Welcome to the world

Kevin Drum says:

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.


  1. If one concedes that American politics is and has always been trench warfare, then the mistake that liberals have consistently made is in electing policy people and not trench warriors. The last great liberal asshole was probably elected president in 1964.

    You don't want a Rhodes scholar or a Harvard Law Review editor setting and fighting for your agenda if the contest is going to be fought with brass knuckles. You need someone that is willing to get his hands bloody.

    The sad truth is that there hasn't been a democrat that fit that description in 50 years. Meanwhile the republicans have no shortage of highly qualified assholes. You convict one Tom Delay and you get 100 Eric Cantors.

  2. Interesting comments, gentlemen. I'm coming to the conclusion that the problem is the two party system and the way one party or the other co-opts all reform movements.

    A viable third party is simply a pipe dream.

    Unfortunately, the only way I think we will see any reform of the two party system is for the entire government to break down and for the government to be re-born after a period of anarchy.

    Luckily the Tea Party is having amazing success in moving the anarchy agenda forward...


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