Monthly Archives: September 2015

Conservative Politics for Dummies

I read a lot. I read a lot about politics and government, in particular. I read factual reports filled with opinions and opinionated editorials supported by facts. I also have a habit of shooting my mouth off in comments sections and on Facebook posts. And I read the comments and remarks on those, too.

I may have mentioned before how much it bugs me that people spend a lot more time projecting their prejudiced expectations on others than they do calmly discussing issues and reaching some form of accord. If I had a dollar for every time a progressive friend of mine expressed a false stereotype of conservative policy, I’d be rich enough to have more liberal friends.

It doesn’t help to tell people how they think, or to tell people who agree with you how to debate those who don’t. Those sorts of guides always result in lots of preaching and no debate or discussion. So, conservative that I am. here’s my guide to the conservative take on a list of issues. Feel free to disagree with me. That’s how discussions happen.

“Conservative” doesn’t mean what you think it means

It may surprise you to learn that nearly every conservative position expressed by policy wonks on MSNBC and Fox News is utter bullshit (maybe not, who am I to judge?) This is partially because allegedly conservative media outlets use hilariously slanted polling methods and “balanced” media outlets like MSNBC have a bad habit of creating straw men. That’s not the whole of it, however.

We, as a people, err in thinking that political thought can be expressed along a single line, when it’s more accurate to express it in a matrix. Essentially (and I’m not the first person to say this) political thought breaks down along the lines of money and power, and opinions can be charted on that graph in the same way.

Click for slightly larger image.

Click for slightly larger image.

The vertical axis is all about power and who has it. Liberals want people to have most of the power; Authoritarians want that power safely in the hands of government. The horizontal axis expresses money, and how the government should spend it. Progressives are all about social engineering and using tax money for (presumably positive) social change. Conservatives would like to keep their own money in their own pockets, thanks. Mind you, a political conservative may be socially progressive, the difference there is that he believes the funding for social change should be voluntary and not gained through taxation.

And that’s the thing. Saying “Conservatives oppose gay marriage,” is like saying “Red Sox fans hate the New York Jets.” Not only does it pigeonhole an entire school of thought behind a single issue, it draws that issue from a different game, entirely.

Moral issues are divisive among conservatives

People who identify as conservative are widely divided on the moral issues, even if we occasionally reach an accord for disparate reasons. I see myself as a liberal conservative (but not so far out either axis as to be Libertarian), so my first reaction to any moral debate is almost always, “I don’t have a dog in that fight.” If I’m pressed, my reaction will probably end up somewhere around, “Sure, why not?” More authoritarian conservatives will have highly developed opinions on such subjects, usually based on their religious beliefs.

I’m always amused at the number of people who call themselves conservative and complain about the government in their front yard, but have no problem putting the government in someone else’s bedroom. I am not amused by the laundry list of assumptions people make about me when they learn that I’m a conservative.

For instance, I would never eat this kitten (unless it was served with a side salad and a good dipping sauce).

For instance, I would never eat this kitten.

Republican politicians aren’t conservatives

American politics is a popularity competition to see who gets to play with the money and power of the American People. This isn’t new. By extension, no professional politician is either liberal or conservative, because those philosophies are all about keeping power and money, respectively, out of the government’s hands.

So straight off the boat, any politician saying he supports “good conservative values” is lying to you (never mind that it’s a senseless phrase–there are no political values, only issues and concerns), because he wants your money and your power.

Telling us what we think just pisses us off and shuts down discussion

No conservative is “anti-immigration.” Many are sick and tired of giving illegal immigrants and those who enable them a free pass, but that’s not the same as being anti-immigration any more  than punishing your child for stealing money off your dresser makes you “anti-allowance.” Conservatives are not, as a group, racist, sexist, homophobic, luddite, or jingoist. Some are some of these things, a microscopic minority are all of them, but most are none of them.

If you talk to people, instead of flinging random accusations at them, you might find out that their concerns are as valid as your own.

Crime and Punishment

I have been thinking, lately, of crime and punishment. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching Blue Bloods on Netflix, maybe it’s just because the media have been soaked in an unending stream of stories about police officers, criminals, and the innocents trapped between them. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I think we’ve been going at this whole crime and punishment thing all wrong. We act like people are something we can standardize, like traffic lights. The thing is, laws aren’t there to keep us all the same, they exist to set boundaries so we can be different in ways that don’t harm others. Societies, even small ones like families, cannot exist without rules of behavior, and without societies, we’re all just monkeys waiting for the next hungry leopard.

So I’ve been thinking. The first thing that occurred to me is that we keep looking at all felony crimes as if they were the same thing. The truth is, a lot of felonies should be misdemeanors—some shouldn’t be crimes at all—and punishing them all with hard time (and a lifelong social albatross) serves no one. I think our justice system should be scaled to reflect how a different crime directly affects society and the people that make it up.

