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"The New PC: Crybaby Conservatives"
Russell Jacoby writes of the hue and cry that all the universities are overrun by "liberals" (a term which I dislike since it has become code for something along the lines of "turds").

...Conservatives command the presidency, Congress, the courts, major news outlets and the majority of corporations; they appear to have the country comfortably in their pocket. What fuels their rage, then? What fuels the persistent charges that professors are misleading the young?

...The new conservative critics seem driven by an ethos that they have adopted from liberalism: affirmative action and a sense of victimhood, which they officially detest.

...Conservatives complain relentlessly that they do not get a fair shake in the university, and they want parity--that is, more conservatives on faculties. Conservatives are lonely on American campuses as well as beleaguered and misunderstood.

...More leftists undoubtedly inhabit institutions of higher education than they do the FBI or the Pentagon or local police and fire departments, about which conservatives seem little concerned, but who or what says every corner of society should reflect the composition of the nation at large? Nothing has shown that higher education discriminates against conservatives, who probably apply in smaller numbers than liberals. Conservatives who pursue higher degrees may prefer to slog away as junior partners in law offices rather than as assistant professors in English departments. Does an "overrepresentation" of Democratic anthropologists mean Republican anthropologists have been shunted aside? Does an "overrepresentation" of Jewish lawyers and doctors mean non-Jews have been excluded?

Posted by aalkon at March 27, 2005 7:27 AM

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I think in terms of media bias, this 'liberal' domination is BS. The number of people who listen to Rush "Send every drug addict down a river without a paddle, but don't pick on me because I abused heroin for backpain" Limbaugh far outstrips the number of US citizens who read the New York Times cover to cover.

Universities are another story completely. I can't tell you the number of times I would get in arguments with professors when they would say something along the lines that "we are all exclusively products of our environment," or make statements such as "under a capitalist system, human beings are inherently unfree." This Harvard thing is quite indicative of what I ran into in college.

On one occasion I walked out of a sociology class after an argument about how gender is exclusively learned. I told the professor about a study I had recently read that showed that male babies whose genitalia had been mutilated in circumcision and had been raised as women were completely maladjusted in that role and overwhelmingly elected for sexual reassignment surgery upon discovery of their original sex. He told me it was propaganda not fact, but wouldn't say anything more substantial than "little boys play with trucks and little girls play with dolls because that's what we give them" to support his own claim.

On another occasion I got into a heated argument with a Lit. professor about how women firefighters should have to pass the same physical requirements as men. I said carrying a 200 lb. person down 8 flights of stairs is something that might be necessary for the job. What's a female firefighter going to say on the eighth floor of an actual burning building when a fat guy's passed out, "If he would have dieted a lot more he'd still be alive today?" Lit Professor's answer: "Women should be able to do any job that men can." That's all well and good, but carrying human beings out of burning buildings comes with the job, and sometimes those people weigh 200 lbs. I wouldn't think that a newspaper would hire someone who's almost fluent in English. Then he said, "Plus I've seen women who can beat men up, I know my wife pushes me around." I told him that there wouldn't need to be a different set of physical requirements if he'd tell the fire department where this tribe of Nicole Bass clones lives.

I don't even want to get into the arguments I used to have with the poly-sci professors I had, most of whom were very, very communist and excruciatingly infuriating.

Posted by: Little ted at March 27, 2005 9:42 AM

Hi –

Jacoby has put his finger on a number of important issues, of course. What he is too polite to underline is that the "conservatives", whether Republicans or neo-cons, are adepts of the big lie. After the alleged "impartial journalist" Goldberg came out a while back with his Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distorts the News, which dealt with an imaginary "liberal" bias in the mainstream media, here comes this "conservative activist" Horowitz individual spouting a similar lie about academe.

Unsurprising, really. The nature of the beast never changes.

Another thought: there are more "conservatives" in "business" than there are "liberals". One learns "analytical accounting" in most business schools, so it's not really surprising, again, to see analytical accounting applied by conservatives to notions of "academic freedom". Bean counters count beans: it's their raison d'être, after all. The fact is that analytical accounting has lead to quite a few scorched earth results: look at all the companies and services which have suffered. No, wait; it is we, the commonweal, who have suffered, too, not just the companies.

