22 April 2007
A Reasonable Man
Here's an interview, from Reason and by Nick Gillespie, with Jonathon Rauch of National Journal. From the intro,
No doctrinaire libertarian, Rauch's thought nonetheless is deeply rooted in the classical liberal tradition. The particular appeal of America, he says, "has a lot to do with this being a society that's creedal rather than ethnic fundamentally and that the creed is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
- Everybody makes [mistakes]; it's par for the course. What I have learned is not to be too sure I'm right. The world is much more surprising than we give it credit for. That's part of my political philosophy, my philosophy of life. That's really fundamental to it: Trial and error is really the only thing in life that works ultimately over the long term. Journalism is like that, too, so we need to be honest about our mistakes. We often aren't enough. Everybody makes mistakes. And we need to be a little bit cautious about making predictions.
- We do have a problem with the political system. It's been increasingly rigged to favor extremists on both ends. So they're overrepresented and the center is underrepresented. They're not all extremists, but it is clear that the average Republican member of Congress is to the right of the average Republican partisan, who is to the right of the average American. You have the same leaning in the opposite direction in the Democratic Party. Reflect on the fact that until fairly recently, the House Majority Leader was Tom Delay (R-Texas) and the House Minority Leader was Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Just think about how much of the country that leaves out.
That is not a coincidence. The system has been rigged by partisan activists to their advantage. They participate in primaries. General elections don't matter because they've gerrymandered the congressional districts. They have the advantages of energy and being single-minded and they use these wedge issues which they're very good at and which both sides conspire in using in order to marginalize the middle. The result of that is the turnout among moderates and independents is down; turnout on the extremes is up. The parties are increasingly sorted by ideology so that all the liberals are in one party and all the conservatives are in another. That is a new development in American history.
The result of that is you have two quite extreme and narrow political parties talking, for the most part, over the heads of the center.
- Why would anyone want a political identity? I understand an ethnic identity, a cultural identity, a [sexual] identity, but why would anyone want a political identity? [...] I'm completely mystified by the mindset that judges one's moral character in life by how well you fit in some political party or other. It makes no sense to me at all.
- ...I've come to have a lot of respect for institutions that have evolved in society over time. I'm well aware I may not understand why they do the things they do, and that if something's been around the way it has been for a long time, that doesn't make it immune to criticism. But I think it deserves at least a second or third look, so I'm no radical. I'm very anti-radical. It puts me in an odd position because I'm a big advocate of gay marriage, but I square that circle by saying the right way is to try it in a few states, to do it slowly. Remember, we're messing with an age-old institution. I'm very much in that square.
I'm a radical incrementalist. I believe in fomenting revolutionary change on a geological timescale. Life is long. We don't have to do everything right away.
- I'm guessing that a lot of college students today would be amazed to know that in 13 states--I think--it was illegal to have gay sex three years ago. The law has been very much the lagging indicator. It's still the lagging indicator. It's still forbidding the military to hire gay people in uniform even if they want to. To me, the gay revolution--and it has been a revolution in the culture--is Exhibit A in what a good job the culture can do changing itself when people appeal to persuasion, to try to better their lives and change the world mostly from the bottom up because that's what happened there.
It also helps that there were challenges to these legal [regimes]. Cops used to enforce the oppression of homosexuals in a very, very savage way. Young people today just can't understand a world where you had high school assistant principals committing suicide because they were entrapped in a bathroom sexual encounter by cops with nothing better to do. That [sort of thing] used to happen all the time. It still happens occasionally, but a lot of what's happened with gay rights has been the simple opening of the hearts and minds of the American public as they've come to understand that gay people are not really so different from them. Once you've crossed that bridge, at least in the long term, not always in the short term, the compassion and reasonableness of the American public never ceases to amaze me.
- ...John Stuart Mill had this right in the 19th century. I think capital punishment is just in principle, but I think there's a higher level of uncertainty that I'm not comfortable with. Mill had the right answer, which was we should have capital punishment and liberal commutation by governors. If there's significant doubt, then governors would commute the sentence to life in prison without parole and, in fact, that used to be what happened. It's a fairly recent and I think unfortunate turn in American life that commutation has become, in effect, politically off limits for governors. They used to do it all the time and it was not controversial. I think it was a crucial safety valve if you're going to have capital punishment.
Comments: Post a Comment
Links to this post:
Links to this post: