We're All FDR Liberals
(Guest Post from Big Tent Democrat)
All of us, Democrats and Independents, and Republicans for that matter, we're all FDR liberals. I have written it here before, liberals won the battle of ideas during the New Deal. Some extremist Republicans want to refight that fight, but no Republican who wants to get elected will fight that fight.
I write this because Harold Meyerson writes an incisive reaction to Markos Moulitsas's theory of Democratic Libertarianism:
Writing from the perspectives of a more New Dealish American liberal and an avowed social democrat (the latter tendency, I need not be reminded, being one that has fewer avowed adherents in America than libertarianism, though more than Trotskyism), I want to make a couple of points that Markos doesn't touch on. First, I want to point out the areas of overlap between libertarianism--or, at least, the preservation of personal liberties--and New Deal democracy, and even social democracy. Second, I want to look again at some of the new libertarianism Markos documents within the Democratic Party--not just where it extends, but where it can't extend, and why it can't.
On the other side, I'll talk more about Meyerson's cans and can'ts, but if I may, it seems to me that what Markos is attempting is a packaging of New Deal policies in attractive garb for those who consider themselves libertarian in outlook. In that sense, I think Markos' exercise is a valuable one. And to consider it an academic discussion of libertarianism is to miss the point.
First, what spurs Markos to discuss Democratic Libertarianism? I think Meyerson puts his finger on it:
In the real world, and more particularly in 21st-century America, encroachments on privacy, personal security, and the environment are as likely, if not more likely, to come from business as they are from the state, and these are threats that require state regulation if they're to be mitigated or dispelled. . . . [I]n the real world, the Republican Party has become a dangerous advocate, and enforcer, of executive branch autocracy, as promulgated by George Bush and Dick Cheney, defended by John Yoo, and likely to be upheld by such ostensibly conservative jurists as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito.. . . Classic libertarians are as appalled by this last development as any Democratic congressman is.
But Meyerson further points out that Democrats can not be and should not be classic libertarians:
But there are some basic Democratic principles that are not libertarian, and that even Markos' Mountain State mavericks still affirm. None of them have called for privatizing Social Security. None of them have called for abolishing Medicare. They may be civil libertarians and to some degree social libertarians, but they're not economic libertarians. And for good reason: Economic libertarianism has never been more preposterous.
Let me say that I think Meyerson's last line is overstating a great deal. And he misses what was, indeed IS, at the heart of liberalism - pragmatism. Yes, pragmatism. For what defines a liberal is not the program or policy that is implemented, but rather the result reached. Indeed, it becomes, in some cases, a fatal flaw. Consider the romance with left wing totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union prior to 1950 and the continuing romance with Castro's Cuba. We lliberal love our goals - equality, egalitarianism, economic and racial justice and where our goals our mouthed by an ideology, we are more tolerant. We should not be.
To me liberalism can and does embrace economic libertararianism where it meets the goals of liberalism. We are pragmatic. If social justice and economic equality could be reached be cuts in the estate tax, we liberals would support it. We oppose it because it does exactly the opposite.
Thus when Meyerson writes:
[T]he need for a state that takes the burden of economic and health security off employers who won't pick it up and employees who can't pick it up is increasingly urgent. It's hard to predict what exactly the tipping point will be as our private-sector welfare state continues to contract. But at some point, the Democrats will embrace a decisively larger role for the state in these matters because the public will demand it--not because the public will suddenly identify itself as liberal, but because there will be nowhere else to turn.
I can agree with him because I believe that, pragmatically speaking, the best policy to achieve the liberal result will likely embrace what he describes. But that does not mean that the state will or should intervene in a sweeping fashion in our economy. There are lessons history has taught us, and one of them is the less government intervention in the economy, the better the economic performance. Liberals seek to strike a balance between the efficiency of the market and the important objectives of social and economic justice - not just because these goals are "good," but because they are essential to the well being of the country.
And in the end, Meyerson understands the important role of pragmatism for liberals:
Ultimately, the Democrats aren't going to proceed very far down the libertarian road, for one simple reason that's far more pragmatic than philosophic: It doesn't lead anywhere.
And it will be this pragmatism that leads liberals to not seek a statist solution to all of our ills. Because the statist road also does not lead anywhere.
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