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April 14, 2004
The New Liberal Vision

I'm a bit uncomfortable with that title. I'm neither a visionary nor a person who thinks of new ideas. I'm more of a, "stand on the sidelines and whine when you don't do it right" kind of person.

Still. There it is.

First, let me say something very clearly. The Left hasn't "lost" the country or the voters. Time and again, polls say that traditional "liberal" positions are supported by well over half, sometimes over three-fourths, of the voting population of this country.

If you want further proof, take a look at how hard the current Administration struggles to make it at least appear that they care, and care deeply, about the quality of education in this country, about the environment, about women's rights, about minority rights, and about controlling corporate fraud. If they didn't know these things are dear to the hearts of the majority of voters, would the Bush Administration be working to hard to make funding cutbacks for things like the EPA look like increases?

The country is liberal, in a very real way. Regardless of the regressionist screams of a handful of wingnuts, this is a liberal country when you think in terms of "traditional liberal values." It's liberal in that the liberal policies and issues of thirty or forty years ago have become the mainstream concerns of most people.

Maybe that's what happened to the Left? When they were no longer on the outside, fighting to get their issues recognized and addressed, they didn't have much else to say.

You gotta move with the times, donít you? Conservatives did. They co-opted those liberal issues that the vast center, along with the Left and a good chunk of the Right, cared about, and we just let them do it. Now those issues are in the public domain. Everyone claims to care about them and to believe in them.

We have choices.

1) Fight about it. Try to prove we really do good things for the environment and the poor and for children and those other guys don't. There's potential in this approach although it requires a lot of negativity, a lot of "did too-did not" rhetoric, and some fairly complex (and dry) statistics and scientific opinion.

I'm over the whole "go negative" thing, though. I mean, if the other side robs a bank or beats up an old person, I think it's okay, even mandatory, to make sure the public knows about it, but there needs to be more to what we are.

2) Refine the old issues. Why be so vague? Why try to "improve education" and "protect the environment" and "guard social security"?

Why not set real standards for all schools? Cut the current drop-out rate by 50%. Equip all schools with computer labs (if not classroom computers) by 2008.

Cut (proven) harmful corporate air pollution by 25% by 2008. Cut water pollution by 50%. Increase recycling of recyclable materials by 50%.

Find real targets. Aim for solid, significant numbers. You can't reach a goal you haven't set.

Let the Republicans match that, if they can. (Of course, if they do, that's great. We care more about the issues than the labels on them, right?)

Let's make the fight less about who can promise more and more about who delivers more.

Minorities do not yet have full equality in this country. Nor do women. There's debate out there today about whether or not the current methods for 'legislating equality' are working or not. Let's be honest enough to take a look at them. If they're not working, let's come up with a new plan.

How about gays and lesbians? There's a move afoot, as we all know, to legislate inequality against them, to actually make a constitutional amendment that mandates 'separate but (sort of) equal.'

I'm not done yet. There's another choice.

3) Define new issues.

How about the militarization of space? Do you want a sky full of bombs or not?

As far as that goes, let's take a good, hard look at all the many kinds of weapons-based military research this country supports. Which technologies potentially offer important civilian benefits and what technologies are purely about killing someone?

How about free trade versus tariffs (protectionism)? Which, in the long run, is really (and I mean really, so go do some research) better for the country?

What's our long-term foreign policy going to be? Are we done supporting tyrants when it's expedient for us? Have we yet learned that someone has to pay for that expediency in the long run, and almost always with blood? What should our role be in helping combat disease, poverty, and human rights around the world? Some vague, against, against, for agenda isn't good enough. Specifically, what do we want our role to be?

And how much should we do unilaterally and how much only in conjunction with significant allies? (Bush isn't all wrong, you know.) The U.N. has been ineffectual, largely because the veto power of the Permanent Security Council was used as a weapon in the UsofA vs. Evil Soviet Empire war and that war, (in a more general, Them versus Us fashion) hasn't entirely ended. We're partly responsible for the difficulty the U.N. has in acting like a world force for good. Is it time to reform the U.N.?

It all ties together, you see. Fear of the UsofA's plans to militarize space and fear of what weapons our obscenely large military research will turn up causes other major countries to do their own research (which we then have to stay on top of), to reach for space (so we can't send up boatloads of weapons willy-nilly), and to ally with each other in wary defiance of what they fear we might be planning. All of which leads them, and us, to make alliances of temporary convenience with repressive, totalitarian regimes as we use smaller countries around the world as pawns in the struggle.

How about old age? We, or at least I, grew up in a world where at age 65, people retired to their rocking chairs or to a little house in a warm climate and lived out the rest of their days pottering in the garden and watching their grandchildren grow. Today, at 65, you're no longer (necessarily) old. You might want to keep working, to retire and travel on your accumulated wealth (I wish), or go back to school, or start a second career in a new, less financially rewarding but more satisfying field. What is "old" any more? At what age should retirement benefits kick in? What's "young" retirement and what isn't?

What about the Boomer Bump? We've got a record number of "retirees" headed toward their social security benefits and a rocking chair or a classroom. What happens to the generation after them?

I'm talking long-term plans, here. What happens in this economy when this huge pool of labor moves itself into the "leisure" category? Well, if they've planned right, the leisure travel and amusement industry in this country will be in clover, but what about the next 30 years?

What I'm saying here is that we think we should be in power in this country, but we're not doing a very good job of showing people why.

I had more to say. For instance, how do you reconcile people claiming, in polls, to care deeply about the quality of education their children receive with ballot initiative after ballot initiative for raising school funding failing? How do you reconcile a stated concern for the environment with the multi-billion dollar industry selling "use once and throw away" convenience products?

Those and other issues were on my mind today, but I set myself a time limit of 30 minutes, so they'll have to wait.

Go here and read Jeff's two posts. Follow the links and read the posts of those smarter than me.

Everyone concerned about the future we should take in this country should join the debate over what it is we want. What do we believe in and what are we going to do about it?

Posted by AnneZook at 03:04 PM



I started to post a comment here, and it kept growing and growing. I finally copied it out, cleaned it up and posted it at Cliopatria: http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/4657.html

I really didn't need to do "the vision thing" today, but you gotta think when the spirit says think, write when the spirit says write.....

Posted by: Jonathan Dresner at April 14, 2004 06:01 PM

I like a lot about your post. I also got a huge laugh out of this sentence, which I assume is simply mis-written: "What should our role be in helping combat disease, poverty, and human rights around the world?" Yes, let's do all we can to eradicate disease, poverty, and human rights!

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at April 14, 2004 09:37 PM

Anne, thanks for thinking about the new issues you list in #3. I think when Jeff talked us into this he was hoping to hear new ideas, and you've done well by listing what will probably be big issues in the future.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner at April 14, 2004 09:46 PM

Yay Anne! Great post. Totally puts mine to shame, as I expected. :)

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at April 15, 2004 07:34 AM

Jonathan, it was my hope, when I posted this, that more intelligent people :) would want to write on the subject themselves. Thanks for the link and I'll comment on your post over on Cliopatria.

Lawrence, that was the kind of structural mistake that makes me weep for my wasted education when I see it. :) I'll go back and fix it and I do appreciate the heads-up.

Elayne - I disagree. I liked your post. What I found really interesting was how different the posts were from each participant. Much food for thought in all of them.

Posted by: Anne at April 15, 2004 11:35 AM