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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

In Defense of Liberalism and Good Government

01/23/10

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.”Alasdair Gray

We were delighted to see President Obama’s fiery, fightin’ spirit Friday as he swung into Elyria, Ohio, in full campaign mode with his “never stop fighting” speech. You go, O.

But, listen, populist rhetoric alone won’t do it. Democrats—and the White House in particular—must take strong actions (take stands, build support, gather coalitions, and cast votes). Be specific and firm about health care and banking reforms. Don’t be so vague, aloof, and passive. Stop letting opponents frame the debate. Take strong action. Grab them bankers by the throat. Make ’em gasp. (See the example of JFK vs. U.S. Steel in 1962 in Frank Rich’s column “After the Massachusetts Massacre.”)

In our last post we urged Democrats to be boldly populist and fight for the ordinary voters. We called on Democrats—and independents and any elected officials who want to make this a better, internally stronger nation—to speak up for the positive role of government. It is imperative to counter the conservative/Republican con job about government’s being “the problem” (as Reagan famously accused, though Jimmy Carter had done the same before him—thanks a lot) and give definite examples of how the public benefits from good government.

To start with some good talking points, the message is well summarized in the following passages from our friend Joe Conason in his bestselling book Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (hailed by Paul Krugman as “must reading for anyone who wants to understand America today”):

“. . . remember that America in the twentieth century was built on liberal policy, from the Progressive Era through the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the GI Bill, and the Great Society. The modern economy—a private enterprise system that relies on government safeguards against depression and extreme poverty—is the legacy of liberal leadership, from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. . . . Conservatism in power always threatens to undo that national progress . . .

“If your workplace is safe; if your children go to school rather than being forced into labor; if you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a forty-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights—you can thank liberals. If your food is not poisoned and your water is drinkable—you can thank liberals. If your parents are eligible for Medicare and Social Security, so they can grow old in dignity without bankrupting your family—you can thank liberals. . . . If people of all races can share the same public facilities; if everyone has the right to vote; if couples fall in love and marry regardless of race; if we have finally begun to transcend a segregated society—you can thank liberals. Progressive innovations like those and so many others were achieved by long, difficult struggles against entrenched power. What defined conservatism, and conservatives, was their opposition to every one of those advances. The country we know and love today was built by those victories for liberalism—with the support of the American people.”  (Big Lies, pp. 4–5)

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For further thoughts along these lines, see our previous post, “Does Believing in Social Contract Make Us Socialists? Then So Be It.”



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