Finally, Jacoby refers to "government committees investigating un-American activities" and "the reinvention of the old un-American activities committees". Why, land sakes, could this be the old HUAC ? Disbanded in 1975, it might be on its way back.

The 1960 anti-HUAC hearings in SF were one of the crucibles which formed my generation, at least in the Bay Area. Will there be a reinvigorated HUAC ? Will there be protests ? Will history repeat itself ?


Posted by: L'Amerloque at March 27, 2005 9:57 AM

I'm comforted to know that the pseudo-intellectual kooks are still in full flower.

Posted by: Casca at March 27, 2005 12:27 PM

Crid? I'm waiting!

Posted by: Lena wants it at March 27, 2005 1:00 PM

The situation in academia and the media is essentially the same - the majority of individuals are liberal and they do not interact much with people outside of their profession and their like-minded inner circles. If the notion of bias in both of these areas is fiction, then someone please explain the fact that standing up in pretty much any university class and saying you're for Bush and the war in Iraq will result in a vitriolic onslaught of criticism, and it will be led the by the professor. And please help me understand how the media goes berzerk when Trent Lott says something racist but says nothing when libs bash Miguel Estrada for being latino - in a memo from a DNC staffer to Democrat Senator Richard Durbin: ".. he is a Latino, and the White House seems to be grooming him for a Supreme Court nomination." Imagine the furor if a Republican said that about a black nominee. Or help me understand how Abu Graib was on the front page of the NY Times for 66 days straight but the beheadings of Nick Berg et al ran once or twice. The bias in the MSM is so obvious it's absurd to deny it. The freaking AP won't even use the word terrorist!! Please get a grip.

I've read both of Goldberg's books, and I've read several of Horowitz' books. You can call them fiction all you want, but why not say something constructive? How about refuting something they claim? I'm not naive enough to believe that neither fellows has an agenda. However, the case they make is solid and well documented. (Oh I guess you can't use statistics when the results are contrary to what you want. My bad.) It is precisely because of the homogenous nature of media and academia that they are bastions of liberal thought, highly intolerant of opposing views.

As as for the idea that Rush as more listeners than the NY Times, that is entirely irrelevant. The Times actually has a considerably smaller readership than many major city newspapers. The importance of the old grey lady is the fact that she is used as a source for the vast majority of television news coverage and for many other local and regional newspapers. TV producers all over this country look to the Times to determine what their news teams will cover. That's why it is and has always been called the Newspaper of Record. So there's a massive cascade effect - the stories reverberate all over the world. Rush, quite simply, does not. His fans are die hard, which means he is preaching to the converted almost entirely, even if there are several million of them. His views don't often get beyond the ears of his devotees - with the notable exception of the 1994 Contract With America.

There can be no doubt that conservative views are sufficiently represented in our country - I'd guess it's about 50/50 nowadays. I don't buy the argument that libs own all the airwaves, especially now that talk radio, Fox News, and the Blogoshere are rivaling the MSM for mass mindshare. However, in the case of academia, there's merit in the desire to see a more heterogenous ideological environment. The minds of young people are best molded by the presentation of differing views and by the maturity that is taught by administrators who demand that all views be heard and that the individuals espousing them be respected.

It's sad but I know I have to say this - I am not a Republican. (Check out the archives of my site if you suspect otherwise.) I'm a libertarian. But more than anything, I'm interested in culling the truth from the BS talking points that the ignorant and ill-informed parrot like lemmings. The notions that academia and/or the media are not heavily biased towards the left are impossible to substantiate, in my view. Of course, I could always be wrong, so please someone enlighten me.

Posted by: Chris Wilson at March 27, 2005 2:09 PM

> Nothing has shown that higher
> education discriminates against
> conservatives, who probably apply
> in smaller numbers than liberals.

Even if true, it's telling. Why would academic life be less appealing to conservatives? Have I posted my
first and second favorite links about the developmental hazards of academe lately? (Favorite snippet from the latter: "Their milieu is postadolescent." Liberalism pays a crippling tax for housing its rhetorical guns on campus.)

> ...Limbaugh far outstrips the number
> of US citizens who read the New York
> Times cover to cover.

Is that literally true? It might well be for all I know. But cover-to-cover is a pretty high standard. I know what you're saying, but Dowd probably gets more opinion leaders, who presume she's good in bed. Better than Rush, anyway.

> The minds of young people are
> best molded by the presentation
> of differing views...

Those of us who grew up around schools will not hold our breath.

> There can be no doubt that
> conservative views are
> sufficiently represented in
> our country...

By volume, perhaps not. But in insight and eloquence, there's much room for growth.

Posted by: Cridland at March 27, 2005 2:49 PM

Having spent 7 years on a university campus, I got to the point I just had to get out of there and into the real world. What was rather evident in my time on campus was that the vast majority of the teaching staff had never ventured off the campus except for maybe some consulting work, or the vacation/sabbatical hiatus. Being a grad student gave me somewhat of a closeup look at asst-assoc- and full on professors. For the most part they were just elaborate extensions of themselves as students. Big fish in a little pond. Rather protected from the slings and arrows of the real world. Publish or perish was perhaps their biggest stress. Therefore the politics of the young student eager to change the world would tend to the fluid dynamics of liberal thought. The teaching staff being overgrown students not only never got over this tendency, but as age brought on increasing degrees of cynicism some of them moved to ever more radical positions along the liberal continuum.

My simplistic description is not meant to cover more than what I saw personally. Other campuses I know nothing about other than what I read. But for myself, getting out into the real world sure did change my politics. My individual theme today is stay clear of any and all govt agencies as much as possible. Vote my savings as much as my convictions. Read Amy and laugh at the outrageous Lena's offerings.

Crid always gets my respect. And now Chris Wilson I hope keeps putting in his two cents. Well said.

Posted by: allan at March 27, 2005 7:47 PM

You're dead-on right about this, Allen:

"For the most part they were just elaborate extensions of themselves as students."

"Publish or perish was perhaps their biggest stress."

-- But that is nothing to sneeze at!

The thing I liked most about Jacoby's article was his attempt to re-direct some of the right's own diatribes against liberal academics back onto the right.

There's a lot of talk in left/liberal/Democratic circles these days about "taking back" the Bible. For example, Arianna Huffington goes through these little bouts of quoting scripture now and then as her rationale for strengthening social programs. Although I like this slant on the bible as much as anyone else, it's just such an easy shot (and, therefore, not terribly interesting). Jacoby is being a lot more clever in his attempt to appropriate a bit of rightwing rhetoric. In the future, I hope that more liberal/Democratic pundits take a cue from Jacoby instead of the "But-Jesus-was-a-homeless-hippy!" crowd.

Posted by: Lena is a boneless dippy at March 27, 2005 9:11 PM

If I had to choose a party, say someone put a gun to my head, I'd choose to be a Democrat. Though I would say the conservatives are, on the whole, considerably more logical on the most important issues - economics, foreign affairs, and the role of government - their insistence on the active role of a supernatural invisible friend is a deal-breaker for me.

The Dems, at least, have had a few stars who understood the connection between low taxes and high government revenue, and who understood that foreign affairs is nothing more than playground politics with big dangerous toys - Kennedy, Truman, Scoop Jackson, etc. I'd be an agnostic, Kennedy kind of Democrat with a penchant toward smaller government. A Lieberman without Yahweh and the Snaggle-tooth (Yogi Bear's pal) vocal sytlings. So, my heart is with the left, but I have been more and more disheartened with every passing year.

And now Dean as the DNC Chairman? And Dems quoting scripture? Guess I'm damned lucky nobody's got a gun to my head.

Posted by: Chris Wilson at March 27, 2005 10:38 PM

Hi Chris -- Please explain the connection between low taxes and high government revenue! That's not exactly intuitive. -- LC

Posted by: Lena-doodle-doo at March 27, 2005 10:50 PM

Chris --

Snaggle-tooth is a Star Wars alien.

Snaggle-puss is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

and Lieberman's most closest pop-cultural doppelganger is Senator Palpatine from the Star Wars prequels.

Posted by: LYT at March 27, 2005 11:04 PM

I spent some time a couple of weeks ago at a CA campus. Using one of the PCs and trying to demonstrate something to the students with any available jpg, I found that the only ones available were entitled "bombs over baghdad" and "no war for oil" - versions 1 through 17. The syllabus featured a reference in sneer quotes to the "reconstruction" of Iraq. Sick stuff all round.

Posted by: Jackie Danicki at March 28, 2005 12:16 AM

What he's saying about lower taxes increasing government revenues comes from a long pattern in US economic history-the year after a big tax cut, tax receipts actually increase. I've only heard two good arguments for why this works.

The first good explanation I've ever heard is that the government is so bad with money that when it gives a certain amount back to it's citizens the citizens get five or six times the return (on average) of what was cut, hence the government gets more back than it gave out.

The second is that, because tax cuts have almost exclusively occurred at the beginning of an economic recovery when tax receipts are going up anyway, it's coincidence.

Either seems perfectly plausible to me.

I'm wondering if the thing you cited that the republican party does well now are based on current trends or on the kind of talking point BS that you dislike. Let's leave foreign affairs aside for now. You seem to agree with the Neocon stuff, I'm more inclined toward the Buchananite. The two worldviews are on completely different planes of existence. We won't know whose right for twenty years anyway.

Are Republicans really good at economics anymore? The defecits are so absurd that I see editorial after editorial in the Richard Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune-Review complaining about them. Ditto with trade deficit. A $2 million tax refund to a few companies turns into a $100 million dollar give-away to unrelated companies. The Medicaire bill that passed through the Republican congress is probably the worst spending bill that's passed in my lifetime. It violates NAFTA and the government cannot negotiate for cheaper prices, which is something that it should be doing in all its economic endeavors so the government can take less of our money. Dividends are a sieve through which money drains out of a company, leaving less for acquisitions and growth, but the Republican Congress passed a huge tax cut to make them more popular. Not particularly pro-business from where I sit, and thus, not smart economics. Our credit is so poor now that Bush has to look to China for money for his Social security program and who knows what they want for this 'favor.'

And I really don't understand how you can admire the Rebulican idea of the role of government as a Libertarian. I'm also a Libertarian, and I CAN'T STAND this idea that government should be the father we all should have had, teaching us right from wrong and spanking us when we're bad. Democratic ideas of welfare and security are stupid as well, but at least they don't step on me in such an obvious way. There was a time when many Republicans didn't like the government telling them what to do. That time is gone, my friend. Schwartzenegger might be the last Libertarian-wing Republican holding any significant office today (though you still see a lot of the ideas in print).

I guess the talking point question I have goes only to the economic thing. I grew up thinking that Democrats understood social issues and Republicans did better on economics. I changed my mind with the medicare thing because the current facts just don't seem to fit the conventional wisdom.

This is not your father's Republican party. What I see is a bunch of kooks who are drunk with power.

To be fair, when I look at Demoncratic politicians I see a bunch of lame-asses consulting with ten fashion designers about whether their tie makes them look blue-collar enough for people to like them. Just as shitty, but far less destructive in my book.

Posted by: Little ted at March 28, 2005 12:59 AM

Hi –

Speaking of taxes … I thought the Republicans (aka "the conservatives") didn't like taxes … (smile) … this morning (well, morning over here, folks), what do I see ? Will Dubya be persuaded that the Value Added Tax is a good idea ?

Le Tax: Do the French have it right?

France first set up a dual tax system that the rest of the developed world adopted, except the U.S.

March 24, 2005: 12:26 PM EST

By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Ever since President Bush began pushing tax reform, policy experts have been wondering if he'd go euro.

With reform recommendations from a presidential panel due by July 31, the betting is that at least one of the proposals would move the United States closer to a model that started in France decades ago, spread across Europe and is now used by more than 120 countries, including Singapore, Canada, Japan and Australia.

