There has been so much political turmoil among Republicans that it is easy to lose sight of the intellectual disarray on the left. On social, economic and foreign policy, liberals are adrift — and sounding somewhat heartless. The party that envisions itself as a friend of the poor and oppressed is very confused.
The left has gone through five years of the Obama presidency essentially ignoring poverty (the topic was largely avoided in favor of the war on women theme at the Democratic National Convention in 2012) until the issue became reincarnated as “inequality” — a slogan with no programmatic content cooked up for election-year attacks.
Consider how reactionary the Democratic Party now is on poverty — going back pre-welfare reform and even pre-Daniel Patrick Moynihan to insist that the cure to poverty is simply “jobs,” ignoring that those mired in poverty lack the education and life skills to obtain and hold work. (This was the same crowd that opposed welfare reform, the most successful social reform in decades.)
The overlap between fatherless households and poverty seems not to concern them. Leave the poor alone, they seem to suggest. Alas, it’s the conservative reformers who care sufficiently to look at the root causes of poverty and provide educational opportunities available to wealthy children through school choice. The left seems to have forgotten that jobs are not a commodity to be handed out like food stamps. Employment and personal fulfillment are the end products for those who’ve enjoyed a safe, secure, organized and stable childhood in which their physical, intellectual and moral development has been cultivated. (The Jesuits call it “cura personalis” — devotion to the whole person.)
Having ignored poverty and offering no meaningful policy agenda, the left attacks conservatives who are focused and providing batches of policy solutions. It’s not liberals, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) who are addressing the issue with serious and varied policy approaches; the left caters to the green elites and defends a health-care plan that discourages work.
On the economic front the left is flummoxed, incapable of pursuing the obvious engines of growth (e.g. domestic energy development, corporate tax reform, trade). It remains wedded to failed Keynesian spending schemes. It is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), not the liberal elites. who is going to bat for the poor and middle class. As Cantor put it in a TV interview: “How apropos is it for us to be pushing policies that actually expand our energy supplies, that hence push down home-heating costs, so that working, middle-class families can afford to pay the bills and continue to save for the future and invest for the future. So we’re about these policies that, again, not only help the macro-growth prospect for the economy, but it also helps grow the kind of paycheck and income that working families have to be concerned with every month.”
Unable to overcome its base’s devotion to the status quo, the White House has given up on entitlement reform, thereby throwing in the towel on addressing long-term debt. Democrats’ fiscal policy now extols slashing defense, squeezing domestic discretionary spending and letting middle class entitlements (and public-employee unions) shift government expenditures from the needy to the middle class (and often that segment of the middle class affixed to the Democratic Party’s political machine).
On foreign policy, however, the left’s disarray is the most glaring. Liberals defended Obama’s foreign policy (or lack thereof) for five years. Now, with mass murder in Syria, an invasion of a European ally, Iranian intransigence and widespread contempt for the administration from foes and allies alike on the international scene, the left has entirely lost its bearings. Bret Stephens exposes some of the worst elements, paraphrasing the left’s odd defense of Vladimir Putin:
[I]sn’t Mr. Putin merely duplicating the tough-guy tactics conservatives favor when it comes to the pursuit of American interests? “For Putin, an anti-Russian government in Kiev is illegitimate regardless of how it takes power,” writes Peter Beinart, “For many American hawks, the same is now true for a pro-Chávez government in Latin America or an Islamist government in the Middle East.” Mr. Beinart calls Mr. Putin a “Russian Neocon.” Thus does cold-blooded foreign policy “realism” blend with the embarrassed apologetics of postmodern liberalism to become the enabler of Russian revanchism.
In adopting Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as their pet — look how inclusive they are! — the left finds common cause with his hysterical accusations about our government’s anti-terrorism efforts and his denigration of real threats in favor of imaginary ones. Former GOP staffer John Feehery reminds us:
[I]f you listen to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), you would think that the NSA is akin to the KGB. Paul, who fancies himself as a leading Republican contender for the White House, went to the University of California at Berkley (the once and future hotbed of radical thought) and got himself a standing ovation for his attack on the NSA. He made the spurious claim that the NSA was listening in on our cellphone conversations. As he told the crowd in California, “I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business.”
Such comments make for great theater, but they are absurd on their face. The NSA couldn’t care less what you tell your girlfriend on your cellphone — unless, of course, your girlfriend is a terrorist. This theory that the NSA is some sort of malignant cancer on the body politic is not only factually wrong, it is reflexively dangerous. . . .
This is not the first time that Paul has ventured into fantasyland to make a political point. He famously launched a filibuster at the beginning of his senatorial term to decry the idea that drones could be launched on American soil against Americans, even though nobody really believed that the government would do such a thing unless the world was coming to an end.
Paul is practicing the politics of paranoia, aimed directly at the American government. It’s a form of populist libertarianism that posits that the biggest threat to our liberty comes not from foreign powers but from our own government.
That kind of paranoia is not grounded in reality, but it unquestionably has a following in this country. Edward Snowden, for example, enjoyed a warm welcome at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, despite being the houseguest of Putin.
That Snowden could somehow continue to attract admirers despite his obvious betrayal of American national security says a lot about the deep vein of distrust that Paul is exploiting for his own political purposes.
And yet the Democrats celebrate Rand Paul as a daring and original thinker. It’s odd for a party that trusts government to do just about everything that it should recognizes the dangers of overreach only when the federal government is attending to its primary responsibility (national defense) against an enemy it falsely claimed to have slain (al-Qaeda and other jihadists). In liberal circles Edward Snowden, who reside comfortably in Putin’s regime, is heralded as a hero. We live in strange times.
So what distinguishes the left these days? Ignoring the root causes of poverty, anti-growth extreme environmentalism, accommodating despots (be it Syria or Russia) and counterfactual paranoia. In place of rational and constructive policy it attacks conservative reformers. It’s a measure of how badly this president — a supposed intellectual — has led the party and the left (not to mention the country) that Democrats now show greater sympathy for Putin and green billionaires than Ukrainians and West Virginia coal miners. At least there is another party concerned for the poor and the repressed.