A Minor Quibble

I’m sure it’s a bit presumptuous of me to criticize a professional political theorist (teaching at Georgetown, no less!), but as a recovering liberal, I feel obliged to defend my former ideological compatriots. Patrick Deneen:

What struck me about this is that Frum is aware, and already has been working, on an intellectual and policy re-definition of conservatism. Yet, while the liberals have been wandering in their own wilderness for many years, I don’t detect that there has been anything like such a reconsideration. It’s not clear that they have developed any considerable or new governing philosophy other than “change” and “we are not George W. Bush.”

About a month ago I wrote a long post criticizing The Next Right for confining their political discussions to electoral tactics. I argued (and I think this still holds) that the Left successfully reorganized itself precisely because it underwent a deeper ideological shift, which in turn encouraged the development of a revitalized progressive infrastructure. Foreign policy in general and the Iraq War in particular are probably the two most visible instances of the party’s leftward tilt, but when you look at the healthcare debate during the Democratic primaries, or even Obama’s confident rhetoric about spreading the wealth around in the midst of a hard-fought general election, I think it’s fair to say that Democrats spent their time in the wilderness refashioning an assertive, forward-looking vision for American leftism.

Granted, any number of progressive reforms will be stymied by political circumstance. Obama’s perceived dovishness has been dramatically toned down since the primaries, and his administration’s foreign policy will probably disappoint those of us who hoped he might reign in American hegemony. Our dire financial straits may also derail his ambitious (and expensive) health care proposal. But the ideological anchor of the Democratic Party has irrevocably shifted leftward, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I suppose social democracy isn’t a new political concept, but neither is Frum’s vision of big government conservatism (see, for example, the Rockefeller Republicans). I fervently hope that conservatism will become the more ideologically introspective camp once this election is over, but if that happens, it will be as a result of unfavorable political circumstances. Much like the Democrats, they’ll be forced to rethink and reformulate before they can hope to regain Congress or the White House.


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Filed under Conservatism, Political Philosophy, Presidential Politics

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