Tag: liberals

A Turning Point?

Greg Sargent cites a CNN poll question:

As you may know, the agreement would cut about one trillion dollars in government spending over the next ten years with provisions to make additional spending cuts in the future. Regardless of how you feel about the overall agreement, do you approve or disapprove of the cuts in government spending included in the debt ceiling agreement?

Approve 65

Disapprove 30

Sargent continues:

Sixty five percent approve of deal’s spending cuts. But it gets worse. Of the 30 percent who disapprove, 13 percent think the cuts haven’t gotten far enough, and only 15 percent think the cuts go too far. One sixth of Americans agree with the liberal argument about the deal.

About 20 percent of Americans self-identify as liberals. This would suggest that all non-liberal Americans and one-fourth of self-identifying liberals approve of the deal or think the cuts have not gone far enough. It could also mean that some non-liberal Americans disapprove of the deal and more than one-quarter of liberals approve of it. Either interpretation will not encourage those who believe government should be larger.

Still, the political agenda is defined as cuts, and the public seems willing to go along. 2008 seems like a generation ago.

Nonintervention: the New Isolationism?

Today, the Obama administration released its FY 2012 budget, and with it the Pentagon’s spending request.  Regrettably, the Pentagon’s plan shows that the federal government’s 4th consecutive $1 trillion-plus annual deficit has not quelled an appetite for a continued quasi-imperial foreign policy that subsidizes a multitude of rich allies around the globe.

Unfortunately, if you argue against such a massive budget, you are immediately labeled an “isolationist.”  Take the example of Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) crusade to cut the federal budget by $500 billion.  Among many other substantive cuts, Senator Paul called for ending U.S. foreign aid around the globe. And when pressed, he included aid to Israel.

Aid to Israel represents less than one percent of his proposal, but the reaction was swift and immediate.  The Senator was labeled a “neo-isolationist,” and condemned widely, while his argument for ending aid to Israel was not addressed.  Benjamin Friedman wrote about this episode in the Daily Caller and presented his own arguments for ending aid to Israel.

Expanding on this theme, over at The Skeptics I have written a piece citing the vociferous attacks on Senator Paul as the latest example of modern conservatives—often of the neo-conservative variety—and liberals coming together to label anyone with a noninterventionist foreign policy outlook an isolationist:

Conservatism once was cautious, urged prudence, and emphasized fidelity to the Constitution. Conservatives saw responsibility as the flip-side of liberty, opposed the transfer society, and detested welfare dependence. On international affairs conservatives believed in defending America, not promoting social engineering overseas.

Liberals responded by tarring traditional conservatives as “isolationists.” Skeptical of joining imperial wars in the name of democracy, unwilling to risk American lives in dubious foreign crusades, and unenthused about transferring U.S. wealth abroad, traditionalists were treated as somehow disreputable. After all, progressive thought required turning Americans into warriors on behalf of a new global ethic.

Now neoconservatives toss the same epithet at conservatives who oppose promiscuous war-making and endless foreign aid. Never mind that many opponents of today’s hyperinterventionist foreign policy favor free trade, cultural exchange, liberal immigration, and political cooperation. If you do not believe in bombing, invading, and occupying adversaries and subsidizing allies, then you be an isolationist.

Click here to read the entire article.

Ideological Warning Labels

A story this morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition” reminded me of my continuing complaint that the mainstream (liberal) media regularly put an ideological label on conservative and libertarian organizations and interviewees, but not on liberal and leftist groups.  In a report about states accepting stimulus funds, reporter Kathy Lohr quoted “Jon Shure of the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,” “Maurice Emsellem with the National Employment Law Project,” and “Tad DeHaven, a budget analyst with the fiscally conservative Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.” (Thanks! And I’d say the label is correct, even if I might prefer libertarian.)

