links to an extremely pessimistic post at the NRO Corner by John Derbyshire
"There aren't going to be any more Coolidges or Reagans. It's over. Fuggedaboutit.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher came to power not because people were fed up with socialism. People -- practically everybody, practically everywhere -- LIKE socialism. In Britain, people were fed up with the overweening power of labor unions, which were the vehicle for socialism in that age. The wheels of that particular vehicle were coming off, that was all. In the USA, the humiliations of Iran and Afghanistan, obvious mismanagement of the economy (though not a particularly too-much-socialism kind of mismanagement), and the unattractive personality of Jimmy Carter got the Presidency for Reagan. Not by much, though: in the 1980 election, Reagan only got a tad over 50 percent of the popular vote. (In 1984 it was 58.8 percent.) Thatcher I believe never made 50 percent.
All the windsocks are now pointing in the direction of more socialism. As the population ages, Americans will want more leisure, drugs, health care, nursing homes, security. As the Jihadist threat continues to metastasize (from the MidEast to Indonesia, Thailand, Africa, the Caucasus, Europe), we shall want the state to have more police powers, more scrutiny of us and our lives. The trend of the last 40 years away from the old Anglo-Saxon rights and liberties -- private property rights (google "tobacco settlement," "Kelo," etc.), freedom of speech, contract and assembly ("speech codes," anti-discrimination laws, etc.), limited government (is Washington DC shrinking? looking poorer and shabbier? not that I've noticed) -- will accelerate. And everybody will be fine with all this, because that's what everybody wants, except for a few freakish intellectuals like ourselves."
I hesitate to use the term "the Left," because it is really a lazy abstraction, ablbeit sometimes a necessary one. Furthermore, many people, especially centrist American Democrats, consider themselves part of "the Left," but are really not. To quote a commentator at Free Republic, Marron
"Republicans are really not "conservatives" in the traditionalist sense. We are "conservative" only in the sense of adhering to the constitution, which is classic liberalism on parchment. We are God's troublemakers, we upset applecarts, overturn orthodoxies, regimes and dynasties, whole economic systems, just by breathing. Just by going about our daily affairs.
It astonishes me, but it is true, that while there are "conservative" parties in the world, there is no equivalent anywhere to the Republican Party, which is the blend of classic liberalism with moral principle. Most political parties outside the US, from right to left, would fit within our Democratic Party.
Rousseau won the argument in most of the world. Locke won his case only in America, and there only just barely. There aren't many of us, but there weren't many in Gideon's band either."
Even the American Democratic party has traditionally been isolated and distinct from the international left and socialist parties of Europe. Seperated by the Atlantic and archaic modes of travel, and drawing upon traditional American free market principles, American politics created almost an entirely different politically spectrum, much distinct from Europe's. This partially explains why the Communist Party and socialist movements in general never found large followings in the United States, while attacting large percentages of the electorates in France, Italy, Germany, and other European countries. Locke, not Rousseau, was the American deity, even on its "left".
However, this isolation changed somewhat in the past 50 years, as members of the "New Left" filtered through the Democratic party's leadership, the schools, and the intelligentsia. More pink than red, they eventually proclaimed themselves anti-anti-communists during the 1960s, and their views and agendas reflected it. They deeply distrusted American patriotism, the military, supported the advance of the nanny-state, peeling back American power and self-righteousness, and promoted multiculturalism, which in practice meant the subservence of American culture to that of its immigrants and unassimilated minorities. The American New Left made common cause with similar minded and also rebellious movements in Europe, movements which cultiminated in the almost continent-wide social disorders of 1968. These people continued to rise through the aforementioned institutions, and their views did evolve, but most did not break free from many of their original prejudices and beliefs.
By 9-11, the Democratic Party's transition to a party oriented alongside its socialist and post-modern compatriots in Europe and Canada was well underway, but not completed.
Where did they run into problems?
