Neoliberalism, Or Who Cares What David Brooks Says About Liberals?

While I discussed liberals today from the context of similarities to and differences from libertarians, the liberal blogosphere is spending the day discussing liberalism from the context of the ideas of David Brooks. I initially didn’t bother commenting on his column from yesterday, considering that David Brooks is hardly the one whose definitions of liberal groups are very meaningful, but it is getting harder to ignore this column with all the attention being paid to it. Brooks wrote:

On policy matters, the neoliberals were liberal but not too liberal. They rejected interest-group politics and were suspicious of brain-dead unions. They tended to be hawkish on foreign policy, positive about capitalism, reformist when it came to the welfare state, and urbane but not militant on feminism and other social issues.The neoliberal movement begat politicians like Paul Tsongas, Al Gore (the 1980s and ’90s version) and Bill Clinton. It also set the tone for mainstream American journalism. Today, you can’t swing an ax in a major American newsroom without hitting six people who used to work at The New Republic or The Washington Monthly. Influenced by their sensibility, many major news organizations became neoliberal institutions, whether they knew it or not…

Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein’s mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but “like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late ’90s.” Drum says he’s reacting to Ken Starr, the Florida ballot fight, the Bush tax cuts, the K Street Project and the war in Iraq.

Drum and his cohort don’t want a neoliberal movement that moderates and reforms. They want a Democratic Party that fights. Their tone is much more confrontational. They want to read articles that affirm their anger. They are also further to the left, driven there by Iraq on foreign policy matters and by wage stagnation on economic matters…

Over all, what’s happening is this: The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform and coming to look more like its old, pre-neoliberal self. The right is growing more fractious. And many of those who were semiaffiliated with one party or another are drifting off to independent-land. (The Economist, their magazine, now has over 500,000 American readers – more than all the major liberal magazines combined.)

Neoliberalism had a good, interesting run – while it lasted.

It is not that neoliberalism has vanished, but that the differences of opinion in the 1990’s differ from those of today. The neoliberal ideas such as rejecting interest group politics, support of a market economy, and fiscal responsibility have become the mainstream views among liberals.

The war has also redefined what is moderate versus more extreme liberalism, or at least it did until opposition to the war became the majority view in this country. The DLC lost influence among liberals for its support for the war, but many people initially associated with the DLC have moved on, while retaining other aspects of neoliberalism. Howard Dean, for example, was transformed from a moderate DLC Governor to someone viewed as more liberal due to his views on the war, but he still retains his fiscal conservativism.

Perhaps what Brooks really objects to is the change in attitude. Under Clinton Republicans controlled Congress and compromise appeared to be the best solution. However, Republicans showed no interest in compromise or bipartisan government. This leaves liberals as having no choice but to be more confrontational compared to the right.

More posts on David Brooks

Further discussion of this column from Matthew Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Steve Benen, Joe Klein, Ben Adler, Jonathan Cohn, and Ezra Klein.

Update: Still further discussion from Roger Smith (who linked back here at Huffington Post), Paul Glastis, and The American Street

Liberals and Libertarians Might Agree on Tolerating Government After All

When I and others have discussed the idea of a fusion of libertarian and liberal ideas there have been supporters and detractors both among libertarians and liberals. This is largely because of the variety of beliefs in both groups. An article by Tyler Cohen at Cato Unbound provides further evidence that there can be areas of common ground between libertarians and liberals.

Liberals can range from more classical liberals whose primary interest is in civil liberties and social issues while supporting a free market system to supporters of a big government welfare state. The former group shows an overlap with libertarian beliefs, while the latter has far less common ground with libertarians. Libertarians range from those hostile to any form of government whatsoever, to those who accept varying degrees of government. There is often a fine line between the later form of libertarian and the first group of liberals I mentioned. (This could be confused further by a number of right wingers who have taken the libertarian label while rejecting basic libertarian principles in supporting Bush and the Iraq war. To consider these faux-libertarians to be libertarian strips the libertarian name of any real meaning, which has been a complaint of many libertarians.)

Tyler Cohen shows the degree to which some libertarians and liberals do overlap when he argues that the paradox of the success of the libertarian movement has been bigger government:

Those developments have brought us much greater wealth and much greater liberty, at least in the positive sense of greater life opportunities. They’ve also brought much bigger government. The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford. Furthermore, the better government operates, the more government people will demand. That is the fundamental paradox of libertarianism. Many initial victories bring later defeats.

I am not so worried about this paradox of libertarianism. Overall libertarians should embrace these developments. We should embrace a world with growing wealth, growing positive liberty, and yes, growing government. We don’t have to favor the growth in government per se, but we do need to recognize that sometimes it is a package deal.

The old formulas were “big government is bad” and “liberty is good,” but these are not exactly equal in their implications. The second motto — “liberty is good” — is the more important. And the older story of “big government crushes liberty” is being superseded by “advances in liberty bring bigger government.”

Often the issue comes down to whether increasing liberty or eliminating government is the primary goal. Some libertarians see any government as evil, and act as if there is no moral distinction between government inspecting meat and government restricting free speech. Hardcore libertarians also have a hard sell because many people who might agree on civil liberties and on social issues do not see going without health insurance, or giving up their social security benefits, as becoming more free.

I suspect that many libertarians are going to object to Cohen’s article. While “big government conservativism” really was no surprise as Republican support for liberty and small government has generally been transparent rhetoric divorced from their actual policies, “big government libertarianism” might be seen as a violation of core beliefs. The specific examples Cohen gave of government action are fairly benign, but his argument might also be used to justify the pro-war and pro-Republican attitudes on the right. Ultimately labels have grave limitations, lumping people together who might have very different beliefs and dividing people who are actually close in their beliefs. The overlaps between some libertarians and liberals, as well as the divisions within these groups, provides an excellent example of these limitations in using labels.

Mad As Hell And Not Going To Take It Anymore

The Wall Street Journal is upset that John Kerry confronted Sam Fox in his confirmation hearings to be ambassador to Belgium (discussed here and here):

That’s an insight Mr. Kerry’s Democratic colleagues, who in solidarity may block Mr. Fox’s appointment in a vote next week, would do well to remember. The Democrats are not without their own free-range advocacy groups, such as Before they build the gallows, they might consider what will constitute a hanging offense when the political composition of the government shifts.

There are a few major flaws in this argument. First, while the media concentrated on the Swift Boat connection, as I reviewed previously a major portion of Kerry’s testimony was to show that Fox was not qualified for the position. Even if Fox’s connection to the Swift Boat Liars was the only issue, this would not be analogous to MoveOn. There is a tremendous difference between advocating a political position and engaging in a dishonest smear campaign of this nature. Anyone who participated in spreading these lies about a decorated war hero such as John Kerry should be disqualified from such an appointment. Holding different opinions is not the same as inventing different “facts” as was done by the Swift Boat Liars.

The Wall Street Journal says Kerry, and presumably the rest of us should “get over it.” Steve Benen explains why we should not just get over it:

It’s possible that I’m just petty. I have a hard time forgiving and forgetting. But every time I hear conservative argue that we should “get over it,” I’m reminded of why I continue to harbor grudges.

Republicans threw the political world into turmoil in 1998 by launching an impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton. It was an absurd and painful exercise. Those of us who are still annoyed by the fight are supposed to “get over it.”

In 2000, Republicans orchestrated a massive fraud in Florida, and, with the help of the Supreme Court, delivered the presidency to the candidate who came in second. Those of us who harbor resentment are told we should “get over it.”

Bush failed to take the terrorist threat seriously before 9/11? “Get over it.” Bush launched a disastrous war? “Get over it.” Bush is rewarding those who helped smear a war hero with a vicious lie? “Get over it.”

It’s not enough for the GOP and its allies to engage in offensive conduct; they also insist, after a short while, that we stop being bothered by it.

A far better response than to get over it would be to shout, as in Network, that “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The Problem With Fox is Not Simply Bias

Cenk Uygur of Air America believes Fox Has Jumped the Shark. It actually isn’t that Fox recently jumped the shark but that the Democratic Party is finally acknowledging it by not allowing Fox to host the Nevada debate. Uygur links to several sites with examples of their bias, including these memos and this recent collection of screen grabs. I’ve discussed Fox News many times many times here, with a collection of my older posts added here.

What is important in comparing Fox News to legitimate news organs is that Fox, like Air America and talk radio, is designed to advocate a particular point of view and is not by any meaningful definition of news a news organization. The problem is not simply that Fox is biased but that it is a propaganda outfit. ABC might regularly repeat right wing talking points under political director Mark Halperin but there remains some attempts at objective reporting. While NBC is also overly friendly to conservatives, they do not match Fox as a propaganda outlet. Republicans might see Tim Russert as one of their best ways to get out their spin, and MSNBC might have had a quota system to limit liberal guests, but now Keith Olbermann gives some balance to their many conservative shows. CNN took a sharp move to the right after Ted Turner sold it, but even right wingers like Wolf Blitzer rarely match the propaganda efforts of Fox.

Conservatives try to excuse Fox by claiming that they offer a lone conservative viewpoint. They typically see any news that is either objective or mildly right of center as having a liberal bias, expecting “news” to reinforce the common Republican talking points failing to realize they are often factually incorrect. Conservatives are wrong in both ignoring the conservative leanings of the other broadcast networks and in failing to realize that purposely expressing such a political viewpoint is counter to the idea of presenting news. You cannot be a news outlet when your major function is to further the aims of one political party, especially when you are willing to present falsehoods to achieve this goal.

To counter the harm done by Fox, it is necessary for viewers to realize that this is not just a news source with a conservative bias but an outright propaganda outfit. As Uygur concludes:

Fox has jumped the shark. Fox News needs to come out, as professional wrestling did, and finally admit they are fake. It’s just entertainment, not the real thing. The World Wrestling Federation eventually changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Fox has it even easier. The name will almost be the same as before. Fake News Channel.