When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?
“If every Democratic president disappoints, maybe there’s something wrong with our expectations. Tough love from a fellow traveler.”
Jonathan Chait on Liberal disappointment, including some thoughts on the political psychology of conservatives and liberals, and why Occupy Wall Street can’t function as a meaningful political force.
…the unhappy moderate liberals may be the most irrational component of Obama’s let-down supporters. Enraged left-wing bloggers may harbor unrealistic notions of what Democrats could achieve, but they are at least correct that Obama does not fully share their goals.
What, by contrast, are we to make of third-party activists like Thomas L. Friedman or Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz? They have a president who supports virtually everything they want—short-term stimulus, long-term deficit reduction through a mix of taxes and entitlement cuts, clean energy, education reform, and social liberalism. Yet they are agitating for a third party in order to carry out an agenda that is virtually identical to Obama’s. In a column touting the third-party Americans Elect, the closest Friedman comes to explaining why we should have a third party, rather than reelect the politician who already represents their values, is to say that such a party ‘would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default.’ He agrees with Obama’s plan, in other words, but proposes to form a new party because he disagrees with his legislative sequencing.
As political analysis, this is pure derangement. It’s the Judean People’s Front for the Aspen Institute crowd. But these sorts of anti-political fantasies arise whenever liberals are forced to confront the crushing ordinariness of governing. (Matthew Miller, a fervent promoter of Americans Elect, likewise pined for a third party in 1996, on the curious grounds that President Clinton wasn’t doing enough to balance the budget.) Liberal disaffection helped Republicans win elections in 2000, 1968, and very nearly in 1948. All those elections came after Democrats had held the White House for at least two terms, and liberal disgust with politics had built up to toxic levels.
There is a catchphrase, which you’ve probably seen on bumper stickers or T-shirts, that captures the reason liberals have trouble maintaining political power: ‘Stop bitching, start a revolution.’ At first blush it sounds constructive. If you consider it for a moment, though, the line assumes that there are two modes of political behavior, bitching and revolution. Since the glorious triumph of revolution never really pans out, eventually you’ll return to the alternative, bitching. But there is a third option that lies between the two—the ceaseless grind of politics.
Which brings us back to Obama. Is it understandable to believe that his administration has been a disappointment to date? Of course. On the other hand, maybe there is something to learn from the frequent (anguished) comparisons liberals make between Obama and FDR. Part of the reason Roosevelt’s record looms so large from a distance is because historians measure these things differently from political activists. Activists measure progress against the standard of perfection, or at least the most perfect possible choice. Historians gauge progress against what came before it.
By that standard, Obama’s first term would indeed seem to qualify as gangsta shit. His single largest policy accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, combines two sweeping goals—providing coverage to the uninsured and taming runaway medical-cost inflation—that Democrats have tried and failed to achieve for decades. Likewise, the Recovery Act contained both short-term stimulative measures and increased public investment in infrastructure, green energy, and the like. The Dodd-Frank financial reform, while failing to end the financial industry as we know it, is certainly far from toothless, as measured by the almost fanatical determination of Wall Street and Republicans in Congress to roll it back.
Beneath these headline measures is a second tier of accomplishments carrying considerable historic weight. A bailout and deep restructuring of the auto industry that is rapidly being repaid, leaving behind a reinvigorated sector in the place of a devastated Midwest. Race to the Top, which leveraged a small amount of federal seed money into a sweeping national wave of education experiments, arguably the most significant reform of public schooling in the history of the United States. A reform of college loans, saving hundreds of billions of dollars by cutting out private middlemen and redirecting some of the savings toward expanded Pell Grants. Historically large new investments in green energy and the beginning of regulation of greenhouse gases. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. Elimination of several wasteful defense programs, equality for gays in the military, and consumer-friendly regulation of food safety, tobacco, and credit cards.
Read it all: nymag.com
…consider the contrast in style between the tea party and Occupy Wall Street. These two movements, allegedly mirror images of each other, perfectly display the differences between the right and the left. The Occupy activists abhor anything that would force any member to subsume his or her individual autonomy to the greater good. Did the drum circles drive everybody else to distraction? Too bad—you can’t tell the drummers what to do, man. There are no leaders, no organized speakers, no attempts at organizing anything except addressing the protesters’ elemental need for food and shelter. The tea party was mostly able to suppress the racist signs that popped up in the early stages of the movement. Occupy Wall Street has been unable to silence a handful of anti-Semites because it can’t silence anybody.nymag.com