Democrats & Liberals Archives

New Liberals

An article in today’s paper had me reflecting on how much liberalism has changed over the last twenty years. Musician Bob Geldof, the guy who urged us to “feed the world” with his Live Aid concerts in 1985, is back in the limelight again. But this time, Geldof’s new Live-8 concerts won’t be naively shoveling money into the bottomless pit of impoverished Africa.

The money will go to the Make Poverty History campaign which, like the Bush administration's glacially slow Millennium Challenge Account, is designed to "support poor countries' and communities' own plans and paths out of poverty." No more throwing money at poverty without an effective plan presented by the communities who are responsible for making it work. That's quite a change from the naive, liberal bleeding-heart do-goodism of twenty years ago.

In the latest New Republic, there's a Jonathan Cohn article (free version) about the Hope VI federal housing program created by President Clinton in 1992 which treats public housing the same way. No longer does the United States government build free Soviet-style blocks of flats for the poor that only encourage more poverty. The new projects are modern, public/private developments based on plans submitted by the communities involved.

The Hope VI program encourages private ownership of the units by the tenants - including the right to resell them at market value. In practice, tenants keep up the appearance of the units because it's an investment. By most accounts, the Hope VI developments are attracting profitable new businesses to downtown areas and sharply reducing crime in what were once gangland ghettos.

Another excellent example of new liberalism is Clinton's welfare reform initiative, which provided programs like inexpensive child care and job training to get millions of people off the welfare roles. By helping these people gain employable skills and solving the child care dilemma that placed single mothers in a position where they just couldn't afford to work, new liberalism effectively targeted federal tax dollars at the root of the welfare problem and saved money while helping people improve their lives.

But one of the biggest new liberal initiatives is using market forces to reduce global warming by trading greenhouse gas credits. When Prime Minister Howard's liberal opposition in Australia dog-piled on him for not signing the Kyoto Protocol, their argument wasn't that cute fuzzy animals would be endangered. Liberals took Howard to task for not allowing Australian industries - many of which would have surplus credits to sell - to take advantage of an additional revenue stream. If you're anti-Kyoto, they told him, you're anti-business.

Liberals haven't given up the causes of environmentalism and eradicating poverty, we've just learned to become more effective. As President Clinton used to say, we give people a hand up, not a hand out.

New liberals are also unafraid to incorporate traditionally conservative ideas where they're effective because we don't have an ideology. We have a goal. And we'll use any idea that most effectively gets us there. In the last twenty years, liberals have gone from "feed the world" to helping the world feed itself. We've gone from unsustainable charity to sustainable development. I think we're on the right track.

Posted by American Pundit at June 1, 2005 8:14 AM