Camille Paglia

September 10, 2009

I was lucky enough to find Camille Paglia’s columns on Salon.com about a year and a half ago.  I had been looking for someone on the other side of the spectrum that I could read.  She’s interesting, she thinks critically and she’s capable of criticizing the people she supports.

In her latest column she articulates well why I have a hard time reading many liberal columnists and some conservative columnists (and many sports columnists and general, feel good columnists):

Throughout this fractious summer, I was dismayed not just at the self-defeating silence of Democrats at the gaping holes or evasions in the healthcare bills but also at the fogginess or insipidity of articles and Op-Eds about the controversy emanating from liberal mainstream media and Web sources. By a proportion of something like 10-to-1, negative articles by conservatives were vastly more detailed, specific and practical about the proposals than were supportive articles by Democrats, which often made gestures rather than arguments and brimmed with emotion and sneers. There was a glaring inability in most Democratic commentary to think ahead and forecast what would or could be the actual snarled consequences — in terms of delays, denial of services, errors, miscommunications and gross invasions of privacy — of a massive single-payer overhaul of the healthcare system in a nation as large and populous as ours. It was as if Democrats live in a utopian dream world, divorced from the daily demands and realities of organization and management.

Whether I agree or disagree with her, I appreciate how she lays out her thought process to arrive at her opinion.  That lets me know how she got there.  That can’t be said for many other columnists.  I will look for examples to share.

In this column she also pointed out a paradox I’ve recognized as well.  I find it strange that Hollywood appears to be so supportive of big government since many stars became successful by bucking authority, honing their craft and persevering with their own talents.  Camille helps me with that thought too, except she uses 60s liberals in place of Hollywood liberals:

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism.

How has “liberty” become the inspirational code word of conservatives rather than liberals? (A prominent example is radio host Mark Levin’s book “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” which was No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly three months without receiving major reviews, including in the Times.) I always thought that the Democratic Party is the freedom party — but I must be living in the nostalgic past. Remember Bob Dylan’s 1964 song “Chimes of Freedom,” made famous by the Byrds? And here’s Richie Havens electrifying the audience at Woodstock with “Freedom! Freedom!” Even Linda Ronstadt, in the 1967 song “A Different Drum,” with the Stone Ponys, provided a soaring motto for that decade: “All I’m saying is I’m not ready/ For any person, place or thing/ To try and pull the reins in on me.”

I think there might be an explanation to this paradox though (wanting liberty/freedom and big government).  The liberty they seek is different than the liberty conservatives seek.  Thomas Sowell answered this in his book Conflict of Visions.  Conservative’s liberty is the freedom choose, freedom from coercion from others.

Liberal freedom is the freedom from consequences of actions.  Liberals see the rigors of participating in society as a form of coercion.  They view the obligation of going to work to earn their keep to pay the mortgage company and food companies as  form of coercion.  They believe that we should be able to achieve a basic standard of living (which is usually whatever is available to upper middle class of the time) while pursuing whatever we desire.

The hard reality that whatever we desire may not be something others value enough to pay for voluntarily, as it happens in capitalism, is the consequence liberals want to avoid and that’s where government comes in.

I also agree with what Camille has to say about Republicans:

Having said all that about the failures of my own party, I am not about to let Republicans off the hook. What a backbiting mess the GOP is! It lacks even one credible voice of traditional moral values on the national stage and is addicted to sonorous pieties of pharisaical emptiness. Republican politicians sermonize about the sanctity of marriage while racking up divorces and sexual escapades by the truckload.

After reading for awhile, I think Camille is a liberal, in the classical sense, as are true conservatives.  I believe the reason she hasn’t defected from Democrats is her stance on abortion.

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