What’s the matter with liberals?

The reason self-described conservatives have the support of so many white working people is that they are working for a coherent program in a committed, disciplined way.  The reason self-described liberals are losing support is that very few of them have the same commitment, discipline and clarity.

Idaho Tea Party protest

The conservative message is that government as such is evil and counterproductive, except in regard to social order, national security and internal security, in which case its powers should be absolute.  Also, liberals are cultural elitists whose aim is use the powers of government to impose their crazy ideas on ordinary people.  People hear this day in and day out in talk radio and Fox News, with very little push-back in the so-called mainstream media.

I have to respect members of the conservative movement for keeping their eyes on the prize. The present makeup of the Supreme Court and federal courts, as an example, did not just happen.  Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict (2007) reports, admiringly, on 40 years of effort, going back to the Nixon administration, to pack the court with judges who could be counted on to vote reliably conservative and yet get past the liberals in Congress.

Self-described liberals for 30 years have lacked a coherent message.  As somebody said, a conservative will tell you how conservative he is, while a liberal will tell you he isn’t all that liberal.  The so-called mainstream news media are not a counterbalance to the right-wing media.  As an alternative to propaganda for an ideology, you have hip jaded cynicism.  (That’s an overgeneralization; good reporting is still being done, but you have to look for it to find it.)

Why do working people so often vote against their economic interests?  The answer is that hardly anybody is for their economic interests. For the past 30 years, neither Democrats nor Republicans have championed working people.  The neutralization of the Democratic Party is well-described in Jacob S. Hacker’s and Paul Pierson’s Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

Chicago Tea Party protest

Thomas Frank, in What’s the Matter With Kansas? and Joe Bageant, in Deer Hunting With Jesus, show the disconnect between the liberal political establishment and white working people.  The conservatives might not represent the interests of working people, but they at least speak their language.  Since there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the two political parties on economic issues, workers might as well vote based on the so-called values issues.

That’s not to say that, given a choice, somebody might not vote on values issues over economic issues.  If I thought abortion really was murder, that would be the overriding issue for me.  The point is that they are not given a choice.

It is a sad commentary on liberals that the Tea Party movement is leading the protest against bank bailouts.  Glenn Beck led a rally in Washington telling people that the country is going down the drain; Jon Stewart led a counter-rally basically telling people to be reasonable and to preserve their ironic sense of humor.  On an emotional level, which more resonates with the state of most working people?

Click on Supreme Conflict for a review and summary of Jan Crawford Greenburg’s book.

Click on How Washington made the rich richer for more of my thoughts on the Hacker-Pierson book.

Click on What good are Democrats? for more of my thoughts on Thomas Frank’s and Joe Beagant’s books.

Click on What’s the Matter With Liberals? for a post-2004 essay by Thomas Frank which is still relevant.

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4 Responses to “What’s the matter with liberals?”

  1. fleeceme Says:

    The conservative message is that government as such is evil and counterproductive, except in regard to social order, national security and internal security, in which case its powers should be absolute.

    Not sure which “conservatives” you are acquainted with, but these views are not typical of the American conservative.

    Social order, interesting. That is so vague its hard to dispute, but I assume you are referring to issues such as gay marriage, abortion, etc. True conservatives who believe in the constitution believe the states have the right to decide these issues. I could care less about what gay people do, though I rather enjoy how “in your face” they are about doing it. Abortion is a sticky issue, and my only contention is that we need to actually have a real debate on it, instead of keeping it in the judicial closet. Let’s debate over the issue and legalize it or ban it (if we are gonna keep it in the federal domain where it does not belong, but do something.

    National Security I will grant you conservatives love the military. As a former soldier, I do as well. But I do not believe the government has absolute power in regards to their use of their military. Again, the Constitution limits this. Pretty simple.

    Internal security, seriously? Have you visited a conservative blog recently? You can’t spit without hitting a tirade about the TSA, or Homeland Security, or Immigration.

    As far as not caring about the working man, that is debatable (at least what we each feel constitutes “not caring”). I will grant that our current politicians care nothing about anyone they represent. They are aristocrats who only seek to increase their largesse and power on the backs of us plebeians.


    • philebersole Says:

      Not everybody who calls themselves a conservative or a liberal believes the same thing. You’re right to call me out for overgeneralizing.

      The group of people I alluded to are a subset of self-described conservatives I’ll call Team Red. They include the Republican leadership in Congress and much of the Republican and Blue Dog Democrat membership, many of the Republican governors, the chief Republican presidential candidates and Fox News commentators (an overlapping category), Rush Limbaugh and his imitators, the Heritage Foundation and the other avowedly conservative think tanks, and some of the big donors such as the Koch brothers.

      I think Team Red works together in a coordinated and disciplined way to advance the agenda of (1) removing accountability from the police, military and covert intelligence agencies, and (2) weakening or eliminating the social safety net, firewalls against recession (such as the Glass-Steagall Act) and government regulation for health and safety, environmental protection and labor standards.

      I don’t see any Team Blue equivalent of Team Red. What I see is like a football team, in which one team has trained intensively, and plans and implements a strategy, and the other team consists of a bunch of individuals who show up and play as the spirit moves them. This is a gross exaggeration, but it expresses my meaning.

      I visited your web log, and I see we are far apart in our thinking – not so much in our values as in our view of the facts and, more importantly, of who can be trusted as sources of information.

      I presume you have better things to do than read my web log on a regular basis. 🙂 But if you’re interested in knowing more about where I’m coming from, you might click on the links in my post, or look at the books I mentioned if you come across them.

      You might be interested in Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative web site and the American Conservative bloggers. I visit this web site regularly. I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but I don’t have the feeling that we inhabit alternate realities.



  2. fleeceme Says:

    I have to agree with your over-all conclusion – we share the same values, just not the same view of the information and sources.

    It is funny though, you say conservatives have a Team Red, but there is no Team Blue. I think most on the right, including myself, would argue there is quite an organized Team Blue. There can be no coincidence that the same talking points have a tendency to be bandied about by the left media amazingly at the exact same time – it is coordinated. Not to mention people like George Soros, who appears to have a hand in almost every left-leaning organization in America.

    Its all good though. Its refreshing we can remain civil on our disagreements – too often, my opponents in the blogosphere are quite rude in their rebuttal of my comments, as I am sure some on my side are.


    • philebersole Says:

      I owe myself and you one last reply.

      I alarmed by two things that have been going on in the United States for the past 20 or 30 years which, if they are not stopped, will destroy our country.

      One is the increasing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a tiny Wall Street elite at the expense of working people. The other is the increasing irresponsible power of secret military and intelligence agencies at the expense of the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

      The self-described conservatives in Washington, with a few honorable exceptions, aid and abet this trend. The self-described liberals in Washington, with a few honorable exceptions, complain but go along with it.

      By social order, I mean the arbitrary power of the police who, as once example, claim it is a crime to videotape them in the performance of their duty. I’d refer to you Radley Balko’s web log The Agitator . Balko works for Reason magazine and the Cato Institute, which are generally reckoned to be on the right rather than the left.

      I think the TSA nonsense at airports is minor compared to the claim by both the Bush and Obama administrations to imprison people without charging them with a crime, and to cover up evidence of criminal conduct by the government, and by the Obama administration to sign death warrants of American citizens. If you have an absolute right of secrecy, then you have absolute power, because who can call you to account?

      The so-called social issues cut across questions of economic and governmental power. You can be for or against abortion rights, gun owners’ rights or the right of gay marriage, and still want to allow Wall Street free rein to play games with the savings of the American people. It seems to me that the Constitution is silent on most of these issues, which, as you say, are better decided in state legislatures than the federal courts.


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