Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

Same question as the question for conservatives: has the last thirty years been one in which conservatives dominated US politics and policy? Has it been, in other words, the Reagan era? And if so, did that end in 2006 and 2008, or are we still in the Reagan era?


  1. Difficult question. In terms of politics- what people say when they run- I think it has been the Reagan era, and it's not over yet. Everyone talks about smaller government. Everyone promises tax cuts. Everyone is pro-business.

    But in terms of what actually HAPPENS when people are in office...well, since 1981, we've seen Reagan's Social Security reforms, the ADA, SCHIP, Medicare Part D, and Obamacare. In other words, a consistent expansion of the social safety net. You've also seen increased recognition and integration of all sorts of minority groups, most recently homosexuals. Of course, if Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, et al had won, that stuff certainly would've gone further, faster. But it's hard to argue that these issues have gone in the direction of the stated Republican position.

    OTOH, we're certainly too aggressive in foreign policy to be in the "liberal" position (but are we more aggressive than we were in the Vietnam era? I'm not sure I think so). Business and environmental regulation has waxed and waned. But I feel like those issues have been static, more than moving toward conservatives.

  2. @Colby

    I mostly agree, but I think there's at least one major policy legacy of the Reagan era that still looms over today's politics, and that is the extreme taxophobia that has enveloped the entire GOP and that even Democratic politicians are afraid to entirely challenge.

    Hence both Clinton and Obama promised middle-class tax cuts, Obama followed through with this promise and hasn't even lowered the historically low tax rates for rich people so far. Bush's taking the historically unprecedented step of launching two wars without raising a cent in taxes places him very much in the Reagan era. And we are still there, as the current fight in the supercommittee attests.

    A good book documenting this phenomenon is Jonathan Chait's The Big Con from 2007. Although the taxophobia has become more extreme than when Reagan was in office, partly due to Bush Sr.'s 1990 betrayal and the rise of Grover Norquist, it is still essentially a form of hardened Reaganism. You could almost call it Reagan fundamentalism, in the sense that it out-Reagans Reagan in its absolute opposition to tax increases.

    The focus on taxes since the Reagan era has changed the entire face of what "economic conservatism" means. The essence of Reaganism is to disguise taxophobia as deficit hawkery while pursuing policies that actually cause the deficit to skyrocket. It is a strategy that comes with its own custom-made myth known as supply-side economics.

    There is no phrase in the political lexicon more misleading than "fiscal conservatism." In the context of modern-day politics, the phrase is an oxymoron, because modern-day economic conservatism is by definition a philosophy of unrestrained fiscal profligacy. True fiscal conservatives--those with genuine ideas for balancing the federal budget--are either Democrats, or lonely heretics like Bruce Bartlett. Modern-day mainstream conservatism absolutely excludes true fiscal conservatism.

  3. I think the era of Reagan will end when we change the discourse from the size of government to the quality of government, and an earnest discussion of what we should pay for in terms of quality.

    When we begin discussing how to build in (and pay for) ongoing assessment metrics, just like well-run businesses have, then I think we'll have moved beyond Reagan, his tax cuts, and his bath tub.

  4. American history is defined by cycles. It is widely accepted that FDR ushered in the Liberal Era in 1932 which inaugurated enormous change: strong unions, a vibrant middle class and basically, the America everyone, left and right now pines for. That era ended in 1980 with the election of Reagan. Reaganauts then as now declared that election to have been a revolution, a repudiation of the Liberal Era and the inauguration of The Conservative Era. It was called, after all, The Reagan Revolution. Huge rollbacks were enacted; unions were destroyed (40% of the country was unionized back in those olden days, today, after 31 years of that baloney, 7% now are.) Taxes were stripped , regulations were stripped away,entitlements were assailed, the safety net was shredded and the Liberal Era was pilloried as a very very bad time when all kinds of awful things were done to encroach on peoples' freedom, which basically meant, corporate freedom to run riot over everybody, to destroy the environment, rip off customers, outsource jobs, raid companies and sell them off for parts, and so on and so on. That has been the ruling ethos for 30 years and it is still very much with us today, its platitudes parroted by every one of the GOP candidates except Ron Paul, and seconded nightly by just about every pundit with a Big Media podium, except Paul Krugman who is allowed to go on ABC Sunday Morning and get talked over by George Will and 2 or 3 other braying conservative jackasses who have been wrong on every critical issue that has confronted this country for generations... Obama's election looked to be transformational, a turning away from the failure of the Reagan Era. That was what I hoped he would be, anyway, and it's why I voted for him, and why I think the majority of the majority of those who voted for him. So his failure is epochal, if you ask me, since all he seems to have done is hand the keys right back to the very geniuses who wrecked the economy, shredded the middle class and made our democracy an international joke... Today's agenda, as it has been for 30 years, is driven by the Reagan Right who continue to insist that tax cuts for the rich magically create jobs, even though the Bush tax cuts did exactly the opposite, that the markets are self regulating and government should let the corporations riot and pollute and rip off consumers and that anyone who dares to point out that we have had 30 years of this experiment, and the results have been a catastrophe are un- Americans who want the terrorists to win. Obama is far to the right of Richard Nixon on most issues (health care, the environment, regulations, education, taxes -- that tells you exactly who has been in control, and how far they have pushed us from sanity.

  5. I think it's been a conservative era although alongside that, outside of government people's social attitudes have become more liberal.

    Something is happening right now but I don't know what. In a few years we'll have a better idea.

