Mar 19th 2013

Response to CPAC Extremism: A Liberal Manifesto

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

As the CPAC crowed cheers and offers standing ovations to the growing extremism of right wing idealism, the time has come to offer a comprehensive alternative to the politics of hate. Marc Rubio, the new darling of the right, harked back to the old and tired idea that only Republicans were patriots. He also said silly things like, "There is no tax increase in the world that will solve our long-term debt problem." Sure, but also there is no spending cut in the world that will solve the problem either. The whole point, and Obama's focus, is a balanced approach that includes both ideas. Listening to CPAC speakers is an exercise is frustration, like hearing an old LP stuck in one place just repeating over and over and over the same old tired refrain. Spin the record in reverse and you hear not only that "Paul is dead" but NRA's LaPierre ranting about gun regulation.

If any one line of any speech embodies the sclerotic stagnation of right wing ideology, it is this from Rubio: "We don't need new ideas. The idea is America and it still works." The line got huge applause. Of course only their idea of America is valid; and everything in that world is so perfect that they need no new ideas to solve modern problems.

Rand Paul went all in on libertarianism, with the limp quip that "for liberty to expand, government must shrink." Paul and Rubio were like two rats fighting over the last scraps of food on a sinking ship. It was like passing the remains of a terrible car accident; you don't want to watch but just can't turn away from the carnage.

As a healthy counter to the creepy insular jingoism of CPAC, I offer here fresh view of the world from the liberal perspective. Here is my liberal manifesto.

Self-evident Truths

We the people of rational thought and sound mind in middle America, in order to establish a more perfect union , establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the benefits of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Liberal ideology in the United States of America.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal with no special status of birth, and that all life on Earth began as a contingent event based on standard laws of physics and chemistry involving no magic spark or divine act.

We further hold these truths to be indisputable facts of our biology and a clear demonstration of our humble place in the biosphere, which is a fundamental foundation of our political philosophy: 1) Evolution is an undirected process with no purpose, intelligence, or foresight. Humans, who evolved under the same laws of nature as all other creatures on earth, hold no exalted status in the pantheon of life. 2) All species exploit the environment to the maximum extent possible, until either competition, resource depletion, predation, disease or other constraints limit growth and expansion. Like every other animal, humans have followed this natural path of using all available resources in our struggle to survive. One critical difference, however, is our technological advantage. Our species has successfully co-opted a significant percentage of the planet's bounty as we fight to pass our genes to the next generation. This unique reliance on technology to exploit the environment, and to threaten each other using weapons of war, has had global effects over a short time period. As a result, while we act no differently than other animals in pursuit of survival, our actions may cause our extinction, either through the degradation of the resources on which we depend, or more directly through the use of weapons of mass destruction. 3) The large brains that gave us technology, prosperity, myths and war also give us the ability to choose, personally and collectively, to be concerned with the fate of distant generations, and to behave for the greater good. Humans are special, not because we are made in god's image, and told to rule over the Earth, but because people have the amazing ability to choose a future in which we will thrive and develop in a just society while coexisting with a healthy natural world. If humans fail to seize this opportunity to create such a future, we will be no more than bacteria with e-mail accounts.

Inalienable Rights

Liberals are committed to the development and adoption of policies, programs and laws that will help guide humankind toward a just future in which we celebrate our deep connection to all things living as a minor twig on the vast four billion year old ever-branching bush of life.

To secure the inherent rights consistent with our biology and evolutionary history, governments are created as human institutions that derive their just powers solely from the consent of the governed. No government so formed can claim to be favored by gods of their own making. The mythical god of Abraham is not Republican, Democrat, Independent, Progressive or American.

The various powers of the earth are entitled to a decent respect as to the opinions of humankind contingent on a demonstrable fidelity to the rightful laws of nature and ability to secure for all citizens the inalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A government formed by the people for the people can survive only through open debate, free exchange of ideas and reliance on verifiable facts to arbitrate disputes. Liberals are therefore dedicated to rooting out hypocrisy, myth, appeal to faith and bigotry in political discourse. We vigorously reject pious calls: to balance the budget, but only when a Democrat holds the nation's highest office; to protect the Constitution while advocating to alter the document for trivial purpose; to end "runaway government spending" when the party making that demand is responsible for the nation's greatest debts and deficits; to repeal "government-run" health care while reaping the benefits of Medicare; to stop tax hikes that are in fact nothing but repealing temporary cuts that led to record deficits and debts; to promote energy reform that is a cloak to hide continued subsidies for the fossil fuel industry; to agitate to "take back America" without articulating who exactly America is being taken back from; to get "government off the people's back" while advocating government intrusion into our most personal and intimate choices, including who we marry and a woman's right to choose her own reproductive destiny; to promote limited government while urging the federal government to "do more" whenever a crisis or natural disaster occurs; to promote education while foisting upon our children superstitions and myths appropriate to the 15th century; to promote the inherent advantages of capitalism while legislating "free market" regulations that subsidize and foster corruption, harm individual investors and squeeze small businesses. This hypocrisy must end.