In the first place, as Marron stated, Europe's free-market and individualist tradition was already much weaker than America's from the start. When Friedrich von Hayek
wrote his essay entitled "Why I Am Not a Conservative"
, he was disparaging European conservatism, which has often opposed capitalism as a threat to social stability and traditional values. In the second place, the Republican Party did not undergo the same moderation and ostracism that the true classical liberal parties in Europe and Canada underwent. These moderated themselves to deal with the social and economic entitlements promised by their opposition on the continent, a continent whose political thought was badly distorted by the strength of Communist and socialist influence, some of which was paid for with Soviet money and some of which was completely indigenous, drawing upon Europe's already deep socialist tradition.
The result of these conditions was that the classical liberal parties on the continent, the real counterparts of the Republican Party and the Old Democratic Party and believers in individual rights and free markets, found themselves on the defensive, and giving increasing ground to their opposition as they fought on the International Left's turf. Canada is perhaps the best example, and by the 1990s had effectively become a one party state, with a cowed, watered-down, and self apologetic Conservative Party.
The Republicans, drawing upon an American populace much more fiercely independent and self-reliant, was given the opportunity to go this route, but ultimately went the other way. In 1968, they were presented a choice between the East Coast liberal Republican Rockefeller wing of the Party and the more conservative (though hardly reactionary), and staunchly anti-Communist Richard Nixon. After Carter's disasterous Democratic presidential term, the stage was set for the even more conservative Reagan revolution. Britain too, underwent a similar revolution with Thatcher, but it was neither as complete, nor could British Conservatives as easily seperate themselves from mainland Europe's political thought.
Like Derbyshire, I can see the trends. Fundamentally, it is difficult to compete politically with bribery. For the average person, principles and abstract theory do not compete easily with outright financial bribery. De Tocqueville realized this early, saying that "the American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money."
It's become standard to describe the core of Democratic problems to be its lack of message. Weeks ago, however, a Vodkapundit commentator described the problem much more accurately
"I don't know where this meme that the Democrats have no ideas came from, but it's clearly false. It's easy to list off a bunch of positions the Democrats support that aren't just "hate Bush".
They're pro-choice on abortion.
They support race preferences.
They support transnationalism in foreign policy.
They want justices who are policy-driven.
They want to raise taxes.
They want to increase government control over health care.
They want to increase funding for education without imposing performance standards.
They want more stringent environmental policies.
They want weaker protections for property rights.
They want to prevent ANWAR drilling.
That's just off the top of my head. With a bit of research I'm sure I could double or triple that list.
The problem the Democrats have isn't a lack of ideas. Their problem is that the majority of their ideas are not popular with the electorate, and the Democrats have figured that out. That's why they typically don't state their views clearly and run on them proudly. Unfortunately, they aren't willing to abandon their unpopular ideas, and that leaves them without a positive program that they are willing to articulate. The result is that their public face becomes strongly negative -- "hate Bush".
Think of it another way. If the Democrats truly stood for "nothing", then we would have no idea what they would do if they came into power. But we *do* have a pretty good idea of what they would do if they had the power, and that's what they stand for."
This is why Dean's big mouth and Daily Kos can be such an embarassment - when candid they are a clear view into some of the core, but unpopular principles of the Democratic Party.
Another Democratic problem is that the transition to post-modernism got hit smack dab in the middle by blogs, the wider Internet, and 9-11. The first two badly handicapped at least one of the transition's one-two punch, as the New Left media no longer has the ability to set the agenda, as Canadian and European state-controlled media did 10-20 years ago. The last badly damaged the transition to transnationalism, resulting in anguished howls of "unilateralism", and "global tests", the "International Community", "illegal war", and various other sleights of hand meant to restrict American freedom of action.
It remains to be seen whether these factors will turn back the Democratic Party's descent into post-modernism. This fight isn't over yet, because the their own base is still divided, with much of the leadership having undergone the transition but not much of the rank and file. Even more dangerously, their opposition is not yet completely cowed, although it too has given ground
to New Left dominance of the traditional media, academica, and intelligentsia.
Thanks to the Mudville Gazette
, Stop the ACLU
, Basil's Blog
, and Outside the Beltway