tmccarthy0's picture

    The Evolution of Liberalism

    Ultimately as liberals and progressives I think we get stuck in our definition of words. There are some people who define liberalism as a static rather than dynamic concept. But I would put out there that liberalism as a concept is dynamic and does nothing more than reflect the milieu of any given era in civilization.

    Let's take the oft-talked about Greatest Liberal of all time FDR. FDR was a great liberal, but he interred Japanese Americans, which isn't liberal at all. Social Security was a liberal policy, but just for white men when it began. Just saying.

    Let's look at R.M. Nixon for a minute, an arch conservative with fascist tendencies, who committed a political crime.  That dude created the EPA and his signed into law NEPA thanks to Scoop Jackson, another flawed liberal in Washington State politics -- he supported Vietnam but was a great environmentalist. They usher in an era of deep research into ecological restoration. Nixon reflected his era, because of the pressures around him. That era demanded some action on the environment, which was considered a liberal cause.

    Let's look at Jimmy Carter for a minute, you define him as a liberal, but under his administration the airlines were deregulated.  This is not what we would consider today to be a liberal policy position. Indeed he was reflecting his era, his time. And many of the Carter policies were liberal.

    We all know that under Clinton, welfare was effectively gutted, and that was an indication of what was to come, the deregulation of financial services. People love Clinton now, because the economy was so great back in the 90's and everyone wants to go back to that, but at the time, Clinton's policies were just reflecting the era.  Sometimes his policies could be considered quite liberal, The Federal Acquisition and Streamlining Act of 1994, a very liberal policy that expanded the numbers of minority businesses competing for Federal Government contracts. It was a very important micro-economic policy.

    Barack Obama is no different from those Presidents, he reflects this era. This returns us to my original statement, but what I am describing is our dynamic concept of liberalism which has changed over time.  His agenda is mostly liberal. But not everything his administration proposes or accomplishes is liberal. I think that is because as people we too are more complex than that, we are not one dimensional and we are not static beings. We evolve and change as do our expectations of civilization. This is just another step up in our continuing growth as humans. As we continue to evolve as people, our government will evolve with us.

    Crossposted at TheAngriestLiberal


    Tmac, I'm not sure what the point of this piece is. If it's to argue that no president has ever been perfectly liberal, whatever that means, then no duh. We all understand that even the most forward-thinking leaders are nonetheless creatures of their era, constrained by practical realities, and not always consistent.

    But that doesn't make all presidents equally liberal. To size up a leader in historical context, you have to look at the body of their accomplishments. We don't regard FDR as a "great liberal" because of his perfectly liberal opinions but because of the tremendous liberal reforms that he brought the country.

    On the other hand, if your point is to argue that Obama is a great liberal president or a good liberal president or not the worst liberal president ever, well you haven't done that or even attempted it. You just asserted it. There have been many substantive criticisms of Obama's leadership of the liberal movement here and elsewhere that you just ignore and dismiss with a shrug: nobody's perfect.

    If you're just claiming that Obama deserves the label "liberal," then who gives a shit? It's just a label. The meaningful question is whether he is a good president who has done good things for the country, and this piece does not even attempt to answer the question.

    I predict that your piece will serve little purpose other than a platform for people to recycle their gripes about Obama or their gripes about people who don't like Obama or their gripes about people they just don't like. Let the gripe-fest begin...or rather, continue.

    PS What would have been more interesting and what your title appeared to promise would have been an essay about how and why liberalism has evolved and how Obama fits into the story.

    Hey Genghis, I am not really claiming much about Obama as I am making a point about us, as people. I think. I was fleshing out the dynamic term liberalism as opposed to our static view of what we think liberalism was as defined by the past.  But all those Presidents just reflect us, and they reflect how we have changed as a people I think.

    OWS could be an effective movement in that it could make us see ourselves differently, and it could make the general population once again believe it has some power to make effective change.  Because humanity is not static either. Those up there are examples of how we have changed as a nation.

    Maybe another sentence needs to be added to the end of the first paragraph, something like:


    But I would put out there that liberalism as a concept is dynamic and does nothing more than reflect the milieu of any given era in civilization.  As such, our presidents, whether Democratic or Republican, have reflected that dynamic unfolding and growth.

    Don't have much time right now, but I think one way to look at this issue is socialist-capitalist spectrum.  There are no true pure capitalist societies, nor no true pure socialist societies.  There is just those that are more socialist than capitalist, others more capitalist than socialist.  Within each there is a varying mix of people who response to economic approaches lean more often one way or the other.   But for simplicity sake we just label this one capitalist and that one socialist, even though there are elements of the other approach in each. 

    And here I thought liberalism was intelligently designed ...

