Blogs > Cliopatria > The "Lack of Ideas" Myth

Jul 1, 2005 12:54 pm


The "Lack of Ideas" Myth



Jonathan Chait has a brilliant essay in the July 11th issue of The New Republic about the supposed lack of ideas among liberals. (Registration, and possibly subscription, may be required.) His conclusion seems to me pretty spot-on: It is not about ideas, but rather which party is in power. Democrats and liberals have plenty of ideas. But since they are not the party in power, almost none of those ideas have a serious chance of being enacted, and so they are largely ignored. It is a compelling corrective to what clearly seems a false conventional wisdom.

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Derek Charles Catsam - 7/2/2005

Steve --
Or liberals can simply take back what is theirs, point out that during the 2000 election George Bush decried some of the very things he is doing (humanitarian-oriented foreign policy, nation building) and say "we do it better." Rather than a "new look" I'd go with a "better look" foreign policy.
dc


Stephen Tootle - 7/1/2005

I agree but I think there is room for a foreign policy alternative if they can find the right man or woman to rally liberalism/liberals behind it. I think a liberal can come in and make the same argument about Bush that Eisenhower made about Truman, and follow it up with something like a new "New Look." I started an article along those lines a while back that I never finished. Maybe I will finish it someday (before 2006, that is).


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/1/2005

Steve --
Another way to phrase something you wrote is to say that a lot of liberals have forsaken foreign policy liberalism that really is the essence of what neo-cons now support. Almost everything the neocons believe would not have been alien in a Truman or Kennedy White House. Today's illiberal left is often simply anti-Bush.
dc


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/1/2005

Chris --
It has been my impression that in Northern Ireland Clinton and George Mitchell are very, very well regarded. More to the point -- there has been a pretty steady, even if tenuous, peace in Northern Ireland since 1996. Clinton's role was to try to broker peace through his emissary, Mitchell. You have a tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good so that apparently there is no possibility fo any American President ever having foreign policy successes. Sure, there are problems in Northern Ireland, but to say that the peace has not been a general success is to discredit a lot of hard work that has been done by a lot of people and to apparently not care that people are not killing one another in anywhere resembling the numbers that prevailed after 1969 when the Provos broke away from the Officials. That Northern Ireland is not where we might want it to be (but where might that be? As part of a larger Irish republic? As a part of the UK? Independent? This, of course, is the crux of the matter, is it not?) does not mean that where it is is not better than where it was.
There you go again using that word, "ideological" without any regard for what it means other than as a way to pretend that you are above the fray. I have no idea how Clinton's moves, however politically inclined they were (him being a politician, is this a surprise?) cannot nonetheless be judged on the merits. I would place a bet that the agreement Clinton tried to broker would have given the Palestinians more land than they will now get, and that loss will come after five years of thousands of deaths. In politics, sometimes you cannot get everything you dream of. I daresay that Clinton's proposals (which the PLO rejected) will end up looking like a missed opportunity when the history of this conflict is written.

dc


chris l pettit - 7/1/2005

The attempts to broker peace were done rather cynically...or at least in an politically ideological manner. I would say that he was a politician...rather uninterested in law or morality...but very interested in what is best for his power structure and his country's power structure. I am sure that there was lip service paid to humanitarian values...and at some level there might have been some effort to make them desirable...but only if it did not interfere with US policy and what we were trying to do. Granted...this is the aim of every US politician since we have not yet learned that we are but a tiny part of the international community, nor are likely to overcome that veil of ignorance anytime soon.

I have a couple of Irish colleagues who would greatly beg to differ with you on the Northern Ireland comment. i however defer to your more vast knowledge of the region, as I am more than willing to admit when I do not have enough background to comment. From what I have read, in addition to the international law ramifications, which I have studied, Clinton's role, while having substance, was not a large as many make it out to be. Besides...while there has been a lot of progress...the problems in that area of the Isles are still simmering, as much of the socio-economic damage and cultural problems have not yet been overcome...in addition to the legal problems. yet...it was a huge step forward.

Don't get me wrong...I am willing to acknowledge successes...just dont want to get carried away and want to put it all in context.

CP


Stephen Tootle - 7/1/2005

Just to follow up, check out this article from commentary by comparison:

http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article.asp?aid=12001023_1


Stephen Tootle - 7/1/2005

I don't think that the conventional wisdom is wrong, or that Chait is wrong. The problem with the Democrats is that the idea guys are not getting through to the political guys. Since we all watch the Daily Show, I will remind you of Dean's very frustrating appearance when Stewart asked for specifics the leader of the DNC was not prepared. There are plenty of smart liberals out there who didn't make the conversion to neoconservatism, but are Pelosi, Dean and Reid listening? I heard Pelosi's response to Bush's recent speech and it was pretty idea-free.
They need to pick three domestic issues (say, Energy, Social Security, and Education) and get their entire party organization behind some specific reform legislation. Their proposals on these issues should be real reform that follows logically from some kind of ideological framework.

Domestically, the Democratic Party needs a Contract with America. In foreign policy, they need a New Look. They can win in '08 if they have those things.


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/1/2005

Chris --
But whether I agree with you or not, your comment at least presents an argument. My guess is that Becky was not prepared to engage in the finer points of Grand Stategy.
I would be a bit more charitable to Clinton -- do you really think negotiating peace in Northern Ireland is not worthy of our admiration? The attempts at Oslo failed, but I do not see trying to broker peace in Israel and Palestine as amoral or immoral.
I also think that you are talking about public morality as opposed to private morality, a distinction that I am afraid Becky did not and would not make. I still think you need to be careful of so imposing your views onto situations that those who do not agree with you run the risk of being called "immoral." That ain't argument -- it's name calling.

dc


chris l pettit - 7/1/2005

You know the funny thing, DC...she is not exactly far off...

Clinton's human rights record was almost as bad as the current Bush's. The doctrine of preventive war had its genesis in the illegal intervention in the Balkans. War crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in the Balkans, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia...the US destroyed the credibility of the UN in Rwanda (darn those dictatorships)...about the only good thing Clinton did was sign the Rome Statute of the ICC, now undone by Bush. His encouragement of Israeli crimes and lack of any real solution to that conflict was also atrocious...so, yes...his morality and grasp on law and human rights was pathetic...

As usual...i agree that becky is as clueless as the rest of the intolerant warmongers and nationalistic zealots...my position she would probably criticize more than yours...but good lord, you have to admit that Clinton was an awful president...

CP


Derek Charles Catsam - 7/1/2005

Becky --
1998 just called and it would like its overwrought, hysterical, substanceless critiques back. Thank you.
dc


Becky Barrios - 1/8/2004

How in the world can the clintons think they can act as they do, be so new world order and totally without morals and then wonder why the country at large is so disgusted with them?Have they NO CLUE AT ALL??????????????? Yikes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Their lack of morals scare the hell out of me. They need to get a grip

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