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"the Left lacks vision...their crisis is intellectual not tactical."

This is nonsense. The political process does not require that every election include an entirely different set of governing principles and policies. The challenge the left faces, as does any other party, is to articulate and communicate the animating governing principles underlying its candidate, and the policies it seeks to implement to put those principles into practice. There is an abundance of left organizations doing the hard work of transforming these principles into policies--the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Economic Policy Institute, Gene Sperling at Brookings—and the challenge for the left is to make the case to the public why these principles and policies should be the publics principles and policies. Full employment, sound fiscal and monetary policy that benefits everyone and not merely the rich, effective education reforms that extend good schools to very neighborhood, foreign and developmental policies that make, not alienate, allies, and a health care system that serves everyone are all policy proscriptions that put the left’s animating principles into practice and they are not new or different. Smart, committed leftists have worked on these issues and have sound, rational policies implement if given a chance. This is not so much marketing as effective communications. The Clinton campaign was able to do this, Gore was not, and the Kerry campaign has not yet. But this notion of new and different is wrong—it is right and sound that has to be sold.

We need to junk the advertising paradigm--the NEW detergent is better than the one you are currently using even though it is really the same--and go back to a honest, truthful, converstation with the public about principles and policies and trust that we can convince enough of them to their rightness that we will be given a chance to implement.


I'd lobby hard to put Brad DeLong (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/) in the camp of liberal blogs that sometime go deep on policy or philosophy issues. When he puts up his latest thoughts on the impact of outsourcing or on macro policy, it's often fresh and different from the CW. And when it's pure Clinton neo-liberalims, well, that doesn't mean it's wrong.


I'd lobby hard to put Brad DeLong (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/) in the camp of liberal blogs that sometime go deep on policy or philosophy issues. When he puts up his latest thoughts on the impact of outsourcing or on macro policy, it's often fresh and different from the CW. And when it's pure Clinton neo-liberalism, well, that doesn't mean it's wrong.


The blogsphere is an assymetrical force in the war of ideas. It can swarm a subject, attack it from all sides, then disappear into the web from whence it came. Harnessed well, that energy and speed and force of attack could be worth far more than a Heritage Institute or two. And it is certainly more in keeping with the histroical cacaphony of the Democratic Party, except now it can also directly connect the debate to fundraising. Powerful stuff.

Matt Stoller


Vision is about many things; one of them is information management and media operations. You know, the first amendment has to do with media. Bloggers, though not necessarily partisan bloggers, have considered the deeper implications of low information costs much more intensively than any liberal pundit I can think of.

The enlightenment was substantially about process; introspective bloggers think about the implications of blogging and digital organizing. This is why the 'emptiness' of Dean's campaign, which you see as meaning a lack of a policy apparatus, is so tonally flawed. Yes, his policies weren't great, but then, policy isn't the problem. Process is.

The conservative vision is largely a matter of turning back the Enlightenment by politicizing levers of governance along Medieval lines; the progressive vision, out of which policies spring, is largely a matter of creating open systems to enforce Enlightenment processes on American culture.

Nell Lancaster

What happened to yesterday's comments from Lerxst, me, and others? If you are going to delete comments, it would be well to acknowledge that you have done so (or are going to do so). Most bloggers only delete trolls or abusive posts -- more than that stifles conversation. Entirely up to you, of course.

Mark Schmitt

Oh, I'm really sorry -- I didn't delete any comments! I revised the post -- specifically in response to Lerxst's comments and another, as noted -- and instead of posting an edited version, it came up as a whole new post (I was playing with a different posting tool), and so I deleted the original post without realizing that I was taking all the comments with it!

Sorry, sorry. I don't think I can salvage them, but I'll look. I've never deleted a comment, and so far I don't have enough trolls or abusive posts to feel any reason to.


Nell Lancaster

Not a problem --- my comments don't make much sense in light of your revised post, and for sure aren't worthy of retrieval efforts. Just relieved to hear it was uninentional.

Rich Puchalsky

I think it's interesting that there are comments on your comment to Levine's post here, but none (so far) on Levine's post on his blog itself.

At any rate, I can't agree with anything that says that we shouldn't be vicious because it will destroy what's left of our civic culture. Our civic culture is a sham, and should be destroyed. Those who argue that we should preserve it are using the same argument as those who say that we shouldn't push to unionize Wal-Mart because that might make Wal-Mart go away.


I think it would be perhaps more accurate to frame the civic culture thing as a change in civic culture, not a destruction of it. We can't not have a civic culture (in the way that we could not have a Wal-Mart). The question is whether we have a civic culture characterized by an engaged and deliberative electorate, or one characterized by disillusionment and naked displays of power. Trying to out-nasty the Republicans moves us toward the latter. (Though perhaps an argument could be made that we're stuck in a local minimum, and we have to move toward the nasty side first, in order to destroy the Republican machine, before we can move all the way back over to the deliberative side.)

Kilroy Was Here

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I just watched the DVD of "The Commanding Heights", a 6-hour PBS supplement to the book by the same name.

The basic outline of this piece was to contrast central planning government, from the Marxist-Leninism of the Soviet Union to the Keynesian socialim of pre-Thatcher Britain, with the free market ideas proposed by Hayek. The piece then looked at the growth and problems of globalism from the Keynes vs. Hayek lens.

Ultimately, of course, the anti-regulation, pro-free market Hayek theory tends to come off a lot better than the Keynesian central planning socialism.

For the purposes of this discussion though, one can categorize the American political struggle as the Keynesian liberal vs the Hayek conservatives. And for most of the 20th century, this might have been a good categorization.

But with Clinton in the 90's, it seems as if the Democrats through in the towel on this issue. Many Democrats hated themselves for doing it, but they ultimately determined that the downsides of markets were on balance better than the downsides of central planning for the most part. In other words, on one of the most major differences between the two parties, the Democrats blinked and agreed with the Republicans.

Looking at things this way, one can see why the Republican conservatives tend to have a more centralized, coherent vision than Democrats. Republicans are working from a playbook that's existed for 30-40 yrs or more. Large blocks of the Democratic party think it was a mistake to throw in the towel and want to return to pre-Clinton Democratic economic parties.

OK, so let's assume that this is an accurate (if highly over-simplified) way of looking at the source of the 'vision problem' of the liberal movement. What should a new liberal strategy look like?

Well, at its core, a political vision comes back to the role of government. Republicans and conservatives have a very clear view on the roles of government. Democrats don't. What would a good liberal view of government might look like?

Well, here's one idea. Given that liberals and conservatives now agree (for the most part) that markets are the best way to allocate resources. A liberal vision on the role of government could have the following points.

Markets, when operating correctly, are the best way to allocate resources among the citizenry. (Insure the blessing of liberty.)
Prevent the corruption of the markets. (Establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility) Free markets are very efficient as long as the playing field remains level. However, one problem with markets is that the 'winners' often want to retain the rewards of their winning without competing. This is anti-thetical to free markets. The Government needs to be the referee here and make sure that the winners only continue to win if their products, policies, etc. is better.

More importantly, the Government must prevent winners from using anti-market practices (collusion, bribery, secrecy, lying, etc.) from corrupting the market.

Prepare the citizens for competition in the global market and have the institutions in place to keep them competitive in the global market. (Promote the General Welfare) Our country can only continue to be competitive with other countries if we continue to have a well-educated, flexible, hard-working, innovative, and creative workforce. In fact, over the last 80 years, the countries with the most influence in the world have been those that dedicate the largest resources to their military. In the global marketplace of the future, the countries with the most influence may be those that dedicate the largest resources to the education of the citizenry. Furthermore, countries must find ways to keep their citizens healthy and working.

Build a foreign policy which allows us to compete equally with other countries in the world, and to move competition for international influence from the military realm to the economic realm as much as possible. (Provide for the Common Defense.)

This vision would tend to develop policies that would obviously be more liberal than our conservatives. Furthermore, it provides a better choice than the conservative 'small government' movement in a pro-market framerwork.

Well, these are just some initial thoughts and ramblings that haven't been well thought out. Thanks for provoking them.

Kilroy Was Here


I think the problem is not the conservatism so much as the fact that liberals don't own up to it.

I've described myself as a conservative socialist for over thirty years. I've seen Atrios, Drum, Yglesias, and Kos describe themselves as either conservative or centrist. The liberals you are refering to must be the Greens, etc., who whould just confuse things if they refered to themselves as conservative. Besides, there is a certain pride to claiming the title "Liberal" even if you aren't quite.


Good post Mark.

I'd like to make an argument for Steve Gilliard's News Blog as a more likely place for hard and useful political thought than the several blogs you mentioned.

His recent post on who is right and wrong about the war reminds me of all of the accessible critical thinking that Steve Gilliard has done on Iraq. Figuring out when and how to wage war is the best measure of political ideas possible. Gilliard and his commenters have had an ongoing analysis of how we are losing and why we will lose in Iraq. It's an analysis based on evidence and common sense rather than faith or patriotic assumptions. It's one of the best examples of idea discussion on left blogs out there.

The pro-war liberals ignored american history in Vietnam, ignored present facts and signed on to an essentially neo-colonial venture. If there is any basic idea the left can accept it should be that essentially racist crusades to reform regions in our image are doomed to failure.


Mark - you point to global warming research when you say that "it's currently the right that resists scientific innovation or independence", and you could point to stem cell or cloning research as well. However, the left is incredibly hostile to certain kinds of research as well. While only the looney left is against weapons research, nuclear research of any kind is difficult to do in the US, and research into issues surrounding race and IQ are nearly impossible to do without funding which is truly independent of government sources.

Contrariwise, while the right is generally more favorable to bringing research to market, as you state, it is much less so in certain areas, like contraceptive technology.

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