February 11, 2008

Jonah speaks to Nineveh

I suspect that most people just think I'm a bit kooky when I obsess over my theory that most "liberals" aren't liberals at all any more. That they are nihilists, that they've been "hollowed out," that any philosophy or principles that you associate with the term "liberal" are gone. But I see the evidence all around us, and I think it is the real story in our politics, and in the culture war.

You simply won't "get it" if you keep asking why liberals are doing such un-liberal things...It's the wrong question to ask.

Jonah Goldberg has an illustrative piece in NRO (Thanks to Anchoress and Gerald): Taking Issue With the Democratic Race: An Empty Primary...

....But that’s it. The rest of their disagreement boils down to who is a more authentic agent of “change.” In fairness, there’s an interesting debate to be had on that score, as Obama and Hillary’s philosophies of government differ dramatically. Obama believes in a transformative politics where lofty — often gassy — rhetoric is not merely a substitute for action, but actually preferable to the nitty-gritty detail work Hillary prefers.

But that debate is almost entirely theoretical,
[Actually, it's NOT "theoretical"--there's no theory of government ever made explicit] drowned out by the mad scramble to assemble an identity-politics coalition of generic “Hispanics,” “blacks,” “white women,” etc. It’s amazing how complacent the media is in carrying on with this kind of nakedly reductionist analysis. The notion that Hispanics may be voting one way or another for reasons other than their ethnicity seems never to come up.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, women, blacks and Hispanics vote too, but that’s not how the demographics and coalitions of the right work. GOP candidates actually have to win over people who believe things. (After all, the famed, and tragically frayed, “Reagan coalition” was about different groups of principled people, not a mere hodgepodge of ethnicities and genders.) Exit pollsters ask GOP voters whether they’re committed pro-lifers, whether they think the economy is the most important issue, etc. I’m sure they ask Democratic voters similar questions, but it’s telling how little we hear about that. What Democratic voters actually believe doesn’t seem to be that relevant, in large part because Democrats aren’t voting their beliefs, they’re voting affections.

Obama is “the one” — in Oprah’s words — not because of his policies but because his is a transcendent, unifying, super-nifty-cool personality. Hillary, meanwhile, is staying aloft largely through her ability to guilt-trip female liberals into sticking with her. Her cultivated weepiness and dour lamentations about how she’s been so picked on sometimes make it seem like she’s setting up a political version of one of those “how-does-a-Jewish-mother-change-a-lightbulb?” jokes. Answer: “It’s all right; I’ll just sit in the dark.”...

....The Republican party is a mess, absolutely. Conservatives are sorting out what they believe, what heresies they can tolerate and on which principles they will not bend. At times this argument is loud, ugly and unfortunate. But you know what? At least it’s an argument about something...

Liberalism used to be about liberating oppressed peoples from fascist dictators, and bringing them democracy and opportunity. Too bad no one wants to do that stuff anymore. Oh wait...

Posted by John Weidner at February 11, 2008 6:21 AM
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