Steinberg the Philosopher

by CalWatchdog Staff | May 24, 2010 12:10 pm

Turns out that Senator Darrell Steinberg[1] isn’t just a Democrat, legislator from the Sacramento area or President Pro Tem of the California Senate. He’s also a philosopher right up there with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel[2], Baruch Spinoza[3] and Winnie the Pooh[4].

I realized this as I read through the “John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award”[5] acceptance speech Steinberg gave today at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library[6]. This year the award went to a bipartisan group of California legislators for their “brave” but ultimately failed and pointless votes last year to reduce our state’s hideous budget deficit.

Steinberg’s school of thought is that politics requires a kind of Hegelian synthesis of perspectives. But I’m getting ahead of myself — here’s Steinberg getting down to first principles:

“Ideology is what each of us believes is true,” Steinberg said. “It is our point of view.”

Deep, huh? Well, that’s nothing. Steinberg wants us all to be both partisan and bi-partisan in our outlooks and actions. This is of course contradictory, like asking a person to have both two brown eyes and two blue eyes. But philospher Steinberg doesn’t shy away from such petty things as “contradictions”:

“Embracing partisanship and bi-partisanship concurrently may seem to be a contradiction,” he said. “But let’s remember that our most important values are contradictions.”

Yes, exactly! Our most important values are… wait, what?

“Think about it… liberty and justice are values often in conflict,” he said. “Absolute liberty would create a society where the strong dominate the weak, the rich dominate the poor, the big dominate the small. And a society that attempts to impose absolute justice would deprive people of many of our liberties.”

Taking a page from Steinberg’s book of philosophy, this argument is both correct and wildly offbase. Yes, it’s difficult for one person to have liberty without trampling someone else, which is a form of injustice. But this doesn’t mean that we elect officials to try to pass laws and regulations to heighten liberty AND justice; it simply means that our officials have to hash out some kind of balance between the two.

These values, both of which are pretty near universally held by Americans, are, in fact, mutually exclusive. They are not, in an of themselves, “contradictory.” This has been a point of drama in American politics since the 13 colonies first rebelled against George III.

Transfering this line of argument to partisanship and bi-partisanship, however, is just a recipe for inducing a headache. A legislator can be partisan — pursuing a narrow ideological or political series of goals at the expense of all else — or not. There is no doing both.

Then again, I may be completely wrong. See, I live in the real world, rather than the one bordered by marble lined walls and topped with a stately dome, under which lobbyists and sycophants march around every day telling men and women like Steinberg that they are among the best and brightest California residents today.

In that world, Steinberg’s philosophy may in fact make perfect sense. Anyway, you can read Steinberg’s speech here[7].

-Anthony Pignataro

  1. Darrell Steinberg:
  2. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel:
  3. Baruch Spinoza:
  4. Winnie the Pooh:
  5. “John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award”:
  6. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library:
  7. here:

Source URL: