Monday, January 5, 1998

Week of 01/05/1998

Target: The Political Spectrum
- by David Matthews 2

With the 1998 political season well underway, I’d like to take a close look at the political spectrum as it exists today.

You know, once upon a time, there used to be clear and distinctive definitions of the traditional political spectrum. Liberals want social freedom and economic control, while conservatives want economic freedom and social control. In between those two sides being the huddled masses of moderates that encompasses most of the voting public. In practice, however, the huddled masses of moderates are usually treated as a tennis ball, being whacked about by the two political sides in an endless intellectual tennis game where the score is always love-love. (That’s zero-zero, for those who don’t understand the scoring.)

As the ulterior motive of politicians become more and more apparent, however, the definition of the two sides begin to blur. There is no mystery behind it. Much like the rules of women and relationships, rules concerning politics are subject to change the minute you begin to understand them.

Today, what defines conservatives and liberals are so blurred now that neither side can truly define which side they are on. Again, there is no mystery behind it. With the fall of the Soviet Union, and the downfall of communism as the political villain, the two easily acceptable substitutes lately are "evil industry" and "liberal." Therefore, those traditionally considered liberals must do something that will appease the masses as being not really as liberal as they are painted to be, while not alienating those liberals that are already on their side.

Case in point is Bill Clinton. Our current president is the one thing all Republicans fear the most - a career politician who is a better player of the political game than they are. Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh are quick to call Clinton a liberal, and yet accuse Clinton of theft when he acts to conservative agendas such as a balanced budget or supporting new censorship legislation. They forget that the muddled conservative/liberal spectrum can work against them as well.

There are two ways politicians and their respective talking heads have muddied the political spectrum. The first is to diminish the moderate pool by using zero-sum arguments. Limbaugh can be considered the master of zero-sum arguments. Moderates in his mind are nothing more than fence-straddling, indecisive people who cannot chose between what he sees is only a for-or-against situation. The goal of a zero-sum argument is easy - consolidate supporters and quell dissention. Bob Dole’s presidential campaign after the 96 GOP convention was designed explicitly to quell any possible third party challenge. His favorite zero-sum statement was "A vote for anyone besides Bob Dole is a vote for Bill Clinton." In reality, however, Dole’s enemy was neither Clinton nor the third party candidates, but rather voter apathy.

The use of zero-sum arguments also has the advantage of giving grudging support to extremist beliefs. "What? You don’t support our program? What’s wrong with you? You’re a conservative, aren’t you? If you don’t support our program, then you must not be a conservative. You must be one of those stinking, tree-hugging, affirmative action, gay-loving liberals!" Some of the most anti-American pieces of legislation passed was done so not because the bulk of legislators favored it, but rather because they kowtowed to the zero-sum arguments of extremists.

The second way to muddy the political spectrum is to blur political definitions. Conservatism has been defined by their strongest supporters as "going back to what has worked before." Liberals use that definition to support social control programs such as affirmative action and political entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid because, in their minds, these programs have worked before. By that definition, they are conservative programs.

Conservatives also use that method by pushing for replacing the old tax system with a new flat tax or a national sales tax. These are untried methods, and clearly not conservative by modern definition. The line-item veto was another untried method that they pushed for, and were planning on giving to Bob Dole had he won in the 96 election. Clearly not conservative by modern definition, and the fact that Bill Clinton is now enjoying the privilege is certainly sticking in their craw.

But the real problem with the political spectrum is that it is one-dimensional, measuring standards that vary with the tide and voter sentiments.

A more realistic depiction of the political spectrum is a two-dimensional one, where social/economic control is mixed with the level of government desired. This balance not only gives a more realistic look at the voting public, but also cuts down on zero-sum arguments, and also shows the true path of politicians like Clinton who advocate for both social and economic control - namely the path towards tyranny.

But let’s be brutally honest here - the political establishment won’t tolerate a two-dimensional political spectrum in and of itself. They have gotten powerful, not to mention rich, off the current zero-sum mentalities and political doublespeak. Do you think that the members of the Clinton Administration would like to be shown on a chart that sinks them to the level of Stalin or Hitler? Or how about the Republicans who claim to be for "less government" being shown on the chart sinking slowly behind the Clinton Administration? That’s worse to them than having Clinton steal their agendas. They may actually have to reduce all government, not just the portion that they brand as "liberal".

Not to mention that a two-dimensional political spectrum would give more credence to a group that neither liberals nor conservatives want to recognize - libertarians. As being diametrically opposite to autocrats, libertarians practice what both liberals and conservatives only give lip service to. Why should either side recognize a group that would expose them as the charlatans they are?

As Voltaire said: "If you have two religions in your land, the two will cut each other's throats." The same holds true for politics.

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