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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the CaliforniaRepublic.org editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.


Patriotism and Projection
Democrats Need To Care More About People, and Less About Power
[Carol Platt Liebau] 7/28/03

Indisputably, it’s been an unforgettable week in California politics. For the first time ever, a California governor faces a recall election and state politics have, once again, become a nation-wide object of interest.

But amid all the hoopla of the recall news, two other stories – one somewhat frivolous, the other quite significant – are in danger of being forgotten. They broke at a particularly inauspicious time, at the beginning of last week before the recall was certified and the replacement derby began. And they are strangely intertwined.

The frivolous story, noted last week by radio talk show host and author Hugh Hewitt on his web site, concerns a silly study published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, purporting to have isolated the character traits of political conservatives.* According to the press release emanating from University of California-Berkeley, “at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality,” and “fear and aggression” along with “dogmatism” are among the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism.

Given their willingness to classify Ronald Reagan with other “conservatives” like Hitler and Mussolini (actually a pair of big-government national socialist dictators) the study’s authors clearly do not consider themselves to be conservatives. In fact, their study is little more than a transparent attempt to establish a pseudo-scientific basis for every well-known liberal canard about conservatives. And after examining the other, more significant overlooked story of the week, one is tempted to hurl a different psychological term back at them – “projection,” or the attribution of one’s own feelings to other people.

The role of projection in liberal political discourse became clear this week, with the story of the Assembly Democrats’ private strategy session about how to handle the state budget deadlock – a discussion that was inadvertently broadcast across the Capitol last Monday. Participants in the conversation were hashing out the implications of passing a budget containing no tax increases, and speculating on whether the deadlock could be extended and used as a tactic for their own political gain.

According to news accounts, the Democratic assemblymen at the meeting posited scenarios in which extending the deadlock would result in Republicans being blamed for the state’s budgetary crisis; help Gray Davis beat back the pending recall; and even increase public support for a union-backed initiative scheduled for March 2004, which would reduce the number of votes needed to pass a budget from two-thirds of the Legislature to 55 percent.

On some level, it’s not entirely surprising that politicians would gather to war-game assorted likely outcomes and map strategies – that’s what politicians often do. But after weeks of accusing Republicans of deliberately delaying any resolution to the budget crisis, it was shocking to witness Democrats’ apparent willingness to lie to Californians about why no budget resolution had been achieved, and even more, to hear the cynical calculation that went into their political deliberations. Most memorably, Assembly member Jackie Goldberg of Los Angeles remarked, “Some of us are thinking that maybe people should see the pain up close and personal, right now.”

As a witness to multiple Republican political strategy meetings over the years – in campaigns from 1986 to 2000 – never, ever, ever have I heard any suggestion of the sort broadcasted in Sacramento last week, even in the midst of the wildest brainstorming session. And if somehow someone had proffered such an idea, it’s absolutely certain that he (or she) would have been fired, immediately, and by the candidate himself.

How ironic. After years of accusing Republicans of heartless indifference toward the unfortunate, it’s a liberal Democrat who nonchalantly suggests that those most in need of the state’s help be thrown to the wolves – and, remember, this proposal was met with nary a peep of outrage from the other liberal Democrats in the room.

The sheer crudity and callousness of the strategizing is breathtaking. Assemblywoman Goldberg, who purports to stand for the poor and dispossessed, is willing – if not eager – to see the very people she claims to represent come to harm. For what? Is she asking for sacrifice in the cause of a great, noble principle, like liberty, or justice, or freedom? No. She and the other Democrats are working in the service of only one lowly aim – the raw pursuit of political power for themselves and their party.

In this pursuit, they are willing to violate the human dignity of every Californian whom their policies would deliberately harm; in the formulation of philosopher Immanuel Kant, they propose to treat these people only as means to their ends, not as ends in themselves. It’s far more dehumanizing than any policy Republicans have ever proposed – and certainly suggests a “tolerance for inequality” that might come as a surprise to the authors of the Psychological Bulletin article.

Of course, it would be unfair to charge that all Democrats are willing to throw poor people away for their own political gain (as ridiculous, in fact, as the caricature of political conservatives being presented by the psychologist/authors). Some people of good will and pure intentions belong to the national Democratic Party, from Senator Zell Miller on the right to the late Senator Paul Wellstone on the left; similarly, here in the state, honorable liberals once existed, like state Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk (however misguided his jurisprudence).

But recently, both in Washington and Sacramento, the voices of such honorable Democrats have too often been silent. Last week, the war on terror achieved a significant victory with the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein; Democrats in Washington could not bring themselves even to acknowledge the event’s salutary implications for troops stationed in the dangerous triangle north of Baghdad. And in Sacramento, other Democrats are apparently willing to subject their fellow Californians to “pain” in order to keep Gray Davis in office and lower the threshold for tax increases.

Calling any American “unpatriotic” is not a charge to be hurled lightly. But if patriotism is love of one’s nation (or state) and its people, it must follow that begrudging one’s nation the good news that will enhance its citizens’ safety, or proposing policies that will deliberately hurt a state’s people – all for sheer political aggrandizement – is the very antithesis of patriotism. You can’t simultaneously be a patriot and also hope your country or state’s people will come to harm so that you can be (or stay) elected. You can’t be a patriot and still hate President Bush (or the Christian Coalition, or Republicans in general) more than you love your country.

Any party that contemplates bad news and then sanguinely embraces it as a political opportunity suffers from a serious sickness of the soul. That is bad for a democratic republic like the United States, which depends on the existence of two healthy, competitive parties.

Needless to say, no one is going to pay attention to a blatantly partisan article by a bunch of kooky academic psychologists. But here’s hoping someone will hear this heartfelt plea from a lifelong Republican: Would some of the good, honorable, patriotic Democrats out there please step forward and take back your party?

 

* [Note: The CRO Blog also ran a link on 7/24 to blogger The Angry Clam who was completely outraged on 7/22 at this study - the editors]

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

 

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