November 02, 2006

A Liberal Screed Fails to Inspire

Thomas Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries spent a great deal of time enumerating the crimes of King George, but once understood and felt intimately by most colonists, they then offered some very specific "political imagination" and inspiration that created a new country.

Bruce Ackerman and Todd Gitlin, along with 44 other "distinguished" liberals, have issued a joint statement in The American Prospect, defending and defining their idea of what it means to be a liberal. Starting off employing Bush's words "stay the course" and ending with his words "hard work," the authors offer almost nothing in the way of political imagination, nor much in the way of specifics. The online version of the statement refers to it, promisingly, as a "manifesto."

I was disappointed by the statement's concentration on "liberal" opposition to the Bush administration's war on terror and the war in Iraq. The statement never misses an opportunity to focus on the delusion and incompetence of the Bush administration and the "conservative movement." And as early as the second paragraph of the statement's substance (following two paragraphs of introduction), the authors feel compelled to take a gratuitous shot at Israel in a statement about "a moment for liberals to define themselves."

In one paragraph, these liberals give short-shrift to some heavyweight issues by declaring that they "believe passionately" in equal treatment under the law, rights to housing, affordable health care, equal opportunity for employment and fair wages, physical security, and a sustainable environment. Egads, it sounds like some planks from the platform of the Democratic Party. So what's new? And big deal.

Given an opportunity to defend and define liberalism, the signers, instead, obsess on the crimes of Bush and Cheney and, thus, miss the chance to illuminate and educate Americans in favor of alternatives.

For instance, there is no mention of corporate personhood and the catastrophic influence of corporate money that has corrupted our entire political system. There is not a word about trade policies that have denigrated the workforce in this country, resulting in the loss of substantial and rewarding jobs, and creating a service economy of underpaid and underskilled Americans by the millions -- essentially, millions who work and eat at fastfood joints, work and shop at Wal-Marts, and sit and watch reality TV and violence for hours at a time.

There is not a word about the huge budget deficit which sits like an anvil on the backs of future generations of Americans.

There is no imaginative solution offered to address the crisis of health care, or the inequitable tax system, or the corruption of the electoral process, or the challenges to social security. What do liberals stand for? This is more a statement of what liberals stand against.

There no mention of the ceaseless war that has been waged on trade unions and the right to organize, and what to do about it. No mention of the war on secular education, and what to do about it. No mention of the incessant attack on a woman's right to her own sovereign health decisions, and what to do about it. No mention of the male culture of violence, of a hyper-masculinity, indeed, of a cult of misogyny in America which has transformed our country into the most violent, gun-obsessed, most heavily-policed industrialized nation in the world, and what top do about it. No mention of a smaller and smaller concentration of media ownership and control which ignores anything that does not serve the bottom line and which promotes, among other things, a national obsession with emaciated women who are silent and submissive, and what to do about it. And no mention of a country which has more people in prison than most totalitarian states in the world, and what to do about it.

Nowhere could I find a word about the current genocidal slaughter in Darfur. How many of the signers of this statement wrote about Rwanda 12 years ago?

There is a great deal of substantive criticism in this statement of what the Bush administration has done wrong, and not enough of what could have been done right.

The authors conclude:

"We must engage in large acts of political imagination and inspire a new generation to take up liberal principles and adapt them inventively in a new century."

Unfortunately, the authors had an opportunity to perform an act of what they called "political imagination," but they didn't. They could have inspired, but they ended up mostly offering pablum and warmed-over pieties.

Yes, yes, you can only say so much in a short statement that you want alot of "distinguished" people to sign, but these liberals might have taken a look at some of the conservative messages that are replete with specifics about what they want to do. The Republican Contract with America is a good example of that. While some Republicans tried to fulfill all of the goals contained in that statement, in fact, many were not achieved. But at least it was a specific agenda behind which they recruited support, sufficient enough eventually to gain control of the Congress, White House, and the Supreme Court.

It would have been nice to see such clarity and specificity from Ackerman, Gitlin,


Anonymous said...

These labels, "liberal" and "conservative" have long ago lost any connection to their earlier meaning as understood in domestic politics.
They are now epithets with liberal used scornfully and conservative said with pride by the self-proclaimed ones.
I feel as though I am a "true" conservative because I believe in the ideals of our founding fathers as expressed in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence and I agree to many of the ideas expressed in The Federalist Papers.
I guess I am also a liberal because I believe in living up to those ideals. I think that is where I part company with these so-called conservatives today.

Anonymous said...

As long as liberals put more emphasis on feelings (ours, theirs, the world's) and ignore the root of feelings, notably cognition, there's no chance of any action on the general "feeling" that we need a change. McArthur is right--clarity and specificity are needed, but some feelings have to get hurt because so much work needs to be done. Agony is no substitute for action.

Those who wrote the contract with america are disheartened by the way the power it conferred was used by venal and corrupt persons who lost the vision in the ability to just do anything they wanted.

The American people share the blame for letting it happen.