Realignment on Issues of Liberty Versus Authoritarianism

The previous post on the column by David Brooks leads back to a topic I’ve discussed many times here–the realignment of the political parties. As discussed earlier, the Republicans have abandoned previous ideas of freedom and small government. In recent years, especially as traditionally leftist economic policies have been abandoned, the left has increasingly been redefined as those who oppose the policies of the Bush administration including the war, suppression civil liberties, pandering to the religious right, and erosions of check and balances on government. Howard Dean is considered far left for his opposition to the war while his fiscal conservativism is no longer considered a defining characteristic. (See related post on Dean below the fold). The major predictor of one’s political party affiliation has become how frequently one attends church, with those attending multiple times a week being more likely to be Republicans and supporters of the agenda of the religious right.

Glenn Greenwald makes an argument similar to the argument I have been making on the realignment of the political parties. It comes as little surprise that he sees the party divisions similar as to how I do concerning his stress on civil liberties as well as the checks and balances in government. Greenwald also discusses David Brooks’ column and writes:

I have argued several times before that the radicalism of the Bush presidency and the neoconservatism on which it is based has resulted in a fundamental political re-alignment. As Brooks points out, the issues that shape our political spectrum and determine one’s political orientation have changed fundamentally — Brooks contrasts today’s predominant issues with those of the 1970s in order to demonstrate this shift, but the shift is just as drastic even when one compares today’s predominant political issues to those that drove the key political dispustes as recently as the 1990s.

There is one principal reason for this shift — the Bush presidency and the political movement that supports it is not driven by any of the abstract political principles traditionally associated with “liberalism” or “conservatism.” Whatever else one wants to say about the Bush presidency, it has nothing to do with limiting the size, scope and reach of the federal government. The exact opposite is true.

On every front, the Bush administration has ushered in vast expansions of federal power — often in the form of radical and new executive powers, unprecedented surveillance of American citizens, and increased intervention in every aspect of Americans’ private lives. To say that the Bush movement is hostile to the limited-government ends traditionally associated (accurately or not) with the storied Goldwater/Reagan ideology is a gross understatement…

As a result, to be considered “liberal” or “leftist” now means, more than anything else, to oppose that agenda. All of the people now deemed to be on the “left” — including many who have quite disparate views about the defining political disputes of the 1990s — have been able to work together with great unity because all energies of those “on the left” have been devoted not to any affirmative policy-making (because they have had, and still have, no power to do that), but merely towards teh goal of exposing the corruption and radicalism at the heart of this extremist right-wing movement and to push back — impose some modest limits — on what has been this radical movement’s virtually unlimited ability to install a political framework that one does not even recognize as “American.”

Related Posts:
Libertarian Democrats or Liberalism Reborn
Rangel Moves Democrats in Wrong Direction

Conservative Bloggers and the GOP Candidates

The Delusion of Republican Libertarians

Plus some related posts I wrote for Light Up The Darkness in 2005 are under the fold.

Dean: We don’t need Republicans interfering with our lives

Putting aside the well publicized distractions of a couple of public statements which were not the wisest, Howard Dean is laying out what appears to be a strong plan for future government action per this report in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Dean is urging Democrats to spread a message of “individual freedom” and “fiscal responsibility,” two longtime conservative mantras he says Republicans have squandered by racking up governmental debt and legislating so-called “moral values.” He notes that, “we don’t need Republicans interfering with our lives.”

Dean also said, “I’m tired of being lectured on moral values by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. They can’t lecture us on moral values. This is the party that has the moral high ground and we ought to say that every day on the ground.”

Dean pointed out that having having such a message is necessary to keep Republicans from setting campaign agendas and forcing Democrats to respond defensively. This looks especially important after a recent campaign in which Republicans, with the aide of the right wing noise machine, regularly distorted John Kerry’s positions and then campaigned against their own distorted reports rather than Kerry’s true positions and record.

Dean also spoke of running a fifty state national campaign. This includes putting four DNC-funded field directors in all 50 states for four-year commitments to organize, mobilize and conduct outreach efforts.

Defining Liberal Principles

Following the election there has been considerable discussion among liberals as to clarifying what it is that Democrats believe. I believe we are in the process of a realignment and redefinition of the meanings of liberal versus conservative. We’ve seen the south move from being solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. With socialistic economic theories being discredited in practice, the old definitions based upon economics have eroded, with many of the strongest proponents of capitalism now being on the left while many on the right, including the current GOP leadership, have abandoned support for the free enterprise system and small government in their practices if not rhetoric. Social issues have become the more meaningful distinguishing features of the two parties, with church attendance (or lack of attendance) being the best predictor of an individual’s vote.

With many people working on statements of principles for which Democrats and liberals stand, one group I found of interest was The Principles Project which is working on a 500 word statement of principles. While not affiliated with the Democratic party, an article in the Washington Post does show these connections: The honorary co-chairmen are Reps. Harold E. Ford Jr. (Tenn.) and Janice D. Schakowsky (Ill.), as well as David Wilhelm, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) sent the group a letter of support, saying that “an effort like this can help us better define shared commitments.”

Their statement stresses principles such as defending dignity based upon the belief that all men are created equal. They endorse strengthening democracy by measures such as transparency and tireless vigilance against corruption and abuses of power. They support promoting progress, including innovation and entrepreneurship along with cultivating the arts and science, and ensuring a quality education for everyone. They note that America’s security requires an effective military, as well as commitment to enduring alliances, and stress the importance of preserving our belief in democracy and human rights in pursuit of global objectives.

While there are items I would have stated differently, it is a good start at a cohesive statement of general principles which most liberals could support. With the right wing noise machine regularly dominating the media with their hatred, opposition to progress and science, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and blind support for a government which becomes increasingly more intrusive in our lives, it is important to have such clear statements of an opposing viewpoint.

The Rights of the Individual vs. The State

One problem Democrats have had in recent years is in allowing the Republicans to get away to labeling the positions of both sides. Thus we have seen Republicans labeling themselves as the party of capitalism, despite advocating a form of crony capitalism which is as distinct from true capitalism as socialism is. Republican have labeled themselves the party of small government, while every elected Republican President has enlarged the size of government (and too few Democrats have pointed out that the important distinction is what the government does, not only its size). Republicans have labeled themselves the party which is strong on defense, despite pursuing a foreign policy under the neoconservatives which undermines our national security and places us at increased risk of terrorist attacks.

Republicans have labeled themselves the party of individual liberty and claimed Democrats are supporters of the collectivist state. Or maybe not. Christian Conservative, a blog which advocates Evangelical Christianity, has reversed these labels. The premise of a post today is that:

In spite of how the fundamental values of republicans and democrats have evolved over the centuries, it’s still true today that democrats are preoccupied more with “what is good for the individual” rather than “what is good for the society”, the latter being a republican’s first concern.

This turns around many of the Republican claims, ranging from the arguments of the libertarian wing of the Republican party to the battle cry of Ronald Reagan to get government off of our backs. They conclude by drawing this distinction:

Because the liberal democrat asks, “what is good for the individual?” while the Republic and the republicans ask, “what is good for the society?” Conservatives argue liberty of the society, not the individual, is ultimate in this Constitutional Republic, it is from that premise we argue.

While I don’t agree with many of the points they make along the way, I am grateful to Christian Conservative for clearly putting liberals on the side of individual liberty. We have seen what happens when societies from Nazi Germany to Communist Russia and China have placed society over the individual to this degree, falsely claiming this to be freedom.

This placement of the state over the individual is something which not only liberals might find offensive, but which could also raise concerns in many Republicans. There is good reason why previous Republicans have made ignored the policy recommendations of the religious right once they have used them to get into office. They have known that actively pursuing the agenda of the religious right would be offensive to Americans of the left, middle, and even much of the right.

The views of groups such as Christian Conservative give liberals an important wedge between the various factions which resulted in George Bush’s narrow victory. If labels such as this become more commonly accepted, it provides a frame work for areas of disagreement which might bring in support from new groups. Rather than being seen as the party which supports gays and abortion, the Democrats could have greater success as the party which supports individual liberties (which would continue to including standing up for the rights of those with different sexual preferences from the majority, and the rights of women to control their bodies without interference from the state). By presenting these as the issues of individual liberty which they really are, there is room to broaden support, and counter the Republican claims of being the party to keep government off of our backs.


  1. 1
    Eric Dondero says:

    So then, how do you explain that in practically every single local community in the Nation, IT’S THE MOTHER FUCKING DEMOCRAT LIBERALS who are outlawing smoking in bars, bingo halls and bowling alleys???

    How do you explain the fact that it’s Liberals who pushed to outlaw “sexy mudflaps” on trucks in Arizona? How do you explain the fact that it’s the Liberals who attacked two Libertarian Republicans in the 2006 election on the Drug issue, accusing them of being “Drug Legalizers” — Sen. Bob Hedlund in Mass. and Rep. Toby Nixon in WA. (Hedlund still won, but Nixon lost, mostly cause of the drug issue.)

    How do you explain that it’s the Mother fucking Democrats who are pushing more stringent restrictions on seat belt laws, now wanting a $500 fine for a first offense in states like Michigan, and even now talking of throwing people in jail for violating seat belt laws?

    The Democrats have become the Puritanical Party. They make Conservative Republicans look like crazy-ass Rock ‘n Rollin’ libertines these days.

    And who the fuck is it that’s always pushing for the Military Draft?

    Not Bush. He said “No way!” to any suggestions of bringing back the Draft. Yet the Liberals want to draft all 18 to 21 year old males into the Military to create “more diversity” and force 18 to 21 year old women to “volunteer” for community service ala Maryland.

    You’re right, the political spectrum has shifted.

    The Democrats are now the Fascists. Republicans are vastly becoming flaming Libertarians.

  2. 2
    Eric Dondero says:

    If Liberals are soooooo “Pro-Civil Liberties” like you say they are, how about getting them to abolish seat belt laws nationwide? That should be an easy one.

    How about getting them to legalize Marijuana? The only people I hear these days talking about legalizing pot are Republicans, (like Cong. Rorhbacher of CA, fmr. Cong. Bob Barr, that State Rep. in CT, Bob Hedlund in Mass., Jonah Goldberg of National Review, Walter Williams, Neal Boortz and scores of others.)

    Hey, here’s an easy one for you all Liberals. How about getting the Liberals in Congress to sign on to Ron Paul’s bill to abolish the Military Draft and Selective Service?

    You know how many Democrat sponsors he gets each year for that? Zero, zilch, nada. Take a guess of how many Republicans support his bill to abolish the Draft? Oh, about 20 to 30 usually sign on as co-sponsors.

    Here’s another one for you all. How about getting Liberals to allow Conservative and Libertarian speakers on college campuses without throwing them off, and threatening violence if they appear on stage?

    You say Liberals support civil liberties? Really? Prove it. How about getting Liberals to support lowering the Drinking Ages back down to 18 nationwide. The only legislators anywhere in the United States in the last few years who’ve supported lowering the drinking ages, have been Republicans: State Rep. Mark Petrucci in Wisconsin, and some other Republican legislator in Vermont (sorry his name escapes me at the moment.)

    And here’s another challenge for ya. You say Liberals support civil liberties? Great! Now how about ending y’all’s support for Islamo-Fascists who want to cut off the genitals of my Gay friends, stone “loose women” and Lesbians to death in my town square, and outlaw booze and gambling.

    Okay, I’m buying your line of BS. I’m willing to give you a chance you Liberals. Show us what you’ve got. Just choose one of those issues above, and do it. Less Talk/More Action.

    Repeal Drinking Age Laws

    Legalize Marijuana

    Abolish Selective Service

    or Stop Supporting Islamo-Fascism

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:


    You tend to take isolated things by Democrats, often by conservative Democrats, and then claim this represents teh views of all liberals and all Democrats.

    For example, a handful of Democrats proposed the draft to make a point (not to actually revive the draft.) Most Democrats objected and this went no where. Yet, with your total lack of regard for the truth, you claim that Democrats oppose the draft.

    At the same time you make false claims about the policies of Democrats you ignore all the authoritarian policies of Republicas.

    Republicans have been pushing for increased government control over individual’s lives. While there are exceptions, Democrats have been pushing for greater liberty. One point of the libertarian left is to push the Democrats in an even more libertarian direction now that the Republicans are a lost cause with regards to promoting any libertarian ideas.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    Eric (in response to the more recent comment from you),
    In case you haven’t noticed, it has been the Republicans who have been in control for many years. It is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who would block what you are calling for.

    For example, it is the Bush administration which has chosen to ignore laws in states which have legalized medical marijuana, and which revokes the DEA licenses of physicians who prescribe it. They are also the ones who are fighting to continue the drug war.

    No liberals support “Islamo Fascism” but the Republicans have sure played into their hands.

    It was the Republicans who blocked Bill Clinton’s attempts to go after bin Laden.

    It was the Bush administration which ignored the plans passed down from the Clinton administration to fight al Qaeda.

    It was Bush who ignored the daily intelligence briefs which warned of the 9/11 attack.

    It was Bush who concentrated on Iraq instead of al Qaeda, helping al Qaeda’s goal of overthrowing secular middle east governments.

    It was Bush who moved needed resources from Afghanistan to Iraq, allowing bin Laden to escape at Tora Bora.

    It has been the Democrats who have pushed for more action on homeland security, while Bush refused, saying it was too expensive.

  5. 5
    Eric Dondero says:

    LOL! Gotcha.

    So you say it was a “mere few Democrats” who supported the Military Draft, and they weren’t really supporting it, just trying to prove a point ‘eh?

    Just today, John Murtha on Wolf Blitzer and CNN talked about how we need to “Bring back the Draft.”

    Murtha ain’t some small potatos Democrat, and he certainly ain’t some “conservative” Democrat either.

    I think you owe this List a retraction, and me an apology.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:


    You are just proving my point about your total lack of intellectual honesty.

    You take the views of a handful of people and extrapolate them to all Democrats, while you pretend that the predominent views among Republicans don’t exist.

    Murtha is a conservative Democrat. His views on the draft are not shared by most Democrats. When the draft was raised previously, the Democratic leadership rejected the idea.

    Rangle proposed the draft to make a point, and then urged fellow Congressment to vote against it. The draft lost 402 to 2, with only Murtha and Stark (who was already on my shit list for other reasons) voting for it. Two Democrats in the entire House supporting something is hardly representative of a party’s position.

2 Trackbacks

Leave a comment