A Philosopher's Blog

Obama & the Fly

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 18, 2009
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
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While people contrast Bush and Obama, they do have some things in common. Both men were elected President. Both men have ninja-like reflexes. Bush demostrated his skill by deftly dodging shoes hurled at him. Obama showed his lightning reflexes by smacking a fly. Perhaps this is a good sign for him-after all, a hero once got his start by killing flies.

While some folks think the death of the fly was cool, PETA folks are not amused. While not strongly condeming this murderous act, PETA did decide to send the President a device for capturing bugs without harming them. Rumor has it that he already tried it on Joe Biden during one of Joe’s notable off topic adventures.

Now, it might seem silly to be upset by the death of a fly. Mainly because it…well…is silly. That said, I somewhat agree with PETA. As a general moral rule, I try to avoid harming living things and damaging non-living things. My principle is that it is right to avoid doing harm.  This is based on the notion that destroying and harming things creates negative worth and that seems both immoral and irrational. I’ll even take effort to help out other living things. To use a serious example, I have two rescued cats (Zax and Ash) and an adopted dog (Isis). To use a silly example, I rescued a bee from the pool this morning. Though bees probably do not think much, I’m sure they do not enjoy drowning. I know I would not, so I rescued it out of sympathy.

Of course, I don’t cross over into the realm of madness when it comes to this. I fully accept that I can harm others to protect myself or others in legitimate circumstances. Since my principle is based on a notion of value/worth, I set the bar lower for creatures of lower worth. So, it would take a great deal for me to be justified in killing a human being. A person would, for example, have to be trying to serious harm me or some innocent person. In the case of flies, I believe I am justified in killing them when they try to bite me or seriously annoy me. Interesting, shortly after I rescued the bee, another bug landed on me and stung me. That little bastard got a quick trip to bug hell.

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Will the Media be Too Easy on Obama?

Posted in Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 27, 2009

While some might think that the notion that the media has a liberal bias is a new thing, it actually dates back to Spiro Agnew. This notion continued under the Reagan administration and is still around today. For example, it has been claimed that the media was too easy on Obama during the primaries and general election. Some even have gone so far as to claim that the biased media contributed to his victory. Naturally enough, some wonder whether the media will be too easy on Obama now that he is President.

Of course, there is the question of whether the media has a liberal bias or not. Some critics point to the surveys showing that journalists tend to be politically liberal as evidence for a liberal bias. While this does provide grounds for concern, the mere potential for bias does not entail actual bias. To use an analogy, I have definite moral views. However, when I grade student papers in my ethics classes, I do not grade them based on whether they match my view or not. Presumably other professionals can exert the same restraint as I and keep their bias in check.

In the face of such a question, the natural thing to do is to turn to the experts. Unfortunately, the experts disagree. For example, Eric Alterman argues that the liberal bias is a myth (What Liberal Bias?) while Bernard Goldberg contends that the bias is a fact (Bias). One problem with reports and books on the media is that they generally come from media folks. As such, this does raise a bit of a problem: can the media folks be trusted to objectively assess their own bias (or lack thereof)?

Laying aside experts, one way to address the matter of liberal bias is to observe what the media says about Obama. Clearly, not all the media folks are liberals who will take it easy on him. After all, the fine folks at Fox News tend to be very critical of Obama. Rush Limbaugh and other such media folks are also clearly not taking it easy on Obama.Of course, they can be accused of having a conservative bias-something that should be criticized as severely as having a liberal bias.

Other news companies might be seen as being biased in Obama’s favor. For example, some folks think that CNN is a bit too liberal leaning (with some notable exceptions) and will take it too easy on Obama. While CNN claims it will “keep them honest”, that remains to be seen.

In general, the media is often easily manipulated by the government. A few recent examples: first, the federal government  created a fake “news report” praising airport security. This “news report” was then distributed to stations along with a prepared introduction for local anchors to read.

Second, during its first four years the Bush administration spent a quarter of a billion dollars on fake “news” about Medicare, Iraq, Social Security, and No Child Left Behind. It should be noted that the Clinton Administration was also active in manipulating the media.

Third, between 2004 and 2005 three editorialists were exposed for taking money directly or indirectly from the Bush Administration to promote its policies and programs. Armstrong Williams received $200,000.

Fourth, in 2007 FEMA held a “press conference” in which FEMA staff members asked the questions. The White House spokesperson replied by saying that the practice was not employed by the White House and was not something that was condoned. This reply was reported uncritically by the White House Reporters, despite the fact that the White House has done the same in the past.

