Friday, October 29, 2004

What liberals?

George Will has a good column today, talking about a fact that few liberals like to acknowledge: conservative ideas are dominating our politics. They are dominating because liberals have no ideas.

Look at the major issues facing America today. I know Bush has a Social Security plan, even if I doubt its effectiveness. Kerry is in favor of the status quo. I know Bush has a plan to reform the tax code, which is disasterously complicated. Kerry wants the status quo. The recent changes to the Kyoto accords--adding a market-based strategy of greenhouse gas credits that could be traded--a conservative idea. Charter schools, whether you like them or not, are the most original idea in education reform. On national security, Kerry has been forced to run not with a different plan of attacking al-Qaeda, but by promising to be competent in carrying out Bush's plan, and returning to the status quo of the past 50 years by focusing on institutional relics of the Cold War.

Up until the late 60's, liberal ideas were ascendant--with progression from FDR's New Deal to LBJ's Great Society, from the Allied Forces to NATO and the UN. Democrats embraced the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and environmentalists. They sought to isolate the Soviet Union rather than to go to war. Repubicans were on the wrong side of all these issues. They favored isolationism, segregation (as did many Southern Democrats until 1964), big business, and the past.

After 1964, some people realized the Republicans needed a new agenda. Liberals in the Democratic party began to abandon the center and sought to exceed their mandate. Those in power became defenders of the status quo with all its faults.

Such is the inevitable course of all political movements. At the moment of highest power, they overreach. Though perhaps, the overreaching is their downfall. Republicans began to paint Democrats as the party of abortion, affirmative action, criminals, flag-burning, atheists, and fellow-travellers. They elevated character as an election issue, pointing to sharing values as more important than agreeing with policies. They made foreign policy a moral issue. They unapologetically called democracy, freedom, and capitalism the way of the future. They were a visionary force that was allowed its day because of the failure of imagination on the part of the Democratic elite that refused to adapt to changing world circumstances.

Now is the high tide of Republicanism. Clinton was a mere Eisenhower in a conservative sea. He accepted Republican ideas and implemented them rather than creating a new liberal consensus. This was his genius--to accept the valid criticisms of the other side, and focus on the strenghts of your own. What was missing was any liberal ideology.

Today, we can see the beginnings of a new liberal ideology being formed. And we must marshall our forces and ideas to come to a new consensus. The basis of this new liberalism will not be Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky. We need to acknowledge the strengths of the conservative movement today. We need to accept their successes. And then we need to create a new way of viewing the world--a new way to combat terrorism and Islamo-fascism, a new understanding of government, of American power, and America's place in the world. We need to be on the cutting edge.

But we cannot mistake a Kerry victory for one of liberal values--Kerry is running as the conservative competent candidate, not the liberal one. Win or lose, we still have the same internal problem--creating a liberal consensus and finding how to explain to the majority of Americans. The main successes of modern conservatism have been to correct the overreaching of liberals and remind them of their original intents. There are real problems facing America. We've heard one side. For the good of America, its time to present another.