Divisive Issues

I am not a politician but I have learned why politicians have the reputation for sitting on the fence. It is the constituents who put them there. I am amused by the story about Abraham Lincoln jumping out of a courtroom window to avoid having to vote and take a stand on an issue.

Voters will not usually vote for someone based on a position on an issue but they will often vote against someone on the basis of a single issue.

In spite of it being politically unwise, I have written out my thoughts on a number of controversial issues to show how I think about solving problems. I try to find areas where all sides can agree and try to find a consensus solution. I try to be open to ideas and feelings of everyone. I can change my mind. If I have an ideology it is “what would Jesus say to do”?

Liberal versus Conservative

Our “American College Dictionary” defines “conservative” and “liberal” as follows:


(adjective) 1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc. 2. cautious or moderate: a conservative estimate 3. having the power or tendency to conserve; preservative 4. noting or pertaining to a political party whose characteristic principle is opposition to change in the institutions of a country. (noun) 5. a person of conservative principles 6.a member of a conservative party in politics, especially in England 7.a preservative.


(adjective) 1. favorable to progress or reform, as in religious or political affairs. 2. noting or pertaining to a political party advocating measures of progressive political reform: the Liberal party. 3. favorable to or in accord with the policy of leaving the individual as unrestricted as possible in the opportunities for self expression or self fulfillment. 4. of representational forms of government rather than aristocracies or monarchies. 5. free from prejudice or bigotry; tolerant. 6. giving freely or in ample measure; a liberal donor. 7. given freely or abundantly; a liberal donation. 8. not strict or rigorous; a liberal interpretation of a rule. 9 befitting a freeman, a gentleman, or a nonprofessional person. (noun) 10.a person of liberal principles or views, especially in politics or religion. 11.a member of a liberal party in politics, especially of the Liberal party in Great Britain.

Who is a liberal and who is a conservative?

If you set aside the vituperative characterizations, a liberal position on any issue is one that is intended to make an improvement. A conservative position is one that prefers the current situation.

What is confusing (and destructive) is that some people want to make changes that they think will improve a situation and they want to call their position conservative – when in reality it is a liberal position by the dictionary definition-and they want to call themselves “conservatives”. Some of these self-styled “conservatives” have created a straw man they call a “liberal” who can be twisted into the epitome of evil intent to arouse the ire of other “conservatives”.

I, Bob Scott, hope that when there are problems to be faced that I usually take a liberal position- ie. trying to find an acceptable- preferably consensus – solution to the problem. However, there are issues where I take a conservative position when I think a proposed liberal position is unwise or misguided.

For example, I hold a conservative position on Social Security.

I am retired and a Social Security recipient. I have found the program to be efficient and easy to use. My benefits are not enough to provide a comfortable life but they would keep me from starving if they were my only source of income. I -like everyone else -needed to plan ahead and have other resources after retiring.

The Republicans have proposed a change in Social Security which they say will improve it-ie. they have attempted to privatize a part of Social Security. The Republican position is a liberal position since- ostensibly- they wish to improve the Social Security program. Personally, I think the Republican attempt is misguided because it throws the element of luck into even the Social Security part of retirement planning. I also mistrust the Republicans’ intentions-it is almost amusing to watch the Republicans- they really don’t like Social Security and they know most people do like the program but they just can’t keep their hands off of Social Security.

There are several genuinely liberal-ie constructive- changes the Republicans could propose if they really want to improve Social Security. If the Republicans want the money in the Social Security Trust Fund to get a greater rate of return then Congress can increase the interest rate and pay a greater rate of return at any time -since Congress has decreed that the money will be loaned to the Federal government and Congress also sets the interest rate.

With Social Security taxes collected on only the first $65,400 of a person’s annual salary the Social Security tax is a regressive tax. It would be fairer and it might generate the revenue needed to keep Social Security solvent in the future if the limit on income were eliminated or raised significantly.

However, the only proposed changes are detrimental in my opinion and I favor the conservative position-ie. the status quo is better than a bad change.

The war in Iraq

The following is an excerpt from http://www.historyguy.com/GulfWar2.html :

“following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush’s rhetoric implied an (as yet unproven) Iraqi connection with al-Qaida. Using the potential threat of Saddam-supplied Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of terrorists, the U.S. government increasingly insisted on total Iraqi disarmament. With initial backing by the UN Security Council, the United States encircled Iraq with growing military forces, leading Iraq to permit UN weapons inspectors back into the country.”

As part of “encircling Iraq with growing military forces” President Bush asked the Congress for authority to attack Iraq. President Bush said in his reelection campaign that Senator Kerry had seen the same intelligence reports he had seen (he neglected to add that Senator Kerry had read them). President Bush convinced most congressmen that it was important to remove weapons of mass destruction from Iraq. Many of the congressmen felt that only the certainty of an attack by the United States would induce Iraq to allow weapons inspections to resume. A hollow threat would not have sufficed. The House of Representatives voted 296 to 133 to authorize the use of force against Iraq. Eighty one Democrats voted in favor of authorizing the use of force. Six Republicans (including John Duncan Jr.) voted against authorizing the use of force. Senator John Kerry voted to give President Bush the authority he requested. Senator Robert Byrd opposed the authorization saying “ This is another Gulf of Tonkin resolution. I am not going to vote for that this time.”

The threat of military action was a success and inspections for weapons of mass destruction resumed. If President Bush had been honest and patient we would have found from the arms inspectors that Iraq was not a threat and there was no need to invade and conquer Iraq. John Duncan and Senator Byrd would have taken the wrong stand in opposing the president.

Unfortunately for our country, John Duncan and Senator Byrd understood the president and his intentions all too well and the principled stand against authorizing the use of force was very commendable. Note that 127 Democrats in the House of Representatives also understood President Bush and their opposition is equally commendable.

The future conduct of the war with Iraq- after a myriad of mistakes by President Bush, Dick Cheny and Donald Rumsfeld- has no good options. The least odious option seems to be to declare we have succeeded and withdraw our ground forces. We need to fund a strong central government army ( it will be corrupt) and we could provide air support for the central government army until the country is (hopefully) stable.

Moral issues

There are several issues on which the Republicans claim moral superiority . I find the perception to be based on propaganda.


The 2004 Democratic party platform said “abortions should be safe, legal and rare.”

The 2004 Republican party platform said “ We oppose abortion, but our pro-life agenda does not include punitive action against women who have an abortion.”

Think about what that says. If the Republicans could pass a constitutional amendment, there will be no punishment for self administered abortions except the knowledge that they are illegal. However, anyone who helps a woman have an abortion will be prosecuted. There WILL be a black market supplying abortion pills. What will happen to physicians who perform an abortion when amniocentesis shows hydrops fetalis in which the fetus has no chance of surviving and it represents some risk to the mother?

There should be a bipartisan effort to make abortions rare. Both parties propose to support pregnant women who wish to bear children but the Republicans just talk about it- they could have easily passed bipartisan legislation supporting mothers. Apparently the Republicans would rather agitate at election time and pontificate about an abortion amendment that they know has no chance of passing but will put the Democrats in a bad light with some single issue voters. They rely on the probability that these voters do not look at their inaction and their motives.

What is it about the Republican position that is morally superior?

Partial birth abortion

I consider the decision to end a pregnancy with an abortion a tragedy for whatever reason. The “partial birth abortion” is a Republican euphemism for a medical procedure (D&X) that generates a lot of emotion- but little understanding. When President Clinton vetoed the “Partial Birth Abortion” bill, James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said on his radio program: “The blood of these tiny infants will be on Mr. Clinton’s hands.” What James Dobson said is a distortion- it is the decision to end the pregnancy by an abortion that matters- not the procedure used.

I assume James Dobson visualized this conversation taking place :
Doctor to woman” You asked for an abortion but you won’t be able to have a partial birth abortion.”

Woman “If I can’t have a partial birth abortion, I won’t have an abortion.”

I am not an expert but it seems that the alternate methods used are Caesarean section and D&E (which involves cutting the fetus up inside the womb and removing it piece by piece).
There may be medically sound reasons to not use one procedure or another, but where is the moral superiority in choosing one abortion method over another.

What is it about the Republican position that is morally superior

Flag burning amendment to the Constitution

This is another issue that some people are very emotional about but it is an area that should just be ignored. The Supreme Court was correct- it is a freedom of speech issue and a flag burning amendment would be a restriction on free speech- obnoxious speech certainly, but we tolerate a lot of obnoxious speech.

The Boy Scout Handbook years ago said when a flag is to be destroyed, it should be burned and not discarded in the trash or buried.

Visualize a person burning a flag. If the person says “I am respectfully burning my flag because in my opinion it is worn and should no longer be displayed ” then there is no problem. If the person says “I am burning the flag because I hate the war in Viet Nam” then there is anger. The action is the same in both cases- only the words are different. The Supreme Court was correct – it is a freedom of speech issue.

