The evangelical who made Democrats liberal

Scott Farris has a feature in the Washington Post about how those who lost presidential campaigns often had big and long-lasting effects on their parties and on the nation.  Barry Goldwater and George McGovern would be the obvious examples.  But the most powerful influence, according to Farris, was that of evangelical Christian best known today for battling Darwinism in the Scopes trial:

But the greatest transformation probably occurred in 1896, when William Jennings Bryan, 36, became the youngest man ever nominated for president.

Throughout the 19th century, the Democrats had been the conservative, small-government party. In a single election, in which he campaigned with “an excitement that was almost too intense for life,” as a contemporary reporter wrote, Bryan remade the Democratic Party into the progressive, populist group it remains today.

The 1896 campaign was an extraordinary struggle. Every major newspaper, even traditionally Democratic ones, endorsed Bryan’s opponent, William McKinley. Even Democratic President Grover Cleveland urged supporters to work for McKinley’s election, not Bryan’s. The Republicans significantly outspent Bryan, but he countered with a matchless energy, personally addressing 5 million people over the course of the campaign. Instead of being buried in a landslide, he won 47 percent of the popular vote and carried 22 of the 45 states.

Bryan, who saw religion as a force for progressive reform, is sometimes portrayed as a simpleton, even a reactionary, because of his crusade against the teaching of evolution as fact. Yet in many ways he was far ahead of his time. In 1896 and in his subsequent presidential campaigns in 1900 and 1908, he advocated for women’s suffrage, creation of the Federal Reserve and implementation of a progressive income tax, to name a few reforms. When Franklin Roosevelt implemented the New Deal, Herbert Hoover sniffed that it was just Bryanism by another name.

via The most important losers in American politics – The Washington Post.

This reminds us of a time when the conservative Christians we now call evangelicals tended to be politically liberal.  How do you account for that?  Can it be that applying the Bible to politics can cut both ways?

I would like you liberal readers to pay tribute to William Jennings Bryan.  You tend to say today that religion should be kept out of politics.  But don’t you appreciate how “Bryanism” gave us the New Deal and changed the Democratic party from the conservative small-government party to the progressive and big-government party it is today?

I would like you conservative readers to criticize William Jennings Bryan.  Don’t you think he should have kept his religion out of politics?  Are there elements of “Bryanism” in the Christian right today?

Obama’s Teddy Roosevelt strategy

President Obama gave a speech in Osawatomie, Kansas, in which he wrapped himself in the mantle of Roosevelt.  Teddy Roosevelt, that is.  And, according to liberal columnist E. J. Dionne, laid out the strategy that will bring him re-election.

President Obama has decided that he is more likely to win if the election is about big things rather than small ones. He hopes to turn the 2012 campaign from a plebiscite about the current state of the economy into a referendum about the broader progressive tradition that made us a middle-class nation. For the second time, he intends to stake his fate on a battle for the future.

This choice has obvious political benefits to an incumbent presiding over a still-ailing economy, and it confirms Obama’s shift from a defensive approach earlier this year to an aggressive philosophical attack on a Republican Party that has veered sharply rightward. It’s also the boldest move the president has made since he decided to go all-out for health insurance reform even after the Democrats lost their 60-vote majority in the Senate in early 2010.

The president’s speech on Tuesday in Osawatomie, Kan., the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary “New Nationalism” speech 101 years ago, was the Inaugural address Obama never gave. It was, at once, a clear philosophical rationale for his presidency, a straightforward narrative explaining the causes of the nation’s travails, and a coherent plan of battle against a radicalized conservatism that now defines the Republican Party and has set the tone for its presidential nominating contest.

In drawing upon TR, Obama tied himself unapologetically to a defense of America’s long progressive and liberal tradition. The Republican Roosevelt, after all, drew his inspiration from the writer Herbert Croly, whose book “The Promise of American Life” can fairly be seen as the original manifesto for modern liberalism. Thus has the tea party’s radicalism encouraged a very shrewd politician to take on a task that Democrats have been reluctant to engage since Ronald Reagan’s ascendancy.

