Thursday, January 12, 2012

What do Liberals really want?

This time I disagree with David Brooks (NYT, 1/10/12): there are no liberals left in the USA because government, the center-left's most favored instrument, has failed to provide widely accepted solutions for what ails the country.
It should be unnecessary to point out that the US system of governance lies at the intersection of hard capitalism and democracy. The people elect representatives to carry out the policies that they deem necessary to their well being and the pursuit of happiness. In the aggregate this system is supposed to produce the kind of governance that satisfies the average aspirations of the country.
But each voter has particular affinities and interests and projects them onto the candidates. As the selection process works itself out, the field narrows and each candidate assumes a mantle, more encompassing, less focused.
The wide field of voters' economic interests and the pressure of time concentrates the candidate's, and eventually the elected person's, mind ferociously, demanding a drill down to policies that satisfy most of the constituents and financial supporters. In our system, inevitably, the latter speak louder.
In the course of time government comes to be seen by the individual as beholden to the interests of others, by an aggregation of laws and regulations addressing needs and wishes of narrow constituencies. Nothing alienates and infuriates the citizen more that a perception that somebody is getting something that is not available to everybody.
The conclusion "this is not meant for me" feeds the perception of exclusion from the body politic and leads to low esteem of Congress' work.
This has not happened overnight; for many decades the oligarchies have worked and put in place mechanisms and organizations that foster the idea that people left alone are best capable to realize their aspirations. Government as the problem and the lone ranger as the solution.
It should also be unnecessary to point out that the individual does not have any resources beyond his labour, manual or intellectual, to assert a place in the sun. The individual has to cooperate with others in order to gain strength and confidence. This coming together is the definition of "res publica", the public thing, or republic, aka governance.
We are living through a furious debate about the role and function of the organs of governance. Some advocate that we literally return to the foundational documents articulating this republic, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and limit governance to the intentions, explicit or less so, of a group of eighteenth century worthies. Anything that cannot be found in those texts should not be subject to government action.
We Liberals would like to understand the founding father's intentions and, once ascertained, apply them to the immensely complicated interactions of twenty first century societies.
The present selection process to determine who will be running against President Obama in November has laid bare the public impatience with those complexities. Once more, in face of grave ills, there is a call for drastic, simple solutions that would cut the perceived problems down to size. Periodically the nostalgia of simpler times, the golden age that only existed in remembered aspirations, brings forth the call for a charismatic leader, a prophet, a steely surgeon.
Democracies are notoriously bad at producing that kind of leaders. But the field of Republican contenders has been particularly diverting. The Daily Show and the late night comedians have been well served.
What is more difficult to understand is how people like Herman Cain could be perceived by anybody as qualified to hold the office of President of the United States of America.