Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Discourse: Part Two

It's poli-sci 101. You're a Freshman. You sit down in class, and after doing an ice breaker of some sort the Prof. asks a question--"What is Political Science?"
You define it as, "The study of power." Maybe you define it as, "The study of how people get what, when, and why?"
That is how the modern world defines political science. The original political theorists thought of political science/political philosophy as a study of how to make the right kind of society.
Read Antigone. Don't think of it as the fascist Creon taking the sweet girl to the woodshed--think of it as a play about a dynamic tension at that point in human history. Creon was standing firmly for the position that the city was the right source of law. Creon's assertion is a great thing to debate with a nerd at a coffee shop; I don't really care about the answer right now.
What matters is the underlying question, "Based upon what we think is MORAL how should we order our system of government, our structures to execute these laws, and the laws themselves." How can we set up systems to enact our "Morality?"
For a lot of years--from something BC until some time around the 1980s this was the question for political scientists. The right continues to answer this question, the left changed.
Now the big brains in liberal Political Science try their best to be scientists. That's fine, except that in the empiricial view what is measurable is more important. It's tough to measure moral right. Passionate and intelligent people can gather information, and sometimes this analysis can inform action. The question they ask is, "How can we develop effective "Policy."
And there we are. In one paragraph Morality and Policy become discrete elements.
This is why Democrats seem out of touch.
During the middle of the last century smart liberals had a great chance to create what they viewed as Moral Policy. The New Deal, The Great Society, The Civil Rights Act, all of these were opportunities to create policy to assert the moral right. Some of the policies worked, some failed, but in some ways the success of any individual policy doesn't matter--ideas were tried and democracy has a tendency to find and eliminate dumb ideas.
Following the surge of liberal policy, the ideological right formed some think tanks to punch back. Many people argue that it was the strong, well capitalized, and intentional effort of the ideological right that has led to the current "decline" of the democratic party. I don't think so.

I think the big problem is that in regards to domestic policy, the left is putting out dumb ideas because they're asking the wrong questions.
The question should be "What are our fundamental values?" and "How can we translate those values into effective policy."
Right now there are a handful of good new liberal policy ideas, lots of them are conveniently coming out of University of Chicago and Harvard (Convenient for Democrats because Obama is plugged into both, convenient for me because I'm talking to both schools.) The resurgence of the Democratic party will happen when some smart people move in to effectively sell these ideas. The emergence of real political discourse will come when two groups with different perspectives start asking the right question.


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