The model? A hybrid tax code with two key components: a tax on income and a type of sales tax commonly known as a value-added tax.

"My guess is the panel is playing with a couple of different ideas," said Clint Stretch, the director of tax policy at Deloitte Tax, a unit of the accounting giant Deloitte & Touche. "One is some...reform of the current income tax system and the second is a value-added tax."

Simply put, a value-added tax is a sales tax. But unlike a retail sales tax that is levied at the moment a new Hummer or some other good is sold, a value-added tax is charged at various stages of the manufacturing process.

Governments love value-added taxes for a few reasons.

(read the rest at:

For those of you unfamiliar with France, you should know that most small shops ("mom and pops", "sole proprietorships") are closed on Mondays.

When I first came many years ago, I thought it was strange. I asked why. The answer was: "C'est l'impot paperasse ! C'est pour remplir les formulaires TVA !" ("The paperwork tax ! It's for filling out the VAT forms !")

It would be the strangest of ironies if a conservative administration were to implement a VAT in the USA. Note that here in France VAT on most foods is 5.5%, while the "normal" rate is 19.6% and the "luxury" rate is 33.3%.


Posted by: L'Amerloque at March 28, 2005 6:23 AM

Okay, some clarifications.

1. The items Ted mentions about taxes may be factors, but they are minimal ones. Revenues for the government go up when taxes go down because of the, please don't laugh, trickle down effect. (Highly recommend Milton Friedman's, Capitalism and Freedom.)

It all comes down to where rich people keep their money. Contrary to what many believe, they do not keep it under their mattresses. They invest it, even if only in their bank's savings account (where most of it ends up getting loaned out to someone else anyway). In most cases, their investments are in small to medium sized businesses, real estate, or the stock market, all of which create jobs. However, when the tax rate is too high, rich people horde what they have. The rate of return on their investments is drastically diminished by taxes, which makes the risk of investing too high. Remember - profit in investing is the payoff for risking losing your money. If it isn't high enough, it's foolish to take the risk.

Bottom line - low taxes frees up money for the wealthy to invest, which creates jobs, thus creating *more people paying taxes*. This is where the increase in government revenues comes from. A good summary:

A little more on this from me, including a frightening and eye-opening historical view of tax rates in the US:

2. The Republican Party is more logical on economics matters...when they're campaigning. I agree 100% that the goons in charge are self-serving political opportunists who haven't the slightest concern for the ideological underpinnings of their party. That said, when you encounter a Republican who understands what it means to be fiscally conservative (and there are lots of them), the conversation is more logical than it typically is when you talk taxes with Democrats who scream for progressive taxation when our system is insanely progressive already.

For more of my views on *this*:

3. The deficit thing is a red herring. The only way to look at deficits is in proportion to the GDP. When you do that, you find that we are nowhere near a record deficit.

And, let's not forget that Uncle Sam doesn't count these things like we regular people do. Deficits are about debt, right? So, if we owe $10k in credit card debt, we think of ourselves as being at a deficit, being in debt (or we should). But our country's deficit is really only dealing with how much revenue is coming in versus how much is going out. So, it's an easy mistake to think that things now are so much worse than they were during the "surplus" of the final Clinton years. The reality is that the late 90s were a huge boom economically, *and* we were not at war (unless you count aspirin factories in the Sudan), which explains why there was a revenue surplus. But there was *never* a budget surplus - we never had more in our savings account than we owed. Even then the US was carrying a national debt that approached 60% of the GDP.
(scroll down to debt as a percentage of GDP.)

But so what? The point is that deficits and debt are not the critical factors in determining the health of an economy. They matter, but you can't reflexively scream about them when they're negative. From the link above, you'll also notice that the US debt was quite ironically at some of its lowest points during the Carter years, when inflation was through the roof and the economy was generally considered in the shitter.

4. Low trade deficits do not correlate with economic health, either.

"Economic theory and experience show that trade deficits are driven by levels of national saving and investment in the U.S. economy, not by allegedly unfair trade barriers abroad or by declining industrial competitiveness at home. America's record trade deficit is a symbol of economic strength, reflecting a strong net inflow of foreign investment drawn to America's dynamic economy."

