A horse with no name

John Quiggin of Crooked Timber had a post over this weekend that deserves some serious discussion. His thesis is that: (1) the right-wing in Europe and the US has completely collapsed intellectually (these are the “dead horses” his title refers to), (2) conservatism remains potent politically, nevertheless, and (3) that killing off the right-wing is only the beginning.

It’s a powerful piece and I agree with the vast majority of it. He closes with something that gets to the heart one of the biggest questions that divides the left:

Finally, as I’ve said before, the left has to stand for something more than keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements. We need to offer the hope of a better world as an alternative to the angry tribalism that threatens to engulf us.

Personally, I don’t see the conflict between “the need to offer the hope of a better world” and “keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements”, but I know what he’s getting at: namely, the idea that liberalism has to offer something more transformative than CBO scores and the elimination of lifetime caps on health insurance payments and changes to immigration policy, and the like.

Do most of you agree with this idea? I know that I don’t. First of all, I don’t like the idea of dreaming up some new transformative vision. I’d rather liberals just focus on health care, education, public transportation, and the many other concrete problems we face. Certainly, this might involve changes in taxation (for example), but probably more along the lines of a 40% rate being upped to 44% than something radically redistributive.

It’s true that pragmatic liberalism has its shortcomings as a political strategy. Much of the appeal of conservatism comes from how thorough-going its dictates are. Contemporary liberal discussion (at least as I see it on blogs and in opinion columns) mostly confines itself to governmental policies. The conservosphere gets involved with what movies you should watch, what kinds of scarves you should wear in Dunkin’ Donuts ads, what kinds of countertops you should have in your house, and so on. (I’m not saying liberals can’t be preachy, mind you, but it’s one thing for your friend to lecture you about recycling, it’s another for prominent political columnists to devote multiple columns to Avatar.) That’s seductive in the same way that religion is. Pragmatism told ancient people not to eat rotting carrion; but that wasn’t broad enough, they developed religion to tell them exactly what foods they could eat, how they should prepare them, and when they could eat them. The fact that these rules often had no empirical basis was part of their appeal. And so it is with “drill baby drill” and “let them fail”.

Obviously, “we need to find a way to document workers” sometimes loses out to “Build that wall! English only!” But not always. The recent rise of the right in the west is most likely the result of white male anxiety about the perceived loss of white male power. Thus, the rise is limited by demographics (especially in the United States). If liberals can govern effectively and pragmatically, they will be able to build a lasting majority coalition by taking advantage of demographic changes, with or without a transformative vision.

145 replies
  1. 1
    MikeJ says:

    My transformative vision: try not to fuck things up.

    You can go a long way with that.

  2. 2
    Capri says:

    I agree with Quiggen’s big picture view if you see the conservative and liberal positions as class-based.

    I see the liberal’s over arching vision as the promotion of the working class/middle class. Conservative positions generally promote upper class at the expense of the middle/working class.

    All those incremental steps can be seen under the broad umbrella of aiding the quality of life of those who are not in the upper classes.

  3. 3
    geg6 says:

    Nope, sorry, not interested. More pie in the sky crap, IMHO, from the just-as-crazy-as-the-wingnuts lefties. Yeah, we tried that transformative crap in my lifetime. It ended in kids getting beaten in the streets of Chicago and Tricky Dick in the White House.

    Not again. Please.

  4. 4
    Brian J says:

    I think these things go in cycles, which really makes more of a difference than anything else. From the 1930s until the late 1970s or so, things were fought on liberal terms. Before that, it was on conservative terms, and after that, it was back to conservative terms. Notice how someone like Richard Nixon was more liberal during his time in office and someone like Bill Clinton was more conservative during his administration.

    Now we are back to fighting things on liberal terms and will be for several decades to come. David Frum, I believe, said right after Obama was elected that Republicans better get used to the idea that they will be inhabiting a public sphere based on what the Democrats say. (Not his exact words, but close enough.)

  5. 5

    I don’t disagree with it necessarily, but I think it’s confusing more long-term rhetoric with short term arguments. I don’t see any evidence that the left can’t outline broad principles for our values and beliefs, but in the short term arguments CBO reports and academic studies are basically all you have against the GOP’s lies.

  6. 6
    IndieTarheel says:

    Here’s an idea: let’s fix what’s jacked up first, THEN work on the vision/legacy thing. You know, just for giggles.

  7. 7
    Stooleo says:

    I’ve got no problem with incremental liberalism, but to be effective people have to be able to see their lives get better. The way the middle class has been decimated over the last 20 years that shouldn’t be too hard to do. But with the perpetual noise machine of the Right, I won’t be holding my breath.

  8. 8
    Carl says:

    It ended in kids getting beaten in the streets of Chicago and Tricky Dick in the White House. geg6

    Tricky was clearly the most liberal president we’ve had in the past 40 years. I would be a lot happier if Obama was as liberal.

    I used to believe that if we behaved ourselves, the people at the top would be reasonable too. I see no evidence that this is the case.

  9. 9

    Well, he wants to move the party leftward. Hence his point before the one you quoted about “reconsider[ing] Marxian and other left socialist critiques of social democracy.” Basically, he’s arguing for a more left-leaning set of reforms that border on “revolutionary,” but still work within our democratic framework – i.e., no bloody coups.

    This is a frustrating article. It amounts to saying, “We need a new vision – but I’ll be damned if I’m gonna lay one out!” It’d be nice if he had been more specific in what radical ideas he thinks we ought to advance. Strict environmental regulation? Single-payer health care system? The entire Green Party platform? Without that data, I’m loathe to critique him one way or the other. The best I can say is that most of the people on the far left strike me as unreasonable and batshit-crazy as the lunatics on the far right. If his goal is to inject some sanity into *our* extremists – then, hey, more power to him.

    Have to add, I think he’s spot-on in praising Hayek for his critique of the inefficacy of central planning.

  10. 10
    Sentient Puddle says:

    I don’t really see the conflict either. Visionary liberalism sets the longer term goals, pragmatic liberalism wonks out and accomplishes what can be done in the short term, and the two are hashed out by pissy blog battles of Biblical proportions between people like us and people like FDL.

  11. 11
    NR says:

    @IndieTarheel: The problem is that this results in an endless cycle where Republicans get in power and move the country rapidly to the right, after which Democrats get in power and let the country slowly drift to the right while making modest incremental changes. The end result? The country becomes constantly more conservative.

    For example: Taxation. It’s all well and good to raise the top marginal rate by a few percentage points, but that’s ultimately of very little benefit if Democrats aren’t willing to challenge the conservative narrative about taxation that dominates the American political landscape right now.

    The next Republican president will be even more conservative than Bush was – I guarantee it.

  12. 12
    Jager says:

    Yesterday, while standing with a drink in my hand watching over my beer can chicken, I overheard a friend’s wife say, “all I know is that it is a good thing that George W Bush was president when we were attacked on 911!” I turned around or rather spun around and said what the hell are you talking about? I launched into all the DFH arguments about the events leading up to 911, the reaction after it happened, the world wide support that Bush squandered, etc, etc. The reaction from her right wing brain…”you believe what ever you want, but I know that George Bush kept us safe from harm and if we had attacked Saddam sooner we would have gotten Osama before he left Iraq!”

    These people only believe what they believe, if the truth doesn’t follow the simplistic narrative they have in their heads, the truth is a lie. It must be so easy to be a conservative leader, pundit or politician, you don’t have to have a logical explanation for anything!

  13. 13
    some other guy says:

    Conservatism is still potent because it offer simple slogans as solutions to real problems. Energy crisis? “Drill, baby, drill!” Meanwhile, the incremental liberal solution is to create a complex carbon trading market to fund research and development into green energy, with tax credits to offset the costs the lower and middle class. Which is the easier concept for the low-information voter to grasp?

  14. 14
    danimal says:

    In the long-term, liberals need to do a better job of making the case that the mutual interests of the lower classes and middle class have more in common than the interests of the upper class and middle class. Since the vast majority of middle class citizens want to be upper class, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. By building this alignment between lower and middle class citizens, the left realignment should hold for a long time.

    IOW, we need to see middle class lefties as mad and engaged as the tea party middle class righties. There’s plenty of raw material to work with. Starting with financial reform. The line for rusty pitchforks forms on the left.

  15. 15
    Dave says:

    I think the trick is to enshrine the incremental improvement within the larger construct of a transformative vision. The Democrats largest problem isn’t a lack of ideas, it’s an inability to properly package and sell them to the American voter.

    Wonk-speak is great for political junkies, but not for the average voter. There is no way, NO WAY, that 40% of American voters were against a health-care bill that covers almost all Americans and reduces the deficit in the process. But the Republicans were able to use language that connected with the voters. It was a bunch of lies, misdirection and bullshittery, but it worked.

    In a proper world, the right-wing wouldn’t influence a damn thing. But in a two-party system where one party is crazy yet well-funded, we have to live with that fact.

  16. 16
    16shellsfromathirtyaughtsix says:

    There’s a big problem with pie-in-the-sky liberalism vis-a-vis pie-in-the-sky conservatism: The latter makes people feel noble and righteous (also tuff, as we live out John Wayne movies overseas), while the former typically tells people what they’re doing wrong. Much better for liberalism to stick to baby steps. “And we’ll all ride TRAINS to work and compost our garbage and drink our water from nalgene bottles! FUCK YEAH!” It just doesn’t really play.

  17. 17
    Guster says:

    I guess my questions are these:

    In order to raise the 40% rate to 44%, do you need to propose something radically redistributive, and then negotiate down?

    Does pragmatic liberalism necessarily have shortcomings as a political strategy? If your goal is a 4% increase, do you need to use ‘4% more!’ are your rallying cry, or can you shout ‘Stop the Thieving Super Rich!’ and then implement your little incremental goal?

  18. 18
    DougJ says:

    @Guster:

    Good question. I don’t know the answer.

    (EDIT: I will say, this, though — it’s great for politicians to play negotiating games, but honest commentators should admit that 44% is fine (if it is) and not another horrific Blue Dog/Rahmbama sell out.)

  19. 19
    FlipYrWhig says:

    Seems like the classic inside-outside divide. It can be nice to have people making grand demands outside the system, but they need to know that inside the system those demands are going to get scaled back. Which means inevitable frustration and compromise. The fact that it sucks and feels like nothing quite happens as you’d like to see it _is the nature of the political system_, or the nature of the public sphere itself. It’s not because the president is a dick and just gets off on kicking over your pretty pretty sandcastle. It’s because that’s deliberative democracy in a constitutional republic.

  20. 20
    Loneoak says:

    First of all, I don’t like the idea of dreaming up some new transformative vision. I’d rather liberals just focus on health care, education, public transportation, and the many other concrete problems we face.

    We face a lot of concrete problems, and fixing those will be very challenging if the primary argument of liberals is going to be “we’re more competent at maintaining the status quo.” I’m hardly a radical Marxist, but through my experience with public higher education in CA, it’s become obvious to me that fucked up priorities are deeply ingrained in what ‘the public’ finds sensible and obvious. We cannot solve ‘education’ unless we offer a coherent vision of different values–including not spending twice as much on prisons as universities. We cannot solve ‘green infrastructure’ unless we make a state-run infrastructure bank. I could go on, but my point is that our status quo discourse is far too resistant to the kinds of practical changes you want and so it is absolutely necessary to articulate a vision of a better world(s).

  21. 21
    DougJ says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    Very well said.

  22. 22
    MikeJ says:

    @some other guy:

    Energy crisis? “Drill, baby, drill!” Meanwhile, the incremental liberal solution is to create a complex carbon trading market to fund research and development into green energy, with tax credits to offset the costs the lower and middle class. Which is the easier concept for the low-information voter to grasp?

    The liberal solution is “you pollute, you pay. Be extra clean, make a few bucks on the side.”

    The conservative solution is to dig up and burn the corpses of decomposed dinosaurs, a resource which is infinitely renewable if you have a few million years to wait for your fresh dinosaurs to rot.

  23. 23
    toujoursdan says:

    Point of clarification: I don’t tend to think of liberalism in the U.S. as all that liberal. Conservatism in Europe (and in Canada even) is STILL to the left of the mainstream of the Democratic Party in the U.S.

    At the same, I think most liberals in the U.S. can look at America’s recent past and desire to envisage that for its future. The 1950s was a high tax, high service and high investment period in America’s recent history where many institutions worked fairly well. I would be satisfied if we could go back to the period (minus the race relations and women’s subordination.)

  24. 24
    superking says:

    Even if liberal pragmatism is what we do, we can still work on selling it better.

  25. 25
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @Guster:

    In order to raise the 40% rate to 44%, do you need to propose something radically redistributive, and then negotiate down?

    Sounds like a game theory problem. There’s probably a point at which the initial demand registers as so extreme that it turns off your bargaining partner entirely. But where that is, I couldn’t begin to tell you. If you want to move up from 40 units, demanding 70 might kill your chances at getting 44 if it makes the other person walk; demanding 44 doesn’t kill your chances but makes it damn likely you’re not actually getting 44…

  26. 26
    mistermix says:

    There’s a lot to digest in the CT essay, but it’s very good.

    I agree that dreaming up a transformative vision isn’t the right response. It would just spark endless, stupid debates where right-wingers would compare their libertarian utopias with the progressive utopia.

    The administration’s current incrementalist agenda is fine, as long as it actually brings positive results, but we need to combat the false consciousness that the right wing is so good at engendering. The right is excellent at convincing people whose lives are improved by government to disconnect the reality of those improvements from their perception of government. So we have people receiving Medicare and Social Security railing against “socialism”.

    I don’t have a well-defined view of how this can be fixed, but the fix starts with a constant, public emphasis on what government is doing for citizens, perhaps using benefit summaries mailed out yearly.

    The goal would be to move the debate from “what we can do for you in theory” to “what have we done for you lately”.

  27. 27
    Tuffy says:

    If voting was compulsory maybe the party of temporal plane-based policy would hold lasting power, but what we have is Alan Alda’s sensible moderation versus Sarah Palin and her apocalyptic suicide cult.

    We’re just structured in a way to have an enthusiasm gap.

  28. 28
    someguy says:

    Contrary to Quiggin’s fantasy wankery here, you aren’t going to eliminate the right wing short of instituting a national eugenics programs. Conservatism is a defect, not a philosophy, and it can’t be cured, only eradicated.

    And Guster:

    In order to raise the 40% rate to 44%, do you need to propose something radically redistributive, and then negotiate down?

    Screw 44. Propose 70%, and settle for nothing less than 65%, and demogogue the crap out of the issue with the populism you allude to. The problem here isn’t the morons on the right, it’s in liberals who aim far too low and who give up too easily. Like HCR, there’s all this defeatist bullshit floating around about the inability to be transformative. Bring on Immigration Reform and Cap & Trade! We’ve got the votes if only somebody will just try to make it happen.

  29. 29
    Brian J says:

    @IndieTarheel:

    I don’t think it’s a matter of either/or. Why not describe a vision and then work on implementing it in any way possible?

    One argument that some people made was that the administration didn’t put enough of a face on health care debate. Imagine if they hauled out all sorts of people who were screwed over in some way and talked about it until they were blue in the face. In the end, that’s what the debate was really about. It might have made getting certain things, like the public option, enacted.

  30. 30
    NR says:

    @FlipYrWhig: This sounds great in theory, until you look at the last ten years. Then you’re left with one very important question: Why is it that conservatives never see their demands scaled back by the political system? Why is it that they never face frustration and compromise? Except for one high-profile failure on Social Security, conservatives got pretty much everything they wanted under Bush. All of Bush’s other policy failures (immigration reform, Harriet Meyers) happened because conservatives were opposed to the things he was proposing.

    The “You can’t get everything you want” argument rings especially hollow when we just got through seeing the other side get pretty much everything it wanted for eight years.

  31. 31
    Brian J says:

    @NR:

    Why is it that conservatives never see their demands scaled back by the political system?

    Because they are very, very good at repeating what they want after boiling it down into simple, easily repeatable lines, which are sometimes skewed or simply outright lies. How many times did the Republicans claim that the Bush tax cuts would help individuals and businesses save and invest, for instance?

  32. 32
    Allison W. says:

    Yeah I’m not feeling the advice against incremental improvements. There is a lot of crap that needs to be cleaned up and a lot of old plans/dreams that we need to implement. I don’t think its time to start pushing some new unachievable dream – and what would that be exactly?

  33. 33
    Guster says:

    @DougJ: Commentators should admit that, yes–but not activists, necessarily.

  34. 34
    cleek says:

    i’m a pragmatic liberal; incremental improvements are what i like.

    and angry tribalism is part of human nature.

  35. 35
    Gary K. says:

    For me, this says it all.

  36. 36
    rootless-e says:

    Well, Atrios is bewildered
    http://www.eschatonblog.com/20.....hings.html

    so I don’t think we’re going to get clear ideological guidance on that front.

  37. 37
    SGEW says:

    I don’t like the idea of dreaming up some new transformative [liberal] vision. [The conservosphere is] seductive in the same way that religion is . . . . The fact that these rules often had no empirical basis was part of their appeal. And so it is with “drill baby drill” and “let them fail”.

    You’re definitely on to something here.

    “Economic freedom,” “we will hang the last capitalist by the guts of the last priest,” and “the son of God died for your sins” . . . now those are slogans. Liberalism/Progressivism (or whatever) does not (“What do we want?” “Incremental yet measurable improvements in standards of living!” “When do we want it?” “As soon as is practicable, bearing in mind unintended consequences!”). Liberalism (as I define it, I guess) has, at its heart, an eschewal of the sort of unqualified declarative statements that are required for really good propaganda.

    More to the point, I think that the “transformative vision” question centers around the argument over faith. Faith in a political party, or an economic system, or in any clear and inarguable delineation of your beliefs and behavior. Yes, I’m sure that liberals have our own share of irrational faiths (now there’s a good discussion topic), but liberalism in general attempts to challenge non-empirical beliefs as a matter of its own political philosophy (i.e., “question everything, including this”). Modern American “conservatives,” on the other hand, are now almost entirely faith based.

    [I have a suspicion that this is what is undergirding the “epistemic closure” debate too.]

  38. 38
    Allison W. says:

    I wish people would stop citing so-called GOP success when it comes to what they want. Reality check: look at their poll numbers, look at how they cower at some fringe group, just LOOK at who identifies with them and how minorities run screaming from them – I mean JUST LOOK! why in the world would you want any part of that?

    And I think part of the issue is that the Left doesn’t know how to flaunt success and give too many wins to the GOP over the silliest things. Every crumb given to them from our pie is seen as a great loss.

  39. 39
    MattF says:

    It’s fair to say that the good thing (IMO) that liberals and lefties have accomplished so far is negative: avoiding fantasy and thuggery. And pointing to the fantasy and the thuggery on the right, as well. I agree that I’m not currently feeling transports of ecstasy about Dem policy, but at my age, that’s probably a good thing.

  40. 40
    Guster says:

    @NR: Conservatives don’t everything they want. They want to criminalize all abortions, abolish the separation of church and state, keep women pregnant in the kitchen, abolish gays and gayness, establish the American Taliban, etc. It just appears to us that conservatives seem to get everything they want because what they _really_ want is so abhorrent we have a hard time considering it.

  41. 41
    slag says:

    What Loneoak said.

    If you’re operating under the premise that our citizenry already understand and share a largely Democratic vision of America (for instance, the idea that we have a “commons” and that we each are responsible for contributing to it), then a purely pragmatic approach to advocacy is perfectly fine. But I don’t see a ton of evidence that basing your policy approach on such a premise is a smart thing to do in this country. So, I think it’s important that every policy initiative that Democrats take be both theoretically grounded in and communicated as one small piece of an overall vision for America.

    Beyond which, I see a lot of value in making the case for changes in our cultural institutions. For instance, I like the fact that you call our media Heathers out for their insipid and puerile behavior. Their suffocatingly moronic culture makes the rest of our lives that much more suffocatingly moronic. And when our citizenry finds itself spending valuable intellectual resources furiously mining the shallows of Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, no positive policy outcomes can come from that.

  42. 42
    mike in dc says:

    Act in terms of the next 75 days, campaign in terms of the next 75 weeks, legislate in terms of the next 75 months, and envision in terms of the next 75 years. Do what’s practical and doable right now, run on a platform of doing a bit more than that, legislate with an eye to what will improve things over the next several years, and have a vision of your ideal that can be accomplished during one human lifetime.

  43. 43
    Gus says:

    @geg6: Exactly. Sweeping change scares too many people. Unfortunately, we’re in dire need of sweeping change.

  44. 44
    Nutella says:

    Pushing for transformative change is unlikely to work at all, but pushing things that will make our lives and our country significantly better is something we have got to do.

    Now we’re always getting a choice of something extreme (with excellent slogans!) from the right and something slightly less than bad from the left. The left needs to be pro-active rather than re-active and do much much better at presenting their ideas in a strong and attractive way. And yes, we need better and stronger soundbites as well as better and stronger proposals.

    If the Democrats can’t make political hay from financial reform at a time like this, they/we are hopeless.

  45. 45
    Elvis Elvisberg says:

    I agree with DougJ, and I agree with Atrios.

    I guess this is substantively incremental, and procedurally/politically more assertive.

    I want to see our popular president rallying supporters for stuff like a public option, some form of carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, diminishing executive branch secrecy, etc. None of that stuff is at all radical from a first principles standpoint, yet all are treated as if they were by the current establishment. I just want reality-based arguments to carry the day.

    I don’t think we’re doing too badly to keep the existing order afloat. Maintain economic growth, enhance social mobility, increase average wages, and we’re not doing so badly at all.

  46. 46
    jwb says:

    @Brian J: I think it’s simpler than that: corporations own the media, the corporate bosses are mostly conservative and/or willing to eat the shit of social conservatism in order to have their favored tax and regulatory policies implemented, and the media coverage reflects those priorities. The mediascape makes it very easy for the Goopers to stay on message.

  47. 47
    Brachiator says:

    Do most of you agree with this idea? I know that I don’t. First of all, I don’t like the idea of dreaming up some new transformative vision. I’d rather liberals just focus on health care, education, public transportation, and the many other concrete problems we face. Certainly, this might involve changes in taxation (for example), but probably more along the lines of a 40% rate being upped to 44% than something radically redistributive.

    While the right currently has no ideas, the left, especially in America, is lazy and increasingly dependent upon stupid ideas. There is the persistent idea that anything that has the Progressive(tm) label must be good and requires no further thought, refinement or modification.

    Worse, as we have seen with health care reform, and now with financial reform, the Democrats are woefully weak on transforming liberal ideas into coherent policy, and even worse in transforming policy into effective legislation. Added to this is their inability to counter the Republicans, and the little thing of Democrats who are in the pockets of lobbyists and special interests.

    Quick example, a side note to an excellent article about the background to the Rolling Stones masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, explains that the Stones went fled to France in 1971 to escape Britain’s 93 percent top marginal tax rate (The Stones and the true story of Exile on Main St).

    This tax rate could be described as “radically distributive,” and was a Labour Government wet dream, but it did nothing to improve Britain’s economy or to stave off the loss in jobs and productivity in Northern England and elsewhere. This reality should be useful to American liberals, but instead of looking at what policy actually works, and which are problematic, the left insists on pretending that unexamined rhetoric that has been stale since the heyday of 1930s radicals is the same as practical solutions to real problems.

    Liberals are also squandering a great opportunity by falling back into their own weak snobbery and elitism, assuming that they don’t have to bother communicating their positions to voters, but need only simply sit back and let “scary” Republicans chase voters into the Democratic Party camp. President Obama is the great exception to this “failure to communicate,” but even he and the party were unexpectedly blindsided by the electoral success of Scott Brown in Massachusetts because party strategists assumed that they didn’t have to bother waging a, you know, actual campaign.

    Also,we are seeing that fear and a determined stupidity can actually work to the advantage of Republicans with a core of wingnuts and tea baggers. And here is something important to keep in mind. The right may be collapsing intellectually, but this is not the same thing as a complete and total implosion of the Republican Party, and what may rise up to replace it may be even worse than what has come before.

  48. 48
    EconWatcher says:

    SGEW:

    I was getting ready to post, but SGEW said everything I wanted to say, better.

    So I’ll just make this additional point: If there were to be a “transformative” vision, it would be some species of social democracy. But that’s a scare word in American culture.

    People here are mostly non-ideological and focused on bread and butter. So you just have to tell people how, incrementally, you’re going to get them more bread and better butter.

    That message gets too complicated sometimes, and will sometimes get drowned out in the noise. But there’s no other option.

  49. 49
    Hypnos says:

    There’s a clear, binary issue here, and it is not of left wing against right wing, or of liberalism against conservatism.

    The point is that we – and by we I mean an extremely broad group of people that goes from Blue Dogs to European Socialists – are fighting for the single set of principles and values that set apart the last 2 centuries from the rest of the history of civilization, and that made the last 60 years the most prosperous period in the history of humanity for the largest number of people, all over the world.

    The Enlightenment.

    We are fighting for Reason, against Faith. We are fighting for Rights, against Priviledge. We are fighting for Democracy, against Fedaulism.

    This is what we are defending. We are fighting for Progress, against the Reaction.

  50. 50
    Yossarian says:

    @SGEW: I think SGEW really hits on something here. People should keep in mind that liberalism, historically speaking, was a response to the “politics of ultimate ends” that helped spark the European religious wars that were going on circa Hobbes/Locke. Not to overstate the point, but a focus on pragmatism, incrementalism, and an opposition to totalistic ideologies is actually pretty internal to liberalism itself.

    Which is not to say that liberals should not ever speak in moral terms or appeal to deeper values to advance their policies– they clearly should, at least some of the time (Obama’s great at this when the mood strikes him). But modern crazy person conservatism is simply more comfortable with making everything about first principles. It’s part of what makes them crazy.

    I’d also just add that it’s easier for conservatives to constantly jabber on about first principles and transformative visions when they have absolutely no concept of what responsible governance looks like. Their sweeping moralism may help them get into power, but it helps ensure that once they take over, they fuck the dog. Who needs to run things efficiently, smoothly, and wisely when every question can be referred back to either the Bible or Friedrich von Hayek?

  51. 51
    NR says:

    @Brian J: So why can’t liberals, who have the truth on their side, do the same thing?

  52. 52
    Mnemosyne says:

    @NR:

    Why is it that conservatives never see their demands scaled back by the political system?

    Do you mean never as in “never” or never as in “not in the last 8 years”? Because those are two very different things. (The answer to the latter would be, “Because they were in control of all three branches of government for 6 of those 8 years.”)

    Conservatives have had a HUGE number of losses starting in the 1930s. Social Security, Medicare, civil rights, women’s rights, etc. Try as they might, none of those things is being reversed anytime soon. Their major success has been in convincing people that taxation is theft so Republicans could try to destroy the society that was leaving them behind.

    If I were going to propose a “transformative vision,” it would be that we are all Americans and we sink or swim together. If you can get people to realize that bad schools in the inner city and bad schools in rural areas are, in fact, adversely affecting their day-to-day lives and not someone else’s problem, that would be a huge step forward.

  53. 53
    rootless-e says:

    Somewhat OT here’s Atrios canned response to the discussion yesterday

    One way to get Republicans on board is to enable them to be divas, flatter them, let them bask in the media spotlight as they play Hamlet for 6 months, and keep offering compromise after compromise while getting nothing in return, on the off chance that maybe, just maybe, Lindsey or President Snowe or whoever will get on board.

    Republicans only get the media spotlight when Obama “enables” them?! Who knew? See, I thought that the pro-republican media always provided platforms for Republicans and by identifying “moderates”, the Obama team has made sure that e.g. Snowe and others with some qualms get to share the spotlight with Mcconnell and company. I hadn’t realized that Noam Chomsky and Van Jones would be on MTP if it were not for the craven weakness of the Obama administration.

    And I hadn’t realized that a legislative strategy that is obviously aimed at (a) convincing the public that the Obama administration is sensible and moderate and (b) depriving corporate/winger Democrats of cover was really just a dumb and fruitless hope that Olympia Snowe would come around. Silly me.

    Another way to do things is to propose popular pieces of legislation and then make the Republicans eat shit every day they fail to pass it, go send out your charismatic leader to give speeches and hold rallies in their states, mobilize your massive community of supporters to take various actions in support of the legislation, etc. I could be wrong that the latter is the better strategy, both politically and in terms of actually getting shit done, but it just isn’t the case that the options are kissing up to Lindsey Graham or nothing.

    Oh. Again, I must misunderstand the media. I thought that anyone who looks at wh.gov and e.g. BlackwaterDog’s posts on DKOs or following what OFA does will see that the Obama administration has been tirelessly working to get its message out, but not finding much cooperation from the media. Of course Obama’s team does have a lot of help from people like Duncan who helpfully explain at every opportunity that they are stupid, corrupt, naive, and cowardly.

  54. 54
    Pennsylvanian says:

    @Guster:

    They want to criminalize all abortions, abolish the separation of church and state, keep women pregnant in the kitchen, abolish gays and gayness, establish the American Taliban, etc.

    I agree in theory, but in reality, I’m not sure I actually believe that conservatives even want what they say they want. I don’t believe that they want abortion made illegal because it is an issue they can beat on again and again and it always works for them. If it became illegal, they lose a “winning” issue. NOT getting what they claim they want is more beneficial for them politically, so they can basically say they want anything whether they believe it or not.

  55. 55
    fourlegsgood says:

    It seems to me that just agreeing that good governing ought to be the norm IS transformative.

  56. 56
    rootless-e says:

    @NR:

    You mean like their demands that gays go back in the closet, that minorities return to their subordinate place, and that women go home to the kitchen?

    Maybe the black President, the gay chair of the House finance committee and the hispanic woman labor secretary need to ask the black attorney general to look into it.

  57. 57
    Cerberus says:

    Uh, there already are great sweeping transformative visions on the left. Feminists imagine a potential world where women will be considered automatically equal to men and won’t have to fight every day for basic human autonomy and against insanely high rape statistics. Civil Rights Activists imagine a world where black children will have all the same rights afforded to white children and will have an equal shot at the American dream without being forced into a few narrow avenues of success like basketball or rap. Gay Rights Activists imagine a world where sexuality or gender identity was simply accepted as was and no one got whipped in a frothing mess because a man and a man were holding hands in the street.

    Maybe the visions run counter to our delusions. We want to believe that it’s already all equal and so why bother imagining a world with real genuine equality. Those people already have it too good. And that’s been the case for decades, centuries. Why do women need the vote? Being a housewife means they already have everything taken care of for them and they are free to not have to care about politics. Why do we need to be integrated? Wasn’t it enough that we stopped enslaving them and lynching them? Why do gays need the “special right” of marriage? Can’t they get the same protections from a civil union?

    The utopian and the pragmatic I feel are generally pretty well linked. You have the radicals of any age imagining the “impossible”. Abolitionists daring to dream of an end to slavery. Crazy Marxists daring to dream of societies not dominated by the aristocrats. Etc… And you have the pragmatists trying to pass what can get passed to make life incrementally better. Sometimes these people are one and the same.

    The failure of the left and progressives in general isn’t a lack of an utopian vision for the future (that’s the whole DFH deal that gets derided so much in the media), but rather that like in all progressive struggles those arguing for the inequities of the status quo or a romanticized delusion of the past will always battle bitterly against every step towards equality and justice with all the financial backing possible from those who have grown rich exploiting the system as is.

    The reason we use “CBO reports” is because, especially in America today, we are fighting for reality over the delusions of the Right-wing. We are standing up for what is really occurring, the obvious wide-ranged benefits of the policies we are proposing, and against open lies and delusions.

    Doesn’t mean we aren’t still dreamers. Hell, the fact that we still fight day after day for a future we will more likely than not never live to see sort of proves that.

    So, I’m sorry if I fail to see the false distinction or the supposed problem.

  58. 58
    Brachiator says:

    @EconWatcher:

    So I’ll just make this additional point: If there were to be a “transformative” vision, it would be some species of social democracy. But that’s a scare word in American culture.
    People here are mostly non-ideological and focused on bread and butter. So you just have to tell people how, incrementally, you’re going to get them more bread and better butter.

    Actually, “social democracy” is two words, and I’m not sure what you mean by them.

    Also, I have friends and associates who have been out of work for two years. Getting out of a hole is about much more than bread and butter. And some of the most significant social transformations in American society have come about when the economy was strong.

  59. 59
    Bill Section 147 says:

    As far as the vision thing…25% of Americans who vote think GW did a good job. With 25% the Republicans/Conservatives always have a chance. All of the bullshit that the left can think up isn’t going to make Pepsi drinkers out of Coke fanatics.

    If we keep making our brand inclusive, improving and looking forward – we will see that GW-fan-base shrink to 20%. Then the Tea Party is their last hurrah for a while. They may have enough fear and hate to get the Dick Cheney’s a bit more power before they go through the pearly gates but it isn’t a long term win.

    The real fear I have is that there is a widened wealth gap. If the “mean rich” can exacerbate the economic situation they can create enough anxiety to gin up the populist outrage. And the “mean rich” certainly are investing in old standard bearers like the Heritage Foundation as well as a lot of new-media misinformation groups.

    Culturally I am hoping for a swing to the left and we are seeing trends that indicate that wealthy people are starting to bond around groups that support social improvement to benefit all. There was a recent group in Germany that tried to promote the idea that they should be taxed more. And there are similar rumblings in the US. If we can get a few more Warren Buffets we may have a chance.

    The issues people should keep pushing, things do need to change, but the focus of generalists should be on the reduction of the 25% to 20%.

