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Americans First:

Interesting (and entertaining) column on the challenges for modern liberalism by Andrew Seal, Editor of the Dartmouth Free Press, a liberal student newspaper. The primary reason I flag the article is for this passage, which cracked me up:

One thing is for sure: the strategies of the Old Left—the Left of the past four decades—are not working any more.

We cannot go back to the bibulous naïveté of our predecessors in the Flower Power generation. Flowers grow in shit, but they don’t get shit done. I’m sorry, but neither Janis Joplin nor Jean-Luc Godard can save the world. Probably not even Jacques Derrida could.

We also cannot do what the culture warriors did in the early ’90s during the political correctness wars, which was basically to browbeat all and sundry with their sanctimonious acrimony and acerbic self-righteousness. I believe strongly that liberal ideals reflect the values of many Americans, but that particular vintage of liberal indignation is not one of them.

The basic thesis is that the left has failed to move beyond the intellectual and political template that succeeded against Bork and needs to do a better job at speaking to Americans as Americans first, and interest groups second (Ex. "If Bush’s environmental policies are disasters-in-waiting, we must show how his irresponsibility harms America, not how it harms our green sensibilities."). I don't agree with all of it, but the general thrust of his advice to the left sounds basically correct to me.

Some Jarhead:
The Left's perception that they need better packaging, as opposed to better contents, is music to my ears.

It's not like there are any aspects of local, state, and federal government which the GOP doesn't already control...

But I look forward to seeing the conservative movement finish the job: ditch the failed and unconstitutional New Deal, stop the illegal social welfare state, and restore the principles of individualism and self-reliance which made our Republic great!
9.7.2005 10:11am
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
The problem with "Progressives" is that they are in fact not progressives. The Left no longer believes in progress and no longer believes in new innovative ideas.

The Left has not advanced a new idea since 1968. Every solution they offer on every problem (no hyperbole intended) is a best a retread of an old idea. Social Security?: The same program that worked in 1935 will work in 2035. Education?: More centralized federal control, more money, less parental decision making. Economics?: economic nationalism and everybody forced into a union.

Combine this regressive policies with an arrogant condescending view of their fellow citizens (what's wrong with Kansas) and it is easy to see that the "progressives" have become an insular group of elitist reactionaries like Republicans in 1930s.
9.7.2005 10:19am
Taimyoboi:
"Despite what conservatives argue, I don’t think there’s a problem with our message or, as some liberals seem to believe, with whom we’re trying to talk to..."

I think the piece is representative for what it fails to consider more so than what it does. He begins well by at least acknowledging a problem: liberals have not been doing so well politically for the past twenty years.

As I understand, his point is that if voters are not hearing liberals when they preach from on high, then they should start preaching down on street corners.

I think this is where he makes the error he should have been discussing. He discounts the possibility that voters have rejected a particular liberal policy on content rather than style.
9.7.2005 10:55am
Taimyoboi:
"In focusing on the right’s failures, their stupidities and their general assholery, we haven’t given America anything better and, more importantly, we progressives haven’t shown them how to ask for anything better."

I'm also glad that he managed to rise above the name-calling and bickering that he cites as a serial problem within his party.
9.7.2005 10:58am
Arthur (mail):
There's something annoying about blog references to "the left," a completely undefined term that does not correspond to any known categorization. The only names in the article representing "the left" are Janis Joplin, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Jacqeus Derrida, and Ted Kennedy. As far as I recall, only one of the five had anything to do with rejecting Judge Bork; in fact, only one of the five is a Democrat; two aren't even Americans and another was long dead when Bork was nominated. Some artists are Democrats, and perhaps some politicians are Leftists, but these artists aren't Democrats and this politician in't a Leftist. (whether Woody Allen or Janis Joplin count as Left is also an open question)
9.7.2005 11:21am
Rick (mail):
Wow, "no hyperbole intended", eh Shannon?

I don't really consider myself a part of "the Left", but I'm generally opposed to broad brush comments like above so I'll defend them.

The assertion that the Left wants to "force" everyone into unions is patently ridiculous. Moreover, collective bargaining has the potential advantage, often not recognized by the Right, of allowing government to withdraw from handling the substance of labor conditions. For example, Gompers was initially opposed to minimum wage laws as getting in the way of union bargaining; big labor had to be sold on Clinton's health care plan in the early nineties for the same reasons. The exercise of free association to improve ones lot should be embraced.

For the assertion on education I point to the No Child Left Behind Act.

On Social Security, agreed.
9.7.2005 11:32am
ChrisO (mail):
What shannon identifies are not liberal goals but the conservative critiques of liberal plans.
9.7.2005 12:07pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Arthur,

Not quite sure what you are getting at. The article, clearly more in tune with the "left" than the "right", was the place where those people were named in relation to the "Old Left".

I think it was obviously written by college kids (no surprise here), given the use of some wording ("We cannot go back to the bibulous naïveté", "...which was basically to browbeat all and sundry with their sanctimonious acrimony and acerbic self-righteousness"), plus references to obscure "leftists". They looked like they were trying to be cute, but may have came across more as somewhat pretentious.

