John C. Goodman

Have you noticed that the revelation about the National Security Agency surveilling our phone calls, our email, our credit cards and other personal information is creating great divisions at both ends of the political spectrum?

It's also revealing that quite a few people have political beliefs that are hard to understand.

On the right, we have Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) ardently defending the NSA's intelligence gathering practices. This is the same senator who opposed background checks for firearms on the theory that such intrusiveness would create a "slippery slope."

On the left, we have the New York Times outraged that its editorial board declared that President Obama has "lost all credibility" on the issue. This is the same newspaper that is perfectly willing to give the government complete control over your health insurance, your retirement pension, and many other aspects of your personal life.

A while back I wrote that conservatism and liberalism are not ideologies. They are sociologies. What's the difference?

An ideology is a set of coherent ideas. Socialism is an ideology. So is libertarianism. Suppose I told you that socialists believe the government should nationalize the steel industry and the auto industry. You would have no difficulty inferring what their position is on nationalizing the airline industry. Right? Suppose I told you that libertarians believe in a free market for tinker toys and ham sandwiches. You would have no difficulty inferring that they also believe in a free market for Rubik's Cubes.

Sociologies are different. They represent a set of ideas that are often incoherent. These ideas are likely to come together not because of reason but because of history or happenstance. Not only do the ideas not cohere; they may be completely contradictory.

Still, the fact that political beliefs are incoherent doesn't mean that we can't try to understand them. I'll take on liberalism and save conservatism for another day.

Consider Hollywood liberalism. Hollywood likes big government. It sees government as the protector of the little guy against the forces of selfish business interests and rapacious capitalism.

But when is the last time you saw a movie in which the head of the CIA, NSA or any other government intelligence agency was a likeable guy? Our intelligence agencies are almost always portrayed as amoral, if not downright immoral. Ditto for the missions of our spy agencies.

John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. His books include the widely acclaimed A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America and the award-winning Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts.”