  60. 60
    Cerberus says:

    Thing is also that conservatives have almost constantly failed the big war. Sure, they get their tchotchkes that reminded them that daddy still loves his most privileged children most, but the world of dominance for the dominant classes has been chipped away piece by piece for awhile now. Even in this new triumphant age for rich men, a rich man has a fraction of the power in America that the average Robber Baron had a century ago. Men may get sops in the slow roll-back of abortion access, but women in the workplace and the university are now downright common and there seems little chance of even keeping their “proper Christian daughters” in the daddy-husband house-slave trade, not to mention how people are starting to get upset about rape, even if it’s against your wife. White people might get their Arizona laws, but there’s a black man in the White House and the country keeps getting browner and less racist. And gay people who used to be free to kill are now asking for all these rights and winning them.

    The world has been changing year by year, decade by decade in the right direction and seeing how conservatism is entirely about standing athwart history yelling stop, it really has been an unending disaster for them. The world keeps getting “worse” i.e. more equal, more liberal, and it’s only by desperate manipulations that they can even keep their heads afloat for the speed of it all.

    It is entirely how forward-thinking most progressives are that we rarely notice how quickly things are improving, but it really has been a rout throughout history for the “incremental changes for the positive” brigade.

  61. 61
    slag says:

    To some extent, this is a debate about degrees.

    When we talk about making people’s lives “better” or incremental “improvements” or “good” governance, we each have our own ideas about what those words mean. Is my life “better” if…say…I get to pay $1,000 less in taxes each year but my neighborhood then turns into Shanty Town, USA? Some of us may say yes. Some may say no. I think it’s the Democrats’ job to articulate the broad strokes of this choice, and then say which side they’re on.

    Is that articulating a “transformative” vision? If so, I’m on that side. But if articulating a “transformative” vision means describing streets paved in gold and Big Rock Candy Mountains, then I’m not on that side.

  62. 62
    Francis says:

    Count me out of the group for transformative ideas. Big ideas can get really large numbers of people killed (like, frex, Pol Pot).

    When Thomas Paine wrote: That government is best which governs least, he was wrong. 1880 A.D. may have been a beacon of liberty for rich white men, but for everyone else it sucked.

    Remember Ronald Reagan’s old joke “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are we’re from the government and we’re here to help”?

    The appropriate response is “We ARE the government, and we’re here to help each other.”

    I don’t think that’s a big transformative idea; but I think it’s the essence of modern liberalism. We formed a “more perfect” union to stand together and help each other.

  63. 63
    Paris says:

    I’ve become suspicious of ideologies. Especially when you have to find one just because you think one is needed. To achieve significant changes, and move toward saving human civilization as we know it, more democracy will be needed and that’s an area to concentrate on – public financing of elections and reducing the influence of big business in government. Otherwise good luck with reducing carbon emissions to zero, a complete transition to renewables, and avoiding the next generation of wars over resource depletion, water shortages and mass human migrations due to climate change.

  64. 64

    The best analogy is that conservatism, as a movement, is a lot like Shari’ah (at least, as Shari’ah is imagined in the fevered dreams of the islamophobes). It demands total subjugation and defines all aspects of life to fall within its purview. Everything – everything – must be judged on teh binary scale and assessed by the orthodoxy as Good or Evil; the good must be enjoined and the evil must be repudiated.

    liberalism, in contrast, is how Islam is practiced by ordinary muslim folk – in essence, Ijtihad. We go about our lives and try to live our lives as best we can in accordance with our principles and cultural tradition. It is inherently incrementalist; there’s no master Plan, but as we become aware of ways in which we can conform our actions to our beliefs, we make adjustments. It’s inherently an individual movement, because of our personal interpretations and decisions – for example, I might abstain from fish oil supplements on the basis of halal rules, but eat at McDonalds, and another may do the exact opposite. There’s no central authority dictating the details, though there are authorities dictating teh rules which we have to interpret and apply to the unique context of our individual lives.

    conservatism looks at Islam and sees only Shari’ah, because it projects itself there. The two concepts are mirror images of a Grande Cause/Existential Threat, a grand narrative in either case.

  65. 65
    Mike in NC says:

    I’d rather liberals just focus on health care, education, public transportation, and the many other concrete problems we face.

    George W. Bush once boldly proclaimed that America “doesn’t have problems”, only challenges. Or words to that effect. Are we to believe he was wrong?

  66. 66
    tratclif says:

    Quiggan has a very good point.

    We know that around 30% of humanity has an “authoritarian personality” that is looking for a political creed to believe in rather than a political philosophy to think about. But in today’s US the only attractive authoritarian creed is the tea party. That allows the Rovian base plus 20% politics to work.

    The pragmatic middle of the 50s that David Brooks is so nostalgic for didn’t happen because the Greatest Generation was nobler than people today, but because there were actual Communists on the left and John Birchers on the right, leaving room for pragmatic conservatism and pragmatic liberalism. The wacky fringe on both ends was seen as wacky and not “real America.”

  67. 67
    EconWatcher says:

    Brachiator:

    Thanks for pointing out that “social democracy” can’t be a scare word, because it’s actually two words. And thanks for pointing out that unemployment is not really a “bread and butter” issue, because the unemployed actually need more than literally bread and butter. I stand corrected.

    Geez. You must be a lot of fun at parties.

  68. 68
    Sly says:

    I’d argue that technical adjustments are the only way to achieve sweeping, transformative change, but that might just be the hippy-puncher in me talking.

    The Voting Rights Act, as an example, didn’t just contain one sentence: Black people can vote. It had a host of technical provisions to ensure that this simple premise was practically realized. Same with the Civil Rights Act.

    How about something sweeping, like ensuring that every child with special education needs gets those services regardless as to where they live or how much money their parents make (as required by federal due process case law) You know how we accomplish that? Not a Federally-run special ed program found in every school district across the country: but a host of technical mandates found within something called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Does it have problems? Sure. Technical ones, like the inability to address the bureaucratic culture of school districts that are heavily decentralized, as in ones that have become majority magnet/charter, but technical problems have technical solutions.

    Look at energy policy and climate change. The fundamental problem is that carbon pollutants don’t have a cost attached to them, so economic sectors that entail the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere can do so without penalty. The solution is, ultimately, a technical one: A carbon tax, cap and trade, etc.

    These things are built on idealistic principles, sure, but idealism doesn’t have one route to success. Certainly not one simple route, and this is where the problem is. The idealistic left identifies areas of needed policy change very well, but when it comes to solutions it thinks in terms of oversimplifications. It has become subsumed with the belief that “All we need to do is this, and everything will be great.”
    National Health Insurance Program. Close Guantanamo. Cut the defense budget by 50%. Etc. None of these are simple, and I mean that in more than a political sense.

    The frustrating thing is that this is also a hallmark of the modern right, except the idealistic right can’t make evaluations about policy needs. It can’t differentiate its ass from a hole in the ground. So the only ones offering practical solutions for sweeping problems are the “practical left”, and this presents a problem because this group is in the minority. They have to compete for the attention of people who are not politically active or aware of policy limitations with the know-nothings and the hippies.

  69. 69
    DougJ says:

    @rootless-e:

    I think he has a point on some issues. I will do a reply to his reply later.

  70. 70
    T in Texas says:

    I haven’t read the article yet, but to me it is about decency.

    When the USA has available the “best” health care in the world and rations it to about 1% of the population, that is obscene. When a boy dies for lack of a dentist, that is obscene.

    When the “richest” county in the history of the world has 37 million people (14 million children!) who cannot afford to eat, that is obscene.

    When Steve Jobs earns $650mill/year while any employee in this country earns $2.15/hr, that is obscene. Even when compared to day care workers, teachers, police, nurses, pilots — you name it — it is obscene.

    When a corporation grows its profits because it is allowed to poison my land, air, or water, that is obscene.

    I could go on, but instead will just wrap up by saying that a political party that doesn’t work to change these things has no decency.

  71. 71
    Calouste says:

    @toujoursdan:

    And consequently, what passes off for conservatism in the US is the fringe right in Europe, the UKIP, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Alleanza Nazionale types (yes, the fringe is sometimes quite large).

  72. 72
    Paula says:

    Utopianism is a slippery slope to disaster on both the left and the right. I find that there’s more in common between the highly ideological streams on both sides than they have to their more moderate adherents.

    The “left” already has a lot of different visions of equality and social justice that, as a few people have pointed out, have become mainstreamed and/or encoded into national law. People like to have a romanticized view of these movements, like it was done with “everyone” pulling together with no compromise to the powers that be — i.e. “incrementalism”. But that is a lie. These movements took place over decades and/or centuries and were pulled apart and put back together over and over again as the demographics of the US changed to reflect more people becoming more confident in demanding their rights. And they made concessions along the way. But it’s always a balance between having ideals and discovering the means of achieving them in the real world.

    This binary between “idealism” and “pragmatism” is worthy of abstract discussion, I suppose, but I do want to point out that it privileges a black/white view. And to be completely honest, the people who sorely believe that the engine of social change is completely on one side or the other don’t really have a clue about history.

  73. 73
    jayackroyd says:

    I find this kind of thing irksome, from both sides. You can blather about epistemic closure all you want, but, reading the post-Manzi commentary (and Manzi), it’s pretty clear that the problem with the right intelligentsia is they are a buncha whores, and resent it when people point it out. It’s not just the spandex and clown makeup whores, like Coulter and Beck, but the pseudo intellectual think tank suckups that make clear what the enterprise is about.

    The left is a little more complicated, because there aren’t as many places to whore oneself out to. Worse, pretty much none of them exist outside of the DC/KStreet revolving doors. But there should be no illusion about the influential members of the “left” when they are people like Daschle, who co author legislation on health care with Bob Dole. Or Rahm.

    It is not particularly “progressive” to mirror the OECD in the provision of health care services to citizens. It is not particularly “progressive” to embark on a public works program in the wake of massive unemployment and crumbling infrastructure. There is nothing particularly progressive about raising taxes on the top decile to pay for government programs that apparently cannot be eliminated. It would not be terribly progressive to demobilize the WWII occupiers, and dismantle the Cold War weapons systems.

    But there it is. The movement toward “partnership” between government and large oligopolies proceeds apace, with the hearty assistance from the Democratic party. To talk about “progress” in this context is as sensible as talking about “fiscal restraint” in the context of “conservative policy.:”

  74. 74
    mds says:

    @Allison W.:

    I wish people would stop citing so-called GOP success when it comes to what they want. Reality check: look at their poll numbers, look at how they cower at some fringe group, just LOOK at who identifies with them and how minorities run screaming from them – I mean JUST LOOK! why in the world would you want any part of that?

    Yeah, why on earth would anyone want to learn anything about messaging from people who used years of control of the federal government to turn everything they touched to shit, were finally swept from power, and are now looking to regain control of the House of Representatives because Democrats haven’t cleaned up the Republican shit mountain quickly enough? I mean, Dems have had fifteen whole months of combined legislative and executive control, yet apparently their time is up, and we need to put the government-destroying asswipes back in charge, only this time with more crazy. Either it’s because we’re collectively too goddamn stupid to be worth saving, or because the GOP has a tactics and messaging outfit to envy. The latter is slightly less depressing, so I’d rather go with that for now.

    @Guster:

    Conservatives don’t everything they want. They want to criminalize all abortions

    You know, you might want to check the actual on-the-ground status of abortion rights in this country, and then possibly edit your otherwise spot-on list. Because this is another example of what DougJ apparently doesn’t see: “It’s a child, not a choice” being countered with “Yes, abortions are icky, and should be rare, but look at the positive statistical results from comprehensive sex-ed!” Funny how this doesn’t actually do much to maintain the original post-Roe status quo, the way expressing a vision about women’s rights might.

  75. 75
    Brachiator says:

    @EconWatcher:

    Thanks for pointing out that “social democracy” can’t be a scare word, because it’s actually two words. And thanks for pointing out that unemployment is not really a “bread and butter” issue, because the unemployed actually need more than literally bread and butter. I stand corrected.

    Actually, I questioned what you meant by “social democracy,” and why it is important to you. And what James Carville once said is even more true today, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

    You got something more than some weak-ass snark?

  76. 76
    Jim Pharo says:

    I disagree with you John. We do need to place our incremental steps forward in the context of the larger vision we all in fact share, and are terrible at articulating.

    I prefer to frame it in terms of values. I look at the WWII & post-war period as a rare period where our society had large majorities dedicated to shared values. Of course, those values did not include empowering the powerful or enriching the rich, so the rich and powerful worked long and hard to fracture our values-unity with the completely intended result that many no longer share these broad social values.

    I wouldn’t dream up any grand new ideology. No need. I would, however, explain our commitment to education by pointing to our value that every child deserves a quality education without regard to ability to pay. Likewise health care. Social justice is a value we do too little to promote. And on and on — our ideology is there, it is served by our actions, but we do a poor job of articulating it.

    It may well be the leftwing blogosphere is fulfilling that very role. The old left-wing had no need to fight for a shared system of values; it was simply a given, and believed to be so long after it was true. Today, the left has new energy and new passion, and I suspect we are successfully internalizing the lesson that we need to fight for our values, absent circumstances like WWII which produced a consensus as a by-product of responding to a national emergency.

  77. 77
    rootless-e says:

    @DougJ:

    There are reasonable criticisms of the Obama media/legislative strategy however “They are naively hoping President Snowe will help them out” is a stupid criticism based on ignorance and self-regard.

  78. 78
    b-psycho says:

    @Francis:

    Remember Ronald Reagan’s old joke “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are we’re from the government and we’re here to help”?

    The appropriate response is “We ARE the government, and we’re here to help each other.”

    Sure — if you run an oil company, megabank, or weapons manufacturer. If you don’t, you aren’t the government and never will be.

    The only way “we are the gov’t” makes sense is under radically decentralized direct democracy, a system which, if not anarchist would damn well be close. Once you incorporate a 3rd party intended to advocate for you into the equation you’re just scheduling your buttrape.

  79. 79
    Paula says:

    @jayackroyd:

    But there it is. The movement toward “partnership” between government and large oligopolies proceeds apace, with the hearty assistance from the Democratic party. To talk about “progress” in this context is as sensible as talking about “fiscal restraint” in the context of “conservative policy.:”

    What would be “particularly progressive”?

  80. 80
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Karl Popper called it ‘piecemeal social engineering’. Sweeping, programmatic social engineering too often ends in shooting the enemies of the revolution. What he called for was understanding

    the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. It is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date, when conditions are more favorable. And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint

  81. 81
    Bubblegum Tate says:

    @some other guy:

    Conservatism is still potent because it offer simple slogans as solutions to real problems. Energy crisis? “Drill, baby, drill!” Meanwhile, the incremental liberal solution is to create a complex carbon trading market to fund research and development into green energy, with tax credits to offset the costs the lower and middle class. Which is the easier concept for the low-information voter to grasp?

    It reminds me of the scene from Futurama where Professor Farnsworth is trying to convince Gunther the monkey to put on a hat that makes him super-intelligent, while Fry is trying to convince gunther to just be a monkey and eat bananas:

    Farnsworth: Come on, Gunther. Take the hat!
    Fry: No, the banana. The banana!
    Farnsworth: Consider the philosophical and metaphysical ramifications of the…
    Fry: Banana, banana, banana!

  82. 82
    El Cid says:

    Clearly with early- to mid-20th century United States civilization, as much advancement as ever would be needed by human civilization could possibly achieve, so, we should just stick with that. What use would there be in even thinking about a significantly better, more just world?

  83. 83
    jayackroyd says:

    Paula

    Confiscatory estate taxes. Income tax tables like those in the 60s. British style NHS. Defense cuts by 60-70 percent. Withdrawal from Germany, Japan, Iraq, Afghanistan, while shuttering 80 percent of the other thousand or so bases.

    Closing all petroleum company tax loopholes. Cap the mortgage deduction, and permit it for only primary residences. Drastically cut farm subsidies, and means test the recipients. Require all GMO products to be labeled (sorry, that is not particularly progressive.)

    Complete equality of rights for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender status. Voting to take place on a weekend day, with polls open for 24 hours. Federal extension of the voting rights act to ban any impediment to registration for the vote that is not directly related to preventing fraudulent votes from being cast.

    Removal of the Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortion funding. Elimination of federal funding for any school programs that taught abstinence, or used materials that were untrue in school sex programs.

    There is plenty more. All of it good public policy.

  84. 84
    Mnemosyne says:

    @b-psycho:

    Please re-examine the wonderful results of direct democracy here in California (that’s exactly what Prop 8 was) and tell us again that it’s preferable to representative democracy. A huge part of our problem here is that our representatives have abdicated their responsibilities and are trying to run everything by making every voter directly decide on difficult questions.

    To paraphrase Churchill, representative democracy is the worst possible system, with the exception of all of the others. You are not going to be able to have direct democracy in a country of 350 million people. You can’t even manage it in a town of 2,000 people, so unless you’re advocating that we break the country up into small farming communities of 300 or less, you’re SOL.

    Remember, the only way the Greeks were able to do direct democracy was by severely limiting citizenship so that the vast majority of people weren’t citizens and therefore weren’t allowed to vote. I’d really prefer not to return to that kind of system, since historically my anatomy means I don’t get to be a citizen.

  85. 85
    Ben JB says:

    I think it was Yglesias who pointed out that Grayson’s appeal for many of us on the net and the reason why he appalled some of the established punditry was that he put modest incremental liberalism in moral terms–a 44% tax rate isn’t inspiring, but it is somewhat more inspiring to point out that many people live precariously and many could be helped if rich people only paid more taxes.

    That said, I take Quiggin to mean not that liberalism needs to become an all-encompassing lifestyle with scarf jihads and our own cars (although, what is a Prius if not a liberal Hummer?), but that liberalism needs to offer a vision of the better world. Now, better doesn’t equal “utopian” so it’s not like we have to outline the post-capitalism techno-eco arcologies on Mars. But we can think of a vision of a better time as being far-reaching–something beyond our own lifetimes–and put it in those terms.

    Or, put it this way, imagine if, instead of saying “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood” (which is straight up Messianic utopian lion/lamb rhetoric), MLK Jr. had said “I have a dream that one day, under Article XX, Paragraph XX of the XX Act of XX, it will be illegal for landlords to discriminate on the basis of race.”

    Or, for another example, have you ever read Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s “Crucifixus Etiam”? It’s about a guy on Mars, digging wells for some reason he doesn’t understand and hating his life, until someone shows him that his work is part of a bigger effort of making the world a better place.

  86. 86
    dollared says:

    @ Jim Pharo. What he said.

    We do need a vision. It’s pretty simple: a more productive, prosperous, educated society, where more people can be in the middle class because they had great educational opportunities and took advantage of them.

    It will take mildly higher taxes. It will spend significantly more on education. It will support businesses that need educated people. It will discourage outsourcing because that doesn’t support prosperity. It will have a good social safety net, so that people can take entrepreneurial chances without either a large family fortune or a risk that their kids will not be able to go to college. It will not support banksters because they aren’t productive.

    It’s simple, but it’s a united vision. And we need it. All you who think that incremental ism is the only thing are either buying into the demonization of liberals, or don’t see that the vision above is what you really believe anyway.

  87. 87
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    To my mind part of the opposition between liberalism as slow incremental change and liberalism as a transformational vision of a better society ties into the very specific history of liberalism during the early 20th Cen – what came to be called libearalism was a fusion of two specific and overlapping but distinct movements from the immediate past – the progressive movement of the Gilded Age, and High Modernism. When liberals talk about the success of liberalism, they are largely talking about progressive ideas. When conservatives talk about the failures of liberalism, some of what they are talking about is the failures of High Modernism – which is to say highly centralized, bureaucratic and technocratic management of society from above.

    One of the lessons which I like to think we’ve learned since the 1920s-1930s is that High Modernism had some very real flaws, and you don’t have to be on the right to see them, critique them, and work to avoid repeating them. To take just two examples, look at what the Bureau of Reclamation did to the environment and to fiscal prudence under the leadership of Floyd Dominy. Or look at the what Robert Moses did to destroy urban neighborhoods. Both of them were technocratic High Modernist tyrannts who took advantage of their bureaucratic power to make terrible decisions, they were very difficult to stop, and they did lasting damage.

    I don’t want to go back to the sort of liberalism that empowers men like that. So ‘yes’ to having a vision for a better world, but ‘no’ to the sort of transformative vision that is based on High Modernism.

  88. 88
    Church Lady says:

    @DougJ: I feel like the constant refrain to raise taxes on the top one or two brackets is sort of a NIMBY arguement. Everyone is for raising taxes, along as it’s not their taxes being raised. The arguement about going back to the rates of the Eisenhower era is also one of false equivelency. Those rates were very high on the top bracket, to be sure, but almost no one paid those rates, due to the tax shelters that were available, and the extraordinary (for the time) amount of income it took to fall into that bracket. One of the things tax reform during the Regan era did was take away those shelters and make more income actually taxable.

    Where does a tipping point occur and and what income level? It’s easy to say that 44% isn’t too much, but when you start adding state income taxes, the new increase in high income earners on Medicare taxes, etc., you are then talking about people in that bracket paying well over 50% of their income in state and federal taxes. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone that would want to be working more for the benefit of the government than themselves and their families.

    I was reading something the other day about Americans working abroad giving up their US citizenship over taxes, and the number has been increasing. We are the only country in the world that taxes income earned abroad. While there is an exemption (something like 94K or so), for an American high income earner in the UK for example, their tax bill would be rather onerous – UK taxes plus US taxes on everything over the threshold. Ouch! While they are getting benefits from paying the UK taxes, I can’t see what benfit they would be getting from the US tax liability. The super rich have the ability to live anywhere in the world that they want and I’m afraid that if they are taxed too high, they will flee, taking their contributions to the US treasury with them. I’d rather have 40% of something than 44% or more of nothing.

  89. 89
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Ben JB:

    Or, put it this way, imagine if, instead of saying “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood” (which is straight up Messianic utopian lion/lamb rhetoric), MLK Jr. had said “I have a dream that one day, under Article XX, Paragraph XX of the XX Act of XX, it will be illegal for landlords to discriminate on the basis of race.”

    Well, yeah, but you may have noticed that MLK Jr. didn’t hold elective office. He was able to stand outside of the government and pressure them to follow through on the big vision that he articulated.

    Frankly, I think that’s part of our problem — we’re expecting our politicians and legislators to articulate the big vision and at the same time be able to get deep into the nuts and bolts of getting that vision realized. That’s not really what they’re there for, and the politicians who do insist on having their big vision realized are the ones who become scary dictators who don’t want to hear that their Big Vision doesn’t actually work in the real world (ie Stalin, Mao, etc.)

    Politicians and visionaries should not be the same people.

  90. 90
    b-psycho says:

    @Mnemosyne: California is too populous to even be a single state anyway.

    As for your interpretation of my preference: No, not small farming communities, but small enough entities in general that the average person can actually make out the details necessary to run it. Any larger & the result is obvious: the “experts” picked to administer the system For The Greater Good mercilessly fuck us for their own benefit instead.

    There’s a reason concentrated wealth dominates “our” government: it was meant to. What the mainstream Left keeps thinking are bugs are features.

  91. 91
    JSD says:

    I think what Quiggin is getting at is that the conservatives have much better marketing than liberals.

    Conservatives by default of their binary, dogmatic outlook have an easier job of it though: “abortion is death, taxes are evil, big government is bad,” etc. Marketing black and white is easy. Liberals take a much more nuanced view. We usually like to gather empirical evidence before making laws and claims. We don’t pretend to have all the answers. We consider alternative viewpoints when formulating ideas and policy.

    How to address this?

  92. 92
    binzinerator says:

    The problem isn’t there’s not enough of transformative vision on the left in American politics; the problem is there’s too many goddamn stupid Americans.

    We don’t need no Jetsons space car in every garage kind of stuff. There’s plenty of vision as it is, and damned fine stuff it is too. Clean air and water, healthy food, renewable energy, universal health care, reproductive choices, freedom from persecution and discrimination for our race, gender or sexual oriention — those are visions enough. But even getting these to fly in this country among these yahoos is trouble enough, let alone legit casus belli and no torture and no war crimes.

    The visions we got are hard enough to pursue with the millions of idiots here. That 28 percent? The idiots and the un-self aware and the unempathic and the pantswetters and the gullible lack the capacity for vision entirely. They can’t even see how badly they are screwing themselves.

    The left doesn’t have a vision problem in this county, the country has an ignoramus problem.

  93. 93
    Mnemosyne says:

    @b-psycho:

    No, not small farming communities, but small enough entities in general that the average person can actually make out the details necessary to run it.

    So, again, communities of no more than about 500 adults, which is the maximum useful number if every person in the town gets a vote. That means that we get to break the US up into about 700,000 separate communities and, if any of those communities decide that they want to, say, partner up with any nearby communities, then every person in each of those communities will have to attend every meeting for the partnership since you can’t, you know, send a representative to the meeting and have him/her report back on the results since that would be representative democracy.

    Direct democracy is great for small communities and geographically limited city-states like Athens. Not so much for actual countries.

    ETA: How many average people will be able to understand all of the details necessary to upgrading a sewer system? How about a public health department? Even running a public school has many more necessary details than you seem to realize.

  94. 94
    drlemur says:

    The word “conservative” is actually the opposite of “radical” and not the opposite of “liberal.” I think that’s worth pointing out since DougJ, most commenters here and many center-left leaders (Obama and Clinton, for example) can really be described as “conservative progressives.” Small, incremental changes hoping to make things better are preferred to radical sweeping changes that history tells us can go very badly awry.

    Our country does not suffer from mass violence, starvation, disease, or poverty. We’re decently off and we can keep making it better by tweaking the social safety net (strengthening), business regulation (more real growth, less bubbles), improving education, tolerance, health care, environmental management (carefully). A rational progressive does not need to be radical, although one could be, because a lot of the core ideas are out there and working ok already.

    I’ve often wondered if loss of the true meaning of “conservative” is what’s really driven the wacko right-wing into incomprehensible insanity and radicalism (and anti-“liberal” totalitarianism). We’d be much better off if we could marginalize those wingnuts entirely and split the Democratic party into a new 2-party system. A center-left party that could welcome the few remaining sane (ex-)Republicans (e.g., Bruce Bartlett) and a real progressive party that could agitate for a less conservative approach on issues like DADT, Gitmo, Afghanistan (i.e., move faster, please).

    Those two parties could actually debate and compromise on effective legislation with out John C’s famous “anthrax and tire rims” problem.

  95. 95
    Jennifer says:

    Of course the right has collapsed.

    Their entire ideology has been proven a failure. De-regulated markets brought on disaster, supply-side economics after 30 years of trying has been shown not to “create jobs” but rather to create great concentrations of wealth and increasing economic disparity.

    They never came up with a fall-back position for the “what if” scenario in which everything they preach turns out to be wrong, so they have no option other than to continue to pretend that their ideology hasn’t been proven a failure. Which forces them further and further away from reality and rationality.

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you that implementing a sweeping liberal vision is an incorrect response. But it would be nice if we heard a consistent narrative from Democrats and liberals about how conservative ideology has been proven a failure and why their vision is better. That’s something we absolutely don’t hear often enough, in part because we don’t have a bunch of Limbaughs and Hannitys and Becks bloviating about it 24/7. But we could do a lot better than the weak-ass tea we’ve been doing up till now, even without those types of figures and media networks on our side. All that would be required is a little bit of organization and agreement on a consistent message, something the Dems seem incapable of pulling off.

  96. 96
    charlequin says:

    Jesus. The last thing the world needs is more nickel-and-dime incremental liberal technocrats.

    A large part of the reason that countries like Canada and Sweden have strong social-democratic societies with powerful progressive institutions that persevere over time is that leaders in those countries have articulated clear visions of why a well-established progressive order is in the best interests of everyone, and these ideas have taken root effectively enough that the entire political discourse is shaped by them. In America any such vision our movement may have once had has been beaten down by more effective messaging from the enemies of goodness and light and diluted by single-issue nonsense from people who aren’t willing to form a broad coalition in good faith and solidarity. That’s a huge problem for liberal causes and a major reason why there’s been no real progressive political hero in decades.

    Progressive politics and liberalism in general is completely fucking pointless if it isn’t in service to a greater ideal based on movement towards a fundamentally different type of society, one that isn’t locked into a destructive spiral of consumption and fear. Right now the Democratic party stand as the party of Responsibly Putting Fingers in the Dikes which is pretty fucking pathetic given the scope of the problems we’re talking about trying to solve.

    NR has it totally right @11 and so many of the comments here are really wrong in a way that deeply saddens me. Why are people thinking that any visionary ideal for progressive politics has to be as brain-dead and exclusive as the idiocy of Bush-flavored conservatism? I thought we all learned in 2008 that idealism didn’t just have to be a tool of the right.

  97. 97
    dollared says:

    What Charlequin said. We have to learn to repeat the truth as often and as passionately as they repeat the lies. FDR and LBJ did exactly that.

  98. 98
    charlequin says:

    @toujoursdan: If the 1950s, decade of red-baiting, legalized segregation, nuclear proliferation, the birth of modern American consumerism, and the irreversible explosion of sprawl across the whole country is the best thing we can ever hope to achieve, please kill me now.

  99. 99
    MBunge says:

    “Pragmatism told ancient people not to eat rotting carrion; but that wasn’t broad enough, they developed religion to tell them exactly what foods they could eat, how they should prepare them, and when they could eat them.”

    Uh…what?

    Mike

  100. 100
    NobodySpecial says:

    I find myself of two minds on this.

    Yes, there is a place for pragmatism and incrementalism – the unfortunate reality of them, however, is that they’re put into place not by frustrated radicals but by overly cautious pragmatists who make the increments smaller simply out of desire to avoid conflict and personal bias against sweeping change.

    Most change is not gradual or smooth. It happens in fits and starts, and many times big steps are taken despite public sentiment, rather than because of it. When Truman integrated the military, it was a politically tone-deaf move that was widely opposed by the public, and it was undertaken at the worst time possible for him. An incrementalist who didn’t know the rest of that story would have predicted that Truman would be out on his ear and it would be well deserved. The reality was that Truman survived, integration in the military was never really challenged, and Democrats continued to enjoy large majorities.

    This is the real irritation for progressives today – the people in charge are unwilling to make or take bold actions at a time when they should have a good chance of advancing a new(old) vision of government and society. Obama’s hand in some ways is much stronger than Truman’s, yet with gay rights, as with so many other issues, nothing can be done because the incrementalists have declared that nothing can be done. Whether you believe them or not, there is a true feeling that similar self-imposed handicaps have plagued all of Obama’s major efforts.

  101. 101
    bob h says:

    Foreign conservatives may be intellectually bankrupt, but at least they have managed to salvage their sanity (compare the Republican Party).

  102. 102
    Ben JB says:

    @charlequin: charlequin? the charlequin? I can’t imagine anyone else having that name, so it must be you.

  103. 103
    charlequin says:

    @slag:

    So, I think it’s important that every policy initiative that Democrats take be both theoretically grounded in and communicated as one small piece of an overall vision for America.

    Yes, precisely. I’m not saying we need to abandon iterative fixes or make a full-court press for some idealistic reform (I was a very pragmatic supporter of passing even the watered-down HCR bill we got, and actively celebrated its passage) but I think it’s very important to sell our improvements as part of a coherent vision of America’s future, not as technocratic tweaks on a fundamentally sound vehicle — that way lies third-wayism and a resurgence of “moderate” conservatism.

    @EconWatcher:

    So I’ll just make this additional point: If there were to be a “transformative” vision, it would be some species of social democracy. But that’s a scare word in American culture.

    If we can’t aim for social democracy in America, why the fuck are we wasting our time? America’s current structure is neither sustainable nor any longer beneficial to the vast majority of its inhabitants.

    @Ben JB:

    That said, I take Quiggin to mean not that liberalism needs to become an all-encompassing lifestyle with scarf jihads and our own cars (although, what is a Prius if not a liberal Hummer?), but that liberalism needs to offer a vision of the better world.

    Right. That seemed really obvious to me reading it, but people in here seem once-bitten-thrice-shy on the very notion of offering up anything like a “vision.” I don’t want to jihad against anyone but I do want to be able to say convincingly that my progressive beliefs are founded in a coherent vision for how American governance and society could look and why moving (yes, incrementally) towards that vision would benefit people.

  104. 104
    charlequin says:

    DAMMIT BEN STOP FOLLOWING ME TO ALL OF MY BLAGS, THEY’RE MINE I TELLS YOU

    (unless you’re some other Ben in which case who are you and how do I know you)

  105. 105
    NobodySpecial says:

    If we can’t aim for social democracy in America, why the fuck are we wasting our time? America’s current structure is neither sustainable nor any longer beneficial to the vast majority of its inhabitants.

    I think the truth is that 8 out of 10 Americans couldn’t define what ‘social democracy’ is. There’s a tendency on this blog for people to claim Americans in general are more conservative then they really are and it makes them gunshy about being openly liberal in most areas.

  106. 106
    Ben JB says:

    @charlequin: It’s true I ruined Todd A’s blogging on the Venture Bros. for you–but I was here first! Or maybe not.

  107. 107
    jayackroyd says:

    @Church Lady

    You do know that hedge fund managers and private equity billion a year earners pay 15%, right? You are aware that income distribution in the top percentile has changed dramatically from Eisenhower’s day. Very few people would pay if there was a bracket of 45% at 500K 66% at 1 million and 75% at ten million.

    To break into the top 1 percent, a tax return had to have an AGI of $410,096 or more, the first time that this threshold has exceeded $400,000.

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html

    Fewer than one percent of households would be affected with brackets at 500K

    In order for one to break into the top 0.1 percent, one would need an AGI of over $2.15 million.

    One household in a thousand earn more than 2.15 million dollars. (The fraction in the senate is somewhat higher.)

    Oh, and if you think the Bradley-Gephardt loophole closings persisted, you have not been paying attention. The lower rates have not changed, but the ways to avoid taxes have.

    But that is beside the point. The question is what would be real progressive policy.

  108. 108
    The Moar You Know says:

    the left has to stand for something more than keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements.

    As a short term goal, “keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements” is a damn sight better than anything the right has offered in my lifetime, and is essential to keeping the groundwork of civilization afloat during the coming oil crisis – which is going to be an event thousands of times worse than most people imagine.

    We need to offer the hope of a better world as an alternative to the angry tribalism that threatens to engulf us.

    This is the polar opposite of “keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements”, which, as I stated above, is a short term goal, albeit a necessary one. But it is the most important long-term goal that we have. We need a better human society. The one we have now is becoming unworkable. We have finite resources and a population that is far too large to sustain on those resources. Something must give. Hopefully it will be our mindset towards each other and the resources that we must share, and not our very existence.

  109. 109
    Brachiator says:

    Pragmatism told ancient people not to eat rotting carrion; but that wasn’t broad enough, they developed religion to tell them exactly what foods they could eat, how they should prepare them, and when they could eat them.

    Another view of the development of religious dietary laws is that they helped to develop as sense of group identity. “We don’t eat the foods that those guys do.” There is not much evidence for dietary laws as springing from pragmatism.

    The fact that these rules often had no empirical basis was part of their appeal. And so it is with “drill baby drill” and “let them fail”.

    Worse, nonsense like “drill baby drill” proceeds from the fantasy that there are boundless oil reserves to be found in North America. Here, conservatives lie and some Democrats meekly let them get away with the lie.

    Another poster recently noted that even before the existence of federal or state financial regulators, even robber barons like JP Morgan realized that you couldn’t just let the financial system fail. His efforts to bring bankers together to inject money into the system during the Panic of 1907 helped lead to the creation of the Federal Reserve. It astounds me that Democrats and the largely ignorant media lets the GOP get away with expounding Randian fantasies about the ability of de-regulated “free markets” to operate via some kind of invisible hand cruise control.

  110. 110
    charlequin says:

    @NobodySpecial:

    I remember having this argument a lot in, like, 2004. Most of the people I knew (in fairly progressive communities in Rochester, NY) had adopted as already proven that America was a “center-right nation” whose underlying ideology was fundamentally aligned with conservativism, and taken on increasingly elite positions of dismissal against the (essentially) “stupid” people who bought into these ideas.

    I remember Michael Moore wrote some essay around that time where he claimed America was really a “liberal country” by the numbers because people actually agreed with the left-leaning position when polled on this huge list of topics (DADT, health care, energy, etc.) and people acted like he was crazy for suggesting anything remotely like that.

    For me, the last few years has done a lot to prove that the underlying theme there (that many “liberal” policies actually have a tremendous amount of potential support amongst the American populace) was entirely correct, but there’s still a lot of Lucy-will-pull-the-football-away-again-style resistance to actually taking that conclusion and running with it.

  111. 111
    ruemara says:

    The most radical thing “the left” can do is provide solid, dependable government with moderately decent policies. Truly. Republican governance is about creating instability for profit. Maybe it wasn’t so in the past, but it certainly is now. If we can do that, we will win.

  112. 112
    charlequin says:

    @Ben JB:

    I started reading BJ here maybe mid-2008.

    When did you start going by Ben “JB”? Trying to hide from prying eyes? :o

  113. 113
    gerry says:

    My suggestion would be to work on a coherent vision of government action. Since Reagan, “liberals” have been Republican Lite. How about discussing what an appropriate taxation would be instead of cowering everytime the right screams about taxes being too high. How about explicating a responsible role for government regulation of the economy. How about a reasonable industrial policy and trade policy that doesn’t leave the US as a 3rd world country.

  114. 114
    Church Lady says:

    @jayackroyd: Yes, I do realize that. That’s why I said that it was a NIMBY thing. Doug didn’t say where that mythical 44% might kick in, only that if it isn’t a bad idea, the media should say so. Where something like that kicks in makes a huge difference. As long as one is below the threshold, one generally wouldn’t have a problem with it. If you are at or above the threshold, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. That’s why tax policy typically tends to be a high-wire act, balancing the need for additional revenue vs. the law of diminishing returns. If you didn’t need to balance these two, why not tax everything over $1 million at 100%. No one needs more money than that to live pretty comfortably, right? Not that everyone earning over a million might light out for a more tax favorable country or something…. Nah, that would never, ever happen.

  115. 115
    slag says:

    @drlemur:

    Those two parties could actually debate and compromise on effective legislation with out John C’s famous “anthrax and tire rims” problem.

    Hehe. Good times. Good times.

  116. 116
    jayackroyd says:

    @church lady

    I haven’t heard an argument from you yet. What are the deleterious effects from higher tax brackets for the top one tenth of one percent of earners? What evidence can you point to?

    Repeating Laffer is not making an argument.

    It is not, by the way, a NIMBY position, but reflects the standard economics view (which can be proven, by the way) that there are diminishing returns to additional income at the margin. Progressive taxation reflects that position.

    But I will settle for 1) dropping the cap on the payroll tax, and 2) extending it to all income and 3) eliminating the capital gains loophole.

    You cannot argue with that, right?

  117. 117
    Ben JB says:

    @charlequin: Damnation! If I remember correctly, in 2008, my political reading was mostly confined to arguing with the wingnuts at Newsbusters under the name nicholas nickleby.

    As for Ben JB, I think I started using it as my name on blogspot to argue politics and then I decided to use it whenever I argued politics. As for hiding from prying eyes, doesn’t this name make me easier to find than any of my old pseudonyms?

  118. 118
    charlequin says:

    @Ben JB:

    Well, unless they’re MY prying eyes, as obviously I responded directly to you ( to praise you for how closely you agreed with my obviously superior opinions, even) without even noticing your identity as the object of a decade-long familiarity! Hmmm, suspicious.

    @drlemur:

    A center-left party that could welcome the few remaining sane (ex-)Republicans (e.g., Bruce Bartlett) and a real progressive party that could agitate for a less conservative approach on issues like DADT, Gitmo, Afghanistan (i.e., move faster, please).

    I feel like the lion’s share of our current Democratic party is an excellent candidate for the former. Who wants to get the latter started?

  119. 119
    Redshift says:

    @Church Lady:

    Where something like that kicks in makes a huge difference. As long as one is below the threshold, one generally wouldn’t have a problem with it. If you are at or above the threshold, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

    I believe we have here once again the complete misunderstanding of the way marginal tax rates work. Your statement suggests that you believe that if your income is above the threshold (whatever it is) all your income is taxed at 44%, so the threshold is hugely important. But that’s not how tax brackets work — only income above the threshold is taxed at the higher rate, so if you make one dollar above the threshold, there is not, in fact, a “huge” difference, there is a four-cent difference.

  120. 120
    Redshift says:

    @gerry: I agree completely. I can’t tell you the number of Democrats I’ve talked to who believe that Republicans have won the argument about taxes, and all we can do is tinker around the edges or we’ll get slammed.

    The problem is fighting on their territory and seeing the issue to be discussed as “taxes,” and then wringing hands because you know that taxes are needed to pay for the things people want (which is why we have these deficits), but being certain that you’ll lose politically if they’re raised.

    We need to be talking about how we’re the responsible party that understands that the things we want our country (/state/city) to do need to be paid for, and the “conservatives” are the ones who spend like drunken sailors knowing full well that money doesn’t magically appear, and assume we’ll clean up for them and they can do it all over again.

    More broadly, we need to be making the critique government does some things well that the private sector does poorly if at all, that we’re in favor of government doing those things not because we like government for its own sake but because it works, and our opponents got to try their approach to government nearly unfettered for eight years and it was proven a massive failure, and they aren’t proposing to do anything different the next time.

  121. 121
    Church Lady says:

    @jayackroyd: As to dropping the cap of Social Security taxes, I think it’s a great idea. It would go a long way towards keeping Social Security a viable program. As to extending it to all income, not sure about that – for the same reason I don’t think income taxes on savings account interest is a particularly good idea. But that’s just my personal preference.

    As to the cap gains loophole, I don’t think it’s fair that hedge fund managers can claim that all their income is a gain on investment. I equate it more as a commission earned from other’s investments. So, yeah, I think it would be fair to tax their earnings as income. But, there the law of unintented consequences can easily kick in. These people, along with the other top 1/10 of 1% income earners are not chained to desks in the US. They can take themselves, and their income, any damn place they want to, and continue to earn vast sums of money. All they need in order to do so is a telephone and the internet. Tax them in a way that they consider onerous, and they will be packing their suitcases and calling Mayflower.

    In this case, even though you and I don’t consider it particularly fair, is it better to get 15% of something, or a higher percentage of nothing? I think that this is the reason this loophole hasn’t been closed, rather than blaming it on politicians greed for campaign cash.

  122. 122
    jayackroyd says:

    thanks @redshift. (good to see you, always.)

    But I think she gets that, when she says

    why not tax everything over $1 million at 100%. No one needs more money than that to live pretty comfortably, right?

    It’s a Laffer argument: “1) There exists some level of taxation where people would refuse to work rather than pay the tax. 100% is probably such a number. 2) [crickets] 3) Therefore we are currently at such a top tax rate, and lowering the rate will actually increase revenue.”

    it is infuriating when people simply refuse to engage in a straightforward discussion.

  123. 123
    Resident Firebagger says:

    They problem with liberalism is there’s just no one for liberals to support. B-Jers should be outraged by Obama’s continuation of Our Glorious Wars, his deployable civil liberties record, his insufficient actions on the economy and Wall Street, and, perhaps, his next Supreme Court choice. (I won’t even get into HCR.) Instead, you all jump up and down and thank your lucky stars that the Cheneyites aren’t running things anymore.

    Beyond that, the so-called progressives in Congress wet themselves whenever Rahm calls them names. They’re completely ineffectual.

    What ever liberalism does and should stand for, there’s no one in D.C. willing and able to, you know, carry it out. And that’s a problem…

  124. 124
    jayackroyd says:

    @Church Lady

    You are basing this argument on the max exodus during the 50s and 60s? The flight of CEOs from Sweden to Monte Carlo (where they can’t make any more money). There’s a reason that the only tax exiles are in the entertainment business, you know. But, even so. If John Paulsen wants to move to a lower tax country (there is no lower tax country in the OECD, and staff wages are higher), he won’t be able to do whatever it is he does. Someone else will step in, and take the tax hit for the net 8 billion or so a year.

    IAC, you don’t disagree that this is a more progressive position than letting tax rates return to the level before the Bush tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, which was the point in question, right?

  125. 125
    The Moar You Know says:

    These people, along with the other top 1/10 of 1% income earners are not chained to desks in the US. They can take themselves, and their income, any damn place they want to, and continue to earn vast sums of money.

    @Church Lady: I hear this argument all the time. It is crap.

    Sure, they go anywhere they want. And anywhere that is worthwhile to live will tax them FAR more. Any other place, and they’ll be spending the money they saved on taxes for bribes, bulletproof cars, security guards and isolated haciendas, because for a person to live with that much money in a Third World city is literal suicide.

    In this case, even though you and I don’t consider it particularly fair, is it better to get 15% of something, or a higher percentage of nothing?

    I’d ask you this by way of reply: is it better to live while crawling on your knees, or to die on your feet?

    Why are you so afraid of these people packing up and leaving? They produce no jobs and no goods. They contribute nothing to society.

  126. 126
    Church Lady says:

    @Redshift:I understand exactly how it works, but once again, it depends on where on the income scale this mythical 4% increase kicks in. If you’re a Bankster, with an income of say 10 million or so, and that 4% increase kicked in at 500k, I would imagine that the extra 4%, on top of the 40% he was already paying, on the 9.5 million left above the threshold, might perhaps bother said Bankster. On the other hand, if your income is 510k per year, then that extra 4 cents in taxes per dollar on the remaining 10k earned probably won’t bother you.

  127. 127
    jayackroyd says:

    @church lady

    While we are off on an irrelevant tangent, the variance on the bankster’s gross far exceeds the four percent number. Tax considerations are going to be irrelevant, especially given the lower base and bonus that is available in Somalia.

  128. 128
    Mnemosyne says:

    @NobodySpecial:

    Obama’s hand in some ways is much stronger than Truman’s, yet with gay rights, as with so many other issues, nothing can be done because the incrementalists have declared that nothing can be done.

    You do realize that the Supreme Court decided in 1952 that no one could reverse Congressional legislation again the way Truman did with desegregation of the military, right? Technically, the desegregation order was probably unconstitutional, too, but it was a fait accompli at that point and no one was going to try to go back to court to fight it retroactively.

    So if Obama issued an EO overturning DADT, the Supreme Court would immediately vacate it, and all you’d have is that warm and fuzzy feeling of having the president make a futile and illegal gesture on behalf of gay servicemembers. If that’s what you want, great, but don’t pretend that an EO would move us one iota towards repealing DADT.

  129. 129
    Church Lady says:

    @jayackroyd: Yes, and it would also be hell to live in that third world backwater, Canada, with their top 29% bracket.

  130. 130
    Church Lady says:

    @The Moar You Know: I’m not afraid of it. I do believe it is our tax code writing politicians that are. Otherwise, don’t you think that changes in the tax code would have already been made?

  131. 131

    Do I agree? No, he’s a fucking moron. I mean that in a nice way of course. Dear God, for two decades liberals have been told to get more pragmatic and told that real change isn’t possible politically, and that most people are scared of talking about things like the real things we need to do to combat terrorism (hint: major foreign policy changes), etc, etc. Now we finally have realized that helping real people today matters (to be fair a lot of us realized it all along), even if it means backing down on the more major changes and we’re told we’re too pragmatic?

    Sorry, this guy is like the people who say Obama is just as bad as Bush. The reality is that human nature is a gooey morass of high and low motivations and we will struggle to move forward in fits and starts, with sproradic bloody interludes that wind up causing more rapid change. People like to say that if Jesus came back today, he’d be widely denounced as a DFH by the right, and overly idealistic by the left. But they killed the SOB 2000 years ago as well, so the implication of the observations is wrong. Maybe someday, humans will have progressed beyond the kinds of differences we face now, but it’ll be because of people who made hard and nuanced decisions about when to fight and when to back down, not because of some utopian grand philosophy.

  132. 132
    patrick II says:

    Stole this Bertrand Russel quote from Anonymous Liberal (who is back writing some great stuff)

    The word “liberal” has been greatly abused over the years, not only by the many critics of liberalism, but all too often by those who (mistakenly) consider themselves to be liberals. So what does it mean to be a “liberal?” Despite the claims of many online personality tests, I contend that it is not possible to determine whether you are a liberal simply by answering a series of pointed questions. This is because liberalism, when properly understood, is not simply a collection of positions on various issues. Nor is it a philosophy concerning the proper role of government in people’s lives (like libertarianism or statism). Liberalism, in its truest and most noble form, is an epistemology; it is a way of approaching problems through the use of empiricism and the application of universal principles of justice. A true liberal is defined not by what he believes on any given issue, but by how he arrives at his conclusions. And those conclusions, whatever they may be, are always provisional, for a true liberal is always open to the possibility that his conclusions are wrong and is always receptive to arguments which are grounded in empiricism and concern for justice.

    Works for me.

  133. 133
    jayackroyd says:

    @church lady

    http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/nd.....s-eng.html

    http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/nd.....provincial

    I suppose, by your logic, that there is nobody left on Wall Street, because they have all fled to Ontario.

  134. 134
    wrb says:

    There are a few goals that I think could be effective that I think are missing.

    The biggest, in my opinion involves economic mobility and the estate tax.

    By many measures the US is moving from being the land of opportunity to a feudal society where wealth is held and preserved in families.

    From an Adam Smith-era justification of capitalism aren’t justified. The idea was that under capitalism we had a meritocracy that would be more efficient and lead to greater wealth for all. On a level playing field the best would be rewarded. Lets get behind leving the playing field and increasing the reward for those who, through hard work and ability, score.

    So cut radically tax on earned income and offset it it with confiscatory taxes on inheritance. Make us the side of free-wheeling entrepreneurship and them the party of Paris Hilton.

    This has enormous power imo- we become the people of true capitalism, innovation, hard work, and a prosperous future- they, those of living in degenerate idleness on the shoulders of the hard working and entrepreneurial.

  135. 135
    b-psycho says:

    @Mnemosyne: I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying however difficult it is, finding these mythical selfless True Statesmen to run what we have is a pipe dream.

    In an ideal scenario, the strategy wrb hints at above would be aces. But you & I both know it will N-E-V-E-R be allowed, because it’d be contrary to the entire point of our political system. Hell, the moment it even remotely looked feasible there’d be a coup & we’d be under open fucking fascism instead.

  136. 136
    Mnemosyne says:

    @b-psycho:

    In an ideal scenario, the strategy wrb hints at above would be aces. But you & I both know it will N-E-V-E-R be allowed, because it’d be contrary to the entire point of our political system.

    Now you’re conflating the oligarchy that the Republicans have been building for the last 30 years with representative democracy itself. I’m assuming that you’re too young to actually remember that there was a different way that the government was run prior to Reagan, but, no, we have not always lived in a world where there was no estate tax and a 34% top tax rate was considered class warfare.

    The fact that an oligarchy took control of our political system doesn’t mean that representative democracy has failed. It actually means the opposite: the oligarchy has done everything in their power to destroy representative democracy. Note how they’ve succeeded to the point that you think the problem is democracy itself and not the horrible policies that the oligarchy bought for themselves.

  137. 137
    NobodySpecial says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    You prove my point. No possibility ever of inserting a DADT repeal into any piece of legislation, evidently, and of course the President no longer has any power to influence any lawmakers, so nothing can be done. So nothing is done. And this is not unusual in the Obama presidency.

  138. 138
    b-psycho says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    The fact that an oligarchy took control of our political system doesn’t mean that representative democracy has failed.

    Then how do you remove their death grip, short of dismantling the whole damn thing?

  139. 139
    Drowned Rat says:

    DougJ,

    If it’s not too late to reply to the OP, I think there is a valid point to be made that we need much, much more public discussion of the fact that the goal of liberal policies is to make the world better for actual human beings. That’s not really a hard case to make, but it’s essential that we not just assume that everybody knows this and jump straight to the wonkish details — which, maddeningly, we tend to do. For 30 years, the right has been telling the same basic, simple, and gripping human story: government is a monster and will hurt you. It’s bullshit but it’s their story. Our story is equally basic, simple, and gripping and has the advantage of being true: we can be better people; better to each other. We have to remember to tell the story — then show why being better people translates into the seemingly arcane clause in the HCR bill, etc.

  140. 140
    The Raven says:

    As I said over there, the biggest issue you hominids need to address is the environment, and you’re fluffing it completely. Katrina was not incremental, and Katrina is only the beginning.

    & even us corvids won’t get enough to eat…

  141. 141
    Alex says:

    The Stones certainly didn’t move to France in 1971 to get away from a Labour government; Britain didn’t have a Labour government in 1971. Strange, I always imagined the Observer had sub-editors..

  142. 142
    The Endless Sheriff says:

    Finally, as I’ve said before, the left has to stand for something more than keeping the existing order afloat with incremental improvements. We need to offer the hope of a better world as an alternative to the angry tribalism that threatens to engulf us.

    I agree, but I think the answer lies in framing things in terms of the founding principles: ‘a more perfect union’, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, etc…and a little ‘truth, justice and the American way’ wouldn’t hurt.

    For me, the key word is ‘hope’. Things can be better than they are now. As someone said, campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Change must come incrementally but the goal must always be kept visible out in front.

    Obama’s biggest mistake is not having kept the poetry alive. It’s like he thinks the election was the final buzzer rather than the beginning of the game.

  143. 143
    Barney says:

    Cerberus in #57 points out some ‘visions’ for the left, about equality. That could include some major legislation – gay marriage everywhere, the abolishment of DADT, an equal rights amendment to the US constitution. So that’s some social transformation.

    There could be economic transformation too. Moving the US to a single payer healthcare system is more than just tinkering with payment or taxation levels.

    And if you want something further, how about the nationalization of banks? It looks good and radical – socialist, even possibly communist – but the complete disaster that under-regulated banking has produced shows a need for large change. The advantage of free markets and capitalism is that they encourage innovation and risk-taking. But as Volcker pointed out, the most useful innovation in banking in the past 40 years was the ATM. Everything else new they’ve tried, they’ve cocked up.

    So maybe it’s time to regard banks as a vital public utility, that provides accounts and loans to individuals and businesses, and is too important to be a casino where all the players are just looking for the next win.

  144. 144
    sparky says:

    DougJ–
    unsurprisingly as an accidental lefty i must disagree. your list of problems is a garden variety set of afflictions. let’s look at it from a different perspective. would you say that the only things wrong with a country were your list if the country–

    –invaded other countries on a pretext and suffered no reprisals?
    declared that its leaders could order the assassination of any being on the planet on his or her say-so alone?
    –routinely jailed “threats” and then refused to show any evidence of the threat?
    –maintained a permanent state of war and agitated for a new theatre as each conflict subsided after the eradication of the indigenous population?
    –asserted the right to bomb civilian populations anywhere in the world at any time?
    –turned over the funds collected from taxpayers to private industry as a matter of policy?
    –has a family income inequality index higher than Iran’s?
    –spends less as a percentage on investment than El Salvador?
    –where 1% of the country has 43% of that country’s wealth?

    –where some of the largest institutions in the country are unelected?
    –where, due to historic structures, a small percentage of the population can control or block government action?

    seems to me these are a bit more important than “public transit.” but then mussolini DID make the trains run on time so perhaps i am mistaken.

  145. 145
    Paula says:

    @jayackroyd:

    Yeah, OK, and I can probably find quite a few people who think these policies you favor are too much geared towards the fortunes of the business and upper middle class, and not enough towards the immediate improvement of the lives of blue collar workers, the working poor and the homeless as well as not curbing the US’s role as a neo-colonialist in the global economy.

    I mostly find your “quibble” on the use of the word “progressive” to be, well, half-baked.

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