Some of you may remember a post from a while back that laid out the reasons I thought it was preferable for someone of the Jewish Faith to be politically conservative. Last week I received a letter from a reader questioning my rationale, not based on religious law which is what my original post talked about, but using the kind of arguments made famous by MSNBC and the NY Times. As it might be interesting for others to read this grass-roots political debate, I have posted his letter and my response below (editing out his name)
To the editor:
Jeff Dunetz writes: “It does not mean, as the liberals ascribe to, when it comes to talents, predilections, or natural abilities we are all equal. Nor does it mean we all should have the same big screen TV, wireless internet, or savings account balance.”
Jeff may be pleased to know that liberals do not ascribe to these things and never have. Many of us do believe in providing as level a playing field as possible to give those with talent and ability a fair chance to make money and have that big screen TV. One way is a by a progressive form of taxation. Conservatives do not believe in progressive taxation, and Americans can judge for themselves whether a system in which the rich do not pay their fair share works well.
Jeff writes: “Liberalism takes away our personal choice, gives it to the government, retarding our spiritual development and most importantly the opportunity to get closer to our Maker.”
Jeff does not explain how liberalism does this, nor how conservatism honors this idea by generally restricting gay couples from marrying, restricting a woman’s right to choose, by being on the wrong side of most civil rights issues historically, and generally attempting to legislate morality whereas liberals generally leave personal choices to the people.
Moreover, while Judaism values personal action through Tzedakah, it certainly does not prohibit collective action through government. However, Jeff’s article would explain why conservatives want to get rid of Medicare and turn it over to those fantastic recipients of bailout money, the insurance companies. Somehow, I have a feeling even most conservative Jews don’t support that one.
Jeff writes: “A Liberal/Progressive government teaches citizens that the government will always bear the responsibility of protecting you; there is no individual responsibility, just the collective bailout.”
Jeff appears to have forgotten that the bailout began under President Bush, was supported by most Republicans, and opposed by many liberals.
Jeff should remember that Judaism values education and facts, particularly in a time when 45 percent of Republicans are part of the “birther” movement.
My response follows:
I cannot tell you how much it pleases me that you read the article and thought enough about it to write a letter. Disagreeing and debating important issues is very much part of the Jewish tradition.You obviously put much thought into your correspondence so allow me to address your points as best as I can.
One of your points is that Conservatives do not believe in progressive taxation, and Americans can judge for themselves whether a system in which the rich do not pay their fair share works well. That is not the case.
The IRS reported 2008 (the last time they released this data) the rich pays more than their fair share. The top 1% of earners pay 38.02% of all income taxes, after deductions and such their average tax rate is 23.27%. The top 5% pay 58.72% of all income taxes their average tax rate is 20.70%. The bottom 50% pays 2.7% of taxes and their average tax rate is 2.59%. There is no one in the mainstream conservative movement calling for our income taxes to lose their “progressiveness.”
You say that the liberal position is not that we all should have the same big screen TV, wireless internet, or savings account balance…but to give those with talent and ability a fair chance to make money and have that big screen TV. I would submit to you that the redistribution of income called for by the President and liberal leaders such as Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi is being executed for that purpose. In progressive/liberal orthodoxy there is no rich or poor, just a mediocre middle. A great example of how this works in the U.S. is Obamacare, which is partially funded with high taxes on “Cadillac” plans (health plans which the govt. has determined cover too much). The objective is for everybody to have the same health plan.
Another question was about conservative suppression of individual rights. You gave examples such as gay couples marrying, restriction of abortion, being on the wrong side of most civil rights issues historically and attempting to legislate morality as opposed to personal choices to the people etc?
The historical truth is that the liberal/progressives have been on the wrong side of the Civil Right issue. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican Party President; he had a fairly good civil rights position. Between the Civil war and World War I the military was integrated, but President Woodrow Wilson segregated the military (and fired most of the African Americans who had high positions in the federal government. Throughout the fifties and sixties it was the Democratic Party trying to delay civil rights. Sen. Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat, unsuccessfully tried to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It was Democratic Party Governor George Wallace who stood on the steps of a Huntsville Alabama school trying to stop it from becoming integrated.
The Civil rights act of 1964 was filibustered by Democrats led by Richard Russell (D-GA) Said Russell: “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our (Southern) states.” That filibuster lasted 57 days, until the morning of June 10, 1964, when former KKK member, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) completed an address that he had begun 14 hours and 13 minutes earlier opposing the legislation.
As far as “the restrictions on free choice” issues such as abortion or rights or gay marriage. Allow me to provide some facts, without sharing my opinion on the issues.
Being pro-life is not only a conservative position. A February 2011 Rasmussen poll reported that 53% of voters consider abortion morally wrong most of the time, while just 32% say it is morally acceptable most of the time. That is much larger than the conservative community (which is not necessarily homogeneous on that issue).
The Catholic community which tends to vote for liberal causes as much as Jewish voters is aggressively anti-abortion. And when you look at the 53-32% margin above, a fair-minded observer could claim that it is the pro-choice voters who are mandating their morals on the rest of the country.
Likewise the gay marriage issue has proponents and opponents on both sides. For example the “Defense of Marriage Act” was a Bill Clinton invention. The 2008 Prop 8 vote in California banning gay marriage was passed by liberals. According to pollsters the margin of defeat was provided by African Americans who came out in abnormally large numbers to vote for Barack Obama. These voters were liberal in every way except for religious-based issues such as Gay Marriage.
There are examples of liberal politicians legislating morality and lifestyle. The laws restricting soda in schools, or “happy meals” in fast food places takes decision making out of the hands of parents and into the government’s (as is the proposed San Francisco law to ban the circumcision of children). The legislation restricting the amount of salt a restaurant can put in food, restricts adult decision making.
Liberal politicians’ refusal to drill for oil, even though the last two Congressional Research Service studies show we have more oil than Saudi Arabia is another example. Those gas prices approaching $5.00 are a clear example of what the President said during the campaign (under my energy plan prices will necessarily skyrocket). He is trying to force America into a low fossil fuel lifestyle which may not be warranted by the climate change science or the technology. And for those who say that people must be forced to abandon fossil fuels because they really believe global warming is the truth; that may be so. But understand the liberal position that it’s OK to enforce their beliefs about man-made global warming are no different than a person who is pro-life trying to enforce their belief about when life begins.
As far as Medicare, I am assuming that you are talking about Paul Ryan’s plan I suggest you read the plan itself and not the headlines in the media or the political words of our President. It does not get rid of Medicare, nor does it change the plan at all for anyone with-in ten years of retirement. It gives the money directly into the hands of the patient and lets them pick their insurers. That in itself is the key difference between liberals and conservatives. Conservatives believe in the basic good of people and their ability to make the best decisions for themselves. It does not give the money to banks, the auto-unions or anyone else who received government bailouts (by the way most conservatives were anti-bailout).
Ryan’s plan does not “bail out” or help insurance companies. The plan removes the restrictions preventing insurance companies to cross state lines increasing competition. In fact it puts them on their toes and will make them cut costs. Marketplace competition is a great regulator and competition improves service and product and pricing.
You are correct when you say that the recent banking bailout was supported by many Republicans (and Democrats). But my essay was about conservatives and they were vehemently anti-bailout. During the past primary season many liberal/progressive Republicans were not re-nominated specifically because of conservatives objection to their vote on the bailout (Senator Bennett from Utah for example).
And as far as the last point, I am too am proud that Judaism values education and facts. With that in mind I will share with you my disappointment that an April 26th poll by USA Today reported only 38% of all Americans believed that the President was born in the U.S. I have written often that the “birther” issue, which was invented by a Hillary Clinton operative named Philip Berg, was—well quite frankly an ignorant one and it takes away from the important issues we should be debating (an April 28th article I wrote for Big Government called birtherism and the search for his college records-stupid).
It is my hope that I addressed all of your concerns.
And once again, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful questions.