An actual Conservative/Progressive Debate

The other night on The Daily Show Jon Stewart interviewed former Ambassador John Bolton in a very revealing 9 minutes. It’s really worth the time to download.

While there is a lot to talk about here, and I hope others add to this, I want to start with one of the central tenets of Bolton’s philosophy outlined in this show. He believes that the Executive Branch needs to be filled with ideological twins of whoever is holding the office. By his rationale, “The point of electing the president as head of the Executive Branch is to give the people the chance to to dictate the direction the entire Executive Branch is headed.”

While this is a wonderfully phrased response, what he actually means and what the question really amounts to is “do you believe that the purpose of the Executive Branch is to lead the people in an ideological driven direction or should it be led in a direction that is best for the nation regardless of ideology. By Bolton’s logic any president can and should lead the country in the ideological direction that he has been elected to convey, but the way I see it, is that the President is in charge of the nation, both supporters and dissenters, and subsequently must do his best to lead the country towards to common good, not the ideological good.

Stewart does a wonderful job saying that Lincoln surrounded himself with people who passionately disagreed with his policies and Bolton is wrong to say that it is untrue. Read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Book, Team of Rivals. Surrounding oneself with people who echo your beliefs leads to a) incompetence (see Michael “Brownie” Brown), b) people who represent organizations they disapprove of (Bolton) or c) both (Gonzales). Stewart is absolutely right that it is like naming Captain Ahab the head of the Save the Whales Club. Nothing gets done for the common good.

I hope you enjoy this debate. Two different sets of ideals being articulated, and please comment on what I haven’t mentioned.

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7 Responses to An actual Conservative/Progressive Debate

  1. comm5ttee says:

    You picked up on a strange point to lead off with and one that I really don’t think is at the heart of the debate here. To me, the issue is where does the power of government lie? Is it with the Executive or with the Legislature? This is the better debate.

    However, before I get to that, I would like to make a point on yours about who is installed in positions within the Executive. It seems to me that this is no different than a corporation president overhauling the goals and objectives of the organization and doing a trickle down get-everybody-in-line approach to moving the company in one direction. I have trouble with this argument that just because he won by 1 or 1 million or 100 million, one should reach out to the other side. While it is true that you get a variety of view points and you may be better prepared, I’m just not seeing the absolute need to do so. If I’m those guys, I say, hey we won, lets move the country in the direction we think is right while we have the time. Now you and I and most who will read this might disagree with the direction until we are blue in the face, but one thing is certain: its the direction they chose. They can put whomever they see fit to make their policies come to life. I hope we do the same.

    The Lincoln thing from John Stewart is BS – I mean, come on, thats like saying the men at the Continental Congress surrounded themselves with people with different view points to make the best decision. Are you kidding? If Adams had his way he would have offed John Dickinson to get the Declaration. He couldn’t – although its worthy to note Dickinson never did show up for a vote on it. Hmm. But, let’s at least be serious, the problem we have with this administration is that we perceive no discussions to be happening in order to effectuate the already-decided policies. But is this really problematic? I venture to say no. I don’t like it but hey Republicans will be around when we win but I don’t want to involve them in a conversation about whether to limit a woman’s right to choose. Do you?

    The real issue is one of the situs of power in American democracy. I would assert that those who have the ability to enact the laws and are able to ensure that they are enforced through the power of the purse is where the power lies. Additionally, it seems to follow from the idea of the Revolution that this was the way it was supposed to be. I think this is where your progressive-conservative debate begins…

  2. johncos says:

    I’m not sure where to begin. The fact that the Continental Congress surrounded themselves with people who had different opinions is the REASON the U.S. Constiution is such a great document, regardless of whether the individual personalities or ideologies wanted to hear from the other side. The compromises of the Congress are what led to such a brilliant document.

    The Lincoln comparison is far from BS. Bush’s decision to choose loyalty over competence is something that we as progressives have bemoaned for the entire administration…and had the Powell Doctrine been followed Iraq may be a different place today. My point is that the problem with the neoconservative agenda was their intolerance of any difference of opinion and their insular nature that limited, no negated, any alternative readings of history or perceptions of reallity that differs from their view of the world.

    Finally, you seem to somehow agree with Bolton’s theory that Bush is only accountable, and must only serve those people that voted for him. I completely disagree. I don’t subscribe to the belief that “he’s not my president” just because I disdain every policy initiative he puts forth. Rather because he IS my president, i hold him accountable for his decisions, and participate in political discourse in the hopes of persuadiing others that things should be going in a different direction.

    Finally, i’d appreciate it if, as administrators of the blog, we were as respectful as possible to other administrators. Debate is good, debate is essential to finding solutions and to creating the best platform. Also others here have ideas i had not previously thought of and as such I appreciate other points of view…but let’s keep things cordial.

  3. comm5ttee says:

    First, I think you took my comments with too much vinegar. They weren’t as such. There’s no disrespect. I was trying to make a point (in the above comment) that I don’t think at the heart of the conservative-progressive debate is whether one surrounds themselves with people who are smarter than them, different in ideology, or political lackies.

    Second, the Constitution as a great document – we could get into that another time. Aren’t there just a few too many ambiguities in there for you? I much prefer a French or German style with human rights guarantees right up front rather than amended.

    Third, while it is true that discourse is good in the Oval Office, it is disingenuous for us to want discourse but then scream and yell when a president evokes Executive Privilege. While it may be true if we followed “x” at the time, “y” wouldn’t have happened, we elect someone on the promises they make to act in a certain way during that time in office and if they don’t follow that, we call them a “flip-flopper.” And just so we are all clear, the “we” used in each of these sentences was in reference to us as the electorate.

    While you are right George W. Bush is technically my President, he’s not MY President. He disagrees with me on such basic fundamental things as human rights. I’m sorry, but when interests have diverged as much as they have in this country, moving to the center is not the mark of progressiveness. If you look at polls, more and more people are tolerant. More and more people like privacy rights. More and more people like healthcare programs. If we go to the base, we can win, straight up. We won’t have to make concessions that most of us aren’t willing to make.

    The political parties were created for discourse and checks and balances. They won, and now let them screw up the Executive. The people get their say every four years on that branch. That’s how the founders wanted it. So during these four years, lets use our discourse and debate to convince people never to vote for a Republican again. Just sayin’…

    I still assert this is not the real issue in this debate (the original as between Bolton and Stewart) but of course we’ll get to that later.

    Again, no vinegar, just water.

  4. anoodle says:

    Great debate– a few points–

    1– I actually think you are both right, but you’re talking about two different things. I happen to agree with the original post: the debate between Stewart and Bolton was primarily over the meaning of leadership. Does being President of the US mean you shove your ideological agenda down the throats of everyone in government, regardless of the results? Or, does it mean that your ideology guides your decision making, but in the long run, you look for results and you pragmatically lead the country to the best outcomes possible? Stewart made a few excellent points, but the best was when he asked why the administration continues to install people in agencies who have utter contempt for government? Nobody thinks you need to love bureaucracy to be effective, but it would make sense to have people in key positions who at least respect the institutions they work for and with. Bolton was a classic example– he once said the country would be better off without the UN, and then he becomes our ambassador to it. One of the things that gets lost often in the red v blue or progress v conservative debate, is the fact that conservatives, by and large disdain government. It’s that disdain, and their belief that the private sector always can do better that is directly responsible for the crappy results we’ve seen across much of this administration– whether it was installing Brownie as head of FEMA, or throwing Harriet Miers’ name out there to be a SC justice, or placing the head of the lobbying firm for the American Petroleum institute in the EPA, etc, there are countless examples of conservative philosophy at work– do your best to outsource to the private sector, let the market work, and who cares how bad government looks. If government looks bad enough, maybe people will want even less of it. Then cut spending, and as they say, ‘starve the beat.’ This is intentional, not accidental.

    2– The Lincoln analogy, in my opinion, is an excellent one. I’m about 400 pages into Team of Rivals right now, and I can say, without any doubt, that we would be much better served right now by a president who at least listened to and carefully considered a variety of opinions. Lincoln’s ability to do this, as well as his incredible political ability to gain consensus and build support, allowed him to mold his policies as the times required, and he provided incredible leadership as a result of it. The problem I have with the neoconservative nonsense is that they have their minds made up, no matter what the facts or evidence show. To me, that’s not leadership, that’s pure, unadulterated ideological BS. I would hope that any progressive president would at least listen to the other side before making his or her decisions.

    3– The end of Stewart’s interview dealt with the balance of powers. Bush has pushed the envelope further than any president in history, mostly because his people either worked for Nixon/Ford or are their descendants. I agree completely that the legislative branch should be co-equal with the executive, but part of the blame for this imbalance lies with the Congress. Yes, the Dems have only been in power for 3 months, but the true test of their willingness to assert themselves as co-equal is coming soon– if they are willing to hold the line on war appropriations until their opinion is listened to, they are doing their jobs. If they buckle to the right wing media machine’s unpatriotic rants against their debate, they are the weaklings everyone says they are.

    4– I agree that the tone here should be civil. I don’t think the 2nd post was meant as a personal attack. Let’s keep debates like this going…… it’s what I hoped this blog would become: a constructive and substantive forum for progressive ideals and policies to combat the right wing ‘starve the beast, shrink the government, smear the liberals’ machine.

  5. johncos says:

    Really strong and well-thought out analysis. I completely agree with your second point. The new wave of conservative belief that facts should fit ideology (“truthiness”) is infiltrating everything from the media, to “conservapedia” (a hilariously bad answer to wikipedia), to our foreign policy. Its almost a problem of fundamentalism, or Kool-Aid drinking. Believing in the complete and total validity of every theory and practice that facts are manipulated for a “greater good.” (People of every side of every argument could be conceivably guilty of this)

    On your third point, I would argue that the Founders had intended for the Legislative body to be greater than equal with the Executive Branch. Their fear of a monarch (or an imperial presidency) is pretty clear, and they would expect our Congress (which thus far has been somewhat hesitant to attack Bush) to check and balance every move he makes with one they felt would be superior. I know we’ve already started down the slippery slope of war powers and executive signing orders, but Congress still has the right and the obligation to monitor and correct mistakes and actions taken by the Executive.

    Sorry if it sounded as though my feelings were hurt. Not my intention, and though I disagree a little with comm5tee sometimes, we’re both trying to get to the same point.

  6. anoodle says:

    I agree on the founders’ intentions– they definitely looked to Congress to be the most powerful branch. It’s no accident that Article 1 was Article 1……. I’m surprised the 22nd amendment had to happen at all. You would think the founders would have dealt with that issue.

  7. yardman5508 says:

    “I don’t like it but hey Republicans will be around when we win but I don’t want to involve them in a conversation about whether to limit a woman’s right to choose. Do you?”

    But I DO want them in the discussion. Ultimately someone progressive will be at the helm and what we are seeking is inclusion for all segments of the electorate. By including all in the discussion, you ensusre that the outcome, reached by concensus, will be supportable by all. THAT is what the Founders envisioned. THAT is the essence of democratic government. If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of our basic belief in government. Ultimately, conservative/progressive/liberal discussion must agree on that fundamental point.

    I had a conversation with a fairly blue blooded conservative from South Carolina recently and he told me his rationale for coming to see the progressive point of view. “Ideally,” he said, “I would love to see a smaller government and, more importantly, lesser government, but, realistically, that is not going to happen. Now everything you try to accomplish becomes an opportunity to increase the power of national government. Therefore, it only makes sense that we should try to insusre that the national government is as representative as possible and we damned sure better try to exercise some sort of control over that government”

    This is a nice site, glad I discovered it.

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