Starting with some light relief: Jon Swift humourously suggests that Kerry's "botched joke" should reassure us about the 2004 election result: "Can you imagine having a President who mangles the English language the way Kerry does?" Banish the thought.
Barry Leiba of Staring at Empty Pages looks at NYC proposals to legislate health in relation to fatty foods. Leiba notes that consumer ignorance undermines the case for "letting the market decide". On the other hand, banning unhealthy foodstuffs would seem overly paternalistic, infringing the liberties even of those who would make the informed decision to value taste over health. Is there a reasonable middle ground? Read it and see.
Of course, we shouldn't always prefer the middle ground. Indeed, Peter Levine contends that "one's position on the political spectrum is independent of one's impact on deliberation and the political culture. Moderates are no more likely to help the quality of our politics than are liberals or conservatives." He makes the important point that the relevant civic value in this vicinity is not moderation per se, but rather, comity, i.e. "an ability to cooperate on topics that do not provoke ideological disagreement." We need politicians who won't let partisan bickering preclude co-operation when their values are aligned; but that doesn't mean they should compromise their principles for the sake of a false consensus.
Alonzo Fyfe, the Atheist Ethicist, is also skeptical of moderation for moderation's sake, instead defending The Appropriate Use of Negative Political Statements. He laments the lies and distortions that dominate contemporary smear campaigns, and concludes:
It is important to improve the quality of political discourse. However, what political discourse is not missing is more 'niceness'. It is missing honesty... There is nothing wrong with condemnation - as long as it is honest condemnation that targets the wrongs that people actually perform.
Over at The Greenbelt, The Ridger highlights the news media's complicity in such dishonesty. Further, in discussing When Discourse Isn't, she also explains how inherent features of modern media - especially television - work against reasoned discourse, or indeed any kind of discourse at all.
Mike the Mad Biologist also questions the possibility of political discourse. He points out that most citizens simply don't have the specialized knowledge required to solve -- or even assess -- technical problems. Hence, he argues, liberal technocrats need to construct compelling narratives with a more general appeal.
How about a picture book? SteveG of the Philosophers' Playground argues that a bumpersticker slogan is not enough to revive the Democratic brand: "A picture is worth more than eight words and we need a picture of the life we are promising."
Martin of Writings on the Wall offers Hope, Poverty, and "f*ck you", a wide-ranging and contentious post that defies summary. But I would like to draw attention to his concluding recommendation:
Grassroots, small scale, humble changes are what are needed. We have been seduced by the big easy, but it's a confidence trick. People are not stupid because they are poor, and they usually know far better than foreigners or governments what can be done to benefit their community. So find the programs which make realistic, genuine, and community based improvements in people's lives. Do a little when you can. Get together with your own community for support, ideas, and the power of numbers. Help people locally and overseas, and don't be discouraged by failure.
Indeed, is the alternative of seeking top-down influence even possible? Doctor Biobrain disputes The Pundit Power Myth, arguing that pundits' "influence is fairly negligible in the long run, because the people most likely to watch them and be influenced are also most likely to already have fully formed opinions which aren’t likely to shift." But is that right? It's sometimes thought that the speculations of today's wacky philosopher may become tomorrow's common sense. Perhaps pundits have a similarly indirect influence on the public culture, by mediating the flow of ideas? And is it really true that after all our arguing, we never actually change our minds? That would be a worry for any hopes of deliberative democracy.
Perhaps the simple act of voting is the most we can expect from democracy. Though can we trust even that? With electronic voting machines, who really knows? Expert Opinion argues that Voting should not be a black box affair, for the sake of public confidence and democratic legitimacy.
That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Liberals. (If you've enjoyed the metapolitical theme, feel free to glance through some of my recent posts on related topics while you're here!) Many thanks to all who offered submissions, including several fine entries that I couldn't fit into the final ten. But there's always next time: CotL #26 will be hosted by Montag at Stump Lane on November 22.