I draw a distinction between people who think they mean well and those who actually do. None of us means as well as we think we do of course, but in some folks the divide is very great. Their moral certainty makes them dangerous, and we can sense almost by feel or by smell that there is a self-righteousness that bears watching. This person seems well into the other side of the spectrum. She does generally mean well, and statements she makes which are weighted with self-righteousness turn out to be ideas not fully thought through, rather than the conservative fantasy of those who primly think they know what is best for the rest of us.
Though I believe the one inevitably turns into the other, there is no use regarding everyone on that road as far advanced on it. Most decent liberals we know fall into this category, and these are frankly amazed that anyone would suspect them of ill-will simply because their ideas taken to extremes (in their thinking; In mine it would be followed to it's natural conclusion, and we're halfway there already) can cause problems.
But it's good to have them, because they cause me to ask why nice people say such awful things.
The tone of moral earnestness stems from their belief that their goals are unquestionably good things (see Peace; Universal coverage; Recycling) requiring only that we summon the moral will to do them. Their first response is to employ the many tactics of moral persuasion to get others to come along. They try to inspire us to be better, to reassure us that it won't be so painful, to draw on our sympathy by means of anecdote. More sternly, they might try and guilt us or shame us into going along. They don't necessarily want to go around making people do the right thing. They would prefer not to. But then they look at those suffering under injustice and don't want relief to them delayed, so they ease over into government nudging, bribing, cajoling, and arm-twisting.
When they see us they see people who just haven't gotten the moral imperative that these things must be done, be it government health provision, carbon reduction, civil unions, or extending unemployment benefits. At its worst, this attitude is that of the anointed, of those who have attained, or become enlightened. But most of these folks aren't there - yet. They rather generously see others as much like themselves, needing inspiration and encouragement to do the right thing. Just dig a little deeper. It's better for everyone. We'll all be happier.
The owner of that site, BTW, is very much like this. He is a sweet and generous person, humble in mien. He is a minister, and comfortable with the role of moral persuasion in spiritual matters, which he just naturally takes over into social and political discourse. He would disagree with many of the specifics of John Lennon's "Imagine," but the final lines would move him.
You may say I'm a dreamerHere's the sticking point: there seems an inability to back all the way down the road and re-look at the question Is this the right thing to do? Failing that, they are locked endlessly in the impression that ours is a moral failing, that must be addressed on moral grounds. They assume we must not like universal coverage only because it is too expensive; that we are reluctant to extend citizen's rights to detainees only by failure of generosity and justice. They can't think of other reasons. When we say something else they think we are just rationalizing, and are really just fearful and morally flawed.
But I'm not the only one
Perhaps someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one.
Thus the things they say are horribly insulting and accusing. They are not generally horrible and accusing people, and are hurt when they are called on it. We must have misunderstood their intent or meaning. Longtime followers of this site know that this is where village idiots come in, and why I aspire to be one. When you are accusing others of evil motives, that is in itself reason to backtrack as far as need be to make sure you have understood.
It is fair to ask whether this unwillingness to backtrack is not a sort of intellectual sin, or a moral cowardice of its own. Often it is, and I have been strident over the years that any progressive's refusal to consider that such a thing is even possible tells me when I am onto something. Once the door is opened to the possibility that these supposedly moral stances are suffused with more primitive tribal values, or class values, or mere fashionableness, there is going to be pain in store for any of us who walk through. But when they hear "fashionable" they think that's not me, I'm anti-fshionable; "tribal," they think no that's ethnic, racial or sexual - I don't have those prejudices. That there might be a deeper tribalism, a deeper fashionableness, does not enter their minds. They can easily reject the superficial meaning, and so are well-defended against the deeper one.
So we all pretend there is no door. I have walked through the door a few times, which is why I am postliberal. But I have little doubt there are still further doors I refuse to see as well. It's human nature. There are always more doors, that both our faults and our virtues are influenced by factors we did not suspect.
To conclude, I give the reasons that non-liberals believe motivate them. All we neocons and neoliberals, libertarians and postliberals, think these are our real reasons. We may delude ourselves in this, and we may turn out to be nothing more than the shallow, selfish, prejudiced boors we are accused of being. But it would be wise to at least consider that we might actually believe these things.
1. These schemes seldom actually fix very much, they just make us all feel that we have done something about it.
2. Progressive plans have obvious benefits, but non-obvious consequences which are dire. The simple benefit to individuals is in the open; the complex cost to society is disguised.
3. "Cost" doesn't mean just money. Loss of values, culture, and character are important costs.
4. Governments making people do things has enormous negative consequences in itself.
5. When things are good for The Community, or All of Us, who the community actually is, or who "we" really are always turns out to be something less than everyone. It is always some subset that gets defined as the community, and that subset gets the entire benefit. The fluidity of these definitions hides a great deal of mischief. Always, always, play out in your mind (rigorously, ruthlessly, even with paranoia) who exactly "all of us" is.
6. These schemes always end up costing more in dollars, often orders of magnitude more over time. If the country's resources do indeed belong at some level to all of us (which I dispute, but grant arguendo), then shouldn't we all decide where it's spent?
7. Receiving material things for free is bad for our characters. The good that someone derives from our gift may be so overwhelming or necessary that we give it without further thought (and giving is good for our characters), but ignoring the downside of the equation often - often - turns out to be cruel in the long run. We know this not because we believe that recipients are morally weak, but because we know they are just like us.