Reactionary liberalism

Do you remember how liberalism used to be idealistic and ambitious, taking on big problems with boldness and confidence?  Liberal presidents were always proposing vast new programs to solve our social ills:  the New Frontier, the Great Society, the War on Poverty.  Now, points out Michael Gerson, liberals seem bereft of new ideas and new programs.  They are simply trying desperately to hold onto the old programs, oblivious to their problems.  And instead of idealism, all they have is anger.  Read Gerson’s whole column, linked below.  An excerpt:

The Obama agenda also reflects a broader shift in American liberalism, which has become reactive. Liberals often defend unreformed, unsustainable health entitlements — even though these commitments place increasing burdens on the young to benefit those who are older and better off. They often defend the unrestricted right to abortion — even though it represents a contraction of the circle of social inclusion and protection. They often defend the educational status quo — even though it is one of the nation’s main sources of racial and economic injustice.

Others have termed this “reactionary liberalism.” It is more the protection of accumulated interests than the application of creative reform to new problems. In the place of idealism, there is often anger. When Obama failed in his first debate, liberals were generally not critical that he lacked idealism. They were angry that he wasn’t sufficiently angry.

via Michael Gerson: Liberalism’s shrinking agenda – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • James Sarver

    “Others have termed this “reactionary liberalism.” It is more the protection of accumulated interests than the application of creative reform to new problems.”

    The very accusation that liberals have screamed at conservatives since the existence of either. Meet the new boss…

  • James Sarver

    “Others have termed this “reactionary liberalism.” It is more the protection of accumulated interests than the application of creative reform to new problems.”

    The very accusation that liberals have screamed at conservatives since the existence of either. Meet the new boss…

  • kerner

    The Left has been telling itself for decades that its doctrine and programs represent “progress”, the inevitable next steps in human evolution. The very notion that those programs should be abandonned is, to them, the equivalent of suggesting that we literally devolve to neanderthal man. Look how some liberals who comment here react to the positions of Orthodox Christianity on something like homosexual marriage. Their reaction is either condescention (“well you can resist for now, but your children will accept it and society will inevitably change…”) or rage (“You bunch of homophobic ignorant haters!!!”). It is the same with all their other positions as well. They never address the issues with an open analytical mind.

  • kerner

    The Left has been telling itself for decades that its doctrine and programs represent “progress”, the inevitable next steps in human evolution. The very notion that those programs should be abandonned is, to them, the equivalent of suggesting that we literally devolve to neanderthal man. Look how some liberals who comment here react to the positions of Orthodox Christianity on something like homosexual marriage. Their reaction is either condescention (“well you can resist for now, but your children will accept it and society will inevitably change…”) or rage (“You bunch of homophobic ignorant haters!!!”). It is the same with all their other positions as well. They never address the issues with an open analytical mind.

  • Kirk

    I believe this is called “populism.” The Republicans figured it out first, the Democrats are following suit. Manipulation through fear and anger is just tons easier than meaningful political action.

  • Kirk

    I believe this is called “populism.” The Republicans figured it out first, the Democrats are following suit. Manipulation through fear and anger is just tons easier than meaningful political action.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk:

    Wrong? Like, epically wrong. The Democratic Party has been famously populist since the 1830s. Republicans–the party of Northern and nationalist elites–didn’t discover anything even remotely resembling populism until Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, after which populism experienced a brief resurgence in the 1980s, only to die again until the emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. Any history of populism in America will show that the Democratic Party–note its name is one of the prime culprits (along with various third parties that primarily originate from the American left).

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk:

    Wrong? Like, epically wrong. The Democratic Party has been famously populist since the 1830s. Republicans–the party of Northern and nationalist elites–didn’t discover anything even remotely resembling populism until Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, after which populism experienced a brief resurgence in the 1980s, only to die again until the emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. Any history of populism in America will show that the Democratic Party–note its name is one of the prime culprits (along with various third parties that primarily originate from the American left).

  • SKPeterson

    Cin @ 4 – The Republicans fully embraced progressive populism in the 1890′s, especially under Teddy Roosevelt. The Democrats had moved somewhat away from it under the Bourbon Democrats.

    I’m also not sure we should use the term “Populist” when talking about the period of American history from 1820 to 1850 or so. It doesn’t lend clarity to understanding that period of American history and presents something of an anachronism by placing a populist veneer or label on a politics that was anything but. Further, I would put the Whigs of the 1830′s to 1850′s as much in the populist tradition as the Democrats, with the populist/nativist Know Nothings coming out of the Whig camp.

  • SKPeterson

    Cin @ 4 – The Republicans fully embraced progressive populism in the 1890′s, especially under Teddy Roosevelt. The Democrats had moved somewhat away from it under the Bourbon Democrats.

    I’m also not sure we should use the term “Populist” when talking about the period of American history from 1820 to 1850 or so. It doesn’t lend clarity to understanding that period of American history and presents something of an anachronism by placing a populist veneer or label on a politics that was anything but. Further, I would put the Whigs of the 1830′s to 1850′s as much in the populist tradition as the Democrats, with the populist/nativist Know Nothings coming out of the Whig camp.

  • Kirk

    Fair enough. I suppose Dems are, by definition, populists. But the sort of apocalyptic populism in modern politics is, I think, a creation of the Republican party. I think it extends back to post 9/11, which is when Republicans really saw how well it worked. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party perfected it. The Dems just now seem to be catching on. Perhaps it’s old hat, but it’s not been a main strategy for a few decades.

  • Kirk

    Fair enough. I suppose Dems are, by definition, populists. But the sort of apocalyptic populism in modern politics is, I think, a creation of the Republican party. I think it extends back to post 9/11, which is when Republicans really saw how well it worked. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party perfected it. The Dems just now seem to be catching on. Perhaps it’s old hat, but it’s not been a main strategy for a few decades.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKPeterson and Kirk:

    Quite right about Teddy Roosevelt, though he was a bit of an idiosyncrasy. William Jennings Bryan more or less “owned” populism during that period, and the Progressive Party–the true home of the era’s populist sentiment–was neither Democratic nor Republican. Otherwise, I have no problem using the word “populist” to describe the politics of Jacksonian America, at least in a conditioned sense.

    But Kirk, I’m not sure where you’re getting the narrative that Republicans invented modern populism, whether apocalyptic or otherwise, and extending the timeline “back” to post-9/11 seems absurdly myopic. Again, if you want to have a purely “modern” frame of reference, you would still have to go back at least to the Moral Majority for a coherent taste of apocalyptic populism. But Democratic populism had been a going affair at that point for many years already.

  • Cincinnatus

    SKPeterson and Kirk:

    Quite right about Teddy Roosevelt, though he was a bit of an idiosyncrasy. William Jennings Bryan more or less “owned” populism during that period, and the Progressive Party–the true home of the era’s populist sentiment–was neither Democratic nor Republican. Otherwise, I have no problem using the word “populist” to describe the politics of Jacksonian America, at least in a conditioned sense.

    But Kirk, I’m not sure where you’re getting the narrative that Republicans invented modern populism, whether apocalyptic or otherwise, and extending the timeline “back” to post-9/11 seems absurdly myopic. Again, if you want to have a purely “modern” frame of reference, you would still have to go back at least to the Moral Majority for a coherent taste of apocalyptic populism. But Democratic populism had been a going affair at that point for many years already.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “They were angry that (Obama) wasn’t sufficiently angry.”

    Meta-anger rears it’s ugly head.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    “They were angry that (Obama) wasn’t sufficiently angry.”

    Meta-anger rears it’s ugly head.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Interesting. In Canada, the most conservative parties (in the true sense of the word – ie, the ones never changing with the times, technology or economic reality), are the 2 Social Democtaric parties – the NDP and the separatist Bloq.

    Both the Liberal party (federally) and the Conservative party are fiscally conservative parties – the former has become so with Chretien in the 90′s. They are not fighting the same wars anymore, but the NDP is still fighting the class wars from the 30′s (together with the Unions, the 2 being virtually indistinguishable), when their predecessor, Social Credit made up the left of Canadian politics.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Interesting. In Canada, the most conservative parties (in the true sense of the word – ie, the ones never changing with the times, technology or economic reality), are the 2 Social Democtaric parties – the NDP and the separatist Bloq.

    Both the Liberal party (federally) and the Conservative party are fiscally conservative parties – the former has become so with Chretien in the 90′s. They are not fighting the same wars anymore, but the NDP is still fighting the class wars from the 30′s (together with the Unions, the 2 being virtually indistinguishable), when their predecessor, Social Credit made up the left of Canadian politics.

