was good enough to send me a rather long e-mail to comment on some of my entries from last week. In particular, some of her comments about my entry last Wednesday (the fat, lazy bastards in office, drunk on power) tapped into a long series of thoughts about the political shift from left to right at the end of the 1970's. Rather than confine some of those thoughts to an e-mailed response, I thought I thought they would make an interesting follow-up entry here.
I tend to believe in what could be called a Theory of Political Relativity. In it, there is no absolute political "center" about which the viewpoints of the "left" and "right" derive their position because we live in an abundant universe where issues and circumstances constantly change. Instead, there is a more statistically friendly "center of political gravity", a conditionally existent point by which the viewpoints of the "left" and "right" each distinguish themselves from the other.
This political center of gravity can therefore move, depending on the issues and circumstances used to create the narrative framework that forms public political debate.
Since the 1970's, that center of politcal gravity has clearly moved in a more conservative direction. I think that a number of fundamental political principles are involved in that shift. Most notably, I think that the liberal politicians and interests of the time were morally and intellectually bankrupt and unwilling to change in the face of a changing world. When I think back on my dim memories of those years, liberal interests became merely consumed with retaining a status quo largely established during the previous 30 years. This included the maintenance of the power of trade unions in large, profitable industries in decline such as the automobile and steel industries, the promotion of the welfare system as a "one size, fits all" solution to a myriad of society's problems, and the declining, but still frequent, tendency for liberal "mass movement" political marches and demostrations. Public perception of these ideas and institutions shifted from seeing them as positive and necessary to seeing them inefficient, ineffective, chaotic, and espousing ever more radical doctrine that increasingly seemed out of sync with economic and moral realities. Rather than gradually move away from these traditional bases of power and expertise, liberals still instinctively look to these political bases and ideas, even though their power and momentum have long since vanished.
Devoid of the central political and ideological power base that declined in the 1970's, liberals in this country increasingly find themselves incapable of using language that inspires and motivates the "man on the street" in this country. What can liberal ideology really speak to in this day and age? Political correctness, a form of intellectual fascism that proposes to eliminate evil using the Orwellian premise that oppression cannot exist if the words implement it are eliminated from the lexicon? An embrace of "alternative lifestyles" unfamiliar to many or rejected by them, leading to a perception that liberalism does not encourage a common set of societal manners and is attacked as opposing "family values"? After the chaos and upheaval of the 1960's and 1970's, a generation at once responsible for that upheaval has shifted from being the property-less to the propertied and shifted from interest in disorder and change to interest in some common sense of order. The prevailing language of liberalism cannot address these concerns without first touching on terms or concepts that are out of place in the modern political landscape.
With that said, the Bill Clintons and the Tony Blairs of this world have done little but arrest the decay by adopting a stance that has one foot planted on each side of the political center of gravity. While some may see this as a prevailing hope for liberalism, it merely arrests its decay. It does nothing to change the language of debate surrounding political issues, or shift political emphasis away from the issues where conservative approaches to problems are beginning to prove fruitless. Worse yet, it does nothing to call the now conservative establishment to account. All it does (at best) is say "hey look, we can be more conservative too."
Ultimately, I think that liberalism espouses some very worthy goals. Among them is the notion that there is more than one way to think, live, and express yourself. There also is the notion that we must use societal institutions to bring the greatest amount of economic and social benefit to the greatest number of people, including those who would otherwise be oppressed or disenfranchised. Ultimately, liberalism is about optimism and the hope that the best solutions will not be found simply be reproducing the solutions and ideas of the past, but, rather by finding new and original solutions in the future.
In the midst of all these charged musings about the history of liberal and conservative politics, I happened to catch a televised forum with Gary Hart on CSPAN last night. His was the first voice I've heard in a while discussing the Democratic point of view. It turns out that he has set up a web diary of his own at www.garyhartnews.com. I can't say that he has all the answers, but given that Democratic critique of the present administration has all but non-existent lately, it is nice to know that there is someone out there thinking about issues.
on 2003-04-28 at 12:01 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond