It's no secret that I think that America's two-party system sucks. So, for that matter, does the usually insipid distinction between "liberal" and "conservative." The nominal existence of a Libertarian Party is cold comfort because large-l Libertarians are too often nuts or twerps.
But it occurs to me that when I make this point, I'm usually criticizing Republicans or conservatives, complaining that I must take what meagerever fiscal discipline they muster with a large and unappetizing dollop of militarism or theocratic wharrbargl.
It's only fair to make it just as clear that I'm no Democrat or liberal, either.
Certainly the Democratic party and the liberal movement have their temptations. Traditionally one could look to Democrats for protection of civil liberties, opposition to out-of-control military adventurism (at least in some administrations), and resistance to the use of the state to impose religious norms, and resistance to the police state. Now Democrats are mostly too spineless to stand up for any of that, and liberals are too often drunk with crypto-totalitarian nanny-statism and censorious urges. Liberalism, and the Democratic Party, appeal to me no more than conservatism and the Republican party.
For an excellent illustration of why, I give you this extremely annoying article at Talking Points Memo about a restaurant encounter between Congressman Paul Ryan and an entitled, possibly drunk, and belligerent Rutgers professor named Susan Feinberg.
Susan Feinberg is outraged, outraged, that Rep. Ryan wants to make deep cuts in entitlement spending. When she saw him dining at a restaurant, she saw something that spurred her to action — he was drinking wine. She quickly noted the wine, looked up its price, and was even more outraged that a man who wants the government to spend less of your money and my money on others was spending a lot of his own money on wine. Quick, Robin, to the Indignation-Mobile!
Feinberg, an economist by training, was even more appalled when the table ordered a second bottle. She quickly did the math and figured out that the $700 in wine the trio consumed over the course of 90 minutes amounted to more than the entire weekly income of a couple making minimum wage.
"We were just stunned," said Feinberg, who e-mailed TPM about her encounter later the same evening. "I was an economist so I started doing the envelope calculations and quickly figured out that those two bottles of wine was more than two-income working family making minimum wage earned in a week."
Similarly, the cost of Feinberg's entire college and graduate education could have provided safe-nightsoil-composting training for literally hundreds of people's urban garden collectives, at the cost of only one easily agitated Rutgers professor. Yet she walks the streets without shame!
After ending their meal and paying the check, Feinberg decided to give Ryan a piece of her mind. She approached the table and asked Ryan "how he could live with himself" sipping expensive wine while advocating for cuts to programs for seniors and the poor. Some verbal jousting between Feinberg and the other two men ensued. One of the two men said he had ordered the wine, was drinking it and paying for it. In hearing how much the wine cost, Ryan said only: "Is that how much it was?"
Oscar Wilde says that a cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Apparently Rep. Ryan, whatever else he may be, is not a cynic. Prof. Feinberg is not a cynic either — though she knows the price of the wine that other people are peaceably drinking whilst minding their own business at their tables, she also knows its value as a ham-handed propaganda tool that one would expect (incorrectly) that even Talking Points Memo would be embarrassed to employ.
Prof. Feinberg's outrage is at the heart of why I'm not a Democrat or a liberal. The easy interpretation would be that Prof. Feinberg thinks that Rep. Ryan's expensive wine makes him heartless, because he wants to cut taxes and reduce spending to the (allegedly) poor even while living well.
She was outraged that Ryan was consuming hundreds of dollars in wine while Congress was in the midst of intense debates over whether to cut seniors' safety net, and she didn't know whether Ryan or his companions was going to pay for the wine and whether the two men were lobbyists. She snapped a few shots with her cell phone to record the wine purchase.
See, in the minds of people like Prof. Feinberg, that's not just Ryan spending Ryan's money on wine. That's Ryan spending what-ought-to-be-under-a-properly-progressive-tax-plan the people's money on wine. And how can Rep. Ryan advocate spending less of the people's money on the poor while simultaneously spending the people's money more freely on himself? That money could go to pay for a fifth or sixth war that Feinberg wouldn't protest loudly during a Democratic administration, or a new headquarters for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or good wine at a National Endowment for the Arts awards dinner, or new rubber gloves for the TSA. You're drinking the people's money, Paul Ryan!
But Prof. Feinberg's heart is the heart of a totalitarian — the heart that tells her that everything Rep. Ryan has he owes to the state, the heart that says people ought to feel guilty about every penny of their own money they fail to turn over to the state or to Well Meaning People who will spend it better than they will.
Let me say to Prof. Feinberg what Rep. Ryan was too courteous (or too prudent) to say: get your nose out of my wine, my business, and my pocketbook, and fuck off, you self-important busybody.
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