This is pretty much the reason I'm no longer a neoliberal, but a recovering neoliberal. The neos believed that liberals should devote a lot of energy to getting public policy right, even if it meant gutting a few sacred cows along the way. The idea was that the public would never support an activist government unless they were convinced that it was being run as leanly and efficiently as possible. The problem is that this only works if the other side plays ball. After all, what's the point of agreeing to abolish a poorly working program if conservatives refuse to meet halfway and try to build a better program in its place? For most liberals, even a poorly working program is better than no program at all.
Politically, then, technocratic neoliberalism just doesn't work given the true-believer obduracy of the contemporary Republican Party. So we're left with trench warfare instead and no one's happy. Conservatives are unhappy because liberals keep defending programs that have poor track records, while those of us who suffer from the neoliberal temperament are unhappy because we're too busy fending off knife attacks to have a real chance reforming the delivery of government services. Welcome to the modern world.I'm all for technocratic idealism, but I think it's naive to think that American politics has ever been anything but trench warfare. It just hurts more when the liberals are losing. And a lot of us think that liberals are losing because we stopped making the "a bad program is better than no program" argument. It's a hard argument to make, but it worked when people clearly saw what "no program" looked like. I was hoping we wouldn't have to go all the way back to robber baronies to find out why we need liberalism.