Back in February, we linked to pieces by Radley Balko and Jonah Goldberg on a phenonomon that Balko dubbed “The Conservative Left“. As Balko wrote:
You know, you sometimes get the feeling the day after the polio vaccine was invented, today’s left would have run editorials lamenting the good ol’ days, when we were a little more cautious about what swimming pools we jumped into, and expressing sadness that we’d now have no new stories about the afflicted overcoming their disability to inspire the rest of us.
I’m not kidding. They’re that resistant to change. Every mill that shuts down is a “sign of our sad times.” No matter that the new mill will do things better, faster and cheaper than the old one. New farming techniques grow more food on less land. But dammit, if there wasn’t something romantic about the old-stye “family farm” that’s deserving of government protection. Innovation isn’t celebrated, it’s excoriated for displacing some idealized vision of the way things once were. In matters of progress and dyanmism, the left is far more conservative than the conservatives are.
Few pundits are as respected on both sides of the aisle as Michael Barone, and he picks up the theme in his latest syndicated essay:
Once upon a time, liberals were the folks who wanted to change society. They thought existing institutions were unjust and that individuals needed protection against the workings of the market. They looked forward to a society that would be different.
To a considerable extent, 20th century liberals achieved many of their goals. Racial segregation was abolished. An economic safety net was constructed. Government issued regulations were set up to protect the environment. Few Americans want to undo these changes. But they may want others.
Looking back on election year 2004, I am struck by how many of the constituencies supporting Democratic candidates oppose, rather than seek, change — how they are motivated not by ideas about how to change the future, but by something like nostalgia for the past.
As Paul Mirengoff of Power Line notes:
The Democratic party, [Barone] argues, is defined by 1930 era views on social security, 60s views on the state of race relations and the use of military force, and 70s views on feminism. Cosmetically at least, this state of affairs constitutes a reversal of roles from 1996 when the Democrats claimed they couldn’t “stop thinking about tomorrow,” while Bob Dole promised to be “a bridge to the past.”
Contrast the Democrats’ new found love of stasis, along with a remarkably smug elitism, to the efforts of The Accidental Radical. You get some sense of what may be involved in retooling liberalism (and the left hasn’t even liked to be called liberal since at least 1988) for the 21st century.