Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Practicality before ideology....

Fmr. Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) has an interesting op-ed in today's NY Times about the Republicans' success in establishing a network of think tanks, activists, and media outlets to proliferate their ideology and policy proposals into the mainstream debate. He basically argues that there's a pyramid structure to conservatism, and the President is at the top. The base is so stable that the President could by replaced whenever, and the structure would go on unphased.

He's basically right about this, and it's been written about extensively. However, I think his call for Democrats to emulate this model is impractical. It comes down to a difference in the way liberals and conservatives approach their ideology. As Jonathan Chait pointed out in a great article in The New Republic a while back, there is an important distinction between the goals of liberals and conservatives. Conservatives see reduced government as an end in itself. To them, it doesn't really matter if lower taxes, deregulation and slashed government programs would actually help America....they pursue these goals because they believe in them ideologically. Liberals, on the other hand, often favor more government but not simply for the hell of it. If liberals didn't actually believe that more government involvement in society would help people, they would have no reason to advocate it. Liberals don't believe in more government as an end in itself, they (we) believe in it because it can WORK.

So, to get back to Bradley's argument, I think it's impractical for Democrats to set up the type of echo-chamber of ideology that Republicans have in place because Democrats and liberals simply aren't as stubborn and set in their ideology as Republicans and conservatives. By definition, liberals favor policies that they think will WORK, which means their ideology is open to debate. There aren't a slew of liberal proposals to simply insert into the media as there are for conservatives (tax cuts, privatizing social security, deregulation, etc). Whether this is beneficial to Democrats in the long-term is obviously uncertain, but I think we'd be mistaken to assume that emulating conservatives' stubborn (albeit consistent) adherence to a strict ideology is the way to go.


At March 31, 2005 9:47 AM, Blogger Gilbert Martinez said...

If Democrats and liberals only have policies and no principles, we are in a losing battle. I discussed previously how the conservatives discuss philosophical issues more than progressives and wonder what it is that progressives want--if they in fact want anything.

I'm a Democrat for a reason. Today and historically, they've always sought a more responsible government--a government of justice and equal opportunity. That, for me, is an end in itself and how I evaluate policies.

Republican ideology fails my moral test because tax cuts as an end doesn't always result in responsible government; nor does small government in itself result in responsible government.

It's too bad so many Dems are afraid to talk about moral values (not necessarily religious). I think they are stronger overall in this department. But I suppose we'd rather discuss particular policies and ignore the justification of these policies.

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