Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 12, 2005
POLITICS: Prospects For The Future

American Prospect editor Michael Tomasky has a thoughtful piece on why liberals need to do some rethinking and decide which are really their first principles. It's instructive, of course, to see the defensiveness in his explanation to readers of why TAP would run articles critical of Michael Moore and of pro-choice rhetoric.

Tomasky also makes an interesting point about the differences between contemporary liberals and Goldwater-era conservatives:

Some will say at this point: But wait. When conservatives were at the bottom of the well, they didn't spend a lot of time engaged in namby-pamby navel-gazing. They went out and said what they believed, repeatedly, loudly, unapologetically. And they won. And, therefore, that's what our side needs to do now.

There's some justification for this point of view; certainly, one of the Democratic Party's biggest problems these days is that people don't know what they stand for, and just standing for something -- anything! -- is better than always appearing to be backtracking, soft-pedaling, trying to prove they're just as tough or patriotic as Republicans. It's a pathetic thing to watch. And here's one point on which I want to be very clear: Self-examination does not mean inevitably moving to the middle. Adopting a centrist pose can be every bit as knee-jerk and shallow as insisting that nothing's changed since 1974, and it can be even more debilitating politically than going (or staying) left.

But the historical analogy to the 1960s conservatives breaks down here. In 1964, conservatism was not in the position that liberalism is in today. Conservatism at that point had never been the country's reigning ideology for a long period of time. Of course, the America of the 1920s, and of the 19th century, was a very conservative country by today's standards. But in those days, conservatism wasn't yet an ideology in the way it became in the 1950s, under the leadership of people like William F. Buckley Jr. and others. Movement conservatism of the sort that nominated Barry Goldwater and elected Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush didn't really exist until the postwar period.

In other words, the conservatives of the 1960s had never been in power. So they didn't have a legacy to contemplate, because they hadn't been in the position to make one.

Liberalism, though, has been in power, and for a good long time -- from 1933 to 1980, generally speaking (Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon weren't movement conservatives). And as we know all too well, conservatives have spent probably hundreds of millions of dollars discrediting it, and it's worked pretty well: In the 1960s, about 40 percent of Americans were willing to call themselves "liberal," and today the number is half that (I'm sometimes amazed, and gratified, that it's still even that high).

And so, our side ran things in this country more or less for decades (and then again, of course, during Bill Clinton's presidency; obviously, he wasn't really a liberal in the old sense, but if you parse his administration's record item by item, it was much more liberal than not). So, unlike the conservatives of the 1960s, our side has had real power, and hence we have a track record.

Of course, Tomasky doesn't draw any conclusions from this - such as the fact that this means that most of liberalism's best ideas have already been tried, or that the Democratic party is much more encumbered by interest groups that don't want their existing honey pots taken away. But it's an interesting essay, and worth reading the whole thing.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:47 PM | Politics 2005 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I was disappointed. There is still that mindset of "if only we could persuade a few more voters about this issue or that issue" Polls show that large majorities support abortion rights. What polls are incapable of showing is that in an election voters are asked to choose between package A and package B. No one, no one except a mindless hack, is going to support everything in one of the packages up and down the line. Most people are not as interested in the minutiae of government as liberals are. They are happy to leave the governing to someone else. The issue for the voter is "can I trust this person to carry out the business of governing so that I don't have to worry about it?" People do care about taxes and national security because these are issues that affect everyone, and can really mess up your life if done wrong. Democrats must make a concerted, sincere effort to explain to people why we ("if we just raise taxes on the rich we can fund this or that program" doesn't cut it because people see that as about spending) need to pay taxes and what we get for them. Democrats need to choose candidates who are sincerely patriotic and unambiguous about national security. Look at 1992. National security was not an issue. Bush 41 blew it on taxes. Ross Perot took on the job of talking about what we pay taxes for. Bill Clinton easily waltzed into the presidency. Luckily for the Democrats and liberals, the GOP and the conservatives are drunk with power, like the 1994 Democrats, and are gonna drown themselves. Things are looking good for Hilary.

Posted by: jimbo at February 13, 2005 4:08 AM
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