Tuesday, May 22, 2012

All Politics is Relative

In my wanderings around North America, I have always been struck by my movement along the political spectrum.  Or actually, my standing still but the political spectrum moving around me, more or less.  Sure, my views have changed, but not so radically that moving from place to place alters my political views.  I ponder this as my move approaches:
  • In high school, we had little awareness of politics.  I knew I was a Liberal (American spectrum) but not so much where everyone else was.
  • At Oberlin, I was not very left-wing.  Indeed, I still had the same values except that I gained better appreciation for them.  That is, I always believed that men and women should be treated equally, but Oberlin helped provide the logical glue between my starting point and the positions.  As I mentioned early, I became less homophobic at Oberlin, but I never bought into political discrimination--I just understood my position better.  Still, I joined an organization that was trying to foster less knee-jerkiness and more discussion--the Moderate Caucus.  Sure, we had some token Republicans but mostly liberals that were disaffected with the hard left.  So, I was seen as being right-wing, as my views did not conform to socialism (real socialism, not the fake accusation levied these days).  Oberlin's distinct tilt (tilt as in leaning so far over the tower fell) meant that I actually thought Mondale had a chance.
  • In San Diego, I was back to being a liberal, as the town was fairly conservative as a military town and what southern California used to be.  But as a grad student, my nose's proximity to the grindstone meant I didn't pay as much attention as to where I stood relative to the area.
  • In Vermont, well, I was somewhere in the middle between the Oberlin-esque granola-ness of Burlington and the gun rights folks of the hills.  No accident that Jerry of Ben & Jerry's was an Obie and then helped to establish the quintessentially Oberin-esque lefty company not far away.  Vermont had a nice balance at the time: socialist representative, establishment Democratic Senator with a giant head (Leahy), and a moderate Republican (Jeffords).
  • Then Texas.  Ah, Texas.  Where I went from being centrist or slightly right compared to the locals to hard, hard left, perhaps commie, as Lubbock was viewed as the most conservative district in the country.  Fun teaching American and Texas Public Policy to students who thought that government had no role in doing much public policy.  Of all the places I lived, including French-speaking Montreal, Lubbock was the worst fit especially when it came to politics.
  • A quick year in Virginia.  My self-perception was more driven by my time in the five-sided building than in the suburbs because I was spending 12 hours or more per day in the building.  I was the shaggy leftie academic, raising questions about God in the Pledge of Allegiance (oops!). But I was not the only Democratic in the room, but perhaps the only one who was not a closet Democrat.  
  • In Montreal, I came to be known as the go-to guy for the media if they wanted a pro-war position.  Not that I am a big fan of war, but that I did think that the Canadian participation in Afghanistan had some justification.  It was hard to explain my ambivalence which has varied about that.  Of course, these days, my opposition to the student protests about tuition make me a right-winger even as I am not thrilled with how the provincial government has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with its latest moves.  I am still opposed to the student movements' main goals--tuition should go up--but I am also opposed to the government's handling of the crisis.  Which makes me what?  Confused
So is all politics relative?  No, not at all really.  I have mostly been
  • economically moderate:free trade, progressive but not insane taxes, programs to help the poor, reform of social security (progressive taxation), etc.
  • liberal on social policy: 1st amendment >>> 2nd amendment, equal protection, smart solutions for redressing segregation and discrimination [magnet schools), etc.
  • realistic (small r), pragmatic on foreign policy:  the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy but not the only tool in the box, skeptical about the power of norms, and so on.  
Folks on the left are annoyed by my free trade stance and by my takes on foreign policy where I don't always see the US as evil and where I am not a pacifist.
Folks on the right are annoyed by my social stances and my non-hate for taxes.

In my classes, I try to make fun of everyone although Bush was a far easier and amusing target than Obama, and his administration a far more hated target because of its awful, awful, awful blunders.

The fun part is trying to imagine voting in Canada (easy to pick in the US, with the ruthless elimination of moderate Republicans) where the Conservatives are crappy on social policy, not so great on economic policy, and not entirely sketchy on foreign policy (although not great), compared to the NDP, which are crappy on economic policy, good on social (except for Quebec if that counts as social), and lousy on foreign policy, and the Liberals are what?  Oh yeah, exactly.

Anyhow, this journey into my political attitudes is probably only of interest to Lil Steve, but there you have it.  For me, the question is--where will Ottawa position me?  My guess is that I will feel pretty middle of the road there, but only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

OK, I'm not alone on this political spectrum!

Anonymous said...

Good write-up