While more examples could be given, these should suffice to show that the media has a long tradition of being manipulated by the government and taking it easy on the President. True, the media did get tougher on the Bush Administration. However, that was when Bush’s approval ratings began to plummet. In light of the past, it seems reasonable to expect that the media will be fairly easy on Obama-provided that he remains popular. After all, shouldn’t he get the same easy ride that Bush got?

While Fox will be critical of Obama, someone should just play them tapes of what they said about the “liberal media” attacking Bush. After all, if the President should be treated a certain way by the media, that should hold whether the President is a liberal or a conservative.

My view is, of course, that the media folks should strive to be objective. When the Obama Adminstration is in error or up to something shady (wait for it…), then the media should call them on this. When the Obama Administration does well, then that should be noted as well.

Fox News & Consistency

Posted in Ethics, Politics, Reasoning/Logic by Michael LaBossiere on January 23, 2009

During the Clinton administration, the folks at Fox News were generally rather critical of executive privilege. During George W. Bush’s years in office, the folks at Fox were staunch supporters of executive privilege. This serious inconsistency was mocked on the Daily Show. Now that Obama is in office, it seems likely that the folks at Fox will be returning to their Clinton era view of executive privilege. No doubt, this sort of inconsistency will extend beyond their comments on executive privilege.

Of course, this sort of behavior is hardly surprising. When it comes to matters of politics, ethics and so forth, people tend to subscribe to two basic principles: “what I like is good” and “what I dislike is bad”. Naturally, most people (including those at Fox) do not state these principles openly. Rather, they conceal them behind the facade of “fake” principles. For example, the fine folks at Fox are not going to say “we don’t like what Obama is doing, so he is wrong.” Rather, they will say something such as “Obama is making an illegitimate use of executive privilege.” Rather than engage in what seems to be deceit (and perhaps self-deceit) the folks at Fox should just be honest and express their political leanings without any such facade. Such deceit would seem unethical and, if they sincerely believe they are “fair and balanced”, they need to come to grips with what seems to be rationalizations on their part. This would certainly help them be better critical thinkers.

Lest I myself seem guilty of being inconsistent, it must be noted that people with liberal leanings do the same sort of thing. For example, someone might have been very critical of Bush’s methods but quite willing to excuse Obama if he to employ those same methods. Being inconsistent is, obviously enough, truly bipartisan.

Naturally, people might claim that there are relevant differences between Bush and Obama and that these would justify a diffence in assessing them. This is quite reasonable-provided that a relevant difference is presented. If someone praises Obama and criticizes Bush for the same sort of actions simply because of her likes and dislikes, then she is not using a relevant difference to justify her assessment. If, in contrast, she showed that Bush’s actions had terrible consequences and Obama’s actions help America, then that would be a relevant difference.

It will be interesting to watch Fox News over the next four years.

Guantanamo

Posted in Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 10, 2008

One of the challenges that will be facing Obama (assuming Bush doesn’t do something about it) is Guantanamo.  Currently there are 255 prisoners there who are awaiting their fate. While there is speculation about what Obama will do, there are obviously no definite answers yet.

The Bush Administration’s handling of the situation has been something of a disaster for the United States. The commissions set up by this administration have been beset by legal challenges and the prison has served to undermine America’s standing as a just country which accepts the rule of law. As with individuals, a nation’s reputation is important. It is especially important for the United State because we Americans pride ourselves as being citizens of an ethical nation that respects life and liberty.

While the Guantanamo situation has stained America’s reputation and moral status, Obama has the chance to clean up this mess. Of course, the mess is a complex one and requires proper handling-lest another mess arise.

The ACLU has made its view clear-an ad was taken out in the New York Times exhorting Obama to close the prison as soon as he arrives in the Oval Office. While such a grand gesture is tempting, reality would seem to make this a non-viable option. After all (as the ACLU leadership knows) the situation is complex and complex situations need to be properly sorted out. That, of course, takes time.

The most pressing problem is, of course, what to do with the prisoners. Some of them are no doubt very bad people and what Bush called “cold-blooded killers.” Obviously, it would be unwise to simply let such people go. After all, they would no doubt for on to do more “bad things.” But, simply leaving them in prison indefinitely without trials would be immoral and would continue to damage America’s reputation.

The obvious solution would be to hold trials as soon as possible, preferably while the prison is being shut down. Ideally, the trials would be open-secret trials would probably just do more damage. Of course, there would have to be the usual weighing of national security against openness. However, national security has so often been invoked to hide misdeeds that its use might strike many as dubious and suspicious.

If trials are to be held, there is the question of where to hold them and where to keep the prisoners. Interestingly, while American prisons are supposedly able to hold the worst criminals, some claim that we do not have adequately secure facilities in the United States. However, it might be suspected that the opposition to bringing the prisoners into the United States is that this would have legal implications. But, if security is the main concern, secure facilities certainly could be provided. While this would be expensive, it could be money well spent-assuming that it is part of a process that helps restore America’s commitment to justice and rule of law.

The Bush Administration & The Business Model

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 15, 2008

One stereotype of Republicans is that they promise to run government as a business. This is generally presented by the conservatives as a good thing. After all, businesses are expected to make a profit, run smoothly and run in an efficient manner. In contrast, government is generally seen as being run at a loss, run poorly and run inefficiently. Bush and his fellows came into power with a promise to run the government like  a business.

They kept this promise.

Of course, they did not give us the expected efficiency and smoothness. Rather, they followed the sort of business model that resulted in the subprime mess.

This model is essential the same as irrational selfishness. The hallmarks of this are as follows.

First, the individual or group is primarily (or even solely) concerned about itself.  The folks bringing us the subprime mess and the Bush administration have this in common. Looking at the behavior of both sets of people, it is evident that the general good was not their concern.

Second, the individual or group is focused on getting what he or they value without reflection on whether this is truly what is good. The sophists of ancient Greece had this problem as does the Bush administration and the subprime folks. In the case of the subprime folks, they were far too focused on money. In the case of Bush, he seems to value damaging America. After all, he has created a massive debt, started wars, and allowed Americans to suffer through disasters.

Third, the individual or group is poor at assessing consequences (hence the irrational aspect). Bush doesn’t seem to have a very good grasp of what his actions and decisions will entail. Unless, of course, his goal has been to wreck America. If so, then he has acted in a very effective and rational manner. In the case of the subprime folks, they clearly did not consider what the results would be of their actions.

Fourth, the individual or group resents attempts to limit their actions and take steps to avoid or neutralize such restrictions even when such restrictions are legitimate. The Bush administration’s guiding quote seems to have been “I’ll do what I want and no one can stop me.” They routinely violated or bent the laws of the United States and acted with resentment and retaliation when people attempted to question or correct them. The subprime folks took steps to neutralize or prevent any regulations or oversight that might impede their drive towards destruction.

While some have praised selfishness and the business model based on it, it does not seem to work very well for most of those involved.

Shale Oil

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 19, 2008

Oil ShaleAs oil prices close in on $150 per barrel and gas prices remain over $4 per gallon, the cries for solutions grow ever louder.

President Bush recently claimed that shale oil can provide a solution to our oil woes. “Shale oil” is something of a misnomer. The rock in question is a sedimentary rock but need not be shale. Also, the oil in the rock is not crude oil. It can be processed into a form of crude oil and then further refined.

America has significant amounts of oil shale  located in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Some estimate that about 800 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the shale, which exceeds the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia by three times. Obviously, if that oil could be extracted, then America would have  a significant source of oil. And, of course, the oil companies would have a significant source of new profits.

As per the usual political formula, it has been claimed that shale oil is not being exploited because regulation and red tape stand in the way. The solution is the stock proposal: the regulations need to be dealt with so as to allow American energy corporations to step in and do what they do best (that is, make vast profits by exploiting public resources).

Also following the usual formula, environmental groups are generally opposed to this proposal. This is because exploiting shale oil typically involves strip mining and that can involve significant environmental damage. The replies to the environmental concerns are the usual ones about the need for energy, the need to be free of foreign oil and so forth.

One factor that Bush and his fellows seem to be ignoring is the fact that the main obstacle to exploiting shale oil is not red tape but reality. To be specific, creating a system to commercially exploit shale oil is a significant challenge and one that some experts estimate will take 10-20 years to develop. Hence, shale oil cannot be a solution to our current oil woes. It might, however, provide some solution to our future oil woes.

In addition to the technical challenge, there is also the matter of cost. The cheapest way to get oil is the stereotypical oil well-you drill a hole into the earth and liquid oil comes out. Obviously, digging up rock and processing it into oil will be more expensive than pumping liquid oil from the ground. Because of this, it might seem more cost effective to focus instead on alternative energy.