  • DonS

    When you are reduced to humanism, having stripped away the concept of a world created and ordered by God, Government and the social welfare programs you can initiate through government, become the highest good. However, since Government has no resources of its own, and no ability to produce resources, this world view inevitably leads to mere squabbling between different interests seeking to carve up a finite pie, as well as between those consuming interests and the relative few who are being taxed to provide that pie.

    It’s not very noble. In fact, it’s human greed at its ugliest.

  • DonS

    When you are reduced to humanism, having stripped away the concept of a world created and ordered by God, Government and the social welfare programs you can initiate through government, become the highest good. However, since Government has no resources of its own, and no ability to produce resources, this world view inevitably leads to mere squabbling between different interests seeking to carve up a finite pie, as well as between those consuming interests and the relative few who are being taxed to provide that pie.

    It’s not very noble. In fact, it’s human greed at its ugliest.

  • Jeff

    The fact that abortion has become one of the central planks of the Democratic party speaks volumes. Any party where one of their main planks is to defend a mother’s right to kill her child deserves to die.

  • Jeff

    The fact that abortion has become one of the central planks of the Democratic party speaks volumes. Any party where one of their main planks is to defend a mother’s right to kill her child deserves to die.

  • Tom Hering

    Hmm. I think of thousands of children in Iraq. Unfortunate collateral damage, I know. But there you are. It’s not impossible to justify the deaths of little ones, so long as their deaths are for the right reasons. Welcome to the club, patriots.

  • Tom Hering

    Hmm. I think of thousands of children in Iraq. Unfortunate collateral damage, I know. But there you are. It’s not impossible to justify the deaths of little ones, so long as their deaths are for the right reasons. Welcome to the club, patriots.

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom,

    I think of the hundreds of civilians (and counting), including almost 200 children, killed in the Obama administration’s escalating drone war.

    /but I thought Republicans were the only ones to engage in illegal wars!!!!1!

  • Cincinnatus

    Tom,

    I think of the hundreds of civilians (and counting), including almost 200 children, killed in the Obama administration’s escalating drone war.

    /but I thought Republicans were the only ones to engage in illegal wars!!!!1!

  • Jeff

    The thousands of children that died in the Iraq war are a tragedy. I think pretty much everyone can agree on that. Obama supporting the willful murder of millions of babies is truly inexcusable. The two circumstances are as different as night and day.

  • Jeff

    The thousands of children that died in the Iraq war are a tragedy. I think pretty much everyone can agree on that. Obama supporting the willful murder of millions of babies is truly inexcusable. The two circumstances are as different as night and day.

  • Hanni

    @jeff…”thousands of children dying in Iraq are a {tragedy}”. “Obama willful murder…..”. How disgusting. I am a registered democrat and don’t believe in abortion, but it is the law of the land, with exceptons. Can you give me one reason why Republicans have not overturned, or even tried to, Roe vs. Wade? Lots of talk, gets votes, but no Rep. administration has made any serious effort to overturn. I have signed petitions, writtern letters many years ago, am 80 now, to no avail. Repubs. have in office much longer than Dems and still, nothing done. Hyprocisy reigns.

  • Hanni

    @jeff…”thousands of children dying in Iraq are a {tragedy}”. “Obama willful murder…..”. How disgusting. I am a registered democrat and don’t believe in abortion, but it is the law of the land, with exceptons. Can you give me one reason why Republicans have not overturned, or even tried to, Roe vs. Wade? Lots of talk, gets votes, but no Rep. administration has made any serious effort to overturn. I have signed petitions, writtern letters many years ago, am 80 now, to no avail. Repubs. have in office much longer than Dems and still, nothing done. Hyprocisy reigns.

  • Jeff

    @Hanni
    Overturning Roe vs Wade would require a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court that would overturn it. To get a Supreme Court to overturn it is probably the easiest way, and that would require 5 pro-life judges which we don’t have now.

  • Jeff

    @Hanni
    Overturning Roe vs Wade would require a constitutional amendment or a Supreme Court that would overturn it. To get a Supreme Court to overturn it is probably the easiest way, and that would require 5 pro-life judges which we don’t have now.


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