Why is this So Hard? A Liberal Public Philosophy
by tgeraghty, Wed Jul 20, 2005 at 11:37:23 PM EDT
So let's make one.
- Strong defense
- Free markets
- Lower taxes
- Smaller government
- Family values
Typically Democratic attempts at formulating a public philosophy look something like this (again this is from Lakoff):
- Stronger America
- Broad prosperity
- Better future
- Effective government
- Mutual responsibility
Now, I think Bai is a bit harsh here in looking at the conservative list as forming such a strong philosophical argument (who isn't for "family values"?), and Lakoff's progressive list as simply mush ("broad prosperity" is a potentially strong rejoinder to conservative "trickle-down economics" represented by "low taxes,""smaller government," and "free markets"). Plus, there is the 30-year campaign by the right-wing noise machine to load up these terms with all sorts of meaning. But, let's concede that Bai has a point.
So, what do we need in a public philosophy?
- It should be a clear, concise statement of progressive values;
- It should cover the main areas of the economy, social policy, foreign policy, and the nature of politics and government.
- It should be hard for conservatives to agree with, but easy for progressives and moderates to agree with.
Conservatives believe in "trickle-down economics." Give the rich more so they can create prosperity for the rest of us. Do this by freeing markets, cutting taxes, and shrinking government.
Progressives want a prosperous economy too (and we're better at delivering it than they are), but not at the cost of social justice. We can achieve both growth AND equity, but not by cutting taxes and shrinking government, and not through the market alone. We're not against markets, but we realize that growth with equity requires a mix of markets, government regulation, public investment, and service provision, and social regulation through the institutions of civil society. The archetype is the post-WWII boom period, in which rapid growth and reduced poverty and inequality were achieved through a combination of markets (a generally free enterprise economy with reductions in international trade barriers), state (government regulation of financial, labor, and some industrial markets; public investments in education and R&D; the welfare state - Social Security and Medicare), and civil society (a strong labor movement to countervail corporate power). This is what used to be called the "mixed economy" (although I find it hard to see people manning the barricades for the "mixed economy").
So, our economic plank should be something like "economic prosperity with social justice," or more simply "prosperity with justice." Some people might prefer "economic security." At any rate, "prosperity with justice" is clear, concise, and should be pitched as the antithesis of conservative "trickle-down economics."
Any modern economic policy of course has to take into account the ecological limits to human activity. Smart growth, combatting global warming, finding alternative sustainable energy sources, clean air and water, protecting wildlife and habitat, conserving natural resources are all on our policy agenda. So "environmental sustainability" or "stewardship" must be on the list, too, fundamentally opposed to the Republican "free market, small government" vision of squeezing every last dime of revenue out of our natural resources without regard to the long-run cost.
It's a no-brainer that something like "racial and gender equality" has to be on our list. For historical reasons, because ameliorating the economic and social inequalities suffered by women and minority groups is fundamental to any kind of liberalism or progressivism. Although Democrats haven't always stepped up to the plate on these issues as fully as one might wish, there's no way that Republicans, given their history, have much credibility on these issues.
The Republicans are for "strong defense." More military spending will solve all of our international problems and ensure that America is respected in the world. We know this is bunk. True national security requires not just military power, but also economic resources and diplomacy. It requires that we be able to lead by example, act with allies, and work through international institutions. Further, we are committed to far more than military supremacy. We also want to spread respect for human rights, democratic self-government, and economic development with global poverty reduction. It's hard to sum all of this up in a couple of words, but traditionally this kind of foreign policy has been called "liberal internationalism." Maybe "progressive internationalism" would be better. Whatever the terms, it must be sold as clearly in opposition to neoconservative militarism, unilateralism, and international bullying.
Politics and Government
The current conservative Republican era is one of the most corrupt in American history. So liberals must stand for reform, for cleaning up the mess conservatives have made of campaign finance, voting and elections, and governing. For transparency and openness in place of conservative secrecy.
If we are to be the party of active government, we also have to be the party of reinventing governement to make it more, yes, effective, as the liberal historian Alan Brinkley has argued:
So something along the lines of "open and efficient" (flexible? capable?) government to stand in stark opposition to the Republicans' "smaller", and in reality, fundamentally corrupt and ineffective, government.
So, that leaves us with:
- Prosperity with Justice
- Environmental Stewardship
- Racial and Gender Equality
- Liberal Internationalism
- Open and Capable Government
Feel free to tell me what I forgot ("freedom of conscience" or something like that?), make suggestions, or just generally rip me to shreds in the comments.
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