Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Death of Neoliberalism?

In his March 11 column, David Brooks of the New York Times declared neo-liberalism essentially dead after a run of...well, 25 or more years at least. He wrote:

"[Washington Monthly blogger] 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."

This is depressing on several levels. There are many people in political movements that are largely based on anger, and it's a lousy foundation for making policy decisions. Passion is fine, but only when it's backing approaches that have first been reasonably thought out. For too many who start seriously following politics out of anger, the first principle tends to be that the other side is evil, and whatever other learning about history is done is warped to support that view.

Second is that confrontation and ideological politics (which, ironically are rarely consistent in their ideas) is feeding this cycle of interparty warfare that represents the views of relatively few in the electorate. It's hopeful to see so many centrists on both sides in the presidential field at the moment, but will they get by the bases and be able to remain centrist? Outside of the creation of a major third party, either the Democrats or Republicans need to realign themselves to become a new majority party. I had thought Democrats might finally see where to go after the last election, but so far the Pelosis and older-style liberal committee chairs have had the upper hand.

Finally, the idea that centrism has failed are specious at best. There has been strong public support for centrist issues like welfare reform, educational standards, tougher environmental regulation, immigration reform, and so many others. That some of those have been stalled in Congress at impasse because of extremists on either end, or because other passed reforms were not implemented well is hardly a repudiation of the approach.

But that last especially is too big an issue for today.

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