June 16, 2011

Factional Definitions

Justin Katz

Two interesting threads have emerged in the comments to my post on Republican factionalism. They're on entirely different topics, but I think there's something similar in the way they hinge on what I see as erroneous definitions. Quoting me, commenter Mangeek takes up the question of abortion:

"I find the 'personally pro-life; politically pro-choice' position (which Doherty professes) to be among the most disturbing... The only way to hold such views sincerely (and not be a monster)..."

I don't know, I know plenty of women (possibly a majority of the women in my life) who have had an abortion only to come out the other side holding this exact same view. They wouldn't get another one, but they felt they did the right thing, and want to preserve the right for their daughters, should they someday find themselves in a similar situation.

That's not really a pro-life view, is it? Being pro-life means believing that human life begins at conception and is at that point worthy of protection against being killed at another's whim — or even another's fervent desire, if "whim" seems too light. Either the majority of women in Mangeek's life have killed their children in the womb or they've discarded some foreign cells from their bodies. One can have aesthetic or even mildly moral objections to discarding foreign cells, but to hold a pro-life view as I've just described and yet to believe that others' choices cannot be curtailed on its basis is, as I've said, monstrous.

In a completely different direction, former RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione writes:

Let's not confuse factionalism with healthy inter-party competition. While we may not be used to having a bounty of options for statewide and federal races, it's not a bad thing.

Factionalism comes later, if the folks who chose the losing side are so bitter about it that they can't let go for the good of the party.

For some, that's all they know, and we can't expect them to change. However we can grow to the point where the factionalists are such a small part of the center-right scene that they go unnoticed.

I'd suggest that, with regard to factionalism, Gio has his cause and effect backwards. The reason the folks on the losing side of "intra-party competition" are "so bitter that they can't let go" is that they feel as if they're not really competing on an equal footing within the party because a particular faction favors its own. It's a similar principle to the genius of democracy: People won't pursue civil war when they feel as if they've a reasonable chance of enacting changes through the democratic process, but when they feel that their opposition holds power for extra-democratic reasons, they'll resort to whatever strategies give them the advantage. (You may control the money and infrastructure, but we've got the numbers.)

I'm not saying this is what's going on, but it wouldn't be entirely unreasonable for conservative Republicans in RI to suspect that the GOP power brokers (such as they are) were content to let John Loughlin run for Congress when victory seemed unlikely. But he did surprisingly well, and Democrat David Cicilline is surprisingly weak, so the leading faction has brought forward one of its own, even though it might be more appropriate, from the perspective of the party's overall strategy, for him to run for Senate.

Again, I'm not putting that forward as my interpretation of current events, but noting that it's a likely suspicion that can fester depending how things progress rhetorically and politically.

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"...killed their children in the womb or they've discarded some foreign cells..."

"...One can have aesthetic or even mildly moral objections to discarding foreign cells, but to hold a pro-life view as I've just described and yet to believe that others' choices cannot be curtailed on its basis is, as I've said, monstrous."

Thank you for at least putting yourself in the shoes of 'the other' there. I know that's not easy to do.

I think the overall consensus feeling afterwards was "Yes, I killed something. Something human. Something that may or may have already been developing rudimentary senses. Something I had a deep connection with. Still, killing it before it became 'whole and independent' was the least-evil option, given my circumstances at the time."

There are varying feelings about it, none of which I have ever experienced since I'm a guy and I haven't caused any pregnancies (as far as I know). Nobody I've ever met has looked back at an abortion as something they would choose to repeat, but most think being forced to carry 'a mistake' full-term before the groundwork is set to raise a family is the worse of the two options.

From a cold-hearted, calculating public-policy standpoint, I think it's clear that allowing abortion has some big benefits. Unwanted children seem more likely to lean hard later in life on the social safety net, end up in prison, or having children of their own in their teens.

Tying it all up... I think it probably nets Republicans a lot of -votes- on the front-end to endorse pro-life views, but it also repels a -lot- of fiscally-sound potential members and candidates from your ranks, leaving us out in the wilderness between socially-conservative Republicans and fiscally-insane Democrats. There's not much more disheartening to be called a 'baby killer' by a group of people you would otherwise probably befriend.

Maybe the Republicans in Rhode Island -should- be more like Rockefeller Republicans, this ain't South Carolina, and it never will be. Once you adopt an stance on social issues that's more accommodating and team it up with fiscal policy that actually works (which I think you already have), you can cast all the bigots and conspiracy-theory nuts out and finally get a seat at the table with the grown-ups*. It's a compromise, for sure, but I think it's worth trying. You've only got 17% representation in the legislature after an election that was supposed to -pound- the left, it seems like it would be a worthy experiment.

