Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"Left's Big Ideas" in Long Gestation

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post is a lefty pundit with something to say ... sometimes. Today he says that the left can't be blamed for having few politicians with big ideas. Big ideas, he notes, come from people who don't run for office. People who run get their ideas from people who have ideas.

So Dionne, hoping for a liberal resurgence, has gone in search of the Left's Big Ideas. And if his column is the report on his findings, he has found very little.

He notes one Michael Tomasky calling for a politics of the "common good" to replace "radical individualism." OK, so communitarianism (read carefully, gentle readers, that's not "communism," not even close) is the Left's Big Idea. Of course, it's been around for quite awhile, and some pols have tried to hitch their wagon to it.

Dionne also notes John Schwarz of the University of Arizona, who calls on the left to reclaim "freedom" and expand the concept to embrace more. So "freedom" is the Left's Other Big Idea. There's something else new.

Call us skeptical (please! we like it!), but we don't think that these nascent political philosophies presage the left's return to consistent power in this country. We say this not because the ideas of the common good and freedom are not compelling. We say it for two Big Reasons.

One is that the political structure of the left is so tied to a small set of issues and their rich advocates (the homosexual lobby, the abortion lobby, the antiwar lobby), any new ideological packaging will contain the same, tired proposals that the left has been offering for years. Voters haven't gone much for those things in awhile. Why should they now if they are in a communitarian or libertarian package? A pig can wear a tux, but it smells the same.

The second is that the majority party already controls both of these agendas. The common good is the persuasive justification for lower taxes and reduced government spending. Let people decide themselves how to spend their money, and more good is done more commonly. Most Americans have lived this experience now, and they aren't anxious to go back to Uncle Sugar making their economic decisions. Then there's freedom, and whatever its faults, the eight years of the Bush administration will identify that agenda pretty clearly with the right for some time to come.

We'll say again: the only way to restore a functioning two-party system to national politics is for the national Democratic party to become more like successful local Democrats: more committed to free markets, efficient government, low taxes, and strong law enforcement and military, with no obvious commitment to creating some republic nouveau with gay marriage, abortion for everyone except artificially inseminated lesbians, and a military that only exists to hold parades for visits to Washington by Hugo Chavez.

In other words, we need two parties that will fight things out on the center right, where the country has decided it wants to live for the foreseeable future.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The left's coalition is more ragtag than the right's. It's the fundamental source of their problem. The swing of the south from Democrat to Republican in the last 25 years (think Zell Miller and everything he has talked about in the last 5 years)has permanently changed the landscape.

When the South was fully Democrat, it didn't matter that the Democrats were pro special interest ("rag tag"): racial minorities, homosexuals, abortion lovers, prisoners, unions, peaceniks, etc.). All of the ragtag special interests plus the yellow dog Democrats of the South could easily make up a majority.

The left hasn't had any big ideas since the Great Society (and as it turned out, the Great Society was a great failure). But the left did have a coalition, and politics is about building and maintaining a coalition. It's precisely because of the lack of ideas that the Left lost the South. Why it took the South a generation to figure out that the Democrats didn't represent them, we may never know.

In the meantime, the left has grown more diverse and more difficult to hold together in a coalition. Is Michael Moore good for the Democratic party? Is Streisand a unifying force? The angry left is dividing the Democratic party. Michael Moore doesn't care about winning (building a coalition). He just wants to run his mouth. He has a Messiah complex, but no kingdom.

In the late 80s the religious right (Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, etc.) was in danger of dividing the Republican party. Pat Buchanan isolated another part of the Republican coalition with xenophobia and proectionism. Ross Perot's election of Bill Clinton in the 1992 election was a direct result of Republican moderates' perception that the Republican Party was beholden to the far right (religious right, angry white males, Buchananites, etc.). No party is immune to division. A house divided cannot stand.

Big ideas, and general ideas (ideas that a coalition can rally around as opposed to just one special interest group, at the expense of other special interest groups) are crucial to building a coalition. Something as silly as "compassionate conservatism" is an example. Nobody in the Republican party was opposed to compassionate conservatism. It sounded too good. Obviously the Republicans have had more substantive ideas.