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February 5, 2004

What liberalism isn’t. Mark Schmitt at The Decembrist, a very sharp centrist-Democrat weblog I just now became aware of, responds to the bizarre notion (evidently promulgated by someone on The Volokh Conspiracy) that liberals ought to embrace George W. Bush because he’s proved to be a big spender:
Liberalism is not about throwing money at problems. It’s about trying to solve public problems by public means. As a liberal, do I celebrate the news that the Medicare bill will cost more than $500 billion, rather than $400 billion—a 25% cost overrun in just two months? Of course not. In fact the news gives me a pain in the pit of my stomach. It doesn’t mean we’re doing 25% better at solving the health care problems of seniors. It just means we’re doing whatever it is the bill does even less efficiently. The bill doesn’t do the job, at any cost, and so every dollar spent on it is a dollar that’s taken away from what could be a more effective program, or from long-term fiscal stability. The same is true in education, where No Child Left Behind is a mess, and makes so many more promises and demands than can possibly be met with the funding available, and thus invites deceit.

The shorter version of Paul O’Neill’s complaint in The Price of Loyalty, after all, is “I thought this would be the Nixon or Ford administration, but it wasn’t.” What liberals dislike about Bush is the very same thing that O’Neill disliked: reckless incompetence, Karl Rove running policy, nihilism on a grand scale.

“Nihilism on a grand scale.” Exactly right. [10:41 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on What liberalism isn't.:

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 01:08 AM:

Liberalism in the USA means something different from Liberalism in Great Britain. That has me confused enough already.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 01:18 AM:

For that matter, I no longer undersood was is meant by "Conservative" in the USA.

As quoted in

Much of World Skeptical of Bush's Budget: G-7 Partners to Hear Administration's Defense
By Jonathan Weisman and Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 6, 2004; Page E01:

"John B. Taylor, undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, largely dismissed concerns about the administration's response to the growing deficit when he briefed reporters this week on the G-7 meeting. Asked how U.S. officials will respond to questions about the credibility of the administration's fiscal plan, Taylor replied: 'With the hard facts.'"

"Bush's plan 'is a good solid budget,' he said, based on 'conservative' and 'reasonable' economic assumptions. The G-7 meeting would focus on an 'agenda for growth,' he said, and Washington will defend its budget -- including a deficit projected to hit $521 billion this year -- as an engine for world economic recovery."

Several true "Conservatives" I know, who believe in the Bill of Rights to defend individuals against the tyrrany of government, refuse to vote for Bush.

So what is Coservatism OR Liberalism today, in the USA?

Dvd Avins ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 02:28 AM:

Conservatism: The movement to keep power in the hands of the elites who have traditionally held power. That includes primarily the economic aristocracy, but also the religious leaders who preach that their parishoners are dependant on their church for salvation.

Since the 1930s, conservatism has been associated with reducing government spending, because since the 1930s, a fair proportion of such spending has been to mitigate the effects of differences in wealth and opportunity.

Dvd Avins ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 02:32 AM:

Another form of Conservatism, one of method, rather than objective,is the Burkean notion that sudden changes are likely to have unintended consequences whose detriments generally outweigh any positive effects of the change.

From 1933 through 1980, it was not especially confusing to use the same word for both conservatism of method and conservatism of ideal, because most changes being sought and implemented were inimical to both. Since 1980, the usage had become more problematic.

chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 03:56 AM:


"Liberal" in the States = "Social Democratic" in the rest of the world;

"Conservative" in both the USA and Britain embraces both what in the 19th century would have been described as Liberal (e.g. Thatcher) and what would have been thought of as Conservative (the "Old High Tories");

The British Liberal Party has been loosely Social Democratic since 1906, and formally so for the last 20 years.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 11:24 AM:

Making matters even more confusing, "neoliberalism" in the European context means avid support for the ideology of so-called "free markets" and "free trade", and opposition to a lot of what Americans think of when they say "liberal."

However, I'm not really sure what Jonathan vos Post means when he says that "Liberalism in the USA means something different from Liberalism in Great Britain." In fact, most of the positions of the Liberal Democrats would be a comfortable fit for a broad range of American liberals. Certainly more so than the positions of the Labour Party, "New" or otherwise, which veer well away from the comfort zone of mainstream American liberalism in many ways, and not always to its left, either.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 03:38 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Chris are both completely correct. I am moderately naive about American politics, having only been elected twice.

But I brought up the US/UK distinction also because of the confusion over "Libertarian", which seems associated with the Right in the US, and the Left in Europe.

Also, the "Left/Right" origin in the French Revolution, and Jerry Pournelle's 2-dimensional analysis of politics (one axis is individual versus collective; the other axis is rational/irrational means to end).

And, yes, Political Science is a science, the Great Book that kicked it off being by Aristotle, with its statistically valid analysis of 300+ city states...

Who was it who said, after losing an election: "The people have spoken; those ungrateful bastards!"

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 09:44 PM:

The shorter version of Paul O'Neill's complaint in The Price of Loyalty, after all, is "I thought this would be the Nixon or Ford administration, but it wasn't." What liberals dislike about Bush is the very same thing that O'Neill disliked: reckless incompetence, Karl Rove running policy, nihilism on a grand scale.

The first sentence of that paragraph sums me up pretty well. I didn't think Nixon or Ford - I thought Reagan or Bush Sr. I thought I would deeply oppose much of the ideology, but that I would at least have a president who was competent and looking out for the best interests of the nation.

It's the incompetence that accounts for the depth of my opposition to Bush Jr. - the man simply does not know what he is doing. We suspected that ever since 9/11, in the months following the Iraq war, it's become painfully obvious.

I mean, if the man was at all competent he would have been able to fabricate evidence of causus belli by now. He would have fabricated some WMD programs, or something else that would have made it look, in retrospect, like we were right to go to war with Iraq.

This is one of the things that keeps me from despairing about the future of the nation - the Bush administration will be gone in 2004. They are too incompetent to win an election. They are too incompetent to even fix another election. Like Osama bin Laden, we thought Bush was an evil genius, but instead he's just a guy who got lucky.

We can't afford to relax. Unseating Bush will require hard work by good people. But it's very do-able - and Bush will be right in there helping.

David Goldfarb notes still more comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2004, 05:13 AM: