Skip to comments.Liberals look to recapture White House (NOT BLOODY LIKELY ALERT)
Posted on 12/27/2002 4:40:30 AM PST by MadIvan
In the aftermath of Al Gore's decision not to run again for president in 2004, many liberals hope that a better standard-bearer can lead the Democratic party to recapture the White House and perhaps Congress as well. But a different face at the top of the ticket, by itself, cannot compensate for the advantages American conservatism has over American liberalism in the areas of party, movement, media and message.
The Republican party today, having purged most of its liberal and moderate members, is a streamlined, authoritarian organisation dominated by its right wing. The decision of the conservative Republican Senate majority to dump one of their own, Trent Lott, as their leader, following the furore over his recent praise of the segregationist presidential candidacy of Strom Thurmond in 1948, provides further proof of the party's discipline and sense of long-term strategy.
The Republican party is backed by a nationwide, grass-roots conservative movement of which the southern Protestant religious right is the most important constituency but not the only one. In addition to having a constellation of partisan magazines and quarterlies, the conservative movement has its own daily newspapers - The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times - and its own media organisation in the form of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News.
The message of the mainstream right is consistent and coherent: the so-called "fusionist" synthesis of free-market economics, social conservatism and support for US military action abroad. There are tensions, to be sure. Many working-class fundamentalists distrust big business, while many members of the Republican business elite are liberal in their attitudes towards sex and abortion. But Republican strategists manage these tensions so that they do not disrupt the party.
If American conservatism is a battering-ram, American liberalism is the Tower of Babel. There is nothing to the left of centre in American politics that can parallel the co-ordination of party, movement, media and message on the American right.
Unlike its Republican rival, the Democratic party is fragmented among factions with incompatible philosophies and goals: protectionist, pro- labour "Old Democrats"; business-friendly, Clinton-style "New Democrats"; anti-war isolationists; and bellicose "humanitarian hawks". Instead of a coherent American liberal movement corresponding to the American conservative movement, there are only a number of distinct single-issue movements - feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism - combined with special-interest economic groups such as teachers' unions and plaintiffs' lawyers.
Nor, in spite of conservative complaints, is there an organised "liberal media elite", disseminating a party line in the manner of the rightwing media complex. While most editors, producers and journalists at serious newspapers and the big networks are liberal Democrats, they feel obliged to demonstrate their neutrality by giving equal time to conservative opinions - even though liberal points of view are seldom if ever aired in the conservative media. The radical multiculturalists, feminists, Greens and diehard socialists who make up the tiny but vocal counter- cultural left spend as much of their time denouncing centrist liberals as they do combating conservatives.
Where its message is concerned, American liberalism is at an even greater disadvantage. During the New Deal era of the 1930s to the 1960s, liberals had a coherent view of national identity, the economy and foreign policy. The US was a melting-pot nation with a welfare-capitalist economy opposed to the expansion of the axis powers and the communist bloc. This New Deal consensus unravelled in the 1960s as a result of controversies over racial integration and the Vietnam war. For more than three decades, no new "grand narrative" has been able to unite the centre-left in the US.
In the realm of national identity, most influential black and Latino activists reject the ideal of a colour-blind American melting-pot, preferring instead a vision of the US as a Yugoslav-style federation of several "nationalities", with compensatory privileges for non-whites. Libertarians on the left condemn even reasonable anti-terrorist measures and after September 11 2001 liberal intellectuals in the US debated whether public displays of patriotism were fascistic.
In addition to ceding American patriotism to the right, liberals have been unable to agree on an economic philosophy. The robust state capitalism of the 1930s - symbolised by hydroelectric power plants and interstate highways - gave way between the 1940s and the 1970s to a technocratic Keynesianism that identified liberalism with macroeconomic management and social welfare programmes.
This Keynesian orthodoxy broke down in the 1970s. Since then, liberal economic thought has been divided among neo-Keynesians, industrial- policy advocates and neoliberals, who are almost indistinguishable from free-market conservatives. The fact that these bickering factions tend to agree only on preserving welfare-state programmes is another godsend to the right, which can claim that liberals focus on the redistribution of income and wealth while conservatives have a plan for economic growth in the form of tax cuts.
In foreign policy, the centre-left shows similar fissures. A small but vocal minority of Democratic policymakers supports the militant unilateralism of the Bush administration. But the majority of American liberals is divided between traditional liberal internationalism and a powerful strain of anti-military isolationism that is particularly strong among black people and in parts of New England and the Midwest.
All this disunity means that the return of the Democrats to power would not necessarily mean a liberal renaissance. A cohesive conservative minority could enter into opportunistic alliances with different Democratic factions on different issues, in order to create a de facto "conservative coalition" such as the alliance of Republicans and conservative Democrats that dominated Congress in the 1950s.
It took decades for American liberalism to dig itself into this hole. It will take a long time to climb out - no matter which party wins the White House and Congress in 2004.
The writer is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics
I partly agree with the author here. I don't think the leftwing media is an 'organised' effort. I believe their liberal bias simply comes natural to them.
There is a lot of reflexive cant in the leftist media, but they definitely know the meaning of teamwork.
If anyone thinks that the newsrooms of Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Browkaw called each other and jointly decided to alternate a volley of attacks against Trent Lott is being naive.
Trent Lott had simply made himself too large of a target that no liberal could pass it up and the media could only fall all over themselves trying to get the Republican.
Yeah, they really did Mr. Jeffords in, didn't they! Susan Collins gets a committee chairmanship when she gets purged.
Wish it (the purging) were true, but I don't think so.
I think this fellow is trying to be commendably honest in cataloging the difficulties facing the American left. He seems to understand that fairly well. His ignorance of the right peeks through occasionally, and to some degree spoils his analysis.
He has that "all those conservatives look alike to me" blindness that we see so often on the left; where he sees a coherent and united -- even authoritarian -- right marching to victory shorn of its moderates, we see a party full of RINOs. And if he thinks the Republican response to the Trent Lott fiasco was "coherent," I'd like to see his version of incoherence.
One gets the sense that his knowledge of the Wall Street Journal and the Fox News Network is limited to information provided to him by Tom Daschle and Al Gore. He states that "liberal points of view are seldom if ever aired in the conservative media," which is touching in its victimism but hardly truthful. Except for its editorial page, the WSJ is the same, basically liberal, newspaper that the Washington Post is. Fox News, as we all know, has NPR reporters -- about as liberally biased a news organization as exists in the U.S. -- as regular participants in its discussion programs. Many on the left seem genuinely shocked that conservative opinions are aired in the media at all, so when they see it on Fox, they assume this must be "bias." They deny the reality that the liberal was sitting there right alongside.
In a similar vein, Mr. Lind repeats the now-tiresome canard concerning "the militant unilateralism of the Bush administration." It appears to have become de rigeur on the left to describe anything Bush does internationally as "unilateral." Those unanimous votes in the UN Security Council are to be pretended away, as if they never existed. The danger in this of course is that it leads self-fooling leftists to believe that there is an open position on the playing field that they can occupy; they'll be the guys who get UN backing for their actions. We saw how well that worked in November; the public was not fooled, even if the leftists had fooled themselves.
The Republican party today, having purged most of its liberal and moderate members, is a streamlined, authoritarian organisation dominated by its right wing.
Yeah, I wish. This guys an idiot.
Hoo-Hah! This from a liberal?
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