OK, before we go much further, we need to get a few things out on the table - namely, your biases and mine. If you haven't already done so, go to www.politicalcompass.org, and after reading the intro, take the test. Go ahead, I'll wait.
All done? How'd you come out? Here's mine...
While I consider myself an independent centrist, I have taken this test any number of times and always score in the left/libertarian quadrant. This is not entirely a surprise: while I don't identify with many of the fashionable causes and rhetorical excesses of the Left, I do favor the maximum amount of freedom and individual expression for as many people as possible, to the extent that it does not take freedom away from others or shout down others it disagrees with. Free speech, respectful, occasionally rancorous, and not straitjacketed by notions of political correctness, is essential to a healthy democracy. I support freedom of and from religion, civil rights, gender equality, abortion rights and gay rights (including marriage and adoption).
I came of age during the VietNam/Watergate era, and am wary of abuses by both big government and big corporations. Nonetheless, I am in favor of free enterprise, globalization and free trade, and view the role of government as ensuring a level playing field, curbing corporate abuses and preventing exploitation of people and resources. Otherwise, I think government should stay out of people's business as much as possible, especially where religion is concerned. While I deeply respect the moral basis of religion, I also view with alarm any religious group who wants "God's law" or their own theology to take precedent over rule of law arrived at through democratic processes.
So given my predisposition to liberal positions on social issues, it is ironic that my world view on economic and foreign policy issues tends to be much more conservative. For instance, I believe George W. Bush and Tony Blair did the right thing in joining forces to topple the odious regime of Saddam Hussein, even with all the challenges of post-war Iraq over the past year.
On the economic front, I don't have a problem with "the rich". In fact I think there should lots more rich people - preferably as many of us as possible should join their ranks. I subscribe to the view that economics is not about dividing the pie, it's about inventing clever new ways to bake a bigger pie. I do agree with the left that a country as wealthy as the US should do more to help its poorest citizens. This doesn't necessarily entail a huge government bureaucracy - market forces can and ought to be used in inventive ways to help people create their own opportunities. An example of this is the micro-lending done by organizations like the Grameen Bank.
So, like Roger L. Simon I could say I'm a "metropolitical", neither Republican nor Democrat. Or perhaps I'm a 9/11 Democrat. For a long time I identified with the Left because it was willing to acknowledge and confront uglier aspects of US policies. An example would be opposition to the US government's support of dictatorships and questionable regimes around the world, especially during the Cold War, because they were perceived as friendly to US policy aims and business interests. The Right chose to ignore those problematic relationships in the name of realpolitik, and this double-standard made us look hypocritical.
But there is a problem on the Left: there is an underlying assumption that, since we as a nation often pursue cynical policies that belie our idealism, we must truly be the bad guys and our enemies are justified in opposing us, or even wishing our destruction. This mindset led to a willful blindness to the ugly realities of Communism; even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of Eastern Europe, the Left still romanticizes Castro and makes apologies for the stalinist nightmare that is North Korea. But nowhere was the "blame America first" mentality more sadly evident than immediately after 9/11, when voices on the Left rushed out to explain how the US was really at fault (or in the wilder conspiracy theories, that the government was complicit in the attacks). Reasons given included our cozy relationship with regimes like Saudi Arabia, or our support for Israel, or the toxic spread of Western pop culture and fast food. That we were attacked by religious fascists who want to impose a Taliban-like society in every country around the world seems to have escaped the notice of these folks.
This was a surprise to me. I would have expected it to be a no-brainer that the Left - which at home champions women's rights, gay rights, strict separation of church and state, and maximum freedom of speech and dissent against the government - would be vehemently opposed to an ideological movement that abuses and oppresses women, decrees death for gay people, wants to establish a global theocracy, and punishes free speech and dissent with torture and murder. But it turns out that since the Bush administration had already declared itself in staunch opposition to this ideological movement, the Left had to distance itself from that position, lest it end up in bed with the wrong people. So we get tortured rationalizations for "Why they hate us" and knee-jerk opposition to every statement and policy of the administration, even when they harken back to Wilson, FDR and JFK.
Conversely, the Right has always viewed the US as primarily a force for good in the world, even though it does not always live up to its professed ideals. It reminds us that during the 20th century, the United States fought militaristic statism, fascism and Communism, sacrificing millions of lives in wars around the globe. After 9/11, when it became clear we were up against a form of religious totalitarianism, the Right did not imagine that it could be appeased, as it remembered well the lessons of Munich. The Right didn't try to understand the frustration and anger of al-Qaida, or the social, economic and politcal forces that caused people to board airplanes to commit premeditated mass murder. Rather it chose to fight back, and so rallied behind the President. To the dismay of the Left, the majority of the US population did the same.
Let me be clear here: I did not vote for George W. Bush in 2000, and I was dismayed by the debacle of Florida. Republican hardball political tactics early in the Bush administration, especially on energy policy and tax cuts did not improve my opinion of the Bush administration. However, in the aftermath the Sept. 11 attacks I put aside my misgivings because it was clear to me that we were at war and politics as usual had to take a back seat. And as the months wore on, I came to admire Bush's resolute, no-nonsense style in taking the fight to our enemies. Many of his speeches on promoting the spread of democracy and freedom would be applauded if they came out of the mouth of a Democrat, but cynicism about political leaders is in vogue and besides, he's a Republican so he can only be operating from base motives.
For those of you who despise George W. Bush (and there are lots of you out there), and are scratching your heads wondering how someone with my profile could end up lending even qualified support to his administration, I have some alarming news for you: there are lots of us out there. We're socially liberal or libertarian but economically conservative. We don't march in lockstep with the right, but recognize that conservative ideas and approaches have merit. We're a little reticent to indulge in unabashed patriotism, but we treasure the freedom in this country that we often take for granted, and know we are lucky to be living here. We have read Orwell and know totalitarians when we see them. We spent years monitoring the mix of politics and Christian fundamentalism, and so are not now about to give a pass to Islamic fundamentalists who have already demonstrated in Iran and Afghanistan what kind of government they favor. We don't think the War on Terror is a political gimmick or a sham to bamboozle us into supporting the Republicans. We recognize that we are in a fight for our values and civilization, and we will side with Western liberal democracy over religious fascists.
It's said that the US electorate is now split between Sept. 10 people and Sept. 11 people. This is a theme I will return to repeatedly because the future depends more on which side of that divide you stand than whether you stand on to the left or to the right.