Monday, April 29, 2013

Liberal or Conservative?

I have just been asked a question by a friend, one who describes himself as a “liberal pointy-head,” and I’m not sure what the answer is.

He started by asking, “How come YOU conservatives….?”

Many people today are of mixed ethnicities. I am of mixed ideologies. Therefore, when he said, “YOU conservatives…,” I was not offended, nor would I have been had a conservative friend said, “You liberals….”

But my ideologies and the areas in which I am conservative versus the ones in which I am liberal are not the topic here.

He really wants an answer to his question, and since I can’t answer it, maybe a reader can.

The question, minus his inflections, is: Why do those who tend toward the conservative stance, when discussing how to “fix” our educational system, insist that “throwing money at it” isn’t the answer? This is usually followed by opinions that teachers and administrators need to work smarter, be more innovative, find better solutions, try different techniques, and that money isn’t the answer.

But when the subject of improving our law enforcement system arises, the same conservative-leaning individuals will insist that more police need to be hired, better equipment needs to be bought, police presence must be increased, state of the art tracking and monitoring and computing are essential; i.e., “throwing” money at the situation is what is needed.

My friend asks why; why is increasing the amount of money spent the answer for one situation but not for both? If working “smarter” and finding better solutions and techniques is the answer for teachers, why is it not also the answer for law enforcement officers? And if more and better trained policemen and better equipment will improve the quality of law enforcement, why won't more and better trained teachers and better equipment and supplies improve the quality of education?

I don’t know. If anyone does, be he a liberal pointy-head or the conservative to end all conservatives, feel free to help us out.

Thank you,



  1. Great question. Most people are exposed to law enforcement only when they get a speeding ticket or when they call cops to the scene of their car accident--usually benign circumstances. The vast majority of people simply don't think about law enforcement until they are hip deep in trouble.

    After 9/11, we saw the apotheosis of law enforcement officers and firemen. That's when we started using the term "first responders" and that's when first responders were given halos. Even small town cops far away from NYC's ground zero sidled into the bright aura surrounding NYC's first responders. Those NYC officers and firemen were truly heroic; I don't argue that. I admire anyone who did what they did on that day. But they were heroes for very specific reason on that very specific enforcement very rarely encounters the need to risk their lives that way. They aren't heroes just because they wear a badge.

    Then the Dept of Homeland Security came along and started throwing money at law enforcement. It felt unpatriotic to deny these brave men and women the tools they need to fight terrorism, no matter how unlikely it was that the tools would ever be needed.

    While 9/11 is part of the answer, it can't be the whole answer because the militarization of police began long before the towers fell.

    My family had a very personal exposure to law enforcement when they came into our house, weapons drawn. That changed how I felt about LE and makes me look much more critically at what they do, why they do it, and whether they are doing what they should.

    When I tell people our story, they are always shocked at how things happened...because they have never been confronted with the reality of law enforcement operations.

    I do not think that conservatives are the only ones who are willing to throw money at law enforcement agencies. The Obama administration has ramped up raids on pot clinics, for example. Not exactly what you would think a liberal president would do. In the same way, W's administration introduced incursions against the Constitution in the Patriot Act. Not exactly what you would expect a conservative president would do. Liberals defend their guy by ignoring what his administration does. Conservatives defended Bush in much the same way. Powerful knee-jerk responses.

    It's all about power. Once someone is in office, the lure of power is simply too tempting. Good people are elected to office and it doesn't take long before they see the value of catering to LE unions or teacher unions...because a union endorsement can save the next election.

    I do believe that if conservatives truly understood how expensive law enforcement is, and how dangerous law enforcement can be for non-violent citizens, they would begin working against additional allocations to law enforcement agencies.

    I'm closer to a conservative than a liberal so my meandering answer is more about why conservatives are okay with supporting law enforcement. Liberals will need to answer the piece about why they think more money will solve all problems in the schools.

  2. (Part 1 of 2)

    I'm of the opinion that the conservative/liberal dichotomy is worn out and our partisan ideologies are in tremendous need of a new lexicon. The very idea that there are only two fundamental political approaches to the public discourse of the world's most dynamic and complex democracy beggars the intellect. Indeed, is patently stupid. That being said, I agree with Marie's comment that throwing money at an issue is certainly not a mechanism more indelibly stamped on liberals than conservatives (or vice versa). After all, it was Bill Clinton who promised and delivered federal money to place 100,000 more law enforcement officers in communities nationwide.

    That "conservatives" appear to be more inclined to throw money at law enforcement than education has more to do with the the essential politic their ideology is presently suited to endear: people who view "government schools" as a menace to the very same value system that harbors a deep-seated suspicion about the sorts of people who overwhelmingly populate our nation's criminal culture (namely, under-educated individuals of marginalized racial and ethnic minorities).

    But, even there, one has to be careful not to induce logical conclusions prematurely. There was a time, not long ago, when "conservatives" were much less likely than "liberals" to favor spending money on a large military or its active deployment to promote American interests. Conservatives were generally opposed to the nation's entrance into the European conflicts of WWI and WWII. Conservatives were generally opposed to the recognition of Israel as a state. Conservatives were not in favor of Johnson's decision to greatly expand our troop deployments to Vietnam.

    During the Cold War, conservatives embraced the argument inherited from Truman and Eisenhower that Communism was the greatest threat on earth to the existence of "free" people (whatever "free" is understood to mean). The collapse of Communism (at least Soviet styled) left a massive vacuum in the ideological landscape of conservatism as it came to be identified during the so-called "Reagan Revolution". For a decade (1991-2001), the conservative constituency most wedded to the concept of a strong national defense found itself lacking the most important element of its third leg (borrowing from the three-legged stool analogy): a large-looming threat to national security.

  3. (Part 2 of 2)

    Then comes 9/11....and a large-looming threat is born anew. Only this time the threat was right here on American soil. Using the armed forces as an efficient and legal instrument for waging domestic "war" against a large-looming threat was simply not an option the American public was prepared to employ (although, it now appears that the nation's resolve against such use is waning). But, this inconvenience was quickly overcome by the discovery of an "army" nobody previously recognized: the army of law enforcement personnel that, taken together as an aggregate, is almost as large as the armed forces themselves. Federal agents, state law enforcement and emergency agents, county law enforcement and emergency agents, town and city law enforcement and emergency agents....this is a massive peacetime army right under our noses. And now, thanks to the policies adopted post 9/11, these "forces" are as militarized as they have ever been, and our nation has a reckoning in store on account of it.

    I am not sure that it matters a great deal how one self-identifies (con v. lib) in view of where we stand as a "free" people surrounded at every turn by an invasive, intrusive law enforcement/emergency services monstrosity that views itself as the bulwark of freedom rather than, more appropriately, the greatest single threat to that freedom since our occupation by Great Britain. In the end, the price of security may be too high, and debating the merits of conservative or liberal approaches to important issues of the day will take a back seat to a serious (perhaps bloody) discussion of first principles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness!

  4. The answer is that bad behavior is treated differently. Law enforcement (if they choose to enforce the laws already written? can make a difference with more officers and better equipment.

    A school, however is not going to be able to control bad behavior because they are not allowed to do much to get control. More money in the schools, unless it is going to be used to return schools to the 60's attitude, is useless. With no God, no responsiblity for their actions, no enforced clothing code, no repurcussions to bad language, etc.,etc.,etc., our schools will only get worse, not better


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