Those are all legitimate sources for the story. But only one of them gets an ideological label – even though the other two groups are clearly on the left. They’re to the left of the Obama administration; indeed, they’re probably part of what the White House press secretary calls the “professional left.” So why not alert listeners that you might be getting a “liberal” or “leftist” perspective from those two sources, just as you warned them that the Cato Institute was speaking from a fiscally conservative perspective?

Back on March 23, I noted but did not blog about references on “Morning Edition” to “the libertarian Cato Institute,” the “conservative American Enterprise Institute,” and “the Brookings Institution.” No label needed for Brookings, of course. Just folks there. (A bit of Googling reveals that the Brookings reference came from Marketplace Radio, heard on WAMU as an insert into “Morning Edition.” But NPR never labels it either.)

NPR’s ombudsman noted in July that NPR uses the term “ultra-conservative” a lot more than “ultra-liberal.”

It’s all too typical of the mainstream-liberal media: They put ideological warning labels on libertarians and conservatives, lest readers and listeners be unaware of the potential for bias, but very rarely label liberals and leftists. Note the absence of labels on NPR in frequent references to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Journalists should be more even-handed: label all your sources ideologically, or none of them. It’s stacking the deck to label those on the right but not those on the left.

Topics:

Re. Ezra Klein: Did State and Local Anti-stimulus Nullify Federal Stimulus?

A recent Washington Post column by Ezra Klein dreamed up a new excuse for the conspicuous failure of Obama’s so-called stimulus plan.   Klein argues that the stimulus of federal spending has been offset by the “anti-stimulus” of fiscal austerity by state and local governments.  For proof he quotes Bruce Bartlett, who is fast becoming the favorite go-to guy for liberals seeking conservative allies in their endless quest for more spending and taxes. 

Bartlett says, “When the history of the current crisis is written, much of the blame will be placed on the sharp fiscal contraction of state and local governments.  I think economists will view this as a preventable error equivalent to the Fed’s passive shrinkage of the money supply in the early 1930s.”

A historian himself, Bartlett imagines this to be a question that will have to be pondered by historians in the distant future.   But it is easy to identify each sector’s direct contribution to the overall growth rate of real GDP from a St. Louis Fed publication, “National Economic Trends.” 

State and local government spending was rising during the first three quarters of the recession, and the drop in the fourth quarter of 2008 accounted for just 0.25% of the 5.37% annualized decline in GDP.  In the first quarter of 2009, state and local spending subtracted  just 0.19% from real GDP, but federal spending subtracted more (0.33%) due to cuts in defense spending.  Government obviously made only a minor contribution to the 6.4% drop in overall GDP.
  
In the second quarter of 2009, state and local spending was way up (by 0.48%), as was federal spending (0.85%).  But the private economy did not begin expanding until the third quarter – when government spending stopped diverting so many resources to unproductive uses.
 
The table shows that government spending on goods and services had nothing to do with the recovery (transfer payments don’t contribute to GDP).  

As a matter of simple accounting, the state and local sector has been a very minor negative force −scarcely comparable to the Fed’s inaction in 1930-32

Federal purchases, whether for heavily-subsidized ”green jobs” or shovel-ready pork, have been virtually irrelevant during the last two quarters.

Contributions to Real GDP Growth
……………………..  3rd…… 4th…… 1st qtr

Real GDP              2.2         5.6             3.0%
Private                   1.6         5.8             3.4
Federal                  0.6        0.0            0.1
State & Local     -0.1      -0.3           -0.5

A Post-Health Care Realignment?

From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to Joe Biden’s Big F-ing Deal, progressives have led a consistent and largely successful campaign to expand the size and scope of the federal government. Now, Matt Yglesias suggests, it’s time to take a victory lap and call it a day:

For the past 65-70 years—and especially for the past 30 years since the end of the civil rights argument—American politics has been dominated by controversy over the size and scope of the welfare state. Today, that argument is largely over with liberals having largely won. […] The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done. There are big items still on the progressive agenda. But they don’t really involve substantial new expenditures. Instead, you’re looking at carbon pricing, financial regulatory reform, and immigration reform as the medium-term agenda. Most broadly, questions about how to boost growth, how to deliver public services effectively, and about the appropriate balance of social investment between children and the elderly will take center stage. This will probably lead to some realigning of political coalitions. Liberal proponents of reduced trade barriers and increased immigration flows will likely feel emboldened about pushing that agenda, since the policy environment is getting substantially more redistributive and does much more to mitigate risk. Advocates of things like more and better preschooling are going to find themselves competing for funds primarily with the claims made by seniors.