* Sorry, I've been reading Frymaster's book. I couldn't help myself there.

Posted by: mangeek at June 16, 2011 4:58 PM

Much of the "social issues" problem would be resolved by moving a fiscal issue lever: eliminate nearly all forms of welfare. Without dependence on government to bail one out from bad behavior, people would resort to virtue as their coping mechanism for life.

Posted by: BobN at June 16, 2011 5:20 PM

"people would resort to virtue as their coping mechanism for life."

I'm not so sure about that. A look back at the grievances brought by the Temperance movement leads me to believe that even though we deny it, a 'peasantry' is something that's inherent to society.

I've met quite a few people who Just Plain Can't Work because they're too dumb, too addicted, or too lazy. I think they would just pile-up in shanty-towns and raid the surrounding areas if all the strings were cut.

I don't buy in to the extreme 'cut all welfare' school of thought. It would be nice to match recipients up with their abilities, train them up, and put them to work for their benefits, though.

Posted by: mangeek at June 16, 2011 5:42 PM

Sure, I can agree with that. It would be even better if private charities, funded by voluntary contributions and staffed by volunteers or professionals who are accountable to the benefactors, did that. Running charity through government is a disservice to all concerned, except the politicians, bureaucrats, and union thug bosses.

If we got rid of all welfare, it would be easy to lower taxes enough that even middle-class folks would find it easy to contribute to the effort.

Posted by: BobN at June 16, 2011 7:16 PM

Here's my problem with the "people starving in the streets" scenario progressives always trot out:

Imagine you are a homeless person. If you resolved one day that you were tired of being homeless and you'd be willing to do whatever it took to get off the streets and get a job - any job - do you really think you'd be unable to do that? You don't think a single church or charity or even private family would help you out if you asked them to? I don't believe that for one moment. I see these people every day on the way to work - they sit on park benches all day doing nothing. They sleep 14 hours a day. They like it that way, they don't have to do anything or pay bills or explain themselves to anyone. And even they don't starve. In fact, most of them are quite large.

I don't buy the mob with pitchforks scenario either. Why aren't homeless people attacking me on the way to work each day? They don't get welfare.

Posted by: Dan at June 16, 2011 8:35 PM

Dan, your lack of understanding and experience concerning the homeless is truly unbelievable.

Posted by: michael at June 16, 2011 8:50 PM

I'm sorry, Michael, did I tread on your blogging turf? I forgot that describing the downtrodden of our society was your schtick. I guess I'm not entitled to my own observations.

Posted by: Dan at June 16, 2011 10:02 PM

Observing is done from a distance.

Posted by: michael at June 16, 2011 10:22 PM

Any more pithy responses, Michael, or would you care to take some of your valuable time to enlighten us sheltered cretins? We can't all be Templar of the Holy Order and see attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion as you have. I guess pumping some guy's stomach makes you an authority on him and all related public policy issues. Say, when does your next book come out?

I've dealt with such individuals again and again and again as a prosecutor and in doing so learned more about their life stories than I ever wanted to know. But, alas, I am not a Shaman of the Fire Brotherhood and would not dream of claiming the third-eye knowledge that comes from doing God's work on earth.

Posted by: Dan at June 16, 2011 10:43 PM

You have no idea what in hell you are talking about. People see what they want to see, and you seem to be plagued by fat, lazy good for nothings. Are there fat, lazy good for nothings? Yes. Do they constitute most of the under class, no. You dwell with the former and turn a blind eye to the latter. You poor young man. You squeeze reality to fit your dogma. Look up Procrustes.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 17, 2011 12:09 AM

I remember walking to work from the subway in the early 70's and going down the Bowery each morning-there were alcoholic bums lying all over the place or just standing around waiting for the package store to open so they could get a short dog.
I would say there is always a certain segment of society who just exist and have no hope.
I hardly think it's necessarily worse today with one exception-in places like NYC or even Providence,rental of apartments has gotten so expensive that families are turning up in the street and they're not bums.
Let's thank the gentrifiers(mostly "progressives")who move in like yuppie locusts and drive working poor/marginal people out with nowhere to go.
The best thing I've seen was in NYC where faamilies were given very inexpensive financing to move into newly built duplexes(as opposed to public housing projects)with a view to eventually owning their own place.
One of those developements was the Nehemiah Project(not a REAL project)that went up in place of old wooden tenements where I grew up in Brooklyn.The city also renovated the brick buildings worth saving and it didn't seem that bad.I saw this happen on infrequent work related trips to Brooklyn over a period of years.
You can't put people ino places that look like storage facilities and expect good results.The communists found that out.
Better to spend money on affordable housing here than ANYTHING in f**kin' Afghanistan.Or Iraq.Or Pakistan.Or Israel for that matter.
Our own people are always last in line these days.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 17, 2011 12:27 AM

Thanks, OTL, Dan actually made me speechless, or typeless I guess.

