An earlier form of liberalism

Ronald Reagan started out as a Democrat and admired FDR. When asked why he left the party, Reagan said that the party left him. Worthy causes often overshoot their goals and committed people rarely know when they succeed and its time to stop pushing. It is also hard for them to recognize when they have been running down blind alleys or when conditions have changed such that the solution they were after is no longer appropriate, or that every solution creates a problem. Successful revolutionaries turn reactionary almost as sure as night follows day, but they cannot see it in their self-imposed darkness

This blindness is a danger for the now ascendant conservatives and there is evidence that the vision is failing already; it has been a liberal myopia since the 1960s. Reactionary liberals who speak the language of liberalism but in practice follow illiberal policies, run many of the great causes such as civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, diversity and the war on poverty. Civil rights descended from striving for equality to bean counting quotas. Feminism morphed into something like a female separatist movement focused on the Holy Grail of abortion. Environmentalism developed into a religion for those who reject what they heard at church. To hear some of the extremists talk, the earth is some kind of pagan deity and every tree, rock and stream has its own animistic sprit. Diversity moved from inclusiveness to the claiming of exclusive turf such that nobody not from the particular group is thought competent to speak about its issues. We declared war on poverty in the 1960s. Poverty won and demanded reparations. But we were slow to recognize that many of the pathologies of poverty came not in spite of our best efforts but BECAUSE of them.

Conservatives do not oppose the worthy causes I mentioned above. The nasty conservative is a caricature, a straw man set up only to knock down. We just don't agree that the methods deployed to reach these goals are working any more. Many of us agree that big government interventions were necessary. Kick ass environmental legislation was needed in 1970, when you couldn't draw a comfortable breath in a big city. Without the civil rights laws of the 1960s, we would not enjoy the progress we have today. Some of us were in the liberal camp back then, but one morning we woke up to find the big tent had moved too far to the left. It is no coincidence that the Ronald Reagan juggernaut gained speed and converts.

Solutions appropriate for one situation and time may not apply in another and the solutions of the past have changed the current situations. Liberals need to recognize success and take the next steps. (I assume we can all agree that many things have improved. If they have not after a half-century of effort, it would be a real indictment of liberal programs.)

Nothing lasts forever and no resolution, no matter how elegant and proper, survives the generation that produced it. Liberal special interests are entrenched and fighting to defend the achievements of the past. Let's stop defending the past and move on to the future. We have a great legacy, but sometimes an overhaul is in order. Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and a great president - for the times when he was in office. Respect the achievements of great men and women, but don't let their dead hands rest too heavily on the future.

Posted by Jack at February 23, 2005 12:21 PM