Back in December, I attended a couple of the Town Hall meetings that the Obama Transition Team had nationally. I sent the following impressions to some of my friends and family on December 15, 2008:
- There is a major split in the Obama base between Centrists and traditional Progressives (a contradiction in terms that is accurate on many levels).
- If the Progressives push for single payor, there won't be any kind of health care reform. If they push for Keynesian solutions (a modern WPA, in essence) they could screw up the Obama Administration economic package which seems predicated on the fact that Keynesian solutions won't work with the degree of State, Federal, municipal, personal and commercial leverage that now exists.
- Obama has the central challenge of having attracted two broad groups: "wonks," professionals and intellectuals (many of them African Americans) and old school, tie-dyed hippies (many of them really great people, to be honest). The two groups have wildly divergent views.
- To advance his agenda, he has to reconcile these two factions. As seen with Rep. Corker of Tennessee and the Big 3 Bailout, I don't see much cooperation forthcoming from the Republicans, especially in the House, while he secures his base.
I don't see much of this that has not played out, unfortunately.
Patton, one of the most brilliant Operational thinkers that the US Army ever produced, often said things like, "The perfect is the enemy of the good enough." The current health care reform debate proves his point. The fact that a single-payor plan (or something similar, the "Public Option") won't (and, really, can't) pass, blinds people to the real potential of market-based reform, like Co-ops.
The Stimulus Plan, authored by Rep. Obey, was, as Sen. Schumer admitted, a "porky" plan, submitted during a debt crisis. Its economic results, to date, are marginal, but the weakening in the strength of our currency and in our ability to borrow is palpable. Any acknowledgment that the plan should be abandoned or modified before the money is spent is met with howls of protest from many traditional Progressives.
As all of this happens, a recent Gallop Poll indicates that 40% of Americans identify themselves as Conservatives, while only 21% identify themselves as Liberals. Reaching out to Independents/Moderates is essential, even when another recent Gallop Poll indicates that 38% of all Republicans are unsatisfied with their own Party. If greater than expected losses at the Mid-terms do not occur, it will be because of weakness in the Republican "brand," not Democratic success.
The great problem with American liberalism is that it is, in Alvin and Heidi Toffler's terms, a Second Wave movement:
The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, and weapons of mass destruction. You combine those things with standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization, and you wind up with a style of organization we call bureaucracy.
Bill Clinton was wrong. The Era of Big Government is not only over, the age of big anything is over.
The world is now in what the Tofflers call the "Third Wave," a world of what Tom Peters called "de-massification." The Internet, Talk Radio, the change to post-industrial (often contingent) employment, all profoundly degrade the value of traditional Democratic Party constituencies, notably Unions and the Main Stream Media. While the Net Roots have been a powerful force in recent elections, notably Pres. Obama's, it has not promoted more Third Wave ideas in the Democratic Party and among Liberals generally.
For example, it makes no sense to me that Liberals don't embrace the Tenth Amendment. It reserves all powers to the states and to the people not expressly reserved to the federal government. Arguably, this would include groups of people, linked in community and charitable organizations and not-for-profit corporations. This would also be an especially effective modality for health care reform, as suggested by the great management thinker, Peter Drucker.
Greater support for the Tenth Amendment among Liberals would allow Justice Brandeis's famous comment on the laboratory of federalism to truly bloom. States, quite rightly, are advancing the agenda of gay marriage through the legislatures more than the courts, giving this momentous and controversial change greater legitimacy.
The Tenth Amendment particularly allows for government with greater legitimacy and resiliency. I only spent one year in the GWOT, in the uneventful Horn of Africa, but I have come to believe that the proximate cause of that war and 9-11 was the lack of legitimacy of governments in the Dar al Islam and that this war has lasted so long because of the resiliency of the Salafist movement. I think we only began to win when the Salafists in Iraq began to over-reach and impair their own legitimacy.
While I am not a pessimist like James Kunstler (or even John Robb), I think we need to learn how to govern our nation on a more de-centralized basis and that implies a return to more federalist principles.
Government is not the only medium in which to seek social justice. Local and state government, far more than the centralized federal government, can deal with local issues in ways appropriate to local conditions. We need to trust ordinary people to make their own decisions.
If the Left does not learn these lessons, it will (continue to be?) be increasingly marginal in American public life. This is unfortunate, as these ideas are fundamentally part of the Liberal canon.