Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Malaise and Punitive Liberalism

When and why did the left go wrong?

And can its former admirable qualites be regained?

There has recently been a confluence of articles discussing this issue.

For example, consider "Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali [who] has long been the object of death threats from Dutch Islamists. Since the murder last November 8 of Theo Van Gogh, she is under 24 hour police protection. Hirsi Ali describes herself as an “apostate” from Islam." According to Transatlantic Intelligencer, which continues,
Hirsi Ali’s break with Islam has been widely publicized. Perhaps less known is her break with the “left”. Originally, a member of the Dutch Labor Party, Hirsi Ali left the latter to join the classical liberal (I think this term will now be understood by Trans-Int regulars. In case of doubt, see discussion here.) VVD. L’Express asked her why. Here is her response:

Because the left is exactly like the Muslims! I wanted to give priority to the defense of immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. They said to me: “No, that’s not a priority! The problem will take care of itself when the immigrants have jobs and are integrated.” It is exactly what the Imams say who demand that we accept oppression and slavery today because tomorrow, in Heaven, God will give us dates and raisins…. I think we need first to defend the individual. The left is afraid of everything. But fear of giving offense leads to injustice and suffering. The sexual revolution, the affirmation of individual rights, improving the living conditions of immigrants – these were once the great causes of the Dutch left. In their eyes, the simple fact of belong to a minority gives one the right to do anything. This multiculturalism is a disaster. All one has to do is scream “discrimination” and all doors are open to you! Scream ‘racism’ and your opponents shut up! But multiculturalism is an inconsistent theory. If one wants to let communities preserve their traditions, what happens when these traditions work to the detriment of women or homosexuals? The logic of multiculturalism amounts to accepting the subordination of women. Nonetheless, the defenders of multiculturalism do not want to admit it.
This over-use of stifling, and incoherent, Politically Correct doctrine, is leading to the collapse of the postmodern left, which apparently arose sometime around 1972, according to this fascinating roundup at Tech Central Station, and is being opposed now by so-called "South Park Conservatives", backed by the blogosphere:
What Is a South Park Conservative?

"In my book", Anderson recently told me, "the term refers to a kind of irreverent post-liberal or anti-liberal attitude or sensibility, one very in tune with popular culture. But it's not a coherent, fully developed political philosophy. You do find this attitude among a lot of younger Americans, as I show in my concluding chapter, which is based on lots of interviews with right-of-center college kids."

Those right-of-center college students, for the most part, aren't Alex P. Keaton-clones, decked out in Ralph Lauren double-breasted navy blue blazers. They're more likely to look like every other college kid: jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts advertising their favorite rock groups. (On the other hand, as Anderson notes in his book, campus South Park conservatives usually smell better than their bathing-optional counterparts on the left). But there's one thing that South Park campus conservatives abhor: "Political correctness drives them nuts", Anderson says. "In interviewing students, for instance, it was clear how much the PC conformities of the campus Left turned them off."

The Media: Leftwing Overreach, Rightwing Pioneering

The "over PC-ing" of the media brings up a key aspect of today's culture wars. "One key reason the Right is, if not winning", Anderson says, "at least no longer losing the culture wars isn't the new media; it's the intellectual exhaustion of the Left, something that has become especially apparent in a post-9/11 era".

Last year, James Pierson of the coined a term called "punitive liberalism" to describe the post-1972 Left's belief that America was always on the wrong side of the key events in history, and therefore deserved to be punished. It was a worldview very different from the older, pro-American FDR/JFK-style of liberalism of the previous generation. It first began to be noticed in shows like M*A*S*H, where Alan Alda's Hawkeye could find little difference between America and the communist North Koreans and Chinese.
More on punitive liberalism is explained here; thank God for Ronald Reagan who delivered us from Carter's manufactured malaise!
Why had Americans become so pessimistic about their country during the 1970s? Why had they been overcome by a sense of "malaise," as Jimmy Carter described it? There was, of course, the long ordeal of Vietnam, followed by Watergate, and then a sluggish economy--reasons enough for Americans to feel some sense of doubt and disappointment. But why was Ronald Reagan able to reverse these doubts when Jimmy Carter could not?

The answer to these questions is that while Americans in general were not down on their country, Jimmy Carter, along with the leaders of the Democratic party and its main constituent groups, certainly was. President Carter could not overcome the "malaise" of the 1970s because he and his fellow Democrats had played a large role in fostering it.

From the time of John Kennedy's assassination in 1963 to Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, the Democratic party was gradually taken over by a bizarre doctrine that might be called Punitive Liberalism. According to this doctrine, America had been responsible for numerous crimes and misdeeds through its history for which it deserved punishment and chastisement. White Americans had enslaved blacks and committed genocide against Native Americans. They had oppressed women and tyrannized minority groups, such as the Japanese who had been interned in camps during World War II. They had been harsh and unfeeling toward the poor. By our greed, we had despoiled the environment and were consuming a disproportionate share of the world's wealth and resources. We had coddled dictators abroad and violated human rights out of our irrational fear of communism.

