jump to navigation

So What Happened On Tuesday? November 4, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, ethics of care, politics.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

The short answer is that lots of people lost their homes, their jobs, and their security for the future. The Democrats promised to give them some relief and they didn’t deliver—the public resents that. Since there is only one other party on offer, they chose Republicans.

People who feel resentful are not inclined to coolly assimilate the fact that Democrats made things less worse or that Republican free market radicalism cost them their well-being in the first place. The attention span of American voters can be measured in minutes. If nothing else, the GOP has proven that if you are going to fail, fail so spectacularly that the other team can’t fix it in the short run.

Here are a few facts that the majority of the voting public apparently don’t know:

We now have a health care system that insures thirty million more Americans than were insured before Obama took office, substantial tax cuts for middle-class Americans, a bailout of Wall St. from which the public will make a profit, a massive economic stimulus that saved millions of jobs, and an economy that has grown for the past four quarters. The calamitous job losses that characterized the end of the Bush Administration have ended and corporate profits are again on the rise.

But a recent poll shows that by a margin of two-to-one, those most likely to vote believe taxes have increased, the economy has shrunk, and the billions of dollars of bailout money will never be recovered.

As usual, Democrats made the mistake of thinking that if they play fair and do a competent job of managing the bureaucracy and the policy apparatus of government, the public will reward them with approval. But the voting public looks at politics as a morality play, not a policy seminar. The optics of bailing out Wall St. and Detroit while ignoring homeowners, small business owners, and construction workers cannot be changed by earnest management. Especially when Democrats themselves have a reputation for being handmaidens of casino capitalism and corporate welfare. Passing much needed health care reform is laudable but its benefits are too long term to affect this burgeoning resentment in the short term.

The GOP are masters at manipulating resentful, myopic, low-information voters; the Democrats wouldn’t know resentment if it bit them in the ass. (Oh. It did. We will see what they have learned)

At the close of the Bush Administration I published a book, Reviving the Left, in which I argued four claims: (1) Voters respond to underlying value systems, not policy proposals; (2) conservatism despite its superficial moral appeal is a form of nihilism, (3) managerial, interest group liberalism, because it refuses to articulate a competing value system, is ineffective as a political ideology; and (4) liberalism can be revived only by adopting a grassroots-fueled ethic of care that emphasizes our moral obligations to each other.

This election season tends to confirm all four propositions. Obama had to bail out the banks to maintain some semblance of a financial system. Had he shown the same care for homeowners and workers I wouldn’t be writing this today.

Although his campaign was vague enough to raise doubts, I had some hope that Obama understood (1), would fight to make (2) clear to the public, recognized the limits of managerial liberalism, and would begin the process of transforming liberalism into a viable political force with a powerful moral appeal. None of this has come to pass. My biggest disappointment is the utter collapse of the grassroots, youth-fueled organization that played such a role in his election. Democratic indifference toward that movement was obvious this election season. According to Ed Kilgore, “As Voters under 30 dropped from 18% of the electorate to 11%; African-Americans from 13% to 10%, and Hispanics from 9% to 8%. Meanwhile, voters over 65, the one age category carried by John McCain, increased from 16% of the electorate to 23%.”

Can we turn this around? I suppose hope springs eternal. Hope is by nature resistant to evidence but susceptible to vanity.

But without hope one has nothing.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Advertisements

Kennedy’s Moral Rhetoric August 31, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics, politics.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Since Senator Edward Kennedy’s death, much has been said about his skill as a negotiator, his legislative triumphs, and personal qualities (as well as faults).

But Jonathan Cohn, writing in The New Republic, identifies the key component of Kennedy’s reputation as the liberal lion.

But Ted Kennedy was something else, too. He was a crusader. He was–again, to quote his fraternal eulogy–somebody “who saw wrong and tried to right it.” He possessed not just a clarity of purpose, but a certainty that his purpose had moral grounding. And that made Kennedy somewhat unusual, or at least quaint, in the part of the ideological universe he inhabited.

We live in a strange political moment, one in which conservatives talk freely–and instinctively–of their causes in moral terms, whether it’s a matter of life or death, or a matter simply of death taxes. To regulate the practices of business or to cede a woman’s control over pregnancy; to erect walls between church and state or to raise taxes on capital gains. All of these things, in the conservative mind, are evil. And they are not afraid to say so. Liberals are not so quick to invoke morality. We call up statistics and, if we’re feeling indignant, we’ll take a stand on integrity and honesty. But we seem strangely uncomfortable making naked appeals to the public’s sense of right and wrong–whether out of a confidence that our policy analysis will prevail or a fear that the public will not see things the way we do. […]

Kennedy rarely made that mistake. When he looked at America, he saw a country full of people made vulnerable–by circumstance of birth, economic misfortune, illness, or injury. Some were middle-class; some were poor. In either case, he believed, we had an obligation, as a nation, to protect them–if not to render them whole, then at least to make them safe. And so he spoke out– for universal health care, for civil rights, for aid to people with disabilities, for more generous assistance to the poor. And when opponents criticized those moves, because they meant bigger government or bigger taxes, Kennedy didn’t deny the charge. He justified it, in a way few Democrats would dare do today. It was, he said, the way Americans fulfill their duty to one another.

I think this is exactly right. As I argued in Reviving the Left, liberals made crucial errors in not casting their arguments in moral terms in the period from the mid 1970’s-2000, allowing the right to occupy the moral ground without a challenge.

But Kennedy never lost that moral focus. Despite the many compromises he had to make on legislation he seldom was guilty of making the “conservative-light” arguments that characterized Democratic campaigns for many years.

It is not yet clear whether liberals have learned that lesson. Obama occasionally uses moral rhetoric but typically allows that focus to fall from sight.

As Cohn writes:

In the fight for health care–and, perhaps, the broader liberal agenda–this sense of moral purpose has waned. It’s inefficient to spend 16 percent of gross domestic product on health care. But it’s an affront to our basic sense of decency that almost any American can lose his savings, his home, or even his life because he doesn’t have the right insurance policy–or perhaps because he doesn’t have any policy at all.

Democrats tend to get lost in the policy details without bringing the discussion back to the fundamental moral claims that move people.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com