Role of Government

We call for a government that is as big as necessary, but no bigger. The ideals of small government, balanced budgets and lower taxes are shared by all in theory but diverge in implementation. While conservative agitators attempt to paint of a picture of stark differences in fiscal ideology between the left and right, the facts tell a different story. We call on the Congress to debate federal spending on facts rather than ideological fiction. To promote such a debate, we note the following facts about the 2010 federal budget (we take this year to examine because it incorporates the worst impact of the recession beginning in 2008; the conclusions are the same using 2012 numbers):

National defense ($718 billion), Health and Human Services (including Medicare; $900 billion) and Social Security ($780 billion) combine to a sum of $2.4 trillion out of a total federal budget of $3.8 trillion. The sum all of these government programs comprise 63% of the entire spending package. The National Science Foundation ($ 6 billion) and law enforcement, including border patrol ($60 billion) add $66 billion more. Farm subsidies, which mainly go to red states, add another $17 billion. Those total $83 billion. The government is also paying $200 billion annually in interest on debt created under President Bush.

This package of federal spending has widespread and deep backing from conservatives. That brings total government spending that has Republican backing to $3.2 trillion, out of a total budget of $3.8 trillion. We note therefore that Republicans actively support and defend 84 percent of the big government they so thoroughly disdain. We conclude that opponents of liberalism believe a budget of $3.2 trillion is virtuous but are outraged by a budget of $3.7 trillion. Even if liberals supported 100 percent of the federal budget (they do not), gathering up righteous indignation about the remaining 14 percent hardly constitutes an ideological divide between big and small government. Let us lose this false debate and focus on the issues of greatest importance to our future well-being.

National Security

Liberals believe that we can and must protect American citizens against terrorism without sacrificing the very rights we are fighting to protect. We have faith in the strength of our Constitution, and believe that we can work within the constraints of our founding document to protect the Republic and secure a prosperous future.

Republicans scoff at the idea that "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both" (multiple variations, usually attributed to Ben Franklin). Instead, conservatives believe that our safety can only be secured by sacrificing our rights; the same ones our founders thought were inalienable. In the name of national security, conservatives advocate that the government (which they distrust in all other arenas) be given the extraordinary power to detain any American citizen and that the suspect be denied the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus, denied access by families and denied legal representation. In condoning torture, disdaining Miranda rights, and dismissing the right of the accused to meet his accuser, conservative ideology has become one of the greatest threats to liberty.

Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Recovery

Faced with the choice of a catastrophic depression or federal debt, President Obama prudently even if reluctantly chose the latter. We applaud his precipitous actions to prevent an economic calamity with emergency stimulus money. As with health care, we acknowledge as well his leadership in getting the Congress to pass meaningful if imperfect Wall Street reform.

Eight years of conservative rule left the economy of the United States in shambles with double-digit unemployment festering in a deep recession, on the verge of a great depression, with record annual deficits and a ballooning national debt. Eight years of an almost religious zeal for deregulation left Wall Street drowning in a sea of massive corruption, failed banks, and collapsing brokerage houses. Conservatives have exhausted all credibility on the subject of fiscal responsibility. Whenever a Republican is President, the Party quietly buries the mantra that we are "living off the backs of our grandchildren" to rail against government spending, but brings the phrase back into use when a Democrat occupies the Oval Office. Enough. The time has come, finally, to kill once and for all Republican hypocrisy on this subject.

While declining significantly under President Obama, unemployment remains persistently higher than desirable, a personal tragedy for millions of Americans. The real daily suffering this causes for families across the land can never be minimized. But we also call on the American people to exercise some realistic if painful patience as the economy walks back from the brink of collapse. Unemployment continues to decline, even if too slowly. We note that President Bush inherited from President Clinton an unemployment rate of 4 percent, but left office bequeathing to Obama an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent and growing monthly. Bush was losing 700,000 jobs per month, a number that has declined and then reversed under Obama. Blaming Obama for reversing the economic nightmare caused by Republican incompetence because the momentum of the recovery is too slow feels good but makes little sense. It also ignores a housing industry on the rebound, Wall Street hitting record highs, manufacturing growing and inventories shrinking and exports expanding.

Education

Our educational system is in shambles, and our children lag far behind by every international standard. But we dither, focusing on "vouchers" instead of underlying problems. In the meantime 75% of our kids do not know that George Washington was our first president or that the east coast of our country borders the Atlantic Ocean. Rather than face the real issues, conservatives simply attack the Department of Education as a favorite foil. We are dooming entire generations to second class status in the world. While the rest of the world eagerly provides children with a sophisticated curriculum of science and technology, the United States lags behind under the weight of antiquated debates forced upon us by the religious right.

Health Care

We fully endorse Obamacare. In doing so we acknowledge that the president of the United States is not a dictator, and must work with a divided Congress, and therefore any legislation will be less than perfect. We applaud President Obama for his success. He acted in the face of a growing crisis: our health care system is an embarrassment, but is defended through gross ignorance as "the best in the world." We spend twice as much per capita as any other wealthy democracy but get a poor return on that investment. The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not offer universal health care. In the industrial world we are ranked 26th in infant mortality. We are 24th in healthy life expectancy. Overall our health care system is ranked 37th globally, behind third-world countries like Oman. Only the United States has the embarrassment of medical bankruptcies. The health care reform recently implemented is an important step in bringing the United States back up to the standards of a developed country.

Clean Energy

Now is the time to create the renewable energy equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. We need to push our transition to green energy technologies quickly, massively, with unwavering commitment. This is our opportunity.

"Drill baby drill" is not a national energy policy, yet remains a tired refrain on the right. Fracking does not solve our long-term problem. We must invest heavily in research, implementation and infrastructure development: research to discover new technologies; implementation to ensure wide adoption of the technologies in play now; and a restructuring of tax incentives to promote clean growth, discourage waste and accelerate the development of the extensive infrastructure changes necessary to widely adopt clean energy technologies. While the predominant emphasis must be on the private sector, we will also need direct government investment in certain areas beyond research, such as modernizing the electric grid. This is how our national interests will be secured. This is where jobs will be created. The United States should rightfully lead this charge.

Climate Change

Climate change is real, exceeding natural background rates, and is caused by human activity. We have run out of time for debate, and need to act quickly now. Cap and trade is a flawed mechanism to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but better than doing nothing and certainly a reasonable intermediate step. We call on the Congress to overcome conservative resistance and re-introduce this legislation.

Conservative denials of climate change are tragic on many levels. We are condemning millions to an unfortunate future of coastal flooding, mass migrations, agricultural disruptions, exposure to the northward march of tropical diseases, and inevitable wars over shifting and scarce resources. When these tragic events unfold, we will face of millions of unnecessary deaths and the preventable disruption of hundreds of millions of lives.

Environment

The world every year is losing 40 million acres of tropical forests, which now cover only 6% of the globe's surface, down from 14%. More than half of all coral reefs are dead, dying or endangered. Humans have depleted 90 percent of all large fish from the world's oceans. We are losing up to 50,000 species each year to extinction, a rate 1000 times natural background levels.

We have no luxury in time as we ponder a response. The false dichotomy between growth and the environment is an anachronism born from the failures of conservative thought. Conservatives believe that growth is only possible at the expense of the environment, and that any and all efforts to protect our resources impede growth and cost jobs. That philosophy is wrong on every count and has proven so by history repeatedly. Environmentalism is not the ideology of socialists, but instead the true engine of all future economic growth.

We need to protect our forests and biodiversity, reinvest in clean air and clean water, sustainably manage our marine resources and improve efficiencies at all levels of production and consumption. We accomplish these goals with strict enforcement of existing regulations, improved laws to accommodate advances in our knowledge of ecosystem function and the development of a truly level playing field in which green technologies can compete fairly with traditional industries. Economic incentives, tax laws, enforcement of environmental legislation, implementation of international treaties, and government support for sustainable resource use are necessary to create the milieu in which individuals can rationally act to promote the greater good.

We, therefore, the representatives of the rational electorate of United States of America, appealing to natural law and reason, do by authority of the good people here gathered, solemnly publish and declare that Liberals hereby establish a rational approach to solve America's problems. For the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of human dignity, we mutually pledge to each other our fortunes and sacred honor.



Book Introduction:

Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World

by Jeff Schweitzer and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara 

June 22, 2009
"Beyond Cosmic Dice" offers a new perspective on the purpose and meaning of life free from any divine influence. By rejecting the false premises of religion, readers are free to pave their own road for a better life.


Jeff Schweitzer
 spent much of his youth underwater pursuing his lifelong fascination with marine life. He obtained his doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography through his neurobehavioral studies of sharks and rays. He has published in an eclectic range of fields, including neurobiology, marine science, international development, environmental protection and aviation. Jeff and his wife live in central Texas, moving there after retiring from the White House as Assistant Director for International Science and Technology.

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara is an evolutionary biologist with a doctorate from the University of California. He serves as a marine policy advisor to various national and international bodies, and has recently represented Italy in multilateral environmental negotiations. Through appearances on television and radio, and the publication of articles and books, he has been striving to increase public awareness of marine conservation. Giuseppe lives with his family in Northern Italy.




 


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