May 11, 2016

The collapse of liberalism

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2012  - I’ve finally figured out that Barack Obama is a liberal after all. It’s the liberals who have moved to the right and Obama just went along with them.

The gap between progressives (and liberals of an earlier time) and today’s version is growing all the time.

Progressives these days tend to be those who work on certain key issues. For example, groups supporting single payer, major economic reform and civil liberties are often outside the liberal mainstream, which is far more interested in maintaining its own culture than in growing the larger one that is America.

One way you can tell this is that the larger America is, in the liberal encyclopedia, a bunch of gun toting, racist, abortion hating nuts. The problem with this definition – aside from misidentifying tens of millions of our fellow Americans – is that this constituency is seen as one to scold rather than to convince, and to punish rather than to help out with its own real problems.

In fact the history of liberalism over the past eight decades can be fairly divided in half. In the first half, the prime goal was to help the mass of Americans with their economic problems (albeit ignoring for much of this time other key issues such as civil rights) while in the second half the prime liberal goal has been to tell other Americans how to behave.

If you think I exaggerate just compare Barack Obama’s relative interest in bailing out banks vs. bailing out troubled homeowners. Or this list of accomplishments of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration found in Wikipedia:

“The WPA employed 8.5 million people in its seven-year history, working on 1.4 million projects, including the building or repair of 103 golf courses, 1,000 airports, 2,500 hospitals, 2,500 sports stadiums, 3,900 schools, 8,192 parks, 12,800 playgrounds, 124,031 bridges, 125,110 public buildings, and 651,087 miles of highways and roads.”

Or read this from the biography of Frances Perkins, FDR’s labor secretary”

“Perkins would have been famous simply by being the first woman cabinet member, but her legacy stems from her accomplishments. She was largely responsible for the U.S. adoption of social security, unemployment insurance, federal laws regulating child labor, and adoption of the federal minimum wage”

Name one woman senator or cabinet member in the past thirty years who has come close to this level of perception and action.

In fact, name one Democratic or liberal policy effort of the past three decades that even comes close to any of these.

The truth is that the difference between liberals and conservatives has become that liberals believe in the status quo while conservatives believe in the status quo ante, witness their efforts to undo eight decades of political progress.

Understanding the difference between liberals and progressive helps to explain the bizarre controversy over Obamacare.

This was meant to be the flagship of Obama’s presidency, but has turned into a major disaster. There are a number of good reasons:

- Obama wanted success more than he wanted a specific goal. Thus his compromises were not wise incremental steps towards something grander, but a hodgepodge of deals with the ultimate aim of having something to brag about. This is not a good legislative approach.

- Obama and around 40% of those in Congress are lawyers. Only around 3% are doctors and 1% nurses. Thus a massive alteration in national health policy has been designed by those with little knowledge of the field and a humongous bias towards the view that legal language is an adequate substitute for integrity, skill, fairness, and comprehension of a particular issue. There is a similar disparity in official Washington’s education skills, but that didn’t stop anyone from passing a massively disruptive series of national mandates for historically local public education.

The way politicians use to get around their lack of talent was through their ability to negotiate, work with disparate groups of people, understand human nature, and figure out where a reasonable consensus lay. Obama has a hard time even being friendly with members of Congress.

- The problem is exaggerated by current liberal contempt for state or local participation in political matters, Liberals have forgotten where the civil rights, women’s, environmental and gay movements got a foothold, and it wasn’t in Washington. Similarly, flexibility on issues like healthcare allows the best solutions to occur at least somewhere whereas the liberal assumption that the only smart people are in Washington leads to a steadily increasing political myopia driven by arrogance rather than common sense, empirical knowledge and negotiation. 

But because of the smugness of the Hill and the White House Obama et al went ahead with their 2700 page healthcare monster.

There is much we can learn about the growing conflict in our system between legal and politically wise arguments and solutions.

The former look good in law school or on the op ed page. But the latter, sometimes in conflict and sometimes parallel to the legal ones, are what will get you through the next election without half your constituents really pissed off at you for no good reason except that some attorney said you could get away with it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Possible to trace todays liberals back to Wilson who ended the Progressive era while claiming to be a progressive. Liberal anti-progressivism was ended by FDR back when there were socialists like Long and conservatives like Russell. FDR as heir of TR. This category fell apart with Nixon's revolution when all progressives had to become liberals in order to pay to play. Progressives by definition now do not occupy elected office.