Flag burning has not been a problem for years but it will become a BIG PROBLEM if it is outlawed. People who are trying to get attention will take advantage of the opportunity to goad the government into futile action that will generate publicity. The Supreme Court will be busy defining a “flag”. For example : a few years ago the Knoxville News-Sentinel printed a full page color picture of the flag. If someone burned that page would it be illegal? Thousands of people buried the picture. People are ingenious and crafty- there are endless ways to circumvent any flag burning law and get publicity.

Why do the Republicans bring up the flag burning amendment? To get votes. Probably most lawmakers are educated enough to recognize the error in amending the constitution but they don’t want to be labeled “unpatriotic” so they vote for the amendment- but they count the votes first. David Crockett (I recently found out in a visit to the Alamo that he was never called “Davy” Crockett ) said one way to get elected and reelected was to “wrap yourself in the flag”. That is a cynical way of taking advantage of the people’s devotion to the flag.

What is it about the Republican position that is morally superior?

Federal Marriage Amendment

My personal opinion is marriage should be between one man and one woman (I have been married to Julia for 53 years). My biggest concern about attempts to redefine marriage is primarily against opening the way to legalizing polygamy. I believe it is a reasonable exercise of government authority to prohibit polygamy.

I understand that people live together in other, alternate, arrangements and they may need health care, visiting rights during hospital stay, and other things that are available to one person and needed by both.

An example without sexual connotation could be when two sisters live with their aging mother. One sister works outside the home and the other takes care of the mother. Both need health insurance and social security but only the one working outside the home has coverage.

Calling other arrangements “marriage” may be a shortcut to getting other people the things available to married couples, but I, personally, think the legitimate needs of people in alternative living arrangements should be met another way. I think domestic partnerships or civil unions or handling each need individually on a state by state basis would be preferable to redefining or expanding the definition of marriage.

I oppose amending the constitution to give the central government jurisdiction in an area that has traditionally been handled by the individual states. The Republicans would be disappointed if the constitutional amendment passed because they could no longer trot the amendment out just before elections in an attempt to put the Democrats in a bad light with a group of single issue voters. (refer to the web link in the main menu).

I am certain that many people disagree with me on this issue but I ask the question a different way. If the Republicans bring up the issue- knowing it will fail to pass- for the sole purpose of making some Democrats look bad to a group of people, what is it about the Republican position that is morally superior?

Gun control

The writers of the constitution lived at a time when there was a small standing army and a real need to fight wars- justified or not- using militias composed of ordinary citizens who could stop their work and fight a war. There would not be time or resources to arm a militia quickly if a large number of men did not already have a gun. Contrary to popular opinion many frontiersmen did not have a gun.

“Before the Battle of New Orleans the Kentucky Militia numbering 2,250 arrived from Baton Rouge. Most were in weak physical condition from the long journey, they were poorly clothed, and only about one-third were armed. On learning how few weapons the Kentuckians had, Andrew Jackson exclaimed, ‘I never in my life seen a Kentuckian without a gun, a pack of cards, and a jug of whiskey.’ The people of New Orleans raised money to buy, and make, clothes for the Kentucky soldiers, but weapons were nearly impossible to get.”

Today we do not need a civilian militia to fight the British and we would not expect a civilian militia to successfully fight against a modern army. If our country were invaded by a foreign army we would certainly act as gorilla fighters with any guns available. That is a very unlikely scenario and even if it did happen rifles would be used. Handguns and shotguns would be ineffective because of modern body armor. Wyatt Earp had a shootout at the OK Corral with the Clantons over control of handguns in Tombstone. He knew they could mean trouble and needed to be controlled. Wyatt Earp was right and reasonable handgun control is still reasonable. It is not reasonable to try to control hunting or sporting firearms. I think keeping track of guns is reasonable and in some cases essential. I do not fear the government trying to take guns away from people. There are people who fear the federal government but contrary to a small minority opinion the Second Amendment to the Constitution was not included to arm the people so they could fight their own government.