However, when calculating the cost of an energy source it is important to consider the total cost of that energy. One thing that people often overlook is that most of our energy technology is built around oil. If shale oil can be converted to fuels that can be utilized in current cars, furnaces and such, then this would make shale oil less costly in this regards than converting over to a different source of energy. For example, my truck runs on gas. In order to use electricity as a “fuel” for it, I’d have to replace the engine. That would be rather expensive and I’d probably be better off paying more for gas derived from shale oil.

Obviously enough, the situation also raises significant moral concerns.

On one hand, there are good reasons to exploit such a resource. First, oil is the basic source of energy for our economy and way of life. Assuming that employment and the modern way of life are desirable goods, then we have a moral reason to exploit the shale oil. Of course, people have been critical of this way of life, so this can be challenged. Second, to be cynical and hateful, it could be argued that the recent exports of the Middle East have been oil and terror (in the past, the Middle east made significant contributions to mathematics, science and philosophy). Naturally enough, the importance of the Middle East and the funding for terror and political extremism rests heavily on oil. If the world had another large source of oil, that would make the Middle East far less significant and provide less funding for political turmoil. While it might be regarded as selfish, with a vast oil reserve of our own we could leave the Middle East to its own devices-either to work things out or go out in a blaze of nuclear fire. Naturally, we’d still need to keep and eye on the Middle East, but this could be a form of containment rather than involvement. In reply, some might regard this approach as morally reprehensible.

On the other hand, there are good reasons not to exploit oil shale. The first one is that oil shale will harm the environment. In addition to the damage inflicted by strip mining, there is the obvious fact that shale oil is still oil and will pollute the environment like conventional oil. The second one is that focusing on oil shale could divert effort and funding away from better sources of energy, thus leaving us worse off than we could be. The third concern is that the exploitation of oil shale could turn into yet another mess for the American taxpayer. If the usual pattern is followed, the companies that plan to exploit the shale oil will receive significant largess from the government.

My concluding thoughts are that oil shale should be seriously considered. However, the situation reminds me a bit of drug addition: imagine a junkie who is running out of her drug of choice. Rather than using the opportunity to clean up her life, she instead hopes to find a similar drug and keep going on the same path.

Bush, Wiretaps and Immunity

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 16, 2008

Currently, AT&T and other telecoms are being sued for allegedly allowing federal authorities to tap phone lines without warrants.

Since wiretapping without a warrant is illegal and seems to be a clear violation of various legal rights there seems to be excellent ground for suing these telecoms. In their defense, the telecoms’ lawyers are claiming that they acted in good faith and hence should not be subject to such law suits. The Bush administration, seemingly devoted to violating the law whenever it can, agrees with the companies.

On one hand, there are good grounds to agree with the telecoms. After all, if they were pressured by the federal government, then they could be regarded as having little choice in the matter. After all, everyone is expected to conform to the dictates of the state and to do otherwise could be regarded as to be acting in a lawless manner. Further, the state can apply a great deal of pressure to get its way and the telecoms would have to go along.  Finally, the telecoms could claim that they were cooperating with the war on terror and believed they were doing the right thing.

On the other hand, the telecoms are big companies who possess legions of lawyers. These folks surely understand the law and the consequences of breaking it. Further, these telecoms have armies of lobbyists and significant influence. This would enable them to resist being pushed around by the federal authorities. After all, big companies influence the state all the time. Further, it is quite possible to resist such illegal requests. Qwest did it and they seem to have suffered no ill effects. As such, there seems to be little justification for the actions of the companies in going along with illegal wiretapping requests.

Turning now to the Bush administration, it was clearly wrong of them to request such wiretaps without going through due process. America prides itself as a country based on law and ethics. To simply disregard the law in such a manner is not only an illegal act, but an expression of pure contempt for the basic principles that are considered the foundation of the United States.

What makes the matter even worse is that the legal mechanisms were already in place to do what Bush and his fellows wanted to do. They could have simply asked for warrants and they would have almost certainly been granted. The fact that the administration could not be bothered to go through such a process to get what it wanted serves to illuminate even more their attitude towards the law and due process. Like someone who lies when the truth would serve as well or better, the Bush administration members seem to have a pathological condition in regards to due process and ethics.

Of course, the Bush administration’s members are not the only players in this game. The Senate and House are playing as well.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence currently claims that the telecoms involved should be granted retroactive immunity. The committee members base their claim on the following line of reasoning:

1. By law, the telecoms have protection from lawsuits in regards to wiretapping when either they are given a legal warrant or the attorney general certifies the action.

2. The Bush administration, as it so often does, has classified any documents it “may or may not” have provided the telecoms as state secrets.

3. Since the documents are secret, the telecoms cannot show these (alleged) documents in court and thus cannot mount a proper legal defense.

4.  Therefore, says the committee members, the telecoms must be granted immunity.

On the face of it, their logic has a certain appeal. It would be unjust to convict anyone when they cannot provide key evidence in their defense because it has been ruled a state secret.

Of course, I am rather suspicious of the state secret gambit. Rather than saying that warrants exist, the committee simply seems to be saying that if there were warrants, then they could not show them. So, even if there were not warrants, then they cannot be sued. While I do appreciate clever maneuvers, this hardly seems to justify granting the telecoms immunity to prosecution. If there are warrants, then the administration can simply make this fact non-secret. The telecoms can thus have their defense. If there are no warrants, then the telecoms acted illegally and should be punished. Since they seem to have been pressured to commit such illegal actions, then those who pressured them should also be subject to  prosecution.

It might be replied that the warrants must remain secret to protect the state in some manner. I do understand that they might not wish to reveal exactly who was being spied on. After all, those people might still be under surveilance and they might actually be terrorists. However, revealing that warrants were issued hardly seems to be something that would harm the state. Of course, if it were revealed that wiretapping took place without warrants, then this would hurt the administration and the telecoms by revealing that they acted illegally. But, of course, the legitimate purpose of state secrets is not to protect people from their violations of the law.

The House has proposed an alternative approach to the matter. Their solution seems to be a fairly reasonable compromise. To appease those devoted to state secrets, the plan is that relevant documents can be presented in secret before a judge with none of the plaintiffs being present. The judge would presumably assess the documents and determine whether the documents show that the wiretapping was illegal or legal. If the judge decides that the wiretapping was done properly, then the telecoms would have a strong legal defense. If not, they would be in some trouble.

While this is better than the senate’s solution, it still keeps an important matter cloaked in secrecy. This is, of course, quite contrary to the ideals of an open, democratic state.

I suspect, but obviously cannot prove, that the secret documents do not show that the telecoms acted in a legal manner. If everything was above board, then there would be no reason to cloak the matter in the stinking shadows of government secrecy. If everything were on the up and up, the relevant information about the warrants would be available and the matter would be settled.

Bush, Texas and Fences

Posted in Environment, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2008

America is, in theory, based on the rule of law and individual rights. While the Bush administration has long claimed to support American values, its actions have consistently violated these values. One excellent example of this is the situation involving the plan to put up a border fence in Brownsville, Texas. The purpose of the fence is to keep illegal immigrants out of the country. This will no doubt work as well as other such fences in history.

The rule of law is an important component of American democracy. Abiding by this principle means following the law. If the laws are regarded as flawed, then the proper step to take is to change the laws so as to rectify the problem. To simply ignore or waive laws in an unprincipled way is clearly a violation of the notion of the rule of law. The Bush administration has quite a record of violating the rule of law and their guiding philosophy seems, to borrow a phrase from Eric Cartman, is “I do what I want.” In the case of the Texas fence Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff decided to waive 36 laws. Among the laws he has elected to bypass are the  Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Naturally, it can be argued that laws sometimes have to be set aside in order to serve a greater good. For example, businesses are often granted exemptions so as to help the economy and emergencies can require that certain laws be suspended. However, from a moral standpoint this sort of thing should be done in a principled manner and only when doing so does, in fact, serve the greater good.

In the case of the fence, it seems unlike that it will work. Fences are easy to deal with-people can go around, through or over them with some effort. This is not to say that the US should leave its borders defenseless, but that putting up fences is not an effective way of keeping people out (or in). Further, the fence will waste resources that could be better used in other ways, such as more effective means of border defense and dealing with immigration.

Finally, a fence is not the sort of thing that is consistent with the American ideal: “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As noted above, America is founded on the concept of individual rights. Along with this is the notion that the state should not trample the citizens in a manner befitting a tyrant. In the case of the fence, many local residents oppose it. Some have refused to yield their land, their private property, to the will of the Bush administration. Naturally, the state simply plans to use eminent domain in order to take by force what it could not win with consent. This is, of course, typical. The Bush administration has shown little respect for the rights of most citizens and little respect for morality and decency.

It could be replied that the state needs to be able to act in this manner so as to serve the greater good. For example, the state might need to build a road through an area and it would not do if a single person could stand in the way of such development by refusing to yield her land.

Of course, this once again raises the question of whether doing this actually serves the general good. The evidence seems to be (as argued above) that it would not. The state should wield its power against its own only when there is no other choice and only when doing so serves a greater good. The fence does not meet these conditions. Hence, the Bush administration should take the same approach here that its has generally taken with corporations, namely keeping its hands off.

One other concern is the environmental impact of the fence. The fence will cut through the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge and many experts believe that it will be rather bad for the environment (hence the need, as noted above, for numerous laws to be bypassed). Texas actually derives significant income from the environment via tourism. Hence, this fence will also harm the economy.

Finally, the fence seems to nicely illustrate the usual way the administration does things: by poor planning and in secrecy. Fish and Wildlife officials and local citizens have reported that they could not get consistent information about where the fence would be built and exactly what was planned. This is business as usual for this administration.

One good thing about the upcoming election is that the odds seem to be that no matter who gets elected, s/he cannot possibly be as bad as the current President and his fellows. Hopefully, the next President will fix the fence problem…and the multitude of other problems that will be dumped on his/her desk on day one.

The Fall of Conservatism?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on March 6, 2008

The death of William F. Buckley depleted both the ranks of American conservatives and American thinkers. This event has lead many, including Newsweek to claim that conservatism is crumbling and adrift. While this seems correct, the crumbling of American conservatism is nothing new.

To discuss the alleged fall of conservatism  requires defining conservatism. This is a somewhat tricky manner. Often, in the United States, there are but three political options: liberal, conservative, and the fringe (left or right). Hence, the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are forced to cover a broad range of views-some of which are not exactly consistent with each other.

The stock definition of conservatism includes four main aspects: limited government, fiscal responsibility, strong defense both foreign and domestic, that is-military and police), and traditional moral values. Naturally there is vast disagreement about the particulars. But, for the sake of simplicity, I will take that to provide a general picture of conservatism.

Conservatism does seem to have taken a beating in recent years. Republicans claim, in general, to be conservatives and their political fortunes have taken a downturn in recent years (losing Congress to the Democrats being the main example). They have also been rocked by scandals too numerous to mention.

Some might blame the weakened state of conservatism in America on their dire enemies-the liberals. While a case could be made that Al Gore, MTV, Myspace, texting and Tila Tequila helped deal serious blows to the conservative values of America, much of the blame can be laid to rest on the self-proclaimed conservatives.

While Buckley presented a well thought out and consistent form of conservatism while living in accord with his ideals, many self-styled conservatives (most of which were labeled as “neo-conservatives”) acted in ways directly contrary to their professed values.

In terms of fiscal conservatism, Bush and the Republican congress presided over a massive growth in the deficit. Ironically, it was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who handed them a surplus.  Obviously, people began to notice this and this helped put cracks in the conservative movement,

In terms of defense, the conservatives were more consistent-they pushed for a stronger military and took action to defend America. While their strategy can be questioned (specifically the invasion of Iraq) their commitment to pouring money into defense cannot be doubted. Of course, the unpopularity of the Iraq war has helped to damage the conservative movement.

In terms of limited government, the opposite has occurred. With alleged conservatives at the helm, the government has suffered from severe bloat. While people do love programs that benefit them, they tend to resent those that merely benefit others or provide no apparent benefit. This has also helped to damage conservatism.

In terms of traditional values, moral scandals have been all too common among those professing to be keepers of such values. Further, basic rights have been shunted aside and the most basic America value of all, rule of law, has been ignored on numerous occasions. The alleged defenders of morality have failed time after time to live up to even the most basic moral values, let alone the values they profess. These often hypocritical moral failings have done perhaps the most serious damage to the movement.  When someone claims to be a champion of what is right, people expect them to (at the very least) be morally decent.  The numerous moral failures by so many self proclaimed conservatives has tarnished the movement.

As many have claimed, the death of Buckley has left America without a great and true conservative intellectual. There are, of course, competent and true conservative thinkers out there-but Buckley was such a giant that he has left a massive gap in the ranks. It remains to be seen if someone will emerge who is strong enough, wise enough, and good enough to restore American conservatism. I certainly hope someone is up to the task. Meanwhile, we’ll have to just endure the usual shallow and contentious banter from the speakers of the right and the left.

Some might be surprised about my hope-I have often been accused of being a liberal. This is not the case, but merely the result of the rather unfortunate three label system that has plagued the political discourse.  I suppose that my views would push me more into the liberal camp, but many of my views would also place me in the conservative camp. I try to believe what reason best supports-so it is no surprise that I, like many people, don’t neatly fit a stock political label.