Democrats and Republicans reverse roles

Have you noticed that it’s now the Democrats who are trying to wage a culture war?  Meanwhile, all Republicans want to talk about today is economics, which was always the interest of the New Deal Democrats.  [Read more...]

Liberals are not relativists (unfortunately)

Conservative intellectual and Princeton Professor Robert George points out that liberals are not relativists at all. Rather, they are moralistic dogmatists:

Contemporary left liberals are hardly relativists! I often wish they were. They are moralists—moralists on a mission. The mission is to shape political and social life, and, to the extent possible, individual belief, in line with their passionately held moral convictions. [Read more...]

Obama as the liberal Reagan

E. J. Dionne, Jr., says that President Obama–in his goals, tactics, and leadership style– is the liberal Reagan:

To understand how Barack Obama sees himself and his presidency, don’t look to Franklin Roosevelt or Abraham Lincoln. Obama’s role model is Ronald Reagan — just as Obama told us before he was first elected.

Like Reagan, Obama hopes to usher in a long-term electoral realignment — in Obama’s case toward the moderate left, thereby reversing the 40th president’s political legacy. The Reagan metaphor helps explain the tone of Obama’s inaugural address, built not on a contrived call to an impossible bipartisanship but on a philosophical argument for a progressive vision of the country rooted in our history. [Read more...]

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.

From citizens to clients

George Will sums up Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic by Jay Cost, who argues “that the party has succumbed to ‘clientelism,’ the process of purchasing cohorts of voters with federal favors.”

Before Franklin Roosevelt, “liberal” described policies emphasizing liberty and individual rights. He, however, pioneered the politics of collective rights — of group entitlements. And his liberalism systematically developed policies not just to buy the allegiance of existing groups but to create groups that henceforth would be dependent on government.

Under FDR, liberalism became the politics of creating an electoral majority from a mosaic of client groups. Labor unions got special legal standing, farmers got crop supports, business people got tariff protection and other subsidies, the elderly got pensions, and so on and on.

Government no longer existed to protect natural rights but to confer special rights on favored cohorts. As Irving Kristol said, the New Deal preached not equal rights for all but equal privileges for all — for all, that is, who banded together to become wards of the government.

In the 1960s, public-employee unions were expanded to feast from quantitative liberalism (favors measured in quantities of money). And qualitative liberalism was born as environmentalists, feminists and others got government to regulate behavior in the service of social “diversity,” “meaningful” work, etc. Cost notes that with the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act, a few government-approved minorities were given an entitlement to public offices: About 40 “majority-minority” congressional districts would henceforth be guaranteed to elect minority members.

Walter Mondale, conceding to Ronald Reagan after the 1984 election, listed the groups he thought government should assist: “the poor, the unemployed, the elderly, the handicapped, the helpless and the sad.” Yes, the sad.

Republicans also practice clientelism, but with a (sometimes) uneasy conscience. Both parties have narrowed their appeals as they have broadened their search for clients to cosset.

via George Will: An election to call voters’ bluff – The Washington Post.

Liberals have no books

Yale professor and political liberal Beverly Gage laments that conservatives have an intellectual tradition carried on in books, but liberals don’t.  They used to–and note what the key books were–but don’t any more, leaving them intellectually weak and poorly grounded:

We tend to think of the conservative influence in purely political terms: electing Ronald Reagan in 1980, picking away at Social Security, reducing taxes for the wealthy. But one of the movement’s most lasting successes has been in developing a common intellectual heritage. Any self-respecting young conservative knows the names you’re supposed to spout: Hayek, Rand, Ludwig von Mises, Albert Jay Nock. There are some older thinkers too—Edmund Burke, for instance—but for the most part the favored thinkers come out of the movement’s mid-20th century origins in opposition to Soviet communism and the New Deal.

Liberals, by contrast, have been moving in the other direction over the last half-century, abandoning the idea that ideas can be powerful political tools. This may seem like a strange statement at a moment when American universities are widely understood to be bastions of liberalism, and when liberals themselves are often derided as eggheaded elites. But there is a difference between policy smarts honed in college classrooms and the kind of intellectual conversation that keeps a movement together. What conservatives have developed is what the left used to describe as a “movement culture”: a shared set of ideas and texts that bind activists together in common cause. Liberals, take note

Once upon a time, the Old Left had “movement culture” par excellence: to be considered a serious activist, you had to read Marx and Lenin until your eyes bled. For better or worse, that never resulted in much electoral power (nor was it intended to) and within a few decades became the hallmark of pedantry rater than intellectual vitality.

The New Left reinvented that heritage in the 1960s. Instead of (or in addition to) Marx and Lenin, activists began to read Herbert Marcuse, C. Wright Mills, and Saul Alinsky. As new, more particular movements developed, the reading list grew to include feminists, African-Americans, and other traditionally excluded groups. This vastly enhanced the range of voices in the public sphere—one of the truly great revolutions in American intellectual politics. But it did little to create a single coherent language through which to maintain common cause. Instead, the left ended up with multiple “movement cultures,” most of them more focused on issue-oriented activism than on a common set of ideas.

Liberals have channeled their energies even more narrowly over the past half-century, tending to prefer policy tweaks and electoral mapping to big-picture thinking. When was the last time you saw a prominent liberal politician ascribe his or her passion and interest in politics to, of all things, a book?

via Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand: Why don’t America liberals have their own canon of writers and thinkers? – Slate Magazine.


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