Obama was remarkably direct in declaring that the core ideas of the progressivism advanced by Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt were right, and that the commitments of Reagan-era supply-side economics are flatly wrong. He praised TR for knowing “that the free market has never been a free license to take whatever you can from whomever you can” and for understanding that “the free market only works when there are rules of the road that ensure competition is fair and open and honest.”

A White House that just a few months ago was obsessed with the political center is now not at all wary, as a senior adviser put it, of extolling “a vision that has worked for this country.” But this adviser also noted that Obama implicitly contrasted the flexibility of the Rooseveltian progressivism with the rigidity of the current brand of conservatism. The official pointed to Obama’s strong commitment to education reform, including his critique in Osawatomie of “just throwing money at education.”

“You can embrace it [the progressive tradition] if you can make the point that philosophies and political theories can evolve as facts on the ground change,” the adviser said. The liberalism Obama advocated thus contains a core of moderation that the ideology of the tea party does not. Finally, Obama has realized that the path to the doors of moderate voters passes through a wholesale critique of the immoderation of the right.

via Obama’s New Square Deal – The Washington Post.

First of all, I keep hearing Teddy Roosevelt, who was indeed a Republican,  being praised by conservatives.  But wasn’t he the leader of the ‘Progressive” movement?  Or did he represent a kind of conservatism that preserved free markets by reining in monopolies and trusts that destroy free markets?  Or what?

Second, do you see anything to prevent such a strategy of running against conservatism from working?

The Occupy ideology

I went into Washington yesterday and stumbled upon the Occupy D.C. folks.  They were in a little green space on Pennsylvania Avenue, which they have filled up with tents.  I was surprised to see how few of them there were.  Estimates have been a couple of hundred–which in itself is an unusually tiny demonstration by D.C. standards–but even that number seems high, based on the little tent village that I saw.  Also, they don’t really look like 99% of America!  I didn’t notice any working class folks–no truck drivers, factory workers, or farmers–despite the unions coming out in their favor.  (That’s always what’s frustrating to the American left:  the proletariat just never comes out for their causes!)  It was pretty much the usual cast of counter-culture radicals whom I remember so well from my college days back in the early 1970s.

The media has been fawning all over these folks, and Democrats–including the president–have declared their support.  That might come back to bite them, according to Michael Gerson, who describes the ideology at work in the seemingly unfocused protests:

But there is some ideological coherence within OWS. Its collectivist people’s councils seem to have two main inspirations: socialism (often Marxist socialism) and anarchism. The two are sometimes in tension. They share, however, a belief that the capitalist system is a form of “institutionalized violence,” and that normal, democratic political methods, dominated by monied interests, are inadequate. Direct action is necessary to provoke the crisis that ignites the struggle that achieves the revolution.

And we are beginning to see what direct action means. Occupy DC protesters recently assaulted a conservative gathering, then took over a public intersection to prevent the passage of luxury cars. Blocking the path of one driver and his 2-year-old son, an activist shouted, “Sorry, but you have no power right now.” That is the opposite of participatory democracy — the use of power to intimidate a fellow citizen on a public street. It is the method of British soccer thugs.

In Oakland, protesters have been playing at the Paris Commune — constructing barricades, setting fires, throwing concrete blocks and explosives, declaring a general strike to stop the “flow of capital” at the port. Here, OWS seems to be taking its cues from both “Rules for Radicals” and “A Clockwork Orange.”

Defenders of OWS dismiss this as the work of a few bad apples. But the transgressors would call themselves the vanguard. And they express, not betray, a significant ideological strain within the movement. Since the 1960s, some on the political left have sought liberal reform through the democratic process and nonviolent protest. Others have sought to hasten the crisis and collapse of fundamentally illegitimate social and economic systems. Both groups can be found within OWS, but the latter is ascendant.