  6. I was struck by how deeply the Reagan mindset had sunk in shortly after 9/11, when some talking heads on TV remarked (apparently with sincere amazement) that all the people running out of the Twin Towers worked for business and all the ones running in worked for "Government"! Comparable was the discovery after Hurricane Katrina that there were still poor people in America. (Of course, just a year before, John Edwards had been openly mocked for saying there were two Americas.)

    Speaking of the relationship between low taxes and economic growth, I have often wondered why no one has noticed that Mississippi isn't the richest state in the union. Unless I'm mistaken, it has the lowest taxes (could double them and still be the lowest) and is still the poorest state.

    For that matter, federal taxes have been on a downward trend for fifty years--not steadily downward, but in jumps in the '60s, 80s, and '00s. Yet over the same period, the secular trend in economic growth rates and job creation have also been downward. Not counting the Great Recession, the Bush administration (2001-2007) had the lowest taxes and the rate of job creation (0.9%) was not only the lowest in post-WW II history, but it was less than half the previous low (2% in the 1990s).

    If I'm wrong on any of this, please let me know.

  7. And Colby -- you say business, environmental regulatory issues have mostly been static? This is a joke, right? The Conservatives have completely defined environmental issues and the country is so inured to them that the BP disaster, which was a clear and direct result of those policies, barely caused a ripple. Ask Bill McKibben if the liberals have been in charge of environmental policies. Bill McKibben is lucky they haven;t shot him. Bush appointed oil company execs to run our energy policy and no one said boo and you think this has mostly been a middle of the road ho hum affair? I was in Kentucky recently - the coal companies have destroyed huge swaths of mountain tops, polluted rivers and eco systems for hundreds and hundreds of miles. So that's either incredibly naive on your part or just nuts. And in terms of regulations, the bulkof GOP orthodoxy is to deregulate, get governmentout of the way, repeal Glass SPeagal, let the corporations go crazy. Who's winning that particular argument? Ever hear of a company called Goldan Sachs? Think the liberals reined them in, do you? How about Exxon? Big Pharma? The banks? FDR called these villains 'malefactors of great wealth ' - now that was liberalism. Hear a lot of support for that viewpoint in the halls of Congress these days? Or on tv chat shows, Big Media,or on the radio? You're kidding right?

  8. No, Scott, you are exactly right. And you are right that Red State America is the actually the greatest beneficiary of our socialist tax policies since they invariably get more from the governemnt than they return. I think this fundamental economic principle is what makes them scream so loud about unproductive poor people feeding off the tits of the taxpayers. Freud had some theories about this, but another word for it is hypocrisy. Krugman was great when he pointed out the hypocrisy of the right wingers who claim Keynes was wrong who then refuse to discuss cutting military spending because that would hurt the economy and cost jobs. OUr wars are proof that Keynes was right and if we could just shift our military spending to domestic matters, to infrastructure, jobs programs, etc. there might be work for the rest of us, too.

  9. The public discourse has undoubtedly gotten stupider every year since Reagan was first elected. But few of the landmark achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society have been rolled back, and in the private sphere one can only marvel at how much more tolerant and open people are compared even to 20 years ago (though obviously we still have far to go).

    Thus liberalism has weathered all the slings and arrows to date. I wouldn't be so sure the barbarians will continue to be rebuffed, though; the developments of the last couple of years, particularly Citizens United and the ease with which wealthy industrialists conjured up a tea party don't exactly inspire confidence. Moreover, we seem fated to an economic lost decade, a la Japan, and who knows how the country will deal with that.

  10. Well, KTH, the landmark achievements of The ND and The GS may not have been rolled back in some sense, but what about the actual people those policies were put in place to protect? The New Deal was a guarantor for the middle class - it guaranteed freedom from want, freedom from fear and all that (I'm mixing up my FDR isms somewhat) and all of that has been gutted. Simple question: what happened to the middle class from 1980 when the average dope could own a house with no debt, a car or two which he could drive all over the place, college for his kids, vacation in the mountains where he mabe owned a cabin and a speedboat to today when that life would be available only to the 1%? Think I'm kidding? COllege is $50,000, a house $200,000, a car $30,000, gas $4 a gallon? Where'd that go? So yes, we still have the shell of what FDR bequeathed us - we still get social security with which our grannies buy their cat food, and so on? But beyond the surface, everything's been shelled out. (What are these lasting monuments anyway? )

  11. And again, I don't see the same tolerance you do. Gay hatred may be out of favor in some quarters, and we have a semi black man as president, and there's Condi and so forth, but outside of these wedge issue former hot button issues that Karl Rove has already exploited till the well ran dry, I'm not sure things are as rosy now as you claim. We are still pretty intolerant of our Latin friends, our Muslim friends, all 1.5 billion of em, or most of our black friends who have the misfortune not to have gone to college or to be in sports or show biz, and who we lock up by criminalizing poverty, so that there are more black guys in prison than in college. You don't think that's a tad intolerant? Remind me also how tolerant we are toward the poor and what you think Jesus would say if he fluttered down to take a look around. Think we're living up to MLK's creed about the contents of our character mattering and not the color of our skin or who our dicks get hard for? Doubt it.

  12. In summary, yes it has been the Reagan era, though the right has come to revere the myth more than the man, who raised taxes 11 times. The current Republican party is far, far to the right of Reagan. Read Bruce Bartlett for the details.

    The other things that have gone along with it, as kth points out, is that political discourse has become stupid, and quite distressingly so. The Rethug presidential slate is a clown car of ignorance and idiocy.

    The other thing that's happened has been the fine tuning of an elite plutocracy. what Scott said about taxes, economic growth, poverty, etc. is dead on.

