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Works and Days

Liberal Illiberalism

March 18th, 2012 - 11:30 am

The Liberal Assault on Liberalism

Conservatives are put into awkward positions of critiquing liberal ideas on grounds that they are impractical, unworkable, or counterproductive. Yet rarely, at least outside the religious sphere, do they identify the progressive as often immoral. And the unfortunate result is that they have often ceded moral claims to supposedly dreamy, utopian, and well-meaning progressives, when in fact the latter increasingly have little moral ground to stand upon.

Take a few contemporary controversies.

Radical environmentalism. When “conservation” sometime in the 1970s was redefined as “environmentalism,” the morality of the entire issue likewise changed. Most Americans had wanted clean air and water; and they were willing to pay to curb pollutants and drive more expensive, but cleaner, cars. They had no desire to see condors die off or kit foxes disappear.

But at some point, the green creed began to dictate that all species were equal to humans. Soon concern for a tiny frog or worm trumped a needed project — a dam, an irrigation canal, an oil well, or a mine — designed to alleviate human suffering. Here I am not talking about large-scale species annihilation, but rather taking a truth about wishing to protect a natural habitat and perverting it into elevating concerns for insects, amphibians, and small fish over people’s elemental struggles to exist and prosper.

When California elites shut down 250,000 acres of irrigated agriculture to divert water into the San Francisco regional delta and bay, purportedly as a remedy to help the three-inch delta smelt, they were making a loud moral statement that those who mostly had secure jobs, mostly nice homes, and well-off environments were going to destroy the jobs of those in agriculture — not just the land owner and foreman, but the agricultural workers themselves — without much worry over the consequences.

In crude terms, the ideology might be paraphrased as something like the following, “I got mine, Jack, and can’t worry about you.” Or, “You don’t interest me as much as does a tiny fish in the delta.” In truth, I would be far more worried that the town of San Joaquin had little money for basic civic services from a cutoff in irrigation water than I would a drop in the delta smelt population.

Had a tractor salesman in Mendota or an irrigator in Firebaugh had an environmental Shane to square off against the Bay Area’s hired Jack Palance, then the dispute might at least have been more equal and honest. By that, I mean surely there are environmental problems with Berkeley’s treated sewage that goes into the Bay; a particular moth larva in theory could be found to be “in danger” when the next UC environmental sciences building is envisioned; and there must be all sorts of ways to ensure the Fish and Game Department’s trucks and SUVs run only on natural gas or propane, right?

In other words, so often in matters of producing gasoline for the lower middle classes, or cutting timber to ensure affordable housing, or making sure that we have plentiful cheap asphalt to fill potholes, we forget the moral argument that such resource utilization is critical to ensure that average folks have the same sort of chance for jobs, money, and aspirations as do the more wealthy whose green religious zeal makes them absolutely insensitive to — and in truth immoral about — the concerns of others less well off.

When Steven Chu admits both that he wishes gas prices to soar to European levels and that he has no need either to drive or to own a car, then he is really saying, “I don’t have much concern for the results of my own fantasies.” Yet had his lab and assorted lasers once been put on regular 12-hour blackouts to conserve “skyrocketing” energy, then he might have worried more about the consequences of his utopianism. When Barack Obama both calls for “skyrocketing” energy prices, and on his first January day in office turns up the West Wing thermostat to tropical temperatures, then there is a sort of immorality implicit in his entire ideology. At least Jimmy Carter put on a sweater and turned down the temperature to match his malaise rhetoric. Does Al Gore think that the Mexicans, Nigerians, or Venezuelans who supply some of the jet fuel that allows him to huckster via private aircraft are kinder to Earth in the Balance when they drill than when we would in ANWR or North Dakota?

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