Saturday, October 20, 2007

On Labeling Liberals

Pete Karas does not like labels. Like many of that segment of the population that show a consistent preference for more government intervention in our lives, in the form of taxes and regulations, and who minimize the importance of family, individual responsibility, and free markets to address our social problems, they don't want to be labelled. They don't want to be called liberals.

But labels are important shortcuts that make dialogue possible. Do we ask for a disc shaped slab of ground and cooked cow flesh wedged between two pieces of bread when we go to McDonalds (itself a label), or is it easier to ask for a hamburger?

Even the name Pete Karas is a label. Without his name, or label, we might have to describe him as "that politically active Racine alderman most noted for his opposition to guns and his support for a publicly owned power company."

Labels are not a bad thing. We need them. But labels should be accurate, and in this regard, Pete may well have a point. The term "liberal" has different meanings for different folks, because of the modern liberals, I would argue.

"Liberal", as it pertains to political philosophy, is defined as "favorable to individual liberty, social reform and the removal of economic restraints." Most folks that are commonly known as liberals today are more interested in imposing economic restraints (higher taxes, more regulations) than in removing them, so perhaps "liberal" is not the best label for Pete and for those who believe as he does.

Some known as liberals prefer the term "progressive." This term is defined as "favoring political and social progress and reform." But this term is far too broad as virtually anyone with even the slightest interest in politics would favor progress.

So how do we label them accurately? Here, Pete can be most helpful. Let us look at his policy preference, as this may help us to accurately label him.

Pete, as I have already mentioned, is most noted for his opposition to guns, or at least the right to carry them while concealed, and for his support for a publicly owned power company. I strongly suspect that Pete supports the public ownership of schools and education, and I suspect that he favors universal health care. I trust Pete will correct me if I have mistakenly characterized his positions.

Pete's positions demonstrate a consistent preference for the collective. Government should control the production and distribution of education, health care and power. Conversely, individuals should have less or no control in these matters, except that which they can garner through the political process. Even his position on gun control indicates the preference for the collective. Individuals would be prevented from defending themselves against predators with guns. That job should fall to the government.

Socialism is defined as "a political and economic theory advocating collective ownership of the means of production and control of distribution. It is based on the belief that all, while contributing to the good of the community, are equally entitled to the care and protection which the community can provide."

Given Pete's well known politcal positions, it would be more accurate to label him as a socialist, a statist, or a collectivist than it would be to describe him as a liberal or a progressive.

I therefore label Pete Karas a socialist, not in an effort to disparage or humiliate him, but rather to accurately describe his political philosophy. Should Pete or anyone else find this label offensive, I have but one question. Is it accurate?


pete karas said...

As long as word meanings are the topic, let's consider the definitions of a few other words.

I'll start it off: irresponsible, discourteous, upstaging, disrespectful, untrustworthy, provoking, conclusion-jumping, unmannerly, unethical, unscrupulous, and lastly, unprincipled.

If I chose to do it, I could play Denis' game, and say something like:

I wish a word existed for it, one with a meaning that defines an individual that uses their provoking written words in personal weblogs to maximize the number of website hits, therefore creating for themselves a sense of personal satisfaction, similar to the one derived when one...(I will stop there as I believe my point has been made.)

But I refuse to play that game.

Shall I expand? Yes, I believe I shall.

Denis and I had a respectful, lively discussion on another thread on this free to obtain, free to access, free to offer comments upon, and open to the public weblog.

As a result of that dialog, an offer was presented to me for us to meet in person and to discuss that topic and others further.

Denis: "Pete, this would be a fun discussion to have over a beer or a cup of coffee. If you are interested, give me a call."

I called Denis and he was kind enough to return my call. We set up a meeting for Monday morning to get together and talk.

In our brief verbal conversation, I understood us to concur that discussing topics in comment sections was not preferred to discussing things in person. In forums such as this, one can easily deflect questions, (like some may feel that I am now.)

It is now two days before the scheduled meeting. Before hearing what I have to say in person and having the ability to ask me any questions he chooses to, Denis posts this postulative presupposition, entitled "Labeling Liberals."

Now, Denis fails to wait two days and chooses to characterize and label my personal philosophy in advance of the very discussion where we where going to discuss our personal philosophies.

Denis, I'm sorry to inform you of this on such short notice, but I remembered that I was going to wash my car Monday morning and will no longer be able to join you for our scheduled meeting.

No doubt the above may be interpreted as a reaction to Denis labeling me as what he defines as a "socialist." I want to be very clear that I have chosen not to address that issue at all in this forum.

I am redirecting the topic to the idea of human decency and respect.

One last note: I would suggest that if people have a need to express ideas on issues that concern them locally, they should contact the representatives who serve their municipality. For example, those who live in a Racine County village, should contact the village board members that the people elected to serve them. Or, if one would happen to own commercial property in the City of Racine, they should contact the city council member where in the district the property is located.

With as much courtesy as I can muster,

Pete Karas

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Anonymous said...

But you are a socialist.

Denis Navratil said...

Pete, I am surprised and saddened by you response. I have always found you to be affable and open in discussions of political matters. But clearly I touched a nerve on this one.

I tried in good faith to explain the importance of accurate labels as an indespensible communication tool. I then tried my best to accurately characterize your political philosophy based on dictionary definitions and on your public record.

Part of me wonders whether your response might have been feigned outrage designed to avoid the issue of whether you do, or do not have tendencies towards socialism. I mean really Pete, you are a public official. You need to have thicker skin.

I personally believe that it is important to be able to have dialogue with people of opposing viewpoints. I was looking forward to our conversation. I hope that we can get beyond this needlessly acrimonious episode. The invitation for coffee and conversation will always be there.

Sincerely, Denis.

pete karas said...

Oh please, Denis.

And I thought someone such as yourself could understand someone who was writing in the same style you tend to use.

(Did you notice the qualifiers? it is "someone such as" and "tend." Missed it the first time, huh? Wow. Look at that. Now the meaning is different.)

The point has nothing to do with politics. it has to do with common decency.

I was not hurt by what you wrote. In fact, at first, I laughed at the ludicrous, simplistic train of thought. Then I realized what you wrote represented. I didn't like it.

Here is my point, very clearly:


Your actions were disrespectful.


That is the bottom line.

Oh, and thanks for the apology. (I'll make this one simple, Denis: That sentence used sarcasm.)

My turn to lecture: How on Earth do you expect to better our community (or humanity) when you treat anyone this way, and then accept NO PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY for your actions? This kind of disrespect is exactly why nothing can change for the better and people's lives are suffering. Yes, Denis it is the many forms of lack of respect that put up the barriers I often refer to. Remember the "Love thy neighbor" thing? It works.

The topics talked about often here are not some sort of political game. Labels only add to that game. The topics affect people's lives.

Do you understand this?

It is about respect.

Do I need to clarify anything further?


Denis Navratil said...

No Pete, I don't understand this, and yes, I could use some clarification. In what way was my post disrespectful? Mistaken perhaps, if I mischaracterized your political positions. But you have the opportunity to clarify your political philosophy. But you say this has "nothing to do with politics. it has to do with common decency." How so? What have I done that is indecent and disrespectful? Have I betrayed your trust somehow? Must my musings about your politics be kept to myself? You are a public figure Pete, and you openly discuss your views, which would make your politics fair game for public discussion in my view. By the way, I respect this about you, even if I disagree with your positions from time to time. I have done my best to accurately label your political philosophy. I see no reason why this should anger you so. By the way, I take full responsibility for my words. And I am not above apologizing. It's just that I don't do so on demand. I need to first understand your grievance, and I need to agree with your charge that I have been disrespectful and indecent. Please make your case. Thanks.

eric said...

Well, I have never accused mother Simpson of raising a bright son, so I here I go jumping in the middle of you guys. Denis, if I was in Pete's shoes I 'd feel bushwhacked too. You guys seem to indicate you've had a mutually respectful history, till now ... which makes me wonder whether it's been all hunky and dory in the past, or if philosophical has strayed into personal before. I have enjoyed reading both of your writings in the past as you both tend to convey thoughtful, well supported positions. I was therefore pleased to read the recent exchanges between the two of you on this blog - though my reduced night-time mental dexterity limited the amount of that rather large discussion which I could digest. It therefore saddens me that once again the 21st century intrudes and differences of opinion are turned to mutually exclusive positions and/or antagonistic emotions. Denis, after reading this recent blog topic if I were Pete I'd be suspicious that I was walking into a political ambush. Pete, me thinks delivering your reply in person would be more effective and meaningful, and I should add, Mr Navratil on the page is often more edgy than the comfortable guy I've come to know. I'd enjoy hearing you guys discusss liberal, progressive, and socialist; as well as conservative, fascist, and capitalist.

An aside at this point, Pete, this is Eric Simpson, who attended Horlick and graduated a year earlier than yourself I think. I returned to Racine with my family about 5 years ago and have nejoyed reading of your initiatives as an alderman.

Guys, you wann'a know why the electorate is cynical, it's because if smart guys like yourselves can't play together, then we're all doomed, and why even care?

pete karas said...

Denis, thank you for asking for clarification. I did write so much that it is understandable that my main point was lost and if so, that is my error and I do apologize for this dilution through the use choosing to use a tangential writing style.

Here is what I previously wrote:

"...Denis fails to wait two days and chooses to characterize and label my personal philosophy in advance of the very discussion where we where going to discuss our personal philosophies...."

That is my objection at the most basic level.

You had the opportunity to talk with me before defining (labeling, whatever we may call it) me in your writing.

It is an opportunity that I would only offer a person with a political weblog that I trusted to listen and then make a fair judgment of what I said. That may give insight into your question about betrayal of trust, but it is not the my main issue here and I shrugged my shoulders over it. I mean, it's not like we're married or something. :)

Other notes:

*** I never called you or your actions "indecent." I did refer to "common decency" as you state. The connotations of the two are very different. I do not think of you as an indecent person. Direspectful action, yes. An indecent person, no. There is a big difference.

**Again, I am not angry as you mention. My style of prose was used to make a point.

** I am a public figure and you may write as you wish about my public actions. Thank you for acknowledging that I openly express my views and your public appreciation for that.


pete karas said...

Eric, we must have cross-posted.

It is great to hear from you and I'm glad to hear you're in town again. Mother Simpson did raise a bright son. We needed a voice of reason.

I share your thoughts about the public being cynical and how discussions like this perpetuate it. It is a huge problem and a reality check for myself.

You are also correct that I should have made my objections known in a private conversation instead of first posting them here. It would have followed the concept of respect that I've just been preaching about. Sorry, Denis. My error.

If you ever have a free moment, it's be great to talk. Lots has changed in the last, oh my goodness, has it really been 30 years???


Denis Navratil said...

Ok, now we are getting somewhere.

Pete's "objection at the most basic level" is that "...Denis fails to wait two days and chooses to characterize and label my personal philosophy in advance of the very discussion where we where going to discuss our personal philosophies...."

So this hulabaloo is about ...... timing? Oh, c'mon Pete. Yes we did agree to discuss our respective political philosophies over a cup of coffee, but it didn't dawn on me that an implicit moratoriam on discussion of your politics was part of the deal.

A more benign way to approach this might have been to view my labelling of you as a socialist as the starting starting point for our discussion. I aspire to be intellectually honest, and as such I would easily be able to change an initial conclusion if warranted by the evidence. Of course none of that would be possible if we stop our dialogue. By the way, the opportunity is obviously here to clarify or dispute any of the points or conclusions that I have made about you.

Eric has made a good point about cynicism and politics. Do we wish to contribute to that problem or do we endeavor to demonstrate that civil dialogue is possible, even under difficult circumstances? I prefer the latter, of course, but that decision is not mine alone to make.

And finally, I am guilty as charged in not waiting two days...
Disrespect was not my intent. I am sorry that you feel disrespected.

Denis Navratil said...

I hope you guys don't mind me interjecting a little humor here. My crime: premature encapsulation.

pete karas said...

Denis, I do understand that disrespect was not forefront in your mind when you wrote your initial post.

I also appreciate that you are sorry for making me feel disrespected.

The reason that failing to wait until our scheduled meeting was important to me is that I was put in a position of defending myself from a pre-determined "label" instead of starting our discussion from a more neutral point.

When we decided to meet, I was not only looking forward to clarifying my thoughts to you, but also learning from what you had to say.

My public response here was driven by the fact that your thoughts were posted in a public forum. I felt I needed to voice my objections to the process in the same public forum.

Although I could easily respond to your statements about my political philosophies, I'm sure you will understand that I am not, at this time, comfortable doing so here. In the future, I may be willing to do so. I will see how things go as time passes.

That said, I will add one and only one comment: None of the "labels" that you had mentioned fit me in whole. A case could be also be made that all of the "labels," in part, fit me -- as is true with most free-thinking people.


Anonymous said...

I find the demagoguery of the right appalling. They create labels for segments of the population that they disagree with, then they pigeon-hole them into ideologies that the right can castigate.

For example, I believe in small business as Adam Smith saw it in his age; I am anti-abortion; I am for social safety nets for those whom the structures of, (as Pope John Paul II called it, unfettered, vicious,) capitalism, eats up.

This blogger does the thing that all demagoguic righties do, they 'Swift Boat' the people they hate.

My falily had a small business...I hate oligopic, monopolistic capitalism.

I think abortion is killing humanity...I believe vicious capitalism abuses and kills people.

I brlieve in peace...I think that the right wing foments hatred because it is ungodly in its 'winner' mentality.

Denis Navratil said...

anon, you are engaged in the labelling behavior that you claim to abhor when you write "I find the demagoguery of the right appalling." "Demagoguery" is a label of a behavior and "the right" is a political label. Labels are only unfair if they are innacurate or purposefully hurtful. Is my labelling of Pete as a socialist innacurate? Did I "swift boat" Pete? If so, how? Labels are fine, but we should make every effort to be accurate. I tried my best with Pete and others who advocate for positions that meet the dictionary definition of socialism. And if I have been innacurate, Pete or anyone else has the forum here to point out my mistakes. But so far, nobody has done so. What to make of that silence anon?

Anonymous said...

I make of it that the 'left' just feels that the slandering by the 'right' of the 'left' is always going to go on.

BTW, I knew what your response was going to be vis a vis labeling. I was describing behavior; you were labeling.

Those with your perceptions of reality always seem to think that they understand those with other perceptions of reality.

You don't.

Denis Navratil said...

So anon, nobody is disputing my labelling of Pete as a socialist because "the 'left' just feels that the slandering by the 'right' of the 'left' is always going to go on.

So anon, my careful analysis of Pete's public record of advocacy vis a vis the dictionary definition of socialism is now "slander"? You have used the word "slander" without offering even a shred of supporting evidence. Now that is the kind of labelling that is destructive. It is an inaccurate label, and you know it, or you would offer evidence to suport your use of the word. Now if this isn't the pot calling the kettle black, I don't know what is.

Moving on, you write "Those with your perceptions of reality always seem to think that they understand those with other perceptions of reality." No, far from it anon. There is reality and unreality. I can understand people who are realistic. I struggle to understand those who aren't.

Denis Navratil said...

OOps, disregard first paragraph in above comment. I meant to delete it.

Anon2 said...

I will jump in.

"careful anaysis" ????????????

It is wrong to contend this when your original post was written before having the opportunity to question the person you wrote about directly on viewpoints further. It is something apparently available at the time it was written.

Look at it again and see all the assumptions and editorial comments that you made.

Careful editorial??? Yes. But not analysis.

Anonymous said...

It seems as though I am not the only person with too much free time.
Anon - in what non-capitalisitc country would you prefer to live??

Denis Navratil said...

anon2, yours is a tangential point. Pete has advocated PUBLICLY for positions that meet the dictionary definition of socialism. Why is it so critical to meet with him before commenting on his frequent and publicly stated positions? Do the liberal/progressive/socialists in our midst meet with President Bush before demonizing him? This point about not meeting with Pete first is pure nonsense. If I have mistakenly characterized his position, he or anyone else is free to prove me wrong. The refusal, or rather inability, to do so speaks volumes. If it walks like a socialist and quacks like a socialist, could it be a socialist?

anon2 said...

What country would I prefer to live in? I would prefer to live in the United States. It is my home.

And the other questions of me:

"anon2, yours is a tangential point."

Why is it tagential if most of the comments above deal with it?

"Pete has advocated PUBLICLY for positions that meet the dictionary definition of socialism."

And Pete has also advocated for a long list of other things that you fail to mention.

"Why is it so critical to meet with him before commenting on his frequent and publicly stated positions?"

To better understand before you publish something. It is called getting your 'ducks' in a row.

"Do the liberal/progressive/socialists in our midst"

You are labeling again, grouping people together and continuing us vs. them.

"meet with President Bush before demonizing him?"

I doubt if they had the opportunity.

"This point about not meeting with Pete first is pure nonsense."

You screwed your meeting up youself by your post. Quit defending your actions. Be a mature person and realze what you did, and apologize. Stop provoking too.

"If I have mistakenly characterized his position, he or anyone else is free to prove me wrong."

Pete can do as he wishes. I choose not to spend weeks on this researching his biography.

"The refusal, or rather inability, to do so speaks volumes."

You are assuming that the lack of answer proves something. It only proves that you make assumptions and stating them as fact.

"If it walks like a socialist and quacks like a socialist, could it be a socialist?"

Okay, George. whatever.

Denis Navratil said...

anon, you have made several points. Yet we have not met to discuss any of them. Why would you do this to me?

Anonymous said...

The US has several beloved social safety networks, such as medicare, medicaid, social security et al. I posit that the US IS, in practice and belief, a mixed economy and government.

Why is that a bad thing?

Denis Navratil said...

anon, you are correct, we do have a mixed economy, with mixed results I might add. I would maintain that the socialist programs in the mix are the ones that are not sustainable, like social security, or not performing, like most of our public schools. And that is bad.

pete karas said...


There is something I need to inform you and your readers of. Something may not be as it appears.

I wanted you to know that I have become aware that the person who posted as anon2 is an individual that I know. They based their writing on things that I said to them about our dialog. After I read it, I approached the person because some of what was written was based on what we talked about in a conversation and told them that it was unacceptable.

Specifically, the “George” comment tipped me off, which I had said to them in a joking and anecdotal manner: "Isn't it ironic that Denis used the same analogy as George did?"

Some background: George (I believe you know the last name and there is no reason to involve him here as he has nothing to do with it.) had used a similar analogy when we were working together on changing the City's inspection fee policy.

I have already mentioned this to anon2 and that individual has agreed that they will no longer post on this topic or use what I say to them in personal conversations as a basis for any posts in the future.

They understand that it was wrong to use my private words to them in this forum.

The person thought they were doing me a favor by defending me. I'm sorry that this happened, but did want you to know what happened.

We also discussed that it is okay to leave anon2's post and my reply on your site, or if you prefer, you can delete them. (I don't know if one has the ability to do that with Blogger.) That is your option.

I am truly sorry this occurred.

Pete Karas

Denis Navratil said...

Thanks Pete, but I don't see this as a very big deal. It does not surprise me in the least that anon2 is a supporter of yours. So I have not been harmed by this, just amused.

But for your sake, perhaps it is time to ponder the character of your supporters/friends. This person is quite obviously dishonest, as his/her association with you should have been disclosed if an honest debate was the objective.

Pete Karas said...


Thank you and I'm glad you understand. Of course, I agree with you that there should have been more disclosure by the individual.

They did a dishonest action, but I do not feel they are a dishonest person. There is a big difference. The person was honorable when I talked with them, and I was pleased about that.

As a side note, when I mentioned the story of John Lott and Mary Rosh to them, my point of one's credibility really sunk in.

This happens way too often on weblogs and that is a problem, especially for those readers blind to this reality.

Friends I can choose, supporters I can't.


Anonymous said...

anon, you are correct, we do have a mixed economy, with mixed results I might add. I would maintain that the socialist programs in the mix are the ones that are not sustainable, like social security, or not performing, like most of our public schools. And that is bad.

That, indeed , is an iseological statement. The earmarks in Congess, tax cuts to the wealthy, and lalressness on the lobbyist trail, are unsustainable, unethiccal, and illegal...

Denis Navratil said...

anon, have you ever heard me advocate for earmarks in Congress or lawlessness on the campaign trail. If not, then it is absurd and irresponsible to suggest that I support them. Re tax cuts for the rich, I support tax cuts accross the board. As the rich pay the bulk of the taxes, this could be misleadingly stated as support for tax cuts for the rich, when in fact I support tax cuts for all taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

Bulk of taxes...???

10% of the population own 90% of everything, and make the income...there should be PROGRESSIVE taxation, not the REGRESSIVE taxation that we have now.

My God, the right get most of the wealth from capitalism and its workers, and you all don't want to pay the fair share...