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Welcome to Politics By Ecce Homo

Ecce Homo is first and foremost a bilingual pun.  In Latin, the phrase means, more or less, Behold the Man. Being gay, I use it to mean Behold the Homo.

I use the phrase more as Nietzsche did and less as Pilate did.  Pilate meant “just a man” – as in, not a god.  But Behold is a glorious verb, so I use Behold the Man to imply that Man is a glorious thing worthy of Beholding, not less when Man is a Homo, or when Homo is a Man.

I grew up in very conservative Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I’ve been a politics junkie pretty much since I watched the 1968 Republican national convention with my conservative grandmother, who said Nelson Rockefeller was no good because he was divorced and Ronald Reagan was good but not ready yet. In my home town, Nixon was the one.

As I approached what used to be called the age of reason, my politics began to moderate. A big part of it was probably that, as a gay kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, I began to identify with underdogs and outsiders. I remember being assigned to the “anti” point of view in an eighth grade debate on the Equal Rights Amendment, and by the time we were done I had all the zeal of an ERA convert. As a high school sophomore, I joined a student group for George McGovern, and I’ve never looked back.

My philosophy is liberal, but I welcome engagement from all points of view.  A conservative argument that is fact-based and well reasoned is interesting to me precisely because I am a liberal.  Thinking analytically about why I disagree with conservative conclusions gives me a more satisfying understanding of my own liberal convictions and a more confident commitment to those convictions.

Conversely, a liberal argument that predictably and blandly covers well-trodden ground is not interesting to me, however much I might agree with its conclusions.  There is nothing to learn from the unquestioning restatement of what you already believe.

 

For years I used a pseudonym for all of my public writing, because my day job was in government management, where I was employed “at will.” My position was not protected from adverse action based on my expression of my opinions. But I’m retired now, after 33 years in the civil service, so there’s no more need for a pseudonym.

My real name is Chuck Fraser, born and raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard College and Columbia Law School, employed for 35 years as a New York lawyer, and now a blogger.

 

 

 

14 Comments
  1. Stephen permalink

    Hi! I found your blog today, via a comment of yours in the NY Times. I am looking forward to reading your analyses. The sophisticated discussion you hope for may be more difficult to provide, even for those of us who hopefully have the brains for it – finding the time to reason out our responses is a whole different challenge.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Stephen. I hope you’ll come back and comment often – and by all means argue with me when you think I’m wrong.

  2. I agree with your NYTs comment regarding the terrible deterioration of our legislative processes. The Citizens United decision prompted me to adapt unique experience to draft legislation that will return power to the People. It is titled The Fair Elections Fund–a Whole New Ball Game. Numerous attorney have found no fault in it, nor have they found a better idea. How it was developed is at http://tiny.cc/thdhux. See @thefairelection

  3. Hi Chuck: Just arrived here from your wonderful comment on the implicit bias article in the Times today (10-6-16) – I added the story about the surgeon who refused to operate on the boy who was in critical condition.

    I love your comment in the bio about being willing to have an intelligent conversation with conservatives. I no doubt am biased (explicitly!) but searching diligently on line for conservatives willing to intelligently engage with other points of view has been mostly fruitless. I certainly have found many close minded liberals, but for the most part (is this my bias or is there any validity to it?) I find many more examples of liberals being willing to consider many points of view (and in case you know Haidt’s research, I think he’s more than 100% wrong, if that were possible:>)

    Nice to be here, looking forward to reading more. You write well.

    • Thanks for the compliments, Don! I enjoyed your surgeon story in the Times comments, as well as some of the reactions to it.

      As liberals, I’m sure we’re both biased in a way that sees other liberals as more open to differing points of view. But I still think you’re onto something.

      One of conservatives’ critiques of liberals – this was especially common during Bill Clinton’s presidency – is that liberals are “relativists” who believe in few moral absolutes. I think that’s right.

      If liberals are more relativistic than conservatives, then I think it follows that liberals are more likely to engage in self-doubt and self-examination – to be less certain of their beliefs and more open to reconsidering them.

      Today’s conservatives, meaning Donald Trump, his followers, and the Alt Right, are not traditional conservatives. If you’ve read my writing you know that I think an important part of their motivation is fear – fear of cultural change, cultural pluralism, loss of the sense of security that came with white predominance. Fear is emotional, not rational, and emotions can’t be negotiated or compromised. I think this accounts for the Trump/Alt Right’s vulnerability to demonstrably false beliefs. And of course, uncompromising rigidity about one’s beliefs is exactly what you’re talking about.

      Thanks for stopping by, Don. Please come back and comment early and often.

  4. Guy permalink

    Hi Chuck. I too found my way to your blog through your NYT comment link. I must confess that I was looking for the antithesis of what I actually found in your writings and I am pleasantly disappointed.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Guy. I’m sorry you were disappointed, but I’m glad the disappointment was pleasant. I hope you’ll visit once in awhile, and by all means comment on my posts, whether they are pleasant, disappointing, or both.