    I hereby render unto Donal the Daily Line of the Day Award for this here Dagblog Site given to all of him from all of me.

    Well deserved.

    But I thought the image of sliced meta threads and eggs for breakfast, the smell of coffee and napalm in the air, was a runner up. 

    Why do historical comparisons matter?

    ​​You are right. Times change and liberals change.too. 

    "I have found a certain type calls himself a liberal.   Now I always thought I was a liberal.  I came up terribly surprised one time when I found out that I was a right-wing, conservative extremist, when I listened to everybody's point of view that I ever met and then decided how I should feel.  But this so-called new liberal group, Jesus, they never listen to your point of view...."


    "Pretty bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!"

    An ah'll tell you what!, bud, them libruls was never mugged neither. 

    An  libruls caint shoot no guns.

    TMC, you're touching on something I've been thinking about---whether we are in the process of defining a new American person ideal. And whether this new model of American citizenship will change concepts of liberal vs. conservative. Perhaps it will be More Community vs. Less Community. I think it's worthwhile to think about how human evolution may effect our political labels and distinctions.  

    In 2004, following four years of the worst Presidential Administration in decades the repubs were voted back into office; they had both Houses in Congress.

    Two years following our greatest economic crash since the crash of '29, the American People (whoever the hell that is) permitted the repubs to take over the House and made gains in the Senate.

    Frankly I think the repubs will retain the House, take over the Senate and take over the Executive reins.

    This is the Land of Bilks and Phonies.

    FOX News rules the airways along with the fascist radio talk shows.

    Liberals barely represent half of the minority party in this country.

    We owned both Houses of Congress and the WH for a brief period of time and we were unable to get Obama's nominations thru and failed to pass a budget.

    Basically, the American People are dupes; they buy repub tweets and shamwows along with corporate owned politicians.


    Four in 10 Americans, slightly fewer today than in years past, believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago. Thirty-eight percent believe God guided a process by which humans developed over millions of years from less advanced life forms, while 16%, up slightly from years past, believe humans developed over millions of years, without God's involvement.

    On the other hand :

    41% of Republicans still doubt Obama was born in the US

    'Liberalism' is dead in America.

    Let the Corporations rein forever!

    The Dems allowed the Republicans to win in 2010 by running on nothing but "we suck less than them". They couldn't use a majority in both houses and the presidency to implement a stimulus that stimulated enough, a housing program that prevented illegal repossessions, a jobs program that got us down from 9%+ unemployment.

    They couldn't or wouldn't even stop a regressive continuation of Bush tax cuts for the rich that makes it impossible to fund our government properly.

    The Republicans in principle didn't deserve to win (in strategy yes), but the Democrats deserved to lose. 

    The Dems in 2004 by and large followed Rahm's advice, "don't talk about the war". Those that did complain about the war in a large part won. But the Dems took a drubbing.

    Of course the Dems let Howard Dean get tossed out of the race for a mere "Yeaaaggghhhhhh", so instead of a charismatic, dynamic candidate, we got Mr. Serious. (I thought Kerry finally started performing in the final debates, but by then it was way too late).

    If you let the GOP define the discussion, they're going to win - whether in votes or actual outcomes. Now we're busy drowning government in a bathtub even though we supposedly have the White House & the Senate.

    The distinction between "static" and "dynamic" models has a paradoxical element to it.

    Since the static models do not make any claim about the future but rely only on being able to identify essential qualities to measure the worthiness of  proposed changes, they are not bound by the logic of dialectics that would reveal a pattern to history and the struggles between people. While people get "stuck" in static visions of themselves and others there is also a form of life where people are stuck within narratives of change.

    Where things get really weird is the place where both elements are in play simultaneously. For example when a Creationist begins arguing for Social Darwinism,  a cognitive bifurcation has taken place. Similarly, when a Marxist dictates what is essentially human, something has been broken into two.

    Is this like when a clown stands up and pulls a newt out his ass?

    I was thinking it was more like a game of Twister. The co-option of popular messages to make groups attractive on the election market lead to convolutions.

    For instance, Goldwater opposed the Great Society in a consistent manner; the remodeling of our social environment was anathema to his idea that free individuals sorted out such matters between themselves. After a couple of decades of living without the apartheid the Goldwater ideal preserved, the public at large did not want to give up the benefits of that social change. So when Reagan reiterated the Goldwater mantra, he added the promise that none of those benefits would be sacrificed by dismantling the instruments that made those changes possible. The "free market" went from being a bellwether of personal liberty to providing for the common good. GHW Bush called the idea "voodoo economics" before he went out and bought his own doll.

    So, you are correct, the process did lead to a Newt.

    Evolution. Nice concept. Ugg missed it.

    no one ever said that evolution was an equal opportