Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy and Liberalism

Senator Ted Kennedy died last night. In the article it was stated that during the course of his 4 decade career in the Senate he "helped enact measures to protect civil and labor rights, expand healthcare, upgrade schools, increase student aid and contain the spread of nuclear weapons. "There's a lot to do," Kennedy told Reuters in 2006. "I think most of all it's the injustice that I continue to see and the opportunity to have some impact on it." Later, the article quotes him "I've benefited from the best of medicine, but I've also witnessed the frustration and outrage of patients and doctors alike as they face the challenges of a system that shortchanges millions of Americans."

As I read the article I thought about how wonderful sounding and pretty noble are these ambitions. On the face of it, who doesn't care about upgrading schools? My kids go to school. I want that. The spread of nukes? It's no good. Stop it. Healthcare for all? It would be great if all Americans could get the same care as Ted Kennedy. Who could be against that?

And yet, after over 4 decades, what thwarts these grand goals? Perhaps reality? Maybe? The problem for liberals, and why I can't be a liberal, is because society is far too complex for simple prescriptions to the challenges Ted Kennedy fought to remedy. And government solutions are not the best mechanism for addressing such inequalities. They actually can serve to hinder remedies. If the answer to every social problem were to have the government spend money or set up a program or provide a direct remedy for it, our myriad of problems would have been solved already.

Unfortunately, anyone who lives life recognizes over time that there are limits to what you can do in terms of time, money, energy, and people. As you mature you realize there are things you can and cannot do. Neither you can nor "we" can achieve all we set out to do. Americans of a college age are fed the idea that they can and should do something to change the world in one way or another. Often, as President Obama said at a college commencement speech, it is recommended they find meaning in their lives by doing government service rather than the menial, apparently empty pursuit of a business career.

I would suggest that the best place to start seriously addressing these problems is to start from the bottom up. You can start by being a faithful friend, spouse, employee, father, student, neighbor. Start local. If our energies were more directed to helping people develop strong character we might find that over time we actually have less social problems to address. Unfortunately the same liberal people who care about people in general don't stress individual character. They focus on the need for community and tolerance and the need to live well together. But how can that be successful if uniquely individual traits such as integrity, honesty, knowing right from wrong, and generally being responsible for your own actions is not stressed? You can't have a strong communal character if a collection of strong individuals with character don't exist within it. To develop character traits you do have to make judgments about what constitutes right and wrong behavior. Liberals are harsh judgers in the few areas they allow for it. But they don't focus on essentials. Government and a stress on community morality plays a role. But it is not nearly a complete answer.

This is not an excuse to be passive and sit back and watch injustice. Conservatives should be and actually are in my experience very passionate in supporting the local activities that make up a better community. That's good. That's more lasting. That's a reason I am a conservative who never got swept up by the grand sounding rhetoric that we should use government to solve every problem as Ted Kennedy espoused.

Hopefully Ted Kennedy will rest in peace. Hopefully we who follow him will be a bit more realistic, mature, modest, and local in how we approach solving problems. While it is foolish to think we can have heaven on earth, we may find we achieve greater success than he did if we go that route.

No comments: