Conversations around the Petition Table
October 9, 2011
Maybe I should try some of that first-person-narrative, personal-experience-type reporting that I’m told is blogs’ specialty.
Recently I started volunteering with some local candidates’ 2011 election campaigns. One day I went with two other volunteers, two college students, S. and D., to a big community event where we distributed literature for one of the candidates, C. While there, we ran into another volunteer, a liberal, M., a middle-aged woman, gathering signatures for a Democrat ballot initiative. The four of us talked for a while. A few things struck me.
- First, M. and S. knew each other, but it turned out that they knew each other only from running into each other several times before at other events like this. M. later remarked to me that they and other volunteers like them are passionate about their respective causes, but they also respect each other, and indeed the four of us were able to have a cordial, even jovial, conversation at some length. I think that’s great.
- Of course the fact that we were joking around, even about the things we disagreed about, doesn’t mean we don’t also deeply disagree with each other. M. remarked that in her opinion, another one of the Republican candidates, L., doesn’t do a good job of representing all of her constituents, but cares only about white people’s interests. M. admitted, without being asked, that she based this judgment solely on L.’s votes, and how M. thought they affected different neighborhoods. In other words, by M.’s own admission, she was making the very serious assertion that L. doesn’t care about black people, not because L. had said she didn’t, not because she had ever cast a vote that was discriminatory on its face, not even because she had systematically done good for neighborhoods that happened to be white but not neighborhoods that happened to be black, but because M. thought L.’s votes were mostly in the interests of one or two of the wealthier neighborhoods, presumably at the expense of all the other predominantly white, predominantly black, and variously mixed neighborhoods.
- It turned out that all four of us support the Republican candidate I was there for that day, C. M. remarked that she didn’t consider herself a Democrat or a Republican; instead, she said she was for black people, wherever that takes her on particular issues or particular candidates. She didn’t seem to see any incongruity between this and her criticism of L.
- S., D., and M. are black. S. remarked that other black people have called him a sell-out, an Uncle Tom, etc., for being conservative and supporting Republican candidates. I had heard white liberals I know talk about black conservatives in a similar way, but apparently there are black liberals who do, too, to his face.
That always seemed very strange to me, by the way—that some white liberals feel free to mock black conservatives as working against their racial interests, or words to that effect. In other words, from these white liberals’ point of view, a white person is free to hold whatever values he chooses—conservative, liberal, whatever—and that’s a normal, legitimate choice. But for a black person, there’s only one correct answer—liberalism. I.e., these white liberals think they can choose for all black people, and any black people who don’t fall in line with the choice these white liberals have made for them are idiots, or self-hating, or other really bizarre insults. I would have thought that liberals would be the first ones to agree that talking about people that way is not at all—what’s the term?—“politically correct”. But apparently not.
- M. is Christian, and she and I agree on a lot—that each of us is called on by God to give to help the poor, for example—but she makes the same error in thought that I keep hearing liberals make (I’m starting to wonder whether there would be any liberalism left in the world if it weren’t for this error): thinking that government is no different from anything else, whereas in fact government is set apart by the extremely important difference that government has the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. She says (like probably every liberal Christian I’ve ever talked to about it), We have to help the poor (and of course I agree so far), and then she effortlessly slips from that to saying, Therefore we have to have the government help the poor. No, no, no! God commands us to give (by our choice) of what we have to help the poor; that is very different from commanding us to use force or threat of force (whether through government or otherwise) to take from others to give to the poor.
At one point, what she was saying sounded almost word for word the same as what I had heard another liberal argue not long ago: “I would define government as when we come together to accomplish things.” Ah!