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Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer

Posted May 6, 2009 | 02:59 PM (EST)

A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as...Liberal


With apologies to the Bard, I question his premise that nothing is changed by a name. A rose might smell as sweet regardless, but a liberal flower has a different aroma than one unlabelled.

Pigeonholing someone into a simple category creates a comfortable means of evaluating, and dismissing, the merits of an argument without the nuisance of having to think too hard about the underlying logic. Labels allow us to make sense of a complex world by creating a simplified standard against which we can quickly categorize and judge difficult issues without taxing our brains. But we pay a heavy price for these mental shortcuts. In simplifying we miss important subtleties embedded in complexity.

I plead guilty to this crime. I often use the term "right wing" to describe broadly those who oppose my political views. That is clearly unfair to those right of center who hold reasonable beliefs with which I disagree. But I am unsure if we see symmetry between how labels are applied across the political spectrum. I have this sense that the curve is perhaps skewed more right of center than left.

During the election, candidate Obama was called by mainstream GOP leaders and pundits a communist, fascist, socialist, and radical liberal. What did the Democratic leaders call McCain? Usually war hero or brave American. Certainly both parties viciously attacked the policies of the other, but only one used false labeling as a sanctioned strategic tool.

As an aside, I distinguish between political labels and attacks on personal qualifications. Plenty of people have called George Bush a moron, dunce, idiot and dupe. Those descriptions differ from political labels. Other than calling Obama "inexperienced" the two candidates in the last election largely avoided such personal attacks, mainly because the two were actually qualified for the job.

On the extraordinarily rare occasions when my name is mentioned in the press, I am inevitably called "liberal blogger Jeff Schweitzer" or more specifically, "Huffington Post's Jeff Schweitzer" with the obvious implication of left-wing nut hood. With that introduction, why would anybody right of center even read my little missives? The problem is that the label is inaccurate, or at least of little meaning. Let's look at what makes me liberal and see if the label sticks.

Stem Cell Research

As a scientist, and author of a book on science, religion and morality (Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World), I have always strongly supported properly regulated stem cell research. Fortunately, Obama has finally removed the worst restrictions.

But before then, former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) supported stem cell research. In breaking with Bush, Frist said restrictions on stem cell research "will, over time, slow our ability to bring potential new treatments for certain diseases." Former first lady Nancy Reagan was a strong advocate, stating that stem cell research "may provide our scientists with many answers that for so long have been beyond our grasp." She went on to say, "I just don't see how we can turn our backs on this." Thirteen Republican senators signed a letter urging Bush to support federal funding for stem cell research.

So Frist, Reagan and 13 Republican senators agreed with me on stem cell research. Are they liberal or am I conservative?

Climate Change

Since I co-authored a book in 1994 entitled Global Change of Planet Earth as part of a U.S. delegation to the OECD, I have been urging political leaders to take climate change seriously, and to implement national and international policies to address the issue.

Bob Inglis (R-SC), claimed "there are more and more Republicans willing to stop laughing at climate change who are ready to get serious about reclaiming their heritage as conservationists." Other Republicans who also came to accept that climate change is real and caused by human activity include Senators Pete Domenic (R-NM), Mike DeWine (R-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Representative Jim Leach (R-IA). Republican Governor Charlie Crist of Florida supports efforts to roll back greenhouse gas emissions to 2000 levels. Tucker Eskew, former deputy assistant to President Bush said, "A new hopeful voice on climate change, for example, is being heard nationally." Newt Gingrich made a commercial with Nancy Pelosi as part of the "we can solve it" global warming ad campaign.

Newt Gingrich, Bob Inglis and cohorts agree with me that climate change is real and caused by human activity. Are they liberal or am I conservative?

Offshore Drilling in ANWR

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world's last pristine ecosystems, yet some politicians want to harm this protected area for short-term gain. The most optimistic estimates put peak oil production from ANWR at 780,000 barrels per day; the United States currently consumes 21 million barrels daily. Even at maximum output ANWR would supply only 4% of our daily consumption, and that peak would fall off quickly. Drilling here does nothing but delay our shift to a green economy, and threatens our ability to lead the world into the next generation of energy technologies.

Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH) wrote a letter to House leadership opposing ANWR drilling; the letter was signed by 24 of his Republican colleagues. In the Senate, eight Republicans joined in to defeat a proposal to drill in ANWR. On the other hand, five Democratic Senators voted to open ANWR to drilling.

With that confusing mix of support and opposition, is ANWR a conservative or liberal issue?

Iraq War

While I strongly supported the war in Afghanistan as a legitimate exercise in self-defense, I opposed from the beginning the war in Iraq.

Rep. John Duncan, Jr. (R-TN) called the war "undeclared and unnecessary." John Leach (R-IO) opposed the war at the outset. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) called the war "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam." Marine General Greg Newbold, former director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the Iraq war was "unnecessary" and that the rationale for the war by "zealots" made no sense. Ret. Maj. Gen. John Batiste told Bush that he "placed the nation in peril."

Since all of those folks agree with me about the war, are they liberal or am I conservative?

Torture

Torture is immoral. As a secondary concern, torture is ineffective and does nothing to protect our national security. In any case, I strongly oppose the practice. That we are even having this discussion is astonishing.

Ronald Reagan enthusiastically endorsed and signed the UN Convention on Torture in 1984, which contains the provision: "Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." In a signing ceremony, Reagan said, "Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today." (Emphasis added.) Newt Gingrich, returning from a trip to Asia, issued the following statement: "As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. There is no place for intolerance of dissent (emphasis added)."

With Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich on board, is opposition to torture a conservative or liberal principle?

The next time I am called a "liberal blogger" by the Wall Street Journal or other media, we must assume those publications mean that my views are supported by conservative Republicans in the House and Senate, and throughout the military across all ranks.

We should really abandon the archaic monikers of liberal and conservative or left-wing and right-wing. I propose using different terminology that is less constraining. I would have no objection, for example, to being labeled a "rationalist" because that implies a methodology used in evaluating issues rather than a pre-determined position on any given subject. I'll let those who oppose my views come up themselves with a name that best suits them. I would suggest "non-rationalist" but I suspect that would be viewed askance.