    On foreign policy, it's been a single great arc since WW II of propping up and then destroying right wing dictators in two-bit countries. Reagan gave what was left of America to the M-I-C, and they aren't about to give it back. Plus, they have the military on their side.

    No contest. We're screwed.


  13. Okay, two responses to commenters (I don't have anything to say about the OT):

    (1) If you broaden your definition of "our public discourse" a little, kth, maybe it'll start looking like this is on the contrary a golden age of public discourse. There's just no way it's NOT the case that I learn more from you guys than I would have learned from watching network news thirty years ago.

    (2) Along the lines of unearned nostalgia ... 233, I agree with you about the present, but not at all about the past. Who's this average dope from thirty years ago who owned a house? Is "white male" by any chance built into that "average?" It's really, really worth mentioning -- as far as housing -- that discrimination against blacks was not only legal but in many cases actual policy thirty years ago. It's really, really worth noting -- as far as education -- that in 1980 a lot (a lot) of colleges hadn't graduated even ten classes that included women. In 1980, there had been one person who was not a white male on the Supreme Court ever. Now women make up half of many law and med school classes. Yes, it sucks in various ways and to varying degrees to be not a white male here and now, and yes there's still a lot of Protestant privilege (and whining), but, um, people go to jail for marital rape and date rape and get fired for racial and sexual harassment. Those are huge deals. Jeff's point in the other thread that consensus changes not through people changing their minds but through generational shifts is spot on. People who were making openly racist arguments twenty years ago -- you know, like Ron Paul -- now feel the need to deny that they ever meant them. And I'm sure there's been plenty of backsliding, but come on. Things weren't so great back then.

    Oh, yeah, also we're not covertly involved in overthrowing and supporting half the governments in Central and South America now.

  14. I think we're in an epicycle, the "Reagan phase" of the New Deal / Great Society regime, which still remains basically in place for the reasons Colby started this thread by noting. But the retrenchment in this phase has also been real. You know, if you watch the orbits of the planets, they generally go in one direction but seem at times to back up and go the other way for a while. Thus the "epicycles" of Ptolemaic theory: a smaller, countercyclical revolution within the larger revolution.

    (Of course, it turns out there aren't actually epicycles, it's an illusion created by the fact that we're on a moving planet ourselves. Thanks a lot for busting up my analogy there, Copernicus!)

  15. Hi Classicist, yes, things are different, just as we no longer roll around in horse and buggies, but I think you're looking through some pretty optimistic glasses to believe that our prosecutions for marital rape herald a wonderfully tolerant modern era. I said on the other thread here that the one real shift has been in women's rights in that women now outnumber men in college, med and law schools and in tje work force (most of the jobs lost in the recession were men). SO this is a huge deal, certainly, mostly happening under the radar, as you still see very few women in government or in boardrooms or on the list of the richest AMericans or other arenas where we measure cultural importance. But in other areas, women are not much better off -- if you think only of how Herm Cain is being regarded versus Jerry Sandusky, I think you'll see what I mean. Things really don't change much - and won't. In some ways, racism now is considered worse than racism back in the Civil Rights days because at least then people cared. Now if you mention the institutionalized racism that imprisons more black males than are enrolled in college, you're looked at like you're Al Sharpton looking for special pleading.

    As for the average dope, that was most middle class wagearners back in those days. Check out stats on standard of living back in the 1980s compared to the standard of living now. It's cratered. RIch people are leasing jets and having lots of sex and doing better than ever. But the middle class guy who sells cars for a living invariable wakes up to around $100,000 of debt of one kind or another. Back then, people owned houses, drove cars and could send their kids to college. Who can do that today, free and clear? Thanks Reagan. Thanks, GOP.

  16. I'd say three things characterized the Reagan Era domestically: tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, and union-busting. The main political questions we've faced this year have centered around whether we would continue or reverse these policies. So I'd say we're still in the Reagan Era, and our political debate is centered around whether we should move past it.

  17. 233 -- as I said, I think you're right about how bad it is now, and that it's really appalling that like the most prominent person for prison reform is Grover Norquist (or Jim Webb, if you want to count it that way). As a woman in a male-dominated field I'm very happy to complain about how it is now! I've totally been treated inappropriately by older male colleagues and ignored by young male colleagues. I had to stop going to one of my favorite food stores because a guy who worked there wouldn't stop bothering me. I've been followed home, groped, all kinds of demeaned that male colleagues don't have any idea is happening. But thirty years ago women in my field who were being sexually assaulted by their advisers had no recourse, if they were even believed. I'm sure if I have daughters it'll still suck for them. Still, it's better for me than it was for my mom.

    Wish I could say more directly to the point about race, but the extent of de facto segregation makes it hard to claim I have enough knowledge just from talking to a few people who made it to fancy schools.

    Also: yes, of course the last thirty years have been terrible for the middle class relative to the rich. I grew up thinking unions were mostly in history textbooks.

  18. We are sympatico, Classicist, and I like you even more because my daughter has a passion for Latin and Greek and is applying to college as a Classics major. She is the bright shining hope of this world...

    In terms of that, my only prescription for the ills of the world would be to let women run things. Give them 100 years to fix it all, restore the oceans, the rivers, the lakes, wind down all the wars, guarantee safe toys for children; establish a truly just legal system; eradicate social darwinism as the law of the land. Give you guys the keys for 100 years and us fellas will go off and throw the football around and make popcorn for the kids. If after 100 years you guys can't fix this mess, then I give up, the entire species is genetically wired for suicide and the hell with it.

  19. Classicist,

    Two things.

    1) You learn plenty more listening to us than watching TV (in any era).

    2) I'm not sure how much the demographics of layoffs represents an advance for women. Fewer women have been laid off, which of course in an advantage, but what are the reasons? Many layoffs have been in construction and industry, which are areas in which male workers are heavily represented, whether as a result of historical patterns or the nature of the job. Also, males still make more money and therefore laying them off respresents a greater saving to the employer. So here you may be relying on the advantages of being underpaid.

  20. Id split the question into two trends, which way elections have gone (and until 2006 we were very much in the Reagan era but that seems to have changed) and the overall trend in intellectual and ideological structure that shapes the way our leaders and public figures think and act. I’d say that intellectually and ideologically that we might be at the height of conservative thought. Just think about it, if you asked a group of leading conservative intellectuals in the 90’s if we de-regulated finance would it lead to A-more prosperity for everyone and a more stable economy or B the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression they would all pick the former and laugh you out of the room over the later. Of course we know what happened, magical market forces failed to materialize and lead to a utopia, indeed the embracement of the policies and ideology of people like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman lead to disaster. But what’s the result? People on the Federal Reserve Board and Chairs of economic departments at major Universities are now telling us that poor minorities caused the crash (of course!) and despite living in the most prosperous society in the history of the world our policies and politics must be defined by a new era of austerity ruled by what we can’t do and what problems (healthcare/unemployment/poverty/dysfunctional institutions) can’t be solved. The ideology may have failed totally but it isn't going away, in some ways its becoming stronger.

    Hence why so many public figures are shocked that regular people are criticizing the financial and commercial institutions that caused this calamity.

  21. As a historian, I fundamentally reject the idea that eras are best defined by one basic trend. Sure, every one does it, and even I have to use that language somewhat just because everyone else is, however that doesn't make it right.

    On the surface of events, it may seem like one big trend is winning. Yet in nearly all times and places I have investigated, when one looks deeper there are always limits to the major trends (most basically in the percentages of the populations affected), there are always smaller counter-trends and other smaller trends moving in all sorts of directions.

    So I agree to some extent with the people who see Reaganism lurking in Obama's every move, he is a fairly centrist cat and he has taken his left flank very much for granted at times. And I agree to some extent with the people who see that despite a veneer of conservatism, Reaganism has meant an acceleration of _cultural_ leftism, with Fox media purposely hitting every extreme of cultural provocation in its entertainment offerings even as it pushes conservative myths in it news offerings, with the accelerating slide of the old middle class, with technology creating new sub-cultures (inaccessible to most of the population) at every bound.

    Our civilization is a very complex animal, and we are creating new complications in psychology, philosophy, politics and economics every day. I'm doing my best to write about this stuff, however the publishing industry remains allergic to me. I say, Generalize at your peril, fellow-citizens!

  22. Well, Philosopher-Ron, you sound like a nice enough fellow, but you sort of prove the old adage about lawyer's league basketball where all the guys do is bicker and make everything way more complicated than it needs to be. Sure there are many trends at work, wheels within wheels and so on, but we are talking about something very specific. It's the GIOP who talk about Reagan's election being the death of the Liberal Era, I am only taking that claim as a starting point. My actual view of history is closer to Foucault -- nothing basic really changes except the way we look at it. But given that the GOP claim the Liberal Era ended in 1980 and that what followed was The Reagan Revolution, let's talk about that. It seems to me, as someone who grew up revering FDR, in a strong pro union household, who watched the Civil Rights Era with great admiration for MLK and others; who welcomed equal rights for women, who was taught by movies and books, like The Great Gatsby and so on, that all that glittered was not gold and that there was dignity in honest work, that bankers were basically rich men's sons who exploited good genes and the ivy league to lead wondrously lazy and vapid lives where they produced nothing of real value - but we tolerated them, because they were funny with their lime green pants and their funny accents and the fact that most of them were fall down drunk and had horrible marriages; that the last 30 years have been a nightmare and a complete rout of all those advances that were won. You guys all seem to think the country is more socially liberal now than in 1980 and I coulnd't disagree more. Think of Archie Bunker which was the number one show on TV and imagine that on tv today. Think of all the free love stuff and the swingers and The Cosby Show and all sorts of other cultural touchstones which may reorinet your thinking back to a past that actually existed. You think these times are socially liberal? Ask an American Muslim about that. We now detain people without due process, habeas corpus and have assembled a vast domestic spying apparatus that makes the Constititional rights to privacy a joke. You think tis is a sign of how liberals control the social sphere? Are you crazy? As for women's rights, we've talked a bt about that above, yet we are one judge shyof overturning Roe v Wade, as we have been since 1980. You think Romnet or Perry won't pull that trigger when Ginsburgh retires? Want to bet?t

  23. Well-said, p-ron @7:41. I'd just add that to the precise extent we were in an "Age of Reagan," our opinions about it inherently would be distorted by our own Reaganism (whatever that is). The question encourages us to think about what characterizes the age and all of "US politics and policy." The only larger context, the only "outside" from which one might somehow form an objective view would be global politics and world history, but, considering the role of the US in the world (as arguably the world-historical nation of our current phase of history), even that perspective isn't really "outside." Much more could be said on this subject, but it would be a discussion for a history or philosophy blog.

    Without attempting to ascend to that level of abstraction, I'll just offer my personal guess that we're past the Age of Reagan, and that the hilarious absurdity of the Republican presidential campaigns seem like one clear sign among many of the exhaustion of Reaganism. However, being at the end of one Age (or epoch, or epi-cycle...) doesn't necessarily mean that the new age is fully formed and ready to go. The transition could go on for a very long time.

  24. I think it depends on whether you think rolling back social issues (or at least holding the line) was part of Reagan's vision as interpreted by conservatives over the last 30 years.

    Me, I think the evangelicals have been played on social issues as much as the so-called "Reagan Democrats" have been played on economic issues and scapegoating of "the other".

    If you define the "Reagan era" as tax cuts and deregulation, it's been a success since we have 'achieved' the greatest economic disparity in America since the Gilded Age. And as Grover was quoted, he's largely been successful in making it impossible for Democrats to govern as Democrats. Bush and Rove blew all that money on tax cuts, big pharma and unpaid wars that Obama had little wiggle room to deal with this great recession.

    But it's the conservative stranglehold on the traditional media that makes it stick. All this, and the best you can get out of 97% of the Washington Press Corps is "both sides do it!". Take today - we get Bob Schieffer bringing on Joe F'n Manchin to provide the "liberal" view on the failure of the supercommittee - seemed like Bob got him to admit he's ashamed on cue.

  25. Looking at 3 issues the Reagan Revolution has dominated:
    1) Anti-tax
    2) Anti-social welfare spending
    3) Anti -union

    Where the right wing thrust has failed:
    1) Social Security
    2) Medicare
    3) Unemployment insurance

    These measures - which people see themselves as paying for - and counting on - and therefore not like welfare have so far withstood major reductions.

    Medicaid is now the weakest link in the safety net. People know that it pays for nursing homes once their parents are impoverished - a cost that few people are prepared to privately insure.

  26. Quote from 2332 etc., "My actual view of history is closer to Foucault -- nothing basic really changes except the way we look at it."

    Your own rant pretty much assumes things really do change, eh?

    I've never looked into Foucault very deeply, but if that is actually his view, he's pretty much dumber than a rock.

  27. I am simplifying Foucault, and no he is not stupider than a rock. How is it possible that a serious historian knows nothing about him? His perhaps generalized point is that human society has simple constants. We always have crusades and madmen and jails. Successive generations think about all these things differently and thinks of themselves as radical. Thus, we used to let our madmen roam the street. Then, we kept them at home, locked up in their room. Then, we locked them up in hospitals. Now we let them roam the street again. The madmen are constant. So yes, policy towards madmen shifts, just as tax policy and attitudes towards the rich and poor shift. Seen in this light, our problems are much as they have always been - rich and poor, powerful and powerless, etc. People thought that Reagan was bringng us something new on all this - make the powerful more powerful and it would trickle down to the powerless. Old wine in new bottles.

  28. It has been a conservative era, but only on taxes. In most other areas, including spending, I'd say it's been fairly moderate-to-liberal.

  29. Don't think you need to drag poor dead Foucault into this, but the contradictions in 2332...'s position are illustrative of the difficulties of discussing the characteristics of an "Age" from the position of someone trapped within its terminology and perspectives. "Nothing basic really changes" presumes a series of determinations: What is or could be "basic"? What would constitute "real change"? For whom? Where does mere "politics and policy" stop, and something else commence?

    The conclusion of Corey Rubin's recent THE REACTIONARY MIND, which mainly consists of political-historical essays written over the last 15 years, begins with the assertion that "[c]onservatism has dominated American politics for past forty years...." He adds, "The conservative embrace of unregulated capitalism and imperial power still envelops our two parties," he says, and he goes on to suggest that the assault on labor and women's rights since the 2010 mid-terms frames something like the final battle in conservatism's war against 20th century social progress.

    I have problems with this description, but I think it captures 2332's position in critical respects. What's interesting, and I guess predictable, is Rubin's final dialectical turn: The character of reactionary conservatism, as the author has frequently observed, is that it can't live without an enemy, and that, as felt in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, it is therefore endangered by its own success. This observation brings us full circle to the beginning of the Age of Reagan - both the actual historical Age of Reagan, but conservative Steven Hayward's monumental or at least rather massive two-volume book of the same name, which begins by describing the landslide of 1964 as the victory that, as seen from the perspective of 2001, liberalism still hadn't recovered from. (That's Hayward, not Wilentz.)

    Sooner or later, we may always end up seeing our own moment as the hinge point of some grand historical narrative, but resisting that temptation shouldn't prevent us from being aware that the plates do shift, typically at the moment you think they've finally gone completely still.

  30. Well Foucault in this sense is a social historian and valuable to me for his sense of omniscience. Let's accept that the poor have always been with us and think about how they were thought of in Jesus's time; then Dickens; then the 1930's; then 1980; then now. Same essential set of problems, especially when looked at on a global scale where 50% of the world's population is so poor they've never even used a telephone. So, with overview in one's arsenal, you can look now at specific policies and the results of those policies, which absolutely do change and 'shift' over time. And look at Reagan and the implementation of those specific policies and decide if those polcies a). remain in place today (they do) and b). if they work or not (they don't.) See now? That said, I absolutely agree with Rubin's theory that reactionary conservatism can't live wthoput an enemy -- look only at the neocons and The Committee for The Present Danger who moved right over to Islamofascism from the Red Menace, wringing their hands in terror, and these people ran foreign policy for 30 years, and in many ways still do...

  31. Apologies: I brain-locked on Corey Robin's last name.

  32. [philosophical-ron said...
    Quote from 2332 etc., "My actual view of history is closer to Foucault -- nothing basic really changes except the way we look at it."


    I've never looked into Foucault very deeply, but if that is actually his view, he's pretty much dumber than a rock.]

    I'm not a Foucault expert, but I'm pretty confident in saying that it is not Foucault's view that nothing ever changes. His historical project was, in a sense, to show the ways in which things have changed, and to challenge conventional narratives of those changes. What in conventional accounts is an expansion of freedom over the course of centuries is, from Foucault's perspective, something else entirely: the intensification and increasing efficiency of power.

    There's a big difference between publicly executing criminals and disciplining all of us from birth.

  33. Hyperbole that nothing ever changes , since yes, people used to live short lives and now live longer, and people are taller when they used to be shorter, and once we lived in caves but now live in houses and apartments if we can afford them, or else out on the street, and so, in light of Europe and the results from the Super Committee today, potentially, back in caves again. What I'm talking about are the components that do not fundamentally change when we comtrast one era of history with another. We always have criminals, madmen, jails, tribes, wars. Another way to put it is that it is arrogance that makes us believe in progress or a linear progression when really we are still debating the same things we always have, mostly. Trcikle Down Theory and Supply Side is another way of describing Laissez Faire and Union bashing. The French way of saying it is Plus Ca Change. Get it now?

  34. 2332:

    Yes, I get what you're saying.

    My only point is that what you're saying doesn't have much to do with Foucault. Nothing in your restatement of your point changes my mind on that, though I agree that MF challenged narratives of progress and linearity. But Foucault did argue that things changed in profound ways. His historical writing is about those changes.

    Anyway, I don't want to distract from the more on-topic issues the rest of you all are discussing. Have fun.

  35. Again: yes, things change, but central issues are constant. Reagan changed policies about unions, the rich, taxes, etc. What is constant are workers; the inequality between rich and poor; the fact that societies can not function without getting citizens to contribute, etc. Reagan did not invent Social Darwinism, it has been with us since Cain slew Abel.

  36. Foucault: "It then develops its central thesis: all periods of history have possessed specific underlying conditions of truth that constituted what could be expressed as discourse (for example art, science, culture, etc.). Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period's episteme to another.[37] Foucault's Nietzschean critique of Enlightenment values in Les mots et les choses has been very influential in cultural studies and social work scholarship.[38] It is in this book that Foucault claims that "man is only a recent invention" and that the "end of man" is at hand.[39]

  37. I tried reading Foucault in the '80s and found some of his observations very interesting, others incomprehensible. But leave that aside. 233, your comments here almost make me want to start my response with "You lefties..." like our friend Anon is always doing. "You lefties and your gloom-and-doom." I have had versions of this argument many times over the years with friends on the left. "Oh, things are [basically] just as bad as they ever were." Oh, modern institutions like "the clinic" (a favorite of Foucault's) are just updated versions of old-time dungeons or leper colonies or whatever, because it's all the same basic dynamic of power. (Whether Foucault argued that or not himself, he certainly gained a loyal following among "lefties" prepared to believe it -- as Marcuse and others had done earlier with similar arguments.)

    I think this mistakes structural similarities for substance. Yeah, you can always draw structural analogies: My little apartment building is structurally the same type of thing as the ultra-chic Dakota on Central Park West. But is one of these a more desirable place to live than the other? Judging from the difference in rents, that seems to be the consensus.

    Here's a real-life case. My father spent his career teaching special ed, for which he got paid dirt as special-ed teachers do, but he helped a lot of kids who badly needed it. A few years ago he had surgery to correct a heart murmur. The new heart valve they gave him got infected and almost killed him. But brilliant surgery, weeks of intensive care, plus lots of rehab and follow-up treatment have kept him alive and in reasonably good health. He's retired, but still works part-time as a substitute since special-ed subs are especially hard to come by.

    Now the society in which all this happened is a vastly preferable one to virtually any other that has ever existed. First, there are institutions -- badly underfunded, to be sure -- to help the blind, the mentally and emotionally disturbed, etc., on the principle that no child should be left behind, at least not totally. (Sorry for using a phrase that's been hijacked, but it's apt.) Second, the massive resources of a wealthy, advanced, technically sophisticated society were available, and were mobilized, to save the life of a man with no power and no financial means to speak of. This was possible even in our idiotic patchwork of a health-care system because of Medicare and other policies that protect the non-wealthy. It's also because of government-sponsored educational institutions, scholarships, etc. that made the medical innovations possible and helped train specialists in how to use them. And of course, these policies also reflect changes in attitudes and values, not least a massively expanded egalitarianism, compared to what prevailed in the past.

    So are all problems solved? Are those programs everything they should be? Are they equally available to everyone who should have access to them? Are they available at all in much of the rest of the world? Are the more enlightened views now uncontested? No (x5). But good gosh, that's an argument for pushing ahead, keeping the faith, continuing to fight for more and (still) better. It's certainly not evidence that things are the same as they've always been, and the danger of seeing matters that way is that it's less likely to lead to effective action than recognizing that progress is possible and real. (To be continued.....)

  38. To finish that thought, on another front I've been doing some historical / literary research lately that has included reading novels of a hundred years ago, like Thomas Dixon's The Leopard's Spots. The hero of this novel, while running for governor, makes a speech calling for the expulsion of blacks from the United States. That's right, ethnic cleansing. Today, you wouldn't see an argument like that anywhere but on some obscure Aryan Nation web site. Certainly no respectable publisher would touch it, and if one did, it would be a huge scandal. But in 1903 that novel was a million-copy bestseller, and in 1915 it became the film The Birth of a Nation, also a major hit. (The film toned down the white supremacism, but still cast the Ku Klux Klan as the good guys.) Again, a major scandal today if anything similar happened.

