In the Soviet of Seattle, the far right often seems like a distant dog barking in the night. Most of us tune out right-wing radio and Fox TV and live in neighborhoods chock-full of anti-Bush signs. Last weekend, there was a John Kerry bake sale on almost every block.
But in this burg of the best liberal intentions, it's time to give some credit to those on the other end of the political spectrum—especially the far end. The conventional wisdom is that the most interesting politics are in the middle, where Red and Blue state Americans agree and where majorities are forged. This turf is where, increasingly, both the Democrats and Republicans find themselves fighting for hearts and minds.
But it's not often where the most principled or provocative discussions occur. I'm much more interested in where the far right and far left find common cause. It's out on the farther reaches of the spectrum that the more interesting critiques take place. Where the two ends meet, left and right, there's also the possibility of a political spark.
Globalization is one such area. One of the chief critics of globalization is Pat Buchanan—no turtle he—who was in Seattle during the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization and still writes powerfully and effectively against the imperial pretensions of the Bush administration. Many of the old left support a kind of globalization—a Marxist one. Republicans and Democrats support a vision that seems to boil down to: one world, one market.
But for many on the far right and far left, globalization poses a threat to peoples and cultures whose value transcends economics. I might disagree with Pat Buchanan about which are the most important American values, but at least we agree that America should be a values-driven country, not a money-driven one.
Earlier this week, I attended a forum at Town Hall on the effects of globalization and outsourcing on our region. It triggered a frustration that I have around these topics. Per usual, the discussion was couched mostly in the economic terms that suit the business and political interests who want us good and worried about job security and the state's "competitive" climate. But these discussions rarely get down to actual values. What kind of city or state do we want to live in? What does the land mean to us? How do we protect those things that are important to us but cannot be commodified? Both major political parties have painted "protectionism" as an evil thing. The suggestion is that anyone who wants to protect a way of life—anyone who isn't willing to fully submit to the free market—is somehow harming America. How? By jeopardizing our right to buy cheap stuff at Wal-Mart?
This also leads to the subject of corporate welfare, which has enthusiastic bipartisan support in this state. Virtually all of our most powerful elective leaders—Democrat and Republican alike—supported the recent multibillion-dollar Boeing giveaway. Of the major candidates for governor, only Democrat Phil Talmadge has come out swinging against the Boeing deal. But it's interesting to me that the major player in Olympia demanding accountability was Bob Williams and his conservative government watchdog group, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. It led the way in getting the state to more fully disclose what we taxpayers are on the hook for, and how the deal came together. While I may not agree with the free-market philosophy of this group, their insistence on disclosure was a public service. And their doggedness grew out of a long-standing skepticism about public spending, tax policy, and the fundamental honesty of government—skepticism that is not misplaced and ought to be thoroughly bipartisan.
Education is another arena where conservatives are helping push the envelope. My children—both doing well in college—were homeschooled after grade school. That kind of education might not have been possible in this state were it not for the Christian right's activism in getting our homeschooling laws liberalized and helping citizens regain the right to educate their own children. For that, I am grateful. The far right has also been active in fighting the proliferation of drugs like Ritalin in public schools. We've turned our schools into medicine cabinets, a trend that is symptomatic of an increasingly pharmacologically dependent society where drugs are prescribed by authority figures to regulate behavior in controlled settings (getting us ready for the chronic depression induced by the typical workplace, no doubt). One of the leading crusaders against the drugging of America's youth has been cultural conservative columnist Phyllis Schlafly. More recently, conservatives have helped to keep the pressure on for charter schools that, I believe, have the potential to demonstrate important reforms for the rest of public education. Instead of fighting them, the state's teachers ought to be embracing charters and the kinds of freedom, energy, and experimentation they represent. Their resistance is a result, I think, of the fact that they, too, are victims of a sick system.
Does it sound on some level like I miss the culture wars? Well, I'd much rather debate fundamental values than see the world devalued by economic interests. If that means arguing about God (I don't believe in him!), gays (Marry them!), and guns (I own them!) rather than fighting imperial wars and sacrificing American sovereignty for corporate wealth, then yeah.