OWS has, in fact, provoked a crisis of credibility for many American institutions. News coverage of the movement has been both disproportionate and fawning. The two encampments of Occupy DC, for example, have a couple of hundred inhabitants. If they moved to a nearby convention hotel, the group would probably be smaller than a meeting of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. During the Tea Party’s rise to national attention, the press scoured the country for any hint of rhetorical incitement to violence. OWS protesters smash windows, assault police officers and wear Guy Fawkes masks — a historical figure known for attempting to bomb the British Parliament.

City governments have also begun to look hapless for their accommodation of squalor, robberies, sexual attacks, drug use, vagrancy and vigilantism.

And what must Democratic leaders — who rushed to identify with a protean political force — now be thinking? OWS is not a seminar on income inequality — not the Center for American Progress on a camping trip. It is a leftist movement with a militant wing.

Will Americans, looking for jobs, turn in hope to the vandalization of small businesses and the promise of a general strike? Will citizens, disappointed by a dysfunctional government, be impressed by the endless arguments of anarchist collectives? Will people, disgusted by partisanship and rhetorical rock-throwing, be attracted to actual rock throwing?

This seems to be the desperate political calculation of the Democratic Party. Good luck with that.

via As radicalism creeps in, credibility retreats from OWS – The Washington Post.

OK, they have TWO encampments in D.C., so that explains how they might have 200 protesters, despite the mere handful that I saw.   Gerson’s point is a good one:  Radicals, whether Marxists or Anarchists, WANT the collapse of our economic system, which is understood as the prerequisite for the revolution.

Both sides are wrong

Robert Samuelson is an economics columnist who has tended to be sensible over the years.  (The Washington Post classifies its columnists online as either “tending left” or “tending right.”  Samuelson shows up on neither list.)  He makes the case that both liberals and conservatives are wrong on the economy:

Let’s banish the budget fictions of left and right.

The supercommittee — the 12 members of Congress charged with devising a plan to close mammoth deficits — cannot succeed without public support for its proposals. And public opinion won’t come along if it embraces fairy tales.

The conservatives’ fiction is: We can reduce deficits and cut taxes by eliminating “wasteful spending.”

The liberals’ fiction is: We can subdue deficits and raise social spending by taxing “the rich” and shrinking the bloated Pentagon.

You will notice one similarity. Both suggest that reducing deficits involves little real pain. No one, after all, favors “wasteful spending.” Similarly, taxing “the rich” doesn’t threaten most people who aren’t rich. Liberals and conservatives alike can reconcile all good things: fiscal rectitude (for both), tax cuts (for conservatives) and high social spending (for liberals). I wish it were so.

It isn’t.

Before explaining why, here’s a caveat. Liberal and conservative budget experts generally don’t endorse these myths. No one who studies the budget could. Still, politicians and partisan propagandists popularize them.

Start with conservatives. Where exactly is all the waste?

True, many government programs deserve the ax. I’ve railed against some for years: farm subsidies (food would be produced without them); Amtrak (it is non-essential transportation); public broadcasting and culture subsidies (these are unaffordable frills); community development block grants (they generally don’t enrich poor communities).

Entitlements — mainly Social Security and Medicare — should be trimmed. I’ve also made that a crusade. We need higher eligibility ages to reflect longer life expectancies. Wealthier retirees should receive less Social Security and pay more for Medicare.

But plausible savings don’t match conservative rhetoric. All the suspect “discretionary” programs come to tens of billions, not hundreds of billions. Culture subsidies total about $1 billion annually; community block grants in 2010 were $4 billion. Meanwhile, total federal spending was $3.5 trillion. Do conservatives really want to eliminate the national parks? The FBI? Highways? Food inspections?

Social Security and Medicare savings could be greater. In 2010, these programs cost $1.2 trillion. But there’s a catch. Savings from lower individual benefits will be offset by more beneficiaries: retiring baby boomers. By 2025, Medicare and Social Security enrollment will rise 50 percent from 2010.