    233, earlier in this thread you had an interesting response to the classicist. Making an argument similar to mine, she pointed out that things are better today inasmuch as marital and date rape are seen as crimes and sometimes prosecuted. "Those are huge deals," she said. Your reply suggested that she "believe[s] that our prosecutions for marital rape herald a wonderfully tolerant modern era." But she hadn't said that. Your reply was a standard fallacy, variously called "either-or," "false dichotomy," "exhaustive hypotheses," etc. Things can be much better than in the past and still not what they should be: It's not either awful or "wonderfully tolerant."

    In that same comment, you deployed another favorite lefty argument, that racism may arguably be worse today than in the Civil Rights era because it's more hidden. Again, without getting into detail because I've already gone on too long, this is nonsense. Things were better then than they were fifty years earlier, and they're better today than they were then. Racism has been in almost continual retreat for the last century, at least. I mean, respectable opinion used to hold that blacks and whites were different species! That idea had been exploded by the 1950s, but there were still people in positions of power then who had grown up being taught such things. Ask anyone who was around in that era, and especially an African-American, how long they thought it would be before the U.S. had a black Democrat as head of the Harvard Law Review and later President of the United States, a black Republican as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and then Secretary of State, or a black corporate CEO and trade-association president (granted, a goofball) leading in the polls, however briefly, for the Republican presidential nomination. Some people today are still uncomfortable with all this, though not enough to stop it; fifty to a hundred years ago, majorities would have seen it as extremely unlikely at best, if not horrifyingly scary. There's nothing a Foucault could possibly say that would make the one situation the same as the other.

  39. Well, this Foucault stuff seems to have gotten things confused. I was responding to Phil-Anon's post where he was explaining how his view of history made everything far more complex so as to render any discussion of the Reagan era so byzantine that it rendered discussion of it almost pointless. I referenced that critique by saying, if I were to step out of this discussion, I would say that we can also render a discussion of Reagan irrelevant by looking out it through a longer lens and argue that the fundamental problems that confront us as a society have not changed fundamentally, only the ways we chose to think about them. This is not incompatible with our more micro discussion of what The Reagan Revolution did or didn't do, since we are capable of looking at the stars through both a telescope and our own eyes, and both perspectives are legitimate. That said, yes, we no longer think of black people as a different species, although Fox news continues to describe 1/10th of our population as rampant criminals who are too lazy to find work. And yes, we now enforce child labor laws in America and kids aren't sent into factories and mines, although the current leader of the GOP race for the White House in terms of today's poll numbers did say that child labor laws were absurd. And yes, of course we have wonderful new technologies and a clusterfuck of a health care system that often helps people who can't pay for medical care stay alive (although in my own case, that system killed my mother, but nevermind that for now...And yes, things are brighter and better in some ways for gays and minorities but in other ways, they are not. And no, I do not consider myself a lefty, but yet another boring middle of the roader who sometimes votes for republicans, and is probably closer to Ron Paul in terms of foreign policy and empire than I am to Hillary Clinton. As others have observed, that's the trouble with simplifications, and labels.

  40. I might even vote for Romney!

  41. OK, 233, now I'm really stumped. You're serious about voting Republican? I've apparently completely misunderstood everything you've said up until now (unless you mean voting Republican to "heighten the contradictions" in the old Marxist sense, thus bringing the revolution on faster).

  42. Well, I lived in Massachusetts for while when Romney was governor and he wasn't terrible. I think Obama has blown it at a time when the country can't afford it. We have real, serious, terrible problems here, and we can't afford another 4 years of this impasse. Obama is simply not a strong leader in the sense of actually being able to run a functioning administration. He makes great speeches and his heart is in the right place, but that may not be good enough. Have you read Ron Susskind on what has been going on behind the scenes over there? Jesus... 4 more years with a civil war in Congress and we will be toast. So, yes, maybe I am looking at Romney with a too hopeful eye, but how, exactly, would he make things any worse? (As I said, I may just be being provocative, but I'd be interested in hearing what others think, since while Romney would by necessity bring back the GOP usual suspects, but maybe he would be more Nixon than Bush, and I would vote for Nixon this time around in a minute (excepting his paranoia, Jew hatred, etc.(

  43. Well, I certainly turned up quite a little patch of mushrooms, didn't I?

    I was being flip, and I shouldn't have commented at all, it made me late for work. As a serious historian and philosopher, I do consider deconstructionism a terrible dead-end and time-waster. Much better to look at the actual thoughts and actions of human beings. And to say, we don't really know what those are, when we don't really know what those are well over 99% of the time. Yet to strive for knowing is a virtue. As we do know the thoughts and actions of actual human beings, we can sort out the linguistic misunderstandings and the social constructs, all that data can be expressed and comprehended much more clearly than the French deconstructionists expressed it and comprehended it. People can and do change their beliefs and attitudes all the time.

    And please, sir, to call me "Phil-Anon" is a serious slur. My real name is on my website, I have been taking radical positions in public long before the internet era, I have done things like start businesses and serve as a state officer of a political party. I have a record and it's not a bad one. Put a hyphen between philosophical and ron and search it out, you'll find 50-plus pages of serious stuff in history, philosophy, politics and economics that is not a repetition of anyone's previous work.

    And for the record, I am properly horrified at the possibilities of some sudden right-wing lurch that the numbered gentleman threw out. Is it so hard to have the view that
    America is a big, complex place, with lots of little local social trends happening all over the place, and that we might be able to create for ourselves ironies and contradictions, like corporate media accelerating cultural leftism, at the same time that a concerted effort by Republican operatives manages to lie or steal enough to win another election, and institute whole bunches of horrible stuff, and with an openly-politically-corrupt Supreme Court, makes it more-or-less permanent even as more and more people are rejecting Republican ideas?

    Which sort of thing can only happen if people who seem to be spouting leftist stuff on the internet somehow decide to vote for Romney.

    All sorts of outcomes are possible, we don't know for sure which ways the country may be shifting, and we probably never will _know_. Which is why we need to be much more specific and tentative in discussing cultural change and political and social development.

  44. 233, I'm pleased you found this blog because I think that over time, it will be an education for you (as it has been for me) in the mechanisms and dynamics that actually drive political outcomes. Thus I hope it will disabuse you of any idea that voting Republican will do anything except hinder progress toward the values and goals you care about.

  45. Well, thanks Jeff, and I'm glad that this blog has helped you. You seem to be a nice young partisan and so on. For me, it is not so simple, as I have been around a long time. In my experience, Nixon was a better president than Kennedy, Eisenhower a better president than either of them, Clinton a better president than Reagan or W. And Obama -- well, that is where I entered this debate. I think he's a grave disappointment, and things are too dangerous to have an amateur and chicken shit in the job. So I am inclined to fire him and hire someone else. I'm sure you're all very wise about everything, but that's my position and I'm sticking with it, for now. We'll see how things look in a few months, if we're still here.

  46. Phil-Ron, you have a very muddy way of expressing yourself. I honestly don't understand your post and I have read it now twice. Again: obviously people change and say and do different things. And who among us does not strive for knowing? Are you the only one? I get the part about how you have expressed radical things in public, but what is your point? As for the right wing lurch, I am considering Romney not because he would agree with me on today's hot button issues but because Obama has failed, in my opinion, and I dont think we will make it through another four years like the last. This is not a rightward lurch since I lived with Romney in Massachusetts and he is not particularly right wing. It is like when the mechanic comes over to start your car and ends up blowing the generator. Do you stay with that mechanic or do you consider looking for someone else in the yellow pages?

  47. You seem to be a nice young partisan and so on.

    Thanks, 233. I'll accept the "nice" and even the "partisan," but otherwise, all I can say is that two out of three ain't bad. :-)

  48. I am not in love with the culture of deliberate anonymity that has grown up with the internet. Having to stand up for your opinions with your whole life experience, knowing that the authorities have your name and address, does in my opinion help build better individuals and a better society.

    And yes, with the varied claims that are being made in the Republican camp on one side, and in the "infantile leftist" camp on the other, there are a lot of people who are bloviating nonsense on how our society is, or is not, without regard to the truth.

    You have your opinion, that Obama has failed. If you can seriously believe that Romney can get into the Presidency without huge debts to a vicious right-wing propaganda machine, without a bunch of torturing war-mongers as foreign policy advisors, and without continuing the Republican policy of packing the judiciary with politicized operatives, you are welcome to that opinion too. Good Luck with it.

    I admit, I'm wasting time from my first two jobs coming here at all, I can't keep track of which "anonymous" is apparently trying to make left wing points but then saying apparently silly and contradictory points like "I'll vote for Romney" or "History never actually changes."

  49. Man this thread got fascinating and I totally missed it, being as I don't belong on it and fear the possibility of being zapped. Maybe now that we're close to the fold I can squeeze in one comment and get away with it.

    Jeff's continued comment at 4:11/4:13 yesterday was a powerhouse, in which I agreed with most of it, save the mechanism. For example, I agree with both 233 (our racism is as bad as ever) and Jeff (things are much better). As I argued in a recent thread, I square that circle by defining racism via Woody Allen's "90% of life is showing up", with the follow-on that all of us, in our social Darwinistic selves, want to be in the class that gets to "show up", from whence racism arises. As multiculturalism progresses, either through progressive agitation or general habituation, new faces from new races "show up", such that whatever remaining desires exist for my class being the one to show up are sublimated to the rules of the road in the multicultural society I live in - a sublimation that is certainly for the best.

    So - progressive agitation vs. general habituation. Liberalism vs. thatotherside. Progressives do push for "new faces from new races in new places", so they can plausibly take credit for it. But here's a personal anecdote for the other view, habituation:

    I'm a hetero fellow who has had a sporadic handful of gay friends over the years. This has not been the outcome of 'friendship accesorizing' on my part, it is probably a reflection of a socially liberal mindset. In spite of gay friends, I have remained somewhat homophobic over the years, at least my Social Darwin self has expressed its perception of the "ick factor" associated with homosexuality within my broader consciousness. Until 4 or 5 years ago.

    At that time Andrew Sullivan became an important part of my daily routine, er "dish". Andrew Sullivan of course is quite vocal and sophisticated in his pitches for equal treatment for gays, perhaps he talked me out of my remaining homophobia? Hard to say for sure, but I doubt it: I think rather that he became an integral part of my routine, so that, for me, a gay person "showed up", in a weirdly more personal way than the actual gay people with whom I've been acquainted, and it does feel as though that was pretty much that with my homophobia.

    Finally, to the story about Jeff's father. I'll argue habituation vs. the progressive agitation crowd, but Jeff's father's story works for them much better than it does for me. Or maybe not, I may have to reflect on this a bit. Could a societal contract that enforces limits on our social darwinian instincts about who gets to "show up" spill over into proper treatment of Jeff's father as a reflection of values - even if ours isn't one of the kids he helped?

    You know....maybe. This forum sure is provocative.


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