I’d like to believe this is true, though I can’t say I’m persuaded. It seems at least as likely that, consistent with the historical pattern, the new status quo will simply be redefined as the “center,” and proposals to further augment the welfare state will move from the fringe to the mainstream of opinion on the left.

That said, it’s hardly unheard of for a political victory to yield the kind of medium-term realignment Yglesias is talking about. The end of the Cold War destabilized the Reagan-era conservative coalition by essentially taking off the table a central—and in some cases the only—point of agreement among diverse interest groups. Less dramatically, the passage of welfare reform in the 90s substantially reduced the political salience of welfare policy. The experience of countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, moreover, suggests that if Obamacare isn’t substantially rolled back fairly soon, it’s likely to become a political “given” that both parties take for granted. Libertarians, of course, have long lamented this political dynamic: Government programs create constituencies, and become extraordinarily difficult to cut or eliminate, even if they were highly controversial at their inceptions.

We don’t have to be happy about this pattern, but it is worth thinking about how it might alter the political landscape a few years down the line.  One possibility, as I suggest above, is that it will just shift the mainstream of political discourse to the left. But as libertarians have also long been at pains to point out, the left-right model of politics, with its roots in the seating protocols of the 18th century French assembly, conceals the multidimensional complexity of politics. There’s no intrinsic commonality between, say, “left” positions on taxation, foreign policy, and reproductive rights—the label here doesn’t reflect an underlying ideological coherence so much as the contingent requirements of assembling a viable political coalition at a particular time and place.  If an issue that many members of one coalition considered especially morally urgent is, practically speaking, taken off the table, the shape of the coalitions going forward depends largely on the issues that rise to salience. Libertarians are perhaps especially conscious of this precisely because we tend to take turns being more disgusted with one or another party—usually whichever holds power at a given moment.

The $64,000 question, of course, is what comes next. As 9/11 and the War on Terror reminded us, the central political issues of an era are often dictated by fundamentally unpredictable events. But some of the obvious current candidates are notable for the way they cut across the current partisan divide. In my own wheelhouse—privacy and surveillance issues—Republicans have lately been univocal in their support of expanded powers for the intelligence community, with plenty of help from hawkish Democrats. Given their fondness for invoking the specter of soviet totalitarian states, I’ve hoped that the folks mobilizing under the banner of the Tea Party might begin pushing back on the burgeoning surveillance state. Thus far I’ve hoped in vain, but if that coalition outlasts our current disputes, one can imagine it becoming an issue for them in 2011 as parts of the Patriot Act once again come up for reauthorization, or in 2012 when the FISA Amendments Act is due to sunset. In the past, the same issues have made strange bedfellows of the ACLU and the ACU, of Ron Paul Republicans and FireDogLake Democrats.  Obama has pledged to take up comprehensive immigration reform during his term, and there too significant constituencies within each party fall on opposite sides of the issue.

Further out than that it’s hard to predict. But more generally, the possibility that I find interesting is that—against a background of technologies that have radically reduced the barriers to rapid, fluid, and distributed group formation and mobilization—the protracted health care fight, the economic crisis, and the explosion of federal spending have created an array of potent political communities outside the party-centered coalitions. They’ve already shown they’re capable of surprising alliances—think Jane Hamsher and Grover Norquist.  Suppose Yglesias is at least this far correct: The next set of political battles are likely to be fought along a different value dimension than was health care reform. Precisely because these groups formed outside the party-centered coalitions, and assuming they outlast the controversies that catalyzed their creation, it’s hard to predict which way they’ll move on tomorrow’s controversies. It’s entirely possible that there are latent and dispersed constituencies for policy change outside the bipartisan mainstream who have now, crucially, been connected: Any overlap on orthogonal value dimensions within or between the new groups won’t necessarily be evident until the relevant values are triggered by a high-visibility policy debate.  Still, it’s reason to expect that the next decade of American politics may be even more turbulent and surprising than the last one.

Nozick in the News

Charles Krauthammer writes about “liberal expressions of disdain for the intelligence and emotional maturity of the electorate” and the conceit that “Liberals act in the public interest, while conservatives think only of power, elections, self-aggrandizement and self-interest.” He has plenty of contemporary examples, but he also recalls one from a few years ago:

It is an old liberal theme that conservative ideas, being red in tooth and claw, cannot possibly emerge from any notion of the public good. A 2002 New York Times obituary for philosopher Robert Nozick explained that the strongly libertarian implications of Nozick’s masterwork, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” “proved comforting to the right, which was grateful for what it embraced as philosophical justification.” The right, you see, is grateful when a bright intellectual can graft some philosophical rationalization onto its thoroughly base and self-regarding politics.

Nozick, of course, was a libertarian, not a conservative, as the more insightful obituary by the philosopher Alan Ryan in the British Independent notes: the book’s ”criticism of social conservatism is at least as devastating as its criticism of the redistributive welfare state.” But Krauthammer is right to note the casual assumption by the New York Times that conservatism desperately needed ”philosophical justification.”

Sunday’s Washington Post contains a related article by political scientist Gerard Alexander: “Why are liberals so condescending?”

Obama’s Dilemma

Today Politico Arena asks:

State of the Union:  What Should Obama Say?

My response:

Obama’s in a difficult spot:  His head tells him to tack right, but his heart’s not in it – and he’s not the first Democrat to be in that spot.  That’s brought out today in a CNN Opinion piece, “When liberals revolt,” written by Arena’s (and Princeton’s) Julian E. Zelizer.  Tracing similar dilemmas that Johnson, Carter, and Clinton faced, Zelizer shows how they all paid a price for tacking right, which it looks like Obama may do.  Johnson faced primary challenges that led him to withdraw from the 1968 race.  Carter was challenged by Ted Kennedy.  He prevailed; but weakened, he then lost to Reagan in 1980.  And Clinton’s move to the center after the disastrous 1994 midterm elections helped him win reelection, Zelizer argues, but it also left him with a thin legislative record on domestic policy.

In short, moving right has its costs, Zelizer claims.  Many liberals are “deeply unhappy with the president, believing that he has already drifted too far away from the promises that animated his supporters in 2008.”  He’ll need those liberals in 2010 and 2012.  Pointing to the “long tradition of Democratic presidents taking the left for granted at a cost to their administrations,” Zelizer notes that they learned “that the ire of the left – a constituency that is very vocal, highly mobilized and politically engaged – can cause enormous damage.”

That it can.  But can the left do more than cause enormous damage?  In particular:  Can it govern?  Zelizer cites Ted Kennedy castigating Carter, saying that ”the Democratic Party needed to ‘sail against the wind’ of conservative public sentiment by using the federal government to help alleviate social problems.”  Fine speechifying.  But will it get you (re)elected – much less enable you to govern?  The evidence is not encouraging.  In fact, the deeper problem the left is facing is that self-identified conservatives in America outnumber liberals by better than two to one.  Cambridge may have voted against Scott Brown by 84 to 14, but that just shows how out of touch Harvard is with the rest of Massachusetts – to say nothing of the rest of the country.  Obama won not because the country was enthralled with his vague message, but because his opposition, like Clinton’s in 1996, was so uninspiring.  In sum, the left’s problem – and Obama’s – is that the country isn’t buying the message, now that it’s clearer.  And that’s the heart of the matter.