Next, the liberal fiction. Contrary to liberal dogma, the rich already pay plenty of taxes. Indeed, they pay for government. In 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans paid 28 percent of all federal taxes; the richest 10 percent (including the 1 percent) paid 55 percent.

For most millionaires, federal tax rates — the share of income taxed — exceed 30 percent. Some rich have lower rates. Raising these rates is justified but wouldn’t balance the budget. The plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a 5.6 percentage point surtax on incomes exceeding $1 million would raise an estimated $453 billion over 10 years. Deficits over the decade are realistically projected at $8.5 trillion.

As for the Pentagon, the military was cut sharply after the Cold War. Combat forces are half to two-thirds of 1990 levels. Defense spending as a share of national income is headed toward its lowest level since 1940.

What liberals don’t say is this: Unless Social Security and Medicare benefits — the bulk of the budget — are reduced, we face three dismal choices. Huge, unsustainable deficits. Massive tax increases on the middle class, as high as 50 percent over 10 to 15 years. Or draconian cuts in the discretionary programs that liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to gut.

Since 1971, federal spending has averaged 21 percent of national income (gross domestic product). Even with aggressive cuts, spending may never again fall this low. The reason: the surge in retirees. Meanwhile, taxes averaged 18 percent of GDP over those years, leaving average annual deficits of 3 percent. The take-away for both liberals and conservatives is repugnant: They need to identify the most justifiable spending cuts — lots of them — and the least damaging tax increases, which will still be sizable.

They need to come clean with reality. For years, they’ve exuded self-serving platitudes. Conservatives should acknowledge that Big Government is a permanent part of the social fabric and that much of what it does is popular. It needs to be financed. Liberals should concede that Big Government can become so big that its crushing taxes weaken the middle class and economic growth. Government then promotes conflict and degrades social justice.

via Busting the budget myths – The Washington Post.

What if he is right?  Would a program of cutting government AND raising taxes be politically possible?   If not and assuming he is right, what does that mean for our capacity to solve our problems through self-government?

Romney keeping his promise to the left?

According to the Washington Post, when Mitt Romney was governor, he reassured pro-abortionists, gay rights activists, and environmentalists that as he rose through the ranks, he would change the Republican party’s hard-line stance on these issues:

Mitt Romney was firm and direct with the abortion rights advocates sitting in his office nine years ago, assuring the group that if elected Massachusetts governor, he would protect the state’s abortion laws.

Then, as the meeting drew to a close, the businessman offered an intriguing suggestion — that he would rise to national prominence in the Republican Party as a victor in a liberal state and could use his influence to soften the GOP’s hard-line opposition to abortion.

He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.

Romney made similar assurances to activists for gay rights and the environment, according to people familiar with the discussions, both as a candidate for governor and then in the early days of his term.

The encounters with liberal advocates offer some revealing insights into the ever-evolving ideology of Romney, who as a presidential candidate now espouses the hard-line opposition to abortion that he seemed to disparage less than a decade ago.

via As governor, Romney worked to reassure liberals – The Washington Post.

 

Individualism vs. collectivism

Here is how George Will answers Elizabeth Warren’s statement that we posted yesterday:

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds. . . .

Many members of the liberal intelligentsia, that herd of independent minds, agree that other Americans comprise a malleable, hence vulnerable, herd whose “false consciousness” is imposed by corporate America. Therefore the herd needs kindly, paternal supervision by a cohort of protective herders. This means subordination of the bovine many to a regulatory government staffed by people drawn from the clever minority not manipulated into false consciousness.

Because such tutelary government must presume the public’s incompetence, it owes minimal deference to people’s preferences. These preferences are not really “theirs,” because the preferences derive from false, meaning imposed, consciousness. This convenient theory licenses the enlightened vanguard, the political class, to exercise maximum discretion in wielding the powers of the regulatory state.

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

via Elizabeth Warren and liberalism, twisting the ‘social contract’ – The Washington Post.

The choices are individualism or collectivism.  Or is there something in between?


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