family values, faith and group loyalty. However, that is not the end of our needs and concerns. We must also be involved in the entire range of people, changing circumstances and ideas that affect our lives and the interests of our children’s children.

And, about individual liberties; be careful what you ask for; you may get more than you want. It’s like what Oscar Wilde said, “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” If you dismantle government, you will get fewer demands on your participation in society. You will need your guns to patrol your neighborhoods. You will have to personally threaten your wife’s boss every time he decides to try to fondle her. You will have to repave your own streets and build your own bridges. You will have find your own books and teach your own children. You will have to lie in your own blood when you show up at a hospital after an automobile accident without insurance or cash.

There is a need and necessary place for government. Government is what defines how neighbors agree to serve each other. Government is the family making plans around the dinner table. It is the pie sale committee at your church. Government defines the responsibilities of increasingly large communities at city, county, state and federal levels. National governments participate in global problem solving when they make treaties with each other and create non-governmental organizations to help solve international problems.

Not every problem can be solved around the dinner table. In fact, you can count on the principle that problems can rarely be solved at the level at which they are created. This is another reason why multiple layers of government have been purposefully created and are functionally indispensable. Each increasing level of government is suited to serve additional societal needs.

We need other people. In fact, we need some kind of government for damn near everything that we cannot do by ourselves standing naked on the grass. When you meet someone else standing naked on the grass, you need to come to some agreement about what you will do next, and then again the next time you meet. Either that or you must resign yourself to always throw rocks at every stranger. On the other hand, if you are consistently aggressive, several strangers will get together and decide to take collective action to defend themselves for their own common good. They will agree on how to knock you down with rocks. Then they will tie you up and cast lots over who gets to eat your liver.

You see, common good is an even more wonderful thing than individual liberty. What some people in the radical right don’t seem to understand is that individual liberties are protected by government. Our commitments to act for the common good are embodied in (and enforced by) government. Government is the most important and indispensable social concept ever invented after throwing rocks.

Throughout history, different balances of individual liberties and responsibility for common good have been tried. Some balances are more appropriate for small groups in good times and some are more appropriate for large groups in hard times. In a paradise, you can simply behave yourself and eat when you’re hungry. In a war, you must be ready to give your life without hesitation at every moment.

So, the question is not one of extreme independence or obligation: “How can I get government off my back?” or “Which of my children shall I sacrifice to the gods?” The question is, “What balance of liberty and responsibility is best for the most people at this time and under these circumstances?”

Of course, the best balance is one that is always changing, and people will certainly have different opinions about the appropriate balance. Somebody is going to have to keep on top of that and keep making necessary adjustments. But then, that’s why we need government. In fact, that’s why we need multiple layers of government.

Some governments work from the top-down. An individual or group becomes rich enough and powerful enough to force their will upon the general population. In a benevolent autocracy, the ruler(s) serve as a father figure. Life is easy enough that everyone is content with his or her level of comfort and security – the trains run on time and life goes on.

More often though, the royals, priests, or other elites begin taking so much of the group’s resources that life is not easy enough at all. The general population will eventually rise up. Whether there is a civil war or a revolution, the oppressors are killed or kicked out and, if some other strongman doesn’t step in, the citizens take over and create a new government. This choice to create a government is, in fact, the history of our own Revolutionary War and Constitution.

A pure citizen government works from the bottom up. Abraham Lincoln described it as “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” However, pure democracies tend to be impractical, even in small groups. Democracies usually express their idealism in some form of representative government. If there are adequate checks and balances, and the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances over time, such representative democracies have usually worked well for industrialized nations.

This is a good place to point out that a representative democracy that emphasizes individual liberties is known as a “liberal democracy.” During the American Revolution against King George of England, those maintaining loyalty to the royal elites were the “conservatives.” This should give pause for thought but, let’s move on for now.

What if wealthy and powerful elites eventually undermine the system of checks and balances? What if there is too much conservative resistance to change to allow problems to be corrected? Then, individual liberties are lost, the common good is neglected, extreme classes of wealth and poverty emerge, unfairness becomes endemic, and the citizens enter the path of protest, civil disobedience, civil war and revolution.

And the circle is completed. And the circle is repeated.

Before we go on, let’s take one more swing at the necessity and purpose of robust and active governments. We don’t have to look far. They are conveniently listed by our Founding Fathers – right up front in the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America. They are:
  • Form a more perfect union
  • Establish justice
  • Insure domestic tranquility
  • Provide for the common defense
  • Promote the general welfare
  • Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity

The implicit warning is that, if you seek to erode our governments’ ability to perform these functions, you will, instead, promote disunion, injustice, domestic competition, weakened defenses, loss of common good, and the loss of liberties for individuals and future generations. You would offer yourselves up in service to those who would take from the poor and give to the rich.

