Blogs > Liberty and Power > A Pox on Both Their Houses

Nov 5, 2004 9:45 am

A Pox on Both Their Houses

I must confess that this morning's NY Times has given me a much-needed chuckle. The Op-Ed section has a group of articles written by a bunch of liberal Democrats trying to rally the spirit of the"minority party." Since I now have a little track record for my soothsaying, I'll make another prediction, though this one is a lot easier: The Democrats will never present any radical alternative to the GOP. And those who think it possible are deluding themselves.

In this spirit, Paul Krugman screams:"No Surrender!." He says that

Bush isn't a conservative. He's a radical—the leader of a coalition that deeply dislikes America as it is. Part of that coalition wants to tear down the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, eviscerating Social Security and, eventually, Medicare.

First, I must take grave exception to calling Bush a"radical." Call him a reactionary if you will, but please don't sully the good name of radicals everywhere. Second ... puhlease! Many of the neoconservatives who now support Bush are former social democrats, full-fledged supporters of the New Deal. Nobody is going to get rid of FDR's"legacy," because it is now part of the American Third Way, one that repudiates both capitalism and socialism, while finding more"efficient" ways to deliver welfare programs. Let's not forget that this President has presided over the most expansive extension of Medicare since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson. As I said: PUHLEASE.

In fact, Bush has a lot in common with LBJ: As I wrote here, he has endorsed all the" conventional Democratic planks: an expanding welfare state, budget deficits, and a war abroad." And let's not forget that the Democrats, including Senator John Kerry, lined up like ducks on a lake to give this President the authority to go to war in Iraq. Democratic duplicity or, worse, self-delusion, is everywhere.

Democrat Andrei Cherny wonders"Why We Lost":

On Wednesday morning, Democrats across the country awoke to a situation they have not experienced since before the New Deal: We are now, without a doubt, America's minority party. We do not have the presidency. We are outnumbered in the Senate, the House, governorships and legislatures. And the conservative majority on the Supreme Court seems likely to be locked in place for a generation. It is clearly a moment that calls for serious reflection.

Indeed, Mr. Cherny. But let's not forget that this is all partially an outgrowth of the very New Deal that your Democratic Party built, and that the Republicans learned to co-opt after decades of saying"me-too." Gone is fiscal conservatism. Gone is opposition to the welfare state. Gone is any opposition to the warfare state, which was so much a part of the Old Right (like that Grand Old Republican, Robert Taft). The warfare state opposition, in fact, has now been relegated to a small"paleocon" minority led by Patrick Buchanan, who, nevertheless, still endorses the social agenda of the evangelical Christians.

Boy, American politics is God-awful, isn't it?

Getting back to Cherny: In essence, he argues that despite"sensible and right" policies proposed by Democrats, they"don't have" and"sorely need ... what President George H. W. Bush so famously derided as 'the vision thing'—a worldview that makes a thematic argument about where America is headed and where we want to take it." This is in contrast to the old New Deal Democrat, who once"had a bold vision: we would use government programs to make Americans' lives more stable and secure." But Cherny acknowledges that even Bill Clinton declared famously"that 'the era of big government is over.'"

Alas, it's not over. What is over, however, is the illusion of the limited-government Republican. George W. Bush has succeeded, partially, because he is a Big Government Conservative. His administration has merged the techniques of the Trotskyite Left with the goals of both the evangelical and neoconservative Right. Indeed, that neoconservative Right is, itself, an emigree from the Trotskyite Left. And it takes seriously the goals of another Great Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, in its desire to make the world safe for democracy. One might say that the GOP success owes something to the ability of that party to absorb, rather than to repudiate, the legacy of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ.

Another, older, generation of Republicans was largely unsuccessful in toppling the Democrats' monopolizing of the White House from 1932 through 1968. Only a former World War II General was able to stick himself in-between the FDR-Truman years and the JFK-LBJ years. The Republicans were ultimately successful at getting elected because they adopted what Ayn Rand once called"political 'me-too-ism'," thus becoming a part of the mediocrity of the middle. She wrote, back in the early 1960s, that this me-too-ism"abjectly displayed by the 'conservatives' of today toward their brazenly socialistic adversaries, is only the result and the feeble reflection of the ethical 'me-too-ism' displayed by the philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, by the alleged champions of reason, toward the Witch Doctors of morality." Now, alas, the Witch Doctors of morality are in ascendance. And just as the Republicans had once offered a"me-too" or, better yet,"I'll-get-it-for-you-wholesale" response to their left-leaning Democratic opponents, as Rand said, the Democrats have responded in kind, mostly with a promise to manage government operations more"efficiently." From Michael Dukakis, who stressed" competence" in his bout against Bush Sr. to John Kerry, who said he'd wage a more"efficient" war in his bout against Bush Jr., the Democrats have rarely offered anything substantially different from the Republicans. Their recent successes came only with Bill Clinton, who was as close to a Republican in his"New Democrat" philosophy as any Democrat is liable to get, insofar as he co-opted"Republican" themes like"welfare reform" and"balanced budgets."

These positions start to morph into one another, and nobody, nobody on either side of this divide is repudiating Big Government.

In the end, with both parties having mastered various forms of pragmatic moral appeasement, each remains a full-fledged defender of the activist state. Their constituencies may differ, their rhetorical emphases may shift, but neither party is questioning the fundamental premises upon which this politico-economic system is based. And neither will present the kind of bold, secular alternative upon which freedom might flourish.

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More Comments:

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 11/5/2004

Very good points, Jason.

Another thing that I've often told my friends on both the left and the right is this: so many institutions are created with "Original Sin" inherent in the structures. But even when they are created with some kind of "lofty goal" in mind, they quickly become corrupted (though an assessment of how they are "corrupted" might differ depending on your perspective).

Like Hayek said, once political power comes to dominate social life, it becomes the only power worth having. It's also "why the worst get on top," as Hayek said, because only those who are most adept at using that power are the ones to attain it with any degree of success.

Jason Pappas - 11/5/2004

In addition to your many good points let me add one more.

Several Democrats have sounded the alarm over the religious agenda and its implementation through the Department of Education among other federal agencies (and federal mandates). What once was a payback to the NEA by Jimmy Carter is now in the hands of the Republicans. Both sides of the isle fight over the spoils, so why should the Democrats be surprised?

I’ve suggested to my Democratic friends, which are quite numerous here in New York City, that it was a big mistake to create the Education Department and we should get rid of it. I’m greeted with looks of horror, shock, and awe. It's taken for granted that one side should rule over the other – liberty is not an option.

Somehow being a minority might be good for our friends on the Left. Now is the time to suggest to them that democracy – majority rule unrestrained by rights – is something they should question. One might add that perhaps given the great divide in this country, it is best to secure our liberty rather than seek our turn at power over others. Just suggest this and let it sink in for 4 more years. Even when it comes to intellectual walls – you never know when the “Berlin Wall” might fall.