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.