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Hullabaloo


Monday, March 16, 2009

 
Splain It

by digby

It's great that George Packer and EJ Dionne have discovered that it's important for liberals to communicate about their actual philosophy instead of blathering on with thin, ephemeral bromides about nothingness (or worse praising conservatives and using right wing rhetoric.) After all, some of us have been saying that for years.

But this, while true, really chaps me because I've heard nothing but gooey [praise for bipartisanship and "pragmatism" for many, many months and criticism of anyone who objected, as if those of us who were calling for some serious articulation of values and principles were being naive or silly.

[A] debate in which one side claims to be arguing from principle and the other side from pragmatism eventually works against the latter (understanding this was one of the main secrets to Reagan’s success). That’s because the side that can offer the most persuasive and appealing account of what is happening will hold onto the public’s assent even as facts drift on the surface of daily events. When one party says that the bank bailout is a colossal big-government waste of taxpayers’ money, and the other says that the details of the bank bailout will show its economic necessity, which side do you think has the rhetorical advantage? The conservative establishment has no new ideas, but in standing athwart Obama’s program it has turned quite rapidly and ferociously to the old ones.


What these conservatives are saying is absurd, but it has the advantage of having a certain, comfortable sound to which people may very well find themselves drawn back if they find themselves insecure and unsure about the principles the administration is using to guide them. "Pragmatism" doesn't mean anything. It's a process, not a belief.

Right now, everything rests upon the fact that most of the American people like and respect Obama and want to give him a chance. And that's great. But it had better hold up because it's quite clear they haven't the faintest idea of what this new allegedly liberal form of governance means or what's required to attain it. Nobody's ever told them. So, when Packer says this, he's quite right:

Whatever his current popularity, I’d say the odds for success are no better than even. Facts—the economy—could erode Obama’s support. The Democratic Congress could flyspeck the opportunity into a million pieces. The tide of populism, currently directed at banks and executives, could change direction and swamp the Administration. And the conservative reaction, while offering nothing resembling a viable alternative, could undermine the always-fragile will of the public to put their faith in government.


I wish that Democrats had spent the last campaign educating the public about the differences between the conservative and progressive philosophies. It was intensely frustrating to watch the candidates spout tired Republican rhetoric, although in some circumstances it was clear they actually believed it, at least to some degree. But conservative ideology is bankrupt and with problems this complicated people may need to know what principles and beliefs are guiding their new leaders. When they see the Democrats bailing out the billionaires and the Republicans raising hell about corruption and earmarks, they are quite reasonably going to get a little bit confused unless the Democrats start talking about how and why government is the best (and only) institution that can solve these problems. I don't get the impression that Americans get that at all. Why would they?


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