5. Bush, to my knowledge, is not considering the VAT in the way Europeans do - as an *additional* tax on top of income and ordinary sales taxes. His interest in a VAT is to *replace* the current federal income tax system all together. If he succeeds, it will, in the eyes of many of those theoretically conservative folks I mentioned earlier, be the single biggest economic boom this country has *ever* seen.

Alas, there are *many* career politicians with everything to lose by the abolition of the IRS and the knowledge and power it wields over individuals in our society.

And...I'm spent.

Posted by: Chris Wilson at March 28, 2005 8:05 AM


This is a good article, but my concern with the high debt levels isn't that it's going to hurt our place in the world. My concern is that it continues to snowball. Since we must pay back the interest each year, that annual amount keeps increasing. The only place that the government can get that money is from taxes, since government never seems to want to cut anything else substantial (despite lipservice to the contrary). The problem with the debt is that it's increasing taxes in the long run because every dollar we go over now costs us much more in fourty years. And I think the 'starving the beast' theory is an excuse, not a strategy.

As to trade deficits, that article is a few years old and seems to be defending NAFTA in its subtext. That's fine, I'm all for NAFTA and think it should be restored as per Px drugs. But at a certain point the US needs to be a nation that is doing something (producing something, offering a service) if it doesn't want to stagnate, like all empires do. We cannot just have money and expect to sit on our heels at the top of the world while the EU tickles our feet and China claws at our ankles and tries to drag us off. We need to be growing, not speculating our worth. The current trade deficit and decent economy are, to me, indications that the US as a whole, is becoming complacent economically, instead of hungry.

Posted by: Little ted at March 28, 2005 11:03 AM

I generally agree that it's hard to feel like our economic house is in order when our deficit is growing like it is, and when our debt is continuously growing. However, we have one thing as a country that we don't have as individuals - an unlimited horizon for growth.

There is not a finite pie that just gets divided more and more as time goes on. The pie grows when wealth is created, so as long as the pace of wealth creation stays somewhat in line with the growing debt and the deficit, all is well. Indeed, our whole economic system is sort of a house of cards.

The fractional reserve system, for example, relies upon people believing their money is safe. The moment the notion that the bank doesn't have enough money on hand to cash them out, runs on banks happen. But this doesn't mean the system is inherently bad. It just means there are prerequisites to it working properly.

You can say that debt now increases taxes later, but what if...

Suppose we borrow a million bucks from China at 5% interest for 20 years. Then, we take that million and invest it, yielding a return of 10%. We can make our payments to China and walk with $50,000 per year profit. That's $50,000 more than if we stayed debt free. So, it is incorrect to suppose that debt dollars now necessarily equal tax burdens in the future. And even if they do, so long as our growth outstrips the debt burden, *and taxes stay low enough to keep rich people investing*, there won't be a problem.

Remember - *innovation* is our country's core competency, and so long as there is profit to be made from it, you can count on the US to economically dominate this planet. Remember when everyone thought Japan was going to take over the world? Paleese.

Nevertheless, I'm right there with you that government spending is out of control. If you feel like puking, have a look at this:

Posted by: Chris Wilson at March 28, 2005 12:15 PM

That's the kind of government spending that just makes me sick.

Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania just gave the ok to state funds being used to build a hotel across from Heinz field that will be owned by the Rooneys (the Steeler's ownership). As if they can't pay for one themselves. So much for new stadia promoting private economic development.

As to China, I'm less concerned about the interest rates of borrowing from China and more concerned with any other potential considerations they would want for helping us out.

Posted by: Little ted at March 28, 2005 3:50 PM

Hi -

Chris - many thanks for taking the time to type in your detailed answer(s) and comment(s). I, for one, do appreciate it. Before taking up several points you mention, in a different post and at a much later date, I'm going to take some time and type in some background.

Only when one has dwelled as an expatriate in France for many years (and lived as a French person - speaking French at home, integrated into the French culture - rather than being "an American in Paris) does it become crystal clear that it's very difficult, if not well-nigh impossible on a bad day (smile), to discuss American domestic politics profitably, including government spending and taxes, with Americans who live in the USA. This doesn't affect the validity of the points of view, or the points raised, of course. However, I somehow have the impression that you - and some others here - haven't traveled widely or lived outside the American context as a native of another European country. I don't mean that snidely or maliciously - it's a simple statement on my part - and if I've extrapolated incorrectly, please tell me. For I feel that many of the comments and positions I see here would be tempered, if not contradicted, by travel and experience abroad and a willingness to examine "how it's done elsewhere". Whether successfully or unsuccessfully, elsewhere, I hasten to add.

In this post I'd like to comment on what can be called "the political spectrum". Whaaat ? Why ?

Well, when people - whatever their motivation and including me (smile) - resort to labels such as "conservative" and "liberal", it would be a good idea to define the terms. Nowhere have I seen the US vs. Europe spectra clearly defined. Not in books, for example, nor in the media I read and watch. Kagan (Old Europe vs. New Europe) didn't pay to much attention to it, either. Since I don't read or watch everything (smile), a description such as the one I'm offering here might have been made, but I haven't seen it. For years I've seen/heard people refer to the fact that "Europe is more socially oriented than the USA", of course, and to Americans who say "The USA is more capitalistic than Europe, so we're more dynamic.". I've also heard and seen people in the USA condemning "rampant socialized medicine in Europe" and people in France decrying the "dog-eat-dog social Darwinism in the USA". Who hasn't ? However, it does no good to reprove - or to praise - without examining the context. That's what I'd like to address here: necessarily in the short format offered by Amy's blog. I've been thinking about this for a while and you've offered me the occasion to share my experience.

What must be understood and factored into any discussion about "the USA" and "France" (and, to some extent, "Europe") is just how different the political spectra - and hence the politics - are. I'm not sure it really matters just _why_ the places are different, but they are, indeed. (There are other issues, too: simple definitions. In the USA, for example a "liberal" means "on the left", whereas in Europe, a "liberal" is "a proponent of laissez-faire economics rather than state planning".)

We can suppose that "people" want basically the same things in the USA and Europe. The big difference is that they do not expect the same things from the government.

So, here we go. Do excuse my detail in the following example. Some people have spatial relationship issues which require patience.

Take a ruler. Your usual footlong ruler. It runs from 0 to 12 inches. Put the ruler on the table in front of you. Horizontally. This ruler represent the "political spectrum".

Now, draw this ruler on a sheet of 8x10 paper, landscape format, and write on the sheet in front of you as we go along. Use different colored pens/pencils if required.

Three caveats before we start:

1) Of course, it's almost impossible to numerize political ideas and politicians (with a question on the order of "If Dubya is "conservative", how much more "conservative" is DeLay, on a scale of 1 to 5 ?"). That way lies insanity, in my humble view. I'm trying to address the big picture, as we say in the USA, not attribute a numeric value to every political philosophy, theory and politician in the public arena, as some of the US "Congress watchers" do for politicians' and their votes in the House or Senate.

2) A given person's "political opinion" or "political dogma" is not monolithic. So the idea that, say, someone can be "conservative fiscally" but "socially oriented" is tough to quantify on any kind of numeric scale.

3) We're only looking at "mainstream" political people/ideas. There are extremists on the right (à la John Birch Society ... we still have royalists in France, by the way ...) and on the left (black flag anarchists, ATTAC in France ...), but here we are only attributing a ballpark numeric value to "mainstream".

Anyway, to start us off, let's take two prominent US "political" or "media-political "figures. Say, on the "left", Michael Moore. Say, on the right, Rush Limbaugh. OK ?

Look at the ruler on the sheet of paper in front of you. Put a flag with Limbaugh's name at 11, and put a flag with Moore at 7, on the top edge of the ruler. OK ? Can we say that we've flagged the American political spectrum, the range from left to right, from 7 to 11 (with room between 11 and 12 for David Duke or Farrakhan types) ? Can we live with that ? Let's, for the moment, for illustrative purposes.