Moral Crimes

What I’m calling moral crimes, is any crime that offends someone else’s idea of what’s right, but has no other direct effect on other individuals and society as a whole. Recreational drug use, gambling, sexual activities involving only consenting adults, these are all things that, when they are illegal, are not illegal because of any actual harm they do, but as an effort to enforce some arbitrary standard of virtuous behavior.

In my mind, none of these should be crimes at all. The guy who undertips (or downright refuses to tip) a waiter is doing far more harm than the one who cools down after work with a joint, but only one of them is going down to Huntsville if he tries to limit his trips to the Fifth Ward to just one a month.

That’s basically my thoughts on moral crime. If you’re reason that something should be illegal is, “I don’t do it, so you shouldn’t either.” It shouldn’t be a crime. You should just learn to get past the differences expressed by others. That our jails are full of people whose only crime is needing an easy means to avoid the harshness of their day is an embarrassment to our nation.

Procedural Crime

A procedural crime is one where the law sets a minimum standard in order to protect the rest of us from your negligence. Most traffic, consumer protection, and building and safety codes are procedural laws. Essentially, if you break a procedural law, you may not have hurt anyone, yet, but you’re going to.

Often, a procedural crime informs the understanding of a greater crime. A family dies because one man was driving while intoxicated. Twenty men and women are hospitalized because someone cheaped out on building supplies. Negligence at a food processing plant results in hundreds of casualties, some fatal, from a preventable contaminant. In my mind, these are all violent crimes (more on those, later), but they are informed by the existence of a procedural crime.

Procedural crimes should carry fines if, and only if, there is no evidence of other crime resulting from the violation. Of course these fines should vary with (a) the potential severity of the violation, (b) the financial situation of the accused, and (c) how many times the accused has been found guilty of committing similar offenses.

In cases where such crimes are the result of company culture, the fines should go right up the hierarchy until the offending company can show that the supervisor had no reasonable means of expecting the violation. Companies that have a stated safety or quality policy would need to show that they didn’t set sales or production standards that made adhering to that policy impossible.

The lion’s share of money from procedural fines should go into a fund to compensate any potential victims. Failure to pay those fines, elevates the crime from a mere procedural, to a

Property Crime

Any time you deny someone the use or enjoyment of something that is theirs by right, you commit a property crime. Theft and vandalism are obviously property crimes, but so are fraud, profiteering, and predatory lending practices. Non-payment of taxes and fines are also property crimes (against the government).

This is where jail time should begin to rear its ugly head. The primary aim here should be restitution. It does the victim no good for the accused to go to jail. The victim has still suffered a loss (and don’t say “blahblah insurance blah” you know as well as I do that getting full value out of an insurance policy is like getting milk from a cat—it’s possible, but one of you probably won’t survive the experience).

Anyway, the punishments here should run on a sliding scale from simply paying the victim back (plus a punitive fine) through probationary labor or wage garnishing, up to incarceration on a work farm or prison factory. The length of any labor or incarceration would be wholly defined by the value of the lost property and additional fines for recidivism.

Violent Crime

If you knowingly bring harm to another person, you have committed a violent crime. As I said, above, committing a procedural crime informs the charge, here. If you were speeding through a school zone, and hit a child, in my mind, you are guilty of battery against that child (assuming he lives) just as much as if you had taken the tire iron out of your trunk and used it on him.

I should point out that I don’t consider simple assault (a threat of violence combined with the means to carry out that violence) to be a violent crime–it’s procedural. Assault raises theft to robbery; by removing the option of consent, assault turns sex into rape. On it’s own, however, assault should not be treated as a matter on par with violent crimes. There’s a wide gulf between, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” and someone getting their meals through a straw while they wait for their jaw to heal.

Violent felons should be removed from society, because they pose a clear and present danger to that society. First time offenders should be offered therapy and training to (hopefully) give them the tools to avoid committing their crime again. Repeat offenders should receive longer stays and more severe punishments depending on the severity of their offense and how many times they’ve committed it.

Violence should be looked at as partially a property crime. Hospital bills, lost wages, physical and psychological therapy are all expenses the victim would not have to shoulder if not for the actions of the convicted. So part of a violent felon’s sentence should be working for restitution for his victims. As a society, we should re-acquaint ourselves with the idea of weregild, because human lives have value, and that value should be paid by those who willfully destroy them.

Capital Crime

Some people commit crimes so heinous they can never be allowed to interact with society. Those people need to be removed. Lacking a secure habitat to exile them, I believe the only real solution is to put them down.

We must, however, ensure that we have the right person. Rules of evidence and debate in capital cases must be orders of magnitude greater than those in regular trials. Prosecutors must be prevented from using theatrics of any kind or any sort of visceral appeal during the trial phase. Juries must be allowed to determine guilt or innocence based entirely on the facts. It’s hard to say, “Not guilty” when you have ten crime-scene photos of bloody victims in front of you, and an officer of the court telling you, “This guy did it, are you going to let him get away?”

But that’s what we expect juries to do in capital trials. We shouldn’t, and we shouldn’t allow prosecutors to put juries in that position.

Obviously, there are holes in my plan, and much would need to be discussed, but I think it’s a good starting point.