Our clear and present danger does not lie in government itself. The danger lies in those who would twist government to their own craven advantage. Our goal should not be to dismantle government, but to strengthen its ability to address the needs of the general population for the common good. Our government was designed to be the solution, not the problem. Our rule of law is an indispensable safeguard for the defense of liberties. We need to work hard to make government work well.

In America today, we are facing an assault by some elites to accumulate controlling wealth and power. Allowed to go unopposed and uncorrected, this widening difference of wealth and power may become intolerably extreme. Common citizens may feel so oppressed and unfairly treated that they rise up in a new revolution.

In fact, it is these very issues of unfairness that the conservative elites are creating and that most citizens (both conservative and liberal) are feeling. Ironically, instead of uniting to oppose those elites who are acting exclusively in their own selfish interests, the two parties divide against each other and against themselves. This is tragic.

Happily, not all people of wealth and power feel motivated to keep on acquiring for the sheer gratification of ever more wealth and power. Some have decided to act from a liberal disposition. I am deeply moved by the list of seventy uncommonly wealthy families who have signed “The Giving Pledge” to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. You can see this for yourself at

We should thank liberals such as these for fighting in defense of individual liberties: emancipation of slaves, workers’ rights (including the 40-hour week and child-labor laws), voting rights, civil rights, amendments to the constitution guaranteeing additional freedoms, and much more.

We also have liberals to thank for defending the common good: independence of the 13 Colonies from England, public schools and universities, rural electrification, national parks and forests, the Interstate Highway System, the Marshall Plan, Social Security, bank deposit insurance, dams, canals, and other infrastructure, emergency loans after disasters, public first responders, and much more.

Many people eat up the pack of lies they are being fed about liberals. Stop a moment and think about who has been serving up this slander. Think about what their motives might be. Think about how outraged you should be.

If you are already a liberal, get a firm grip on your meek, mild, compromising ass and saddle up. Superman didn’t use his abilities to get rich and powerful. Like a liberal, he chose to take a stand and fight for truth, justice and the American way. He was a true liberal radical, and he never apologized for it.

If you do your research into the roots of liberal philosophy, you find the love and defense of personal liberties. You find a strong defense for “a private sphere representing the limits to public action.” This does not become imbalanced so that individuals are guaranteed the right to do anything they want to anyone they want. Instead, liberalism seeks to stay balanced so that all are protected from abuse.

Balanced liberalism defends the individual while asking us to also assume responsibility for each other. This is the glory of community and neighborliness. This is the shining light of Good Samaritans, uniting to care about each individual – and agreeing to contribute a fair share for that purpose. Balanced liberalism seeks to protect you from exploitation. But, balanced liberalism also intends to stand in your way, like the incorruptible sheriff in a frontier town, if you exploit or abuse others.

Liberals are smeared and vilified with words such as “Radical,” “Communist,” and “Socialist.” This is unfair. There are very few people in the United States who actually want the state to own the means of production. We believe that enterprising people should be encouraged to build, create, grow, and earn profits and be allowed to retain a share of their profits.

On the other hand, businesses benefit from resources in the public commons such as water and electrical utilities, fire and police protection, roads and bridges, libraries, public buildings and national security forces. Businesses, as well as individuals, should be taxed fairly to cover a reasonable (and responsible) share of the public resources from which they benefit.

Who does not believe that people and businesses should behave responsibly toward others around them? Who does not understand that governmental regulations must be created and enforced to the degree that you and your neighbors are put at risk? There should be a good guy with a badge in every town. And, if he organizes a posse, we should be willing to ride out with him and have his back.

So, please, inform yourselves about issues and candidates. Register if you haven’t – and vote. I have to tell you that, at present, I don’t have confidence in the good faith or good will of the radical right. I have to ask this: whether you vote for liberals or vote for moderates, please vote for men and women of conscience and integrity, who care about the welfare of others and who offer themselves in true service to their communities.

Vote for optimists who believe in the potential of this nation to work hard, succeed and prosper. Vote for public servants who deeply get it that we are all in this together and must care about the welfare of others.

Vote for virtuous people who embrace carefully considered values. Values of family. Spiritual values. Values of community – but more than that – people whose compassion embraces entire regions, their entire nation and the welfare of all their brothers and sisters on this fragile earth. Make “Peace on earth. Goodwill toward men” a heartfelt goal, not an empty platitude.

In this time of increasing global dependency and crisis, we must open ourselves to all humanity, to all life on our fragile planet. For, if we do not choose to all live together, we shall, assuredly, all perish together.

David Satterlee