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Monday, August 14, 2006

For vs Against  

Gregory Rodriguez laments that the current divisiveness prevents the sort of national unity conducive to activist liberal governance (HT Michael Barone):
FDR's big idea, born in the Depression, was consolidated, nurtured and embraced in World War II - the Good War - which provided, as it happens, ideal conditions for American liberalism. Overwhelming public support for the war effort created national unity, collective responsibility and a willingness to sacrifice. Americans supported expanded government driven by taxes, which increased dramatically during the war. The Allied victory then ushered in a period of high expectations of what government could accomplish.

The ripple effect was so strong that no matter which political party occupied the White House for the next two decades, a liberal consensus held sway over the American body politic. It built federal highways, created student loans and enacted civil rights legislation.

Today, as liberals seek to rebuild that kind of agenda, they have nothing like a Good War to help them. In fact, what they are facing is a situation much more like the Vietnam War - in which the public was polarized and disillusioned - and its belief in what government could accomplish was demolished.
This is not the first time Rodriguez has addressed issues of Democratic disarray. But in this instance, he overlooks an obvious point. One of the characteristics of a "Good War" is a common enemy, easily acknowledged and universally opposed. (This has been one of the recurring complaints from the right about the "War on Terror"). The simple truth, often overlooked by Kumbaya Liberals, is that people are more easily and effectively united against than for. (Once united, they can be moved forward in various directions, but the union has to come first.)

Take a look at the successful movements in American politics in recent decades: Against the Axis. Against Communism. Against segregation. Against the war in Vietnam. Against Washington. (Rodriguez claims that the legacy of Vietnam is the "distrust and disunity [that] was the fertile ground from which anti-government conservatives made their late-century comeback." Well, maybe.)

Ross Perot was against deficits. It didn't work for him, but it defeated Bush 41 and elected a moderate Democrat. The Contract with America, for all its positive action plans, was against entrenched and unresponsive Congressional power - until Republicans took over, and ... um ... um ...

But it isn't enough to be against, as today's Democrats continue to demonstrate. The common enemy has to be universally (or at least largely) opposed. And since 1972, the Progressive wing of the party has been against things that have substantial, if not majority, support across the country. Anti-communism. Public religion. Traditional family structures and values. Assimilation to mainstream culture. Now, simply Republicans (and the Democrats who co-operate with them).

"[T]he national unity required to tackle liberalism's big ideas" (or any other kind) is generated when you focus on the far enemy; not on the near enemy here at home. Neither party seems to have fully grasped that.

posted by Kelly | 11:22 AM link