The Political Discussion We Should Be Having

Ever since Obama's historical reelection, Republicans have been trying to figure out why exactly they lost. This seemed (and continues to seem) to be a good question to ask. After all, the economy wasn't recovering as fast as people wanted and Obama added trillions of dollars to the national debt. One of the main proposed explanations of his reelection has been the change in demographics. The US, it has been said, is becoming more populated by non-white immigrants who tend to vote Democrat, or as Bill O'Reilly put it, “the White establishment is now the minority” and because of it, “50% of the voting public...want stuff.” This is just one specific example of the feeling among the Right that we are becoming a nation of “takers.”

Although I can see why many Republicans think this, saying that more and more people are being lazy ignores the legitimate ideology of the Left. I'm sure that there are many people who are lazy and who really do just want “stuff” from the government, but that's not what justifies redistributive policies. It would be the same if I were to say that Republicans want to lower taxes because they're selfish. Again, I'm sure this is true for many of them, but that's not what justifies lower taxation.

The honest debate that should be taking place is the one between “equality of opportunity” and “the right to one's property,” which, respectively, are the philosophical justifications that underlie much of left-wing and right-wing policies. Supporters of equality of opportunity would argue that the government has a role to play in leveling the playing field when it comes to living a flourishing human life. It is simply a fact that there is a large difference between the life chances of a person born into a poor family and those of someone born into a rich family. And since the discussion of socio-economic status cannot really be detached from the issue of race, the statement can reasonably be rephrased as the following: life is much more difficult for a black person than a white person. How can this be fair? Why should people suffer from a bad draw of the natural lottery if something can be done about it? They shouldn't, according to a supporter of equality of opportunity. In light of this reasoning, some redistribution of resources must take place and this unfortunately requires “taking” from the rich and “giving” it to the poor in some form or another.

 “But this is theft!” some would say on the right. “I earned my money by working hard and therefore, it belongs to me. By taking it away and giving it to others, it infringes on my rights.” There is validity in this argument. As the famous philosopher Robert Nozick pointed out, taxation is comparable to forced labor. If the government has a claim on a portion of one's income, it is equivalent to the government having a claim on a certain amount of hours of one's labor. This would be an unacceptable infringement on the right to one's property and to one's self, claimed Nozick. Take the example of an accomplished athlete, Michael Jordan. This person has a specific set of skills that are highly demanded by the public. Accordingly, millions of people are willing to buy tickets to see him  play basketball and so over a period of time, he becomes very rich. Can we truly say that his fortune doesn't belong to him?

This is the philosophical debate that we should be having in our public discussions, but instead, political commentators resort to petty attacks on character, which ultimately ignore the legitimate ideologies of both the Left and Right. If we sincerely want the better argument to win in the end, it must be done through the correct way by first recognizing that the beliefs of the other side are justifiable. Doing this may be difficult and so we might be tempted to just brainwash people into hating the other side, but it wouldn't be the right thing to do.