Friday, November 30, 2007

whither the center?

Curiously conflicting testimony this week on locating the center of American politics. No one would deny that the center has shifted right in the last 40+ years, so the question is whether or not a shift back is on the horizon or already begun.

Michael Lind writes unequivocally in the Financial Times:
What formerly was the left – welfare-state liberalism – is once again the ­centre. To its left (in economic, not social, terms) is protectionist ­populism; to its right, neoliberalism.
Kim Phillips-Fein, revewing Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal and Jonathan Chait's The Big Con for The Nation, disagrees, or at least maintains that if the country is indeed shifting leftward or ready for such a shift, our political figures are refusing the big new liberal ideas and programs that such a shift would seem to demand. he piece concludes:
Indeed, perhaps the most striking difference between the conservative activists and intellectuals who built the right and modern-day liberals like Krugman and Chait is how tentative the latter are when it comes to offering a new vision of how to go about "putting material things in their proper place" and fashioning a relationship between the individual and the state that can foster liberty and equality. When Goldwater (OK, Bozell) wrote The Conscience of a Conservative, he knew he was calling for a dramatic change in the country's direction. Ronald Reagan in 1980 also claimed to want to break with history. But these contemporary liberals insist that they are not calling for anything particularly far-reaching; their politics are to be found in the past, in the moderate consensus, in the New Deal. They want to move forward but only by moving back. The internal weaknesses and flaws of the New Deal, or of postwar liberalism, which might seem manifest in the ease with which it was ultimately dismantled, seem to trouble them not at all. Yet if the conservative movement has any political lesson to teach to those who disagree with its motives and goals, it should be that sometimes only a willingness to be radical really brings about change.
I tend to agree with Phillips-Fein, if only because Lind never offers the specifics to support his case. Nostalgia for the New Deal is not going be the banner under which a new liberal majority emerges.

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