I won't choose a European political figure nominatively, simply because there are so many, of varying stripes. I can speak of France. For those of you who follow France avidly from the USA, we can use, say, Jean-Marie Le Pen - in spite of his obnoxious racist and anti-Semitic pronouncements to garner support - for the "rightist" and Arlette Laguiller for the "leftist".

So, for France: on the bottom edge of the ruler, put a flag at 9, for the right border (Le Pen). Put a flag at ... 2 for the left border (Laguiller).

Three points.

First: the political spectrum is wider here in France: 7 units, compared to 4 in the USA. This is generally true in what Rummy called "Old Europe". Of course, "wider" doesn't necessarily mean "better". (smile)

Second: the spectrum from 2 to 7 doesn't really exist in the USA (in the "mainstream" !) . Neither the individuals, nor the political philosophy.

Third: there is not a whole lot of overlap between the two spectra: just from 7 to 9.

Do you see what I'm driving at ? When someone in the USA, or on this blog, says "L'Amerloque, you're a leftist", a Frenchman/woman would say (in French, of course) "You're a rightist." Dogmatic "rightists" call me a "leftist", and, naturally, dogmatic "liberals" call me a "conservative". (smile) For example, I'm with the "conservatives" 100% when I say "It's thanks to the US military, which protected Western Europe for 45 years against the Communist threat, that Europe was able to develop its social system. The Europeans should get their act together." Then again, I'm with the "liberals" when I say "A certain level of government and taxation is necessary for the common good. Social services, including national health care and education for all, must be paid for by taxes and provided, first and foremost". (It's basically a "sticks and stones" situation, I guess.)

To continue the exercise, let's add a few other entities to our nascent "political spectrum ruler on paper". Keeping it simple ... US Republican Party ? Span it from 9 to 11. US Democrats ? From 7 to 9. Dubya ? 10.5, say. The Governator ? 9, maybe. John Kerry ? 8.5, say.

The current French government (the "Raffarin" gov't: described as "rightist" or "center right") ? Put it at 7.5. The French Socialist Party ? Span it from 3.5 to 5. French Communist Party ? Put it at 2.5 to 3.5. Jacques Chirac, the French President ? 6.0, or perhaps 6.5 on one of his "rightist" days.

Now (still seen from over here, remember) let's see where some mainstream press/media falls on our rapidly-becoming-difficult-to-read spectrum. (smile)

If we put Fox (aka "Pravda" for the US "liberals") at 11 and the WSJ at 10, the NY Times (which US "conservatives" love to point at as the "liberal media" (smile)) is at about 8.. The major French papers ? Le Figaro (very definitely on the "right") at 8.5, Le Monde ("center-left") at 6 and Liberation ("left") at, say, 4. French TV news ? Private TV stations: from 5 to 7. State TV and radio stations? They vary in accordance with the party in power and, as far as I am concerned, are not to be trusted for "news". Their general "social position" is, however, "sixish".

That's for people and philosophy and media. I know, it seems kinda sketchy, but it's really the best I can do within the confines of this blog. Too, please don't confuse "simple" with "simplistic". This is an initial attempt, is imperfect and can undoubtedly be improved. (No, I won't answer when someone asks "Where do you put soandso on your spectrum, you leftist intellectual ?" (smile))

For issues (education, taxes, finance, privacy rights and personal freedom, healthcare), it's a similar can of worms. Attributing a value to the issue and plotting it on another chart of some sort would result in some edifying comparisons and a whole lot of questions (smile).

When you say "VAT" or taxes, you're referring to the US spectrum and the American context. When I say "VAT" or "taxes", I'm referring to the spectrum here. Taxes: it's just not the same thing. (Example: the population of France is about 63 million people. There are about 13 million income tax returns for individuals/families filed yearly in France. Approximately 7 million of these 13 million belong to taxpayers who, after calculations/deductions are done, owe no income tax. Without VAT, the gov't and state could shut their doors this evening.)

Now I'm all typed out, Chris.


Posted by: L'Amerloque at March 30, 2005 2:37 AM

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