Todd seems more amused than anything by the article. The paper appears to be written by Dartmouth students - with a decidedly leftward tilt - "We wanted to shift the campus discourse leftward, and did: The debate on our pages was not Gore v. Bush, but Gore v. Nader. People began to speak of three campus papers, with The Review on the right, The Free Press on the left, and The Dartmouth in the mushy mediocre middle." (from "The History of the DFP").
9.7.2005 12:23pm
Arthur (mail):
Bruce, Maybe the rest of the paper is different, but htis particular article accepts uncritically the rightist conceit that Joplin, Godard, and Derrida have something to do with Ted Kennedy because they're all "left." Amusing to Todd perhaps, but annoying to me.
9.7.2005 12:49pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
Rick,

The question isn't whether any particular solution, such as unions, are a good idea or not. Rather, it is whether the idea is new and "progressive." Well up to the 1970 the Left was continually a boil with new ideas. Some ideas were adopted other were not but the ideas came fast and furious. They changed the nuts and bolts way in which institutions worked and how government services were delivered but since then they have frozen solid.

Did you mean the No Child Left Behind to be a counter-example? If so I find it an odd one as it was strongly opposed by the far Left at least. The bills emphasis on testing was drew particular ire.
9.7.2005 12:51pm
Shannon Love (mail) (www):
Chris,

I am willing to entertain any counter-examples you might wish to offer. What new and innovative ideas do you think the Left has come up with since, say, 1975? That gives you 30 years to play with.
9.7.2005 12:53pm
Rick (mail):
Hey Shannon-

I was pointing out the flaws in your post for the purpose of casting doubt on your overall position, that "The Left no longer believes in progress and no longer believes in new innovative ideas."

You make the above statement, and then back it up with three examples of supposed Leftist solutions to current problems.

1) You state that "the Left", as a matter of economic policy, wants to force everyone into a union. First, I point out that you are wrong - I have heard of no proposals to force everyone into a union. Then I offer what I view as a progressive interpretation of what collective bargaining can do - i.e., remove government from the equation and foster market handling of labor conditions.

2) You state that "the Left" offers only the old ideas of more money and federal control over education to deal with the issue. I point to the No Child Left Behind Act to demonstrate that this fault seems to lie both on the Left and the Right. However, on education I believe Bill Clinton did embrace the charter schools concept, and city governments such as DC (dominated by Democrats) have been chomping at the bit for them. I don't know if Bill Clinton/Mayor Williams/Delegate Holmes-Norton, etc., qualify as part of "the Left" because it's never been defined for me.

3) I tend to agree with you on "the Left" and their response to Social Security, although I'm hesitant because I don't know what "the Left" is.

As for new ideas, without endorsing or criticizing the following, I offer the Earned Income Tax Credit, an effort to alleviate poverty while incentivizing work, which I believe was started in the late 70's; the afore-mentioned Charter Schools. These are off the top of my head.
9.7.2005 1:48pm
Rick (mail):
I suppose, also, I'm unnecessarily confining myself here. There's certainly a good debate occurring, and I assume it's happening at national "the Left" meetings or conference calls or whatever you're envisioning, about the role of our government in international affairs. I'm guessing you think of groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch as well as labor unions as all being in "the Left". Well, these groups have very different impressions of how the US should act in the world. I suspect amnesty and hrw argue for increased intervention around the world to stop human rights abuses, etc., while labor unions are much more insular in their views.

Different approaches to the rights of gays of lesbians, I suppose, should be in the mix here as well. I don't see much of a conversation on "the Right" as to how or whether that community should be afforded rights, although I see the inverse. It's there on the Left, though.

I think this is the problem with broad brush characterizations about groups as difficult to define as "right" and "left".
9.7.2005 2:08pm
Drewsil (mail):
In response to Shannon specifically and others,

You presupose than new is necessarily better. This is blatantly wrong in general, and you supply no argument as to why such a position is correct in the instances you cite. I would be happy if there were a party which specifically only embraced old ideas, such as limited government, individual rights, etc.

If you were implying that the liberals are halting the progress of society with their ideas then that is a separate matter worth considering. Again though this point was not argued, you only put forth the proposition that their ideas are old, which in no way makes them incorrect.

Finally one can argue that it is bad for a party to blindly follow old ideas and programs without reevaluating them in terms of new evidence/circumstances. This would be damning if it were true, but to make this argument you need to actually determine if such a reexaminiation has occured, not just state that the ideas are old. To take one specific example I know for a fact that Paul Krugman has said that social security is an even better idea today than when it was adopted and has provided arguments to support this view. You may disagree with these arguments but you must actually address them instead of arguing that Social security is an old program and so must necessarily be inappropriate for the present as you have done.
9.7.2005 4:01pm
Taimyoboi:
"You presupose than new is necessarily better. This is blatantly wrong in general..."

Drewsil, how conservative of you.

I think the point of contention was not that new is better, but that the author of the article dubbed the new liberalism that he envisions progressive, or as he says "moving forward." The problem was that he then proceeded to explain why liberals did not need to move forwad and present new ideas, merely repackage the old ones in a better light.
9.7.2005 5:50pm
Taimyoboi:
"To take one specific example I know for a fact that Paul Krugman has said that social security is an even better idea today than when it was adopted and has provided arguments to support this view."

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by pointing out that Paul Krugman thinks social security is a better idea today.

Paul Krugman's columns on social security are a case in point. He has spent the better part of this year and last explaining through a lot of invective why social security is not a problem, and even if it were, that higher taxes are a sufficient fix.

Hardly a progressive idea by the author's definiton when compared with proposals to not only provide solvency for the program through benefit cuts or higher taxes, but to make the program more flexible and offset those cuts by providing young workers the chance to invest a portion of their own savings into accounts they own.
9.7.2005 5:56pm