I have a personal story that influences my thinking:
When I was building my house, the windows were delivered and placed in the unsecured house. My brother-in-law had had his windows stolen during construction of his house and I decided to sleep in my unfinished house until the windows were installed. I thought it would be bad if thieves came and I was unarmed so I took a pistol with me. Late that evening, my son came in from his college. His mother told him where I was (she didn’t know I had a pistol) and he said he would go over to the house and join me. I woke up with my son standing over me in a darkened house.
I recognized him and there was no problem. BUT I thought- what if
1. I had panicked when I saw or heard him and shot him, or
2. a thief had gotten the drop on me- as my son certainly had.
Was I safer that night with a gun? I don’t think so.

Land mines and cluster bombs

I think the United States should ratify the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines and be a signatory of the new Convention on Cluster Munitions. Treaties are not ratified by the House of Representatives- only by the Senate.

Free enterprise

I was listening to a self styled “conservative” radio talkshow host as he railed against government interference in free trade. It was clear to him that if government would get out of the way then business would boom and everyone would prosper. I realize these outrageous and/or obnoxious people are entertainers but many people take them seriously and in the absence of the “Fairness doctrine” there is no rebuttal.

Free enterprise has been tried many times and the results are not in doubt. Unfettered free enterprise results in

1. Employees being treated horribly.

One of the arguments of southern slave owners was that they treated their slaves better than the northern industrialists treated their workers. Employers will seek cheap labor to exploit all over the world and currently manufacturers in the countries with cheap labor are forcing our US manufacturers out of business.

2. Environmental degradation.

There is no cheaper way to get rid of gaseous waste than to put it up a smokestack.
I remember vividly a plant in Axis Alabama that emitted an opaque snow-white stinky cloud from a large stack. We described our plant location as “just south of the Courtaulds plume”.
I remember flying from New York and noticing a line of white clouds below. The clouds continued for hundreds of miles and when the plane reached Alabama I saw that the “clouds“ were smoke from factories near Birmingham.

There is no cheaper way to get rid of liquid waste than to dump it in the river.I worked in a plant in Virginia that dumped 1000 tons of calcium chloride into the river every day. Growing up in Knoxville we all knew that Knoxville had “hard” water. When that plant shut down it cut the “hardness” of Knoxville’s water in half.

3. Complete depletion of resources.

Whalers almost drove all species of whales to extinction. It benefitted each individual whaler to catch as many whales as he could even if the population of whales was collapsing. The Atlantic coast timber and shipbuilding industries cut down all the timber for fifty miles back from the coast. The pigeon hunters exterminated the passenger pigeons. There is a long list of depleted resources and it is getting longer. We are currently in a scramble to suck the last drop of oil from the earth.

4. Economic boom and bust

The cycle of boom and depression is built in to free enterprise. The federal government has in place a number of institutions to minimize these fluctuations.

5. Separation of people into “haves” and “have nots”

A dramatic example of this is Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. It took almost no time for the “oligarchs” to corner the wealth.

Governments find redistribution of wealth very difficult. The ancient Israelites had the same problem and the book of Leviticus tells how every fifty years there was to be a year of Jubilee when the land was to be redistributed.

6. Formation of monopolies.

Certainly, few capitalists want real free enterprise. The patent system was established to prevent free enterprise and grant to an inventor the right to exploit his invention without competition for 17 years. Many capitalists don’t want competition and they will use any advantage to drive out competitors and obtain a monopoly. Enron, a Texas company, managed to corner the energy market in part of California and then ration electric power to millions of people at exhorbitant prices. The “shortage” went away as soon as government price controls were- reluctantly- imposed by president Bush.

In spite of it’s flaws, decentralized free enterprise is a very effective way of directing much of our economic activity and it is superior to government planning where it is appropriate. There has to be a balance between government regulation and free enterprise. Usually the government gets involved only when there is some abuse of free enterprise.
It may surprise the self styled “conservative” radio talkshow host as he rails against government interference that there are some needed things that free enterprise can’t do. Starting the space program is an example. Building highways is best done by govenment- a network of private highways would be terrible.

In 1970 I was working on manufacturing an insecticide which used 3,4,5-trimethyl phenol as a starting material and 3,4,5-trimethyl phenol was very hard to make. I asked my boss if we had looked at using 2,3,5-trimethyl phenol which was very easy to make and he said no one would pay to investigate that because it couldn’t be patented. It might be great but no one will ever know unless the government pays for the research.

However. free enterprise is very powerful in lowering manufacturing costs and introducing innovations when there is a profit to be made and government regulations and rules need to be continually examined to see if they are really needed and can be eliminated. It is easy for government to overdo paperwork and regulation. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (using Al Gore) worked to improve the federal government and that sort of effort should be ongoing.

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