      • Guy permalink

        Thanks Chuck. I’ve read many of your previous posts and have found that we are both on the same political wordview page. Continue your excellent writing.

  5. Fran L. permalink

    Please add me to your list of post recipients. Enjoy your commentaries very much.

    • Done. Thanks for your interest, Fran.

      For others who might want to get my posts by e-mail, just click on the “follow” widget that’s toward the bottom right on any page.

  6. Kita Baranski Greenberg permalink

    I love your thinking and writing and just signed up for your blog. You don’t need to convince me of what you’re saying, but I love the clarity and verve with which you say it.

    I need that because I feel more and more that I am in a Philip K. Dickian alternate universe. I live in Palo Alto where there are many fellow liberals, but I recently found myself wandering into the local YMCA, only to hear members casually discussing how “we cannot possibly absorb 20 million immigrants and wouldn’t it be swell if we could just put them all on an island until we sort them out?”

    How can my fellow citizens be so unclear on the most basic facts of history and economics?

    I am glad I found you (via your comment in NYT on Frank Bruni’s piece) and look forward to reading and thinking with you.

    • Thanks for following, Kita! I’m glad you found me.

      Yes, it turns out that facts are essential to intelligent policy-making – and conversely, as we’re learning first-hand under President Trump, lack of concern for facts leads to bad policy-making. There are not, for instance, 20 million would-be immigrants massing on our borders; the “20 million” figure is a fake number intended to conjure a problem in order to force us into a “solution” we otherwise wouldn’t accept.

      A functioning moral compass also helps with policy-making. So, for instance, even if we had 20 million people banging down our doors, putting them on an island somewhere wouldn’t be a moral option.

      Kita, I hope you’ll stop by often. I look forward to more from Palo Alto.

  7. J.R. Werbics permalink

    I too found your blog via a New York Times post.

    You call yourself a liberal, yet you do not offer your readers any more information as to who influences you, or what constitutes a liberal idea in your mind in today’s world.

    Looking forward to reading more about you as I try to figure out your true political disposition.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian filmmaker, writer and philosopher

    • Good question, J.R.! I have to say I haven’t given much thought to who “influences” me. But what the heck, here goes:

      My early political heroes were Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson (the civil rights part and the Great Society part, not the Vietnam War part). The first presidential campaign I worked on was George McGovern’s in 1972, before I could vote. I met Barney Frank when I was in college – he was in law school, serving as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Whenever I wanted a quick way to figure out which side of some obscure state legislative procedural vote I was on, I just looked up Barney in the roll call, since I agreed with him on pretty much everything, at least in those days.

      I was a political science major, with a particular interest in political theory and political philosophy. But for all the writers I read, the only one I can say “influenced” me was John Rawls, whose “A Theory of Justice” was still new. I found his argument, at the core of which is his positing of an “original position,” to be compellingly persuasive, maybe even irrefutable.

      My first presidential vote was in 1976. I voted for Milton Shapp in the Massachusetts primary (he was the governor of Pennsylvania, where I grew up) and Jimmy Carter in the general election. Since 1980, I’ve been a New York voter. In 1980 I voted for Ted Kennedy in the primary and Jimmy Carter in the general election; in 1984 for Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale; in 1988 for Jesse Jackson and Michael Dukakis. Starting in 1992, I ran a string of votes for the same candidate in the New York primary as in the general election: in 1992 and 1996 for Bill Clinton; in 2000 for Al Gore; in 2004 for John Kerry; and in 2008 and 2012 for Barack Obama. The primary in 2016 was a tough one for me. On the one hand, I preferred Bernie Sanders’s platform to Hillary Clinton’s, but on the other hand, I couldn’t persuade myself that American voters would elect someone who calls himself a socialist, even if he’s not actually a socialist. Although I like Clinton well enough, I had really hoped she wouldn’t run, because I thought a fresh face would give Democrats a better shot at a third consecutive term. So in 2016 I did something I’d never done before – I sat out the primary. But I voted for Clinton over Donald Trump, for more reasons than I know how to count. (Truth be told, I would have voted for Bozo the Clown if he was the Democratic nominee against Donald Trump.)

      As to what constitutes a liberal idea in today’s world, I’ll just say that my overarching political concern is equality of opportunity – which means among other things that I believe in universal free public education, universal access to affordable health care, aggressive public investment in infrastructure, and progressive taxation to pay for them. I’m basically a capitalist, with the qualification that I believe that markets are only truly free when they are transparent, and that markets are only truly transparent when they are well regulated. I always offer American securities regulation as Exhibit A on this point. To my mind, equality of opportunity is the only moral justification for capitalism – if we all compete on a level playing field, we succeed or fail according entirely to our merits and our efforts. To the extent that success and failure owe to the circumstances of birth – our race, our sex, our parents’ wealth or social status – to that extent, capitalism is to my mind a moral failure.

      Beyond that, I’ll leave it to your further readings of my blog posts to figure out whether I am the liberal I claim to be. I hope you visit often, and, by all means, let me know when you disagree with me – and, more importantly, why.

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