Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Those Nasty Premises

Every once in awhile I'll read something and I just wish I could meet the author to ask him or her "What color is the sky in your world?" A good example of this type of thing is Paul Starr's latest for American Prospect: The Liberal Project Now

Now, an article outlining some sort of blueprint for how the liberal wing of American politics plans on recasting their message for the future should be an interesting topic. On the national level liberals have been "in the wilderness" for a not insubstantial period of time, so it would be nice to see some real vibrancy in those old bones.

However, if you ever want to reach beyond the cadre of party stalwarts you need to present your ideas as if they are based on broad, easily indentifiable and reality based premises. At this task Starr fails miserably.

Liberalism is at greater risk now than at any time in recent American history. The risk is of political marginality, even irrelevance. And the reason is not just a shift in partisan control of the federal government. There has been a radical change in the relationship of ideology and power in America. Only by renewing both the principled commitments to liberal ideals and the practical basis of liberal politics does liberalism have any chance of recovery.

Fair enough. Continue...

Fifty years ago, the absence of ideological divisions was widely thought to be one of the distinguishing features of American politics. Now our politics is rife with ideological conflict, as conservatives take their crusade to remake America deeper into liberal terrain. The issue is no longer, as it was in the earlier stages of conservatism’s revival, merely a reversal of Great Society programs and the activism of the Warren Court. What’s now under attack are such basic constitutional principles as church-state separation and an independent judiciary and such fundamental elements of modern liberalism as progressive taxation and Social Security.

I don't know if Starr is an advocate of legalizing marijuana but he ought to be because he is obviously smoking something. If your premise is that the Republicans feel they have reversed the Great Society and the Warren Court and are now on to bigger game you're nuts. The Great Society programs haven't been harmed by the Republicans in the least. My God, all Bush the younger can do is crow about how he expanded Medicare by tens of billions of dollars. (The reactionary!) And the Warren Court? I cannot think of a single meaningful change away from the Warren Court, at least nothing of real political standing. In fact, all the last 25 years have taught us is that the Republicans, as a group, are little more than ineffectual windbags. They talk small government and sell plenty of voters on the basis of such talk, but they change nothing. (The only real change I've ever been able to see is that state governments are now allowed to set their own speed limits on the highways. There is the "Republican revolution" for you.)

From a theoretical standpoint, what is most distressing about Starr's premises is their quite obvious conservatism. Starr is doing nothing but setting out an agenda for the status quo. It is as if 1965 was some sort of Golden Age that we need to get back. It is every bit as silly as the Republicans idealizing the 1950's. The truth is you cannot be a "reforming" party if you want to maintain the myth of a utopian moment in the past. (A hard sell to baby boomers I know.) If liberalism really wants to resonate and mean something for the future it has to be more interested in the 2010's than the 1960's. I don't see a single sentence in Paul Starr's lengthy piece that demonstrates his understanding of this fact.

Of course, the other option is to eschew real political principles and narrowly focus on victory at the ballot box. Such has been the nature of the "Republican Revolution," and that is exactly why the Republicans of the last 15 years will be remembered, in terms of domestic policy, for so very little.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"If your premise is that the Republicans feel they have reversed the Great Society and the Warren Court and are now on to bigger game you're nuts. The Great Society programs haven't been harmed by the Republicans in the least. My God, all Bush the younger can do is crow about how he expanded Medicare by tens of billions of dollars. (The reactionary!) And the Warren Court? I cannot think of a single meaningful change away from the Warren Court, at least nothing of real political standing."


I agree with you on your points about how little the conservatives have accomplished, but I think you're reading the author's work incorrectly. When he writes, "The issue is no longer, as it was in the earlier stages of conservatism's revival, merely a reversal of Great Society programs and the activism of the Warren Court," I don't believe he is suggesting that the conservatives or Republicans feel that they have achieved those goals, but that they have also included those other issues/targets he cites (which themselves are debatable). I just think you're wrong is suggesting that his "premise is that the Republicans feel they have reversed the Great Society and the Warren Court..."

But if were his belief, I would agree with your points.

Walt

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

If your reading of his piece is correct wouldn't it make his opinion LESS compelling not more? His message would be "The Republicans threatened to do A & B but, in reality, over the last 30 years did neither. NOW they threaten to do C & D, so we should really be worried." But why should we be worried? If the Reps said they were gonna do A & B AND THEN WENT AHEAD AND DID THEM, he'd have a point. As it is it looks more like crying wolf than anything else.