Rescue One will be available at fine bookstores and online retailers in November, make sure everybody on your Christmas list gets a copy Dan, I might sell one that way, assuming you buy yourself something.

Posted by: michael at June 17, 2011 12:28 AM

Well stated, Joe.

Posted by: michael at June 17, 2011 12:31 AM


There's a very important distinction between "I killed something" and "I killed someone," and it speaks to the distinction that I was making. What is that something if it is not a human being? And who is it if it is not the child of woman in whose womb it appears?

Actually, that's another point that your position elides: the baby does not just appear in the woman's womb. She must first engage in an activity that is universally known (above a certain age) to result in the creation of new life. The parents were the ones who caused that life to be created. That they did so "before the groundwork [was] set to raise a family" was their choice. So, put concisely, for their own pleasure, they did something that caused a child to be conceived, and for their own convenience, they've killed that child.

We can insist that the child was better off dead, but having been a mistake, myself, and having been born with clubbed feet, to boot, I'd suggest that such assertions are little more than self-serving rationalizations. Which brings us to this:

From a cold-hearted, calculating public-policy standpoint, I think it's clear that allowing abortion has some big benefits. Unwanted children seem more likely to lean hard later in life on the social safety net, end up in prison, or having children of their own in their teens.

Why limit ourselves to such a speculative calculation? There would certainly be "big benefits" to killing off unborn children who display a great variety of defects. My clubbed feet are an excellent example. The degree to which we can achieve those "benefits" is limited only by our ability to test for the qualities of that "thing" in the womb. See how your line of thought tends toward the monstrous?

I don't know the women in your life, but I'd be very surprised if many of them are of the sort who would have treated their children in the way indicated by your word "unwanted." Perhaps they wouldn't have had the resources that they wanted; perhaps they would have been under stress and not unflaggingly chipper as parents, but I suspect their children would still have been loved and raised with an eye toward their own advancement. If I'm wrong, it's clearly a deficiency on the parents' own part. And if I'm right, is the conclusion that they were better off dead than less than working class?

As for the political calculation that you suggest, I can only see it as monstrous, once again, for folks who believe as I do to shove those beliefs aside for political advantage. I'm not going to take steps to prevent you from voting, and I'll certainly encourage you to vote as closely as possible toward my overall political platform, but I'm not going to stop advocating according to what I believe to be a stark moral distinction.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 17, 2011 6:55 AM

Michael - Relying on self-described Marxists to do your insulting for you now? Some company you keep. There was nothing substantive within his comment for which to thank him. I'll thank both of you when you actually provide some substance in one of your comments instead of just hurling holier-than-though insults and playing saviors of the poor from your comfortable homes, surrounded by all your toys.

Posted by: Dan at June 17, 2011 7:44 AM

I thought you would have sobered up by now.

Posted by: michael at June 17, 2011 7:49 AM

More insults from the Holy Templar. Still no substance. I don't drink, btw.

Say, Michael, when you come across a particularly sad example of human existence, do you cheer them up on their trip to the hospital by saying, "Hey man, good news! I'm going to feature you in my next book!" All joking aside, I know you'd never exploit anyone, certainly not the homeless you care so much about - you're an EMT after all.

Posted by: Dan at June 17, 2011 8:04 AM

Justin's excellent explanation above makes clear the essential point. When people create a life, they take responsibility for that person. If they don't want responsibility, they shouldn't do the deed in the first place.

That isn't too much to ask. It's time for personal responsibility to take the lead again in our culture.

Posted by: BobN at June 17, 2011 8:29 AM

Let's do some Dan math. He sees 10 people whom he classifies as welfare bums twice a day. Now 2*10=20, that's 20 people a day. Multiply them by 7 days per week and we get 140 people a week. There are 52 weeks in a year, that makes 7280 if you count them the way Delusional Dan sees them. Small wonder he perceives this as a great problem.

I should point out in Dan's defense, Lord knows he needs one, that he is a self described Libertarian, There is no known cure, except generous doses of reality.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 17, 2011 9:49 AM

OTL - I said that such individuals are likely not on welfare, and I didn't extrapolate beyond their specific cases. Reading comprehension never was your strong suit.

You're right though, libertarianism is a fanciful delusion that results in such economic disasters as the current state of New Hampshire when applied even in moderation. Your Marxist philosophy, on the other hand, is a reality-based workable solution to all human ailments founded in bedrock, commonly-accepted economic principles. Where capitalist countries such as the United States are quickly swept to the dustbin of history based on their low standard of living, your authoritarian solutions have proven a resounding success in every instance in which they have been tried.

Posted by: Dan at June 17, 2011 10:10 AM

Sorry, I don't have time to get back on the abortion thing, I'm a busy boy this morning.

Well I'm a 'self-described libertarian' of sorts, too. My problem isn't that we have programs for the poor, it's that they seem to be government jobs programs first, and public assistance programs second.

I've rented an apartment out to someone on some public assistance, at rates that are considered 'low income', and I could build similar, profitable, energy-efficient units for about $110K each. I don't understand why when the government decides to build similar units they cost twice as much, and then they need the tenants to be subsidized, AND they lose money. Actually, I do understand: My girlfriend works at a permanent supportive housing program with eight tenants and four full-time government-reimbursed positions. Their budget is around half a million per year to keep eight apartments running.

Let's do the math here:

Building the apartments: $250K/unit - amortized 20 years is $12,500/year
Subsidies for the tenants: About $15,000/year each
Government reimbursements for operations: $40,000/year each

That's a cost of nearly $70K per tenant to build and run a single-room 'low-income housing unit'. That's not helping people, that's a government jobs program that happens to have beds.

Posted by: mangeek at June 17, 2011 10:12 AM

To clarify, I don't think the answer is to get rid of the program, it's to push the programs towards the most efficient way to deliver the service, which very-well might be something like this:

City takes the more hopeless vacant/foreclosed homes by eminent domain. Put unemployed people to work knocking them down. 'Package' the plot with a pre-approved architectural/building plan that I can buy-into, with everything pre-spec'd to local codes. If they don't sell quickly, entice buyers by exempting them from property taxes for a time. Then, I buy the 'package' and have a home built by my own folks. I have to rent units below a certain rate to keep the tax credits, but I'm allowed to 'profit' from it. Basically, make it easier for middle-class people to become low-income landlords, instead of forking over millions to developers.

Posted by: mangeek at June 17, 2011 10:19 AM

Your version of history is very stilted, and you have no idea what my intellectual strengths and weaknesses are. You simply state your prejudices. If you really believe 1)that New Hampshire is the world writ small, and 2) that whatever success they may have there is due to some sort of Libertarianism, you may be beyond cure.

Look up Procrustes, and keep your ignorance to yourself until you do.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 17, 2011 12:47 PM

Ironic, that the most narrow-minded participant on these pages accuses Dan of being procrustean. Darn funny, too.

Posted by: BobN at June 17, 2011 1:12 PM

I think that Dan is Dr. Jekyll and BobN becomes Mister Hyde after sipping some of the poison the doctor brewed in a Libertarian Laboratory.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at June 17, 2011 7:16 PM

Aw, isn't that cute...Lefty comes out with another middlebrow literary reference.

To drink, from the cup of Liberty, the ideas and principles devised by the Founders of this great country, is a very good thing indeed. The great majority of Americans still know that, although it can be hard to remember when surrounded by Lefties in this corrupt, little socialist hellhole of Rhode Island.

What good has been done in the world by the totalitarian governments advocated by Lefty and his friends?


Posted by: BobN at June 18, 2011 7:41 AM

I'd go so far as to say that any person who seriously questions whether a decentralized, market-set price system is necessary as a basic indicator of scarcity and demand is not to be taken seriously on an intellectual level. The fundamental error in assuming that authoritarian solutions are more efficient than decentralized solutions is equivalent to debating whether energy is conserved in physics. Marxist central economic planning has been entirely discredited since it was methodically dismantled by Von Mises, Hayek, and Schumpeter in the first half of the 20th century - even if one were to ignore the brutal collapse of every country that has attempted to implement it. Rhode Island is good example of a handful of willfully ignorant relabeled power-grabbers (now called "progressives") using such failed models to buy off a corrupted shell of an electorate and justify the worse abuses and excesses imaginable in a first-world country. New Hampshire is the obvious local counterexample of small government running efficiently and resulting in a much more stable economy and a higher standard of living. All you have to do is look for them at the top of any reputable measure of well-being, from health to education to average income to business environment.

Posted by: Dan at June 18, 2011 9:44 AM
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