Given this bill of indictment, the Punitive Liberals held that Americans had no right at all to feel pride in their country's history or optimism about its future. Those who expressed such pride were written off as ignorant patriots who could not face up to the sins of the past; and those who looked ahead to a brighter future were dismissed as naive "Pollyannas" who did not understand that the brief American century was now over. The Punitive Liberals felt that the purpose of national policy was to punish the nation for its crimes rather than to build a stronger America and a brighter future for all.
Vice President Mondale, an experienced politician, felt that Jimmy Carter had made a serious mistake in calling the American people to task for their "malaise," since it is counter-productive for an elected politician to attack the voters. The Punitive Liberals thus chose instead to advance their causes in the regulatory bodies and in the federal courts--the latter being the perfect arena for leveling blame and exacting punishment. And they did so with considerable success.

Their success, however, was the undoing of the nation. The Punitive Liberals, because they sought to cultivate guilt in order to leverage policy, proved incapable of adopting practical measures to strengthen the economy or to advance American power in the world. Such goals, in any case, would have been contradictory to their deeper longings, which were to dispel American pride, and to shrink American ambitions at home and abroad. The Cold War, in particular, seemed to them a pointless struggle between two flawed empires, "two scorpions in a bottle." While they did not wish to see the Communists win, neither were they prepared to swallow the triumphalism that would accompany a victory by the West. A strong economy, meanwhile, would disproportionately reward the rich and the self-contented middle classes--the very groups that the Punitive Liberals wished to chastise.

And thus it was perhaps inevitable that the policies of the Punitive Liberals would give us the worst of all worlds--weakness and embarrassment abroad, inflation and unemployment at home, and a public that was beginning to lose hope in its future. By 1980, the nation had seen the results of its experiment with Punitive Liberalism, and was beginning to look for an alternative vision.

Fortunately for all of us, Ronald Reagan stepped into the void and supplied that vision. He understood, more than any other candidate of the time, that the pervasive negativism of the Democratic party was largely responsible for our national difficulties. And thus his pragmatic proposals for tax cuts, deregulation, and defense spending were accompanied with inspiring rhetoric about national pride and a hopeful future.
To this spirit of defeatism, Reagan declared,
"My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view. The American people, the most generous on earth, who created the highest standard of living, are not going to accept the notion that we can only make a better world for others by moving backwards ourselves."
Truly, a great man and one of the great Presidents of the 20th century.

But who are these "South Park Conservatives"?
South Park Republicans are true Republicans, though they do not look or act like Pat Robertson. They believe in liberty, not conformity. They can enjoy watching The Sopranos even if they are New Jersey Italians. They can appreciate the tight abs of Britney Spears or Brad Pitt without worrying about the nation's decaying moral fiber. They strongly believe in liberty, personal responsibility, limited government, and free markets. However, they do not live by the edicts of political correctness.
Pat Buchanan pushes a Christian/protectionist [i.e., "paleoconservative"] agenda that has absolutely nothing in common with the Libertarian folks who support free trade and complete separation of church and state [i.e., "South Park Conservatives"].
The media generally misrepresents Republicans as religious rich white males. This is patently false. Half of the voting public is Republican. They watch R rated movies, enjoy a few drinks at happy hour, and even go to the occasional Wrestlemania. Hopefully, the South Park Republicans will shatter the unfair stereotype and set the record straight. As Cartman would say, "That would be pretty sweet."
Kept alive by talk radio through the 80s and 90s, this New Right now has the "long tail" of the blogosphere to bind it together; the possibilities are stunning:
The Blogosphere's version of the long tail is its stream of tens of thousands of little known and under-publicized weblogs. They exist underneath such household names as Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, whose blogs can receive hundreds of thousands of visitors a week, and the lion's share of attention from big media (although Sullivan recently put his blog on hiatus).

And yet, as radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt notes in his new book, Blog, underneath those well-known sites, there are about seven million more weblogs, according to a report done by the Pew Research Center (and also independently by myself, simply by crunching a few numbers). Technorati, the blog-oriented search engine, tracks over five million of them. Surveys show that less than 50,000 of them are updated daily, but as Hewitt observes, that's "the sleeper fact" of these reports. "From the big bang of blogging", Hewitt writes, "50,000 new virtual newspapers had been born."

In comparison, as of 1998, there were 1,489 daily "dead tree" newspapers in the US. Just to get a scope of what 50,000 daily newspapers means in terms of readership, let's look at a hypothetical weblog that's riding near the end of the tail. If it only has 100 readers a day, and there are 50,000 blogs with similar quantities of readership, that makes for a whopping 5,000,000 total readers. Five million readers would make weblogs the second largest newspaper group in the nation, behind Gannett, just ahead of Knight-Ridder and with twice the readership of The New York Times Co.

And it's actually greater than five million, of course, since there are many, many blogs with many more than a hundred readers. And some of the millions of "not updated daily" blogs actually have fairly consistent readership.

The vast majority of those weblogs go unnoticed by big media -- but there's another factor to them that is little understood outside the Blogosphere. They may have fewer readers than the big boys, but often those readers are much more passionate. And while tens of thousands of regularly updated blogs on the outliers of the tail also further fragment pop culture and discourse on news and politics, when groups of blogs with similar points of view unite and focus en masse on a story, they can generate amazing word of mouth. Even a small subset of the tail can be a surprising force.
As a case in point, consider how, by a chain of connections, my re-posting of the (previously) little-noticed speech by Prof. Gaddis from Chapomatic's site eventually led to an instalanche of over 10,000 hits over the weekend, spreading the word to countless other circles of bloggers.

The repercussions of this kind of information transfer can only be guessed at.

But I can't imagine it's good news for backward, repressive societies and regimes.


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