Following our bloggingheads.tv discussion, Jonah Goldberg offers some additional thoughts over at National Review’s The Corner:
What I found most interesting was Scher’s insistence about what liberalism is rather than what it should be … Scher seems to really believe that liberalism — as actually practiced over, say, the last century — doesn’t stand for imposing public policies on democratic majorities that don’t want them. Moreover, he holds that liberalism never stands for imposing the personal moral beliefs of liberals on anybody else.
Having not met a smart liberal who actually believes this in a very long time, I was kind of flummoxed by how to respond to it. Though I tried to mention bussing, racial quotas, gay marriage, Title IX, etc etc. I also tried to convince him — to no avail — that liberalism’s opposition to polygamy can’t simply be a public policy argument about what’s good for women, but must to some degree be recognized as a moral value liberals are willing to impose on those who want multiple marital partners simultaneously.
Scher seems like smart and decent guy, but I don’t think he’s thought through the philosophy of liberalism nearly as much as the tactics of liberalism. A charge, some may recall, I’ve made of a lot of self-described Progressives in recent years.
The notion that liberals seek to impose their values onto the rest of the country is a chief component of the (successful) conservative campaign to misdefine liberalism and turn the L-word into slur, and it’s a notion that Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! seeks to correct, by renewing the effort to define liberalism on our own terms.
In our discussion, I pushed back on Goldberg’s suggestion that a Democratic majority in Congress would shove tax hikes down the throats of the people. I argued that the true philosophy of liberal government is one that is representative of and responsive to its people, and in turn, responsibly collects and invests our money according to our wishes.
If there is a need for higher taxes (and right now, there is), such a proposal must be put before the people in order to earn a mandate for such a policy, not rammed through Congress in the middle of the night.
Goldberg responded that shoving policies down our throats is what liberalism is all about, citing his list of equal rights issues above.
I sought to explain that for our government to be responsive and representative, it needs to be responsive to all of the people, majority and minority, meaning it has to protect equal rights and stay out of individual moral decisions.
Admittedly, I don’t think I did as good a job of explaining this during our discussion as I did in the book itself. So to help illuminate things, here are some selected passages from the book:
Chapter 5, Page 89
…it’s important for us to take the time to root all of our positions in our set of core liberal principles, even for issues as disparate as gay rights, immigration, and fuel efficiency. A representative and responsive government that adheres to the will of the majority while preserving freedom for the minority. A responsible government that manages our resources wisely. A moral and pragmatic commitment to liberty and prosperity abroad.
Chapter 7, Pages 105-6
By complaining about “legislating from the bench,” [conservatives] cleverly present themselves as simple supporters of democracy and paint “activist liberal judges” as imposing their values on others. Of course, the opposite is true.
Roe v. Wade does not force anyone to have an abortion, but overturning it will force women with unwanted pregnancies to bear children.
Lawrence v. Texas does not force anyone to become gay, but overturning it would force gays to become criminals if they want to have sex.
Engel v. Vitale does not prevent children of religious parents from praying wherever and whenever they like, but overturning it would force children of nonreligious parents to pray at the command of their public school teachers.
Those three landmark Supreme Court decisions — all of which have been attacked by current right-wing members of the Court — are classic liberal decisions. They rest on the liberal principle of representative government, ensuring that our government treats all Americans equally and protects everyone’s freedom to make their own personal moral decisions.
In contrast, a conservative judiciary would establish an elitist government that would impose one moral vision on all Americans.
Right-wingers insist that overturning such rulings will merely cede such moral matters to the states. That may be true at first, but that just means forced childbirth, forced heterosexuality, and forced prayer will happen in some parts of the country and not others.
If you live in one of those states, it would make no difference that it’s a state legislature and not a federal legislature robbing you of your freedoms.
Chapter 5, Page 74
…liberals should be articulating why we do fight so hard [for abortion rights]: because we believe that it is a moral good for women to have control over their futures, including if and when to have children.
We also believe that medical decisions should remain between a woman and her doctor. Complications can arise during a pregnancy, even in the last trimester. There are times when carrying out a pregnancy can be fatal or can exacerbate serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
These rare situations pose wrenching choices, but they are choices that belong to a woman and her doctor alone. A representative government respects life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all of its citizens by protecting the ability for individuals to make their own moral judgments.
Chapter 5, Pages 80-81
…a truly representative government cannot discriminate against some of its people…We should stress that any changes in church policies [regarding equal marraige rights for gays] are strictly the business of churches and not our government, but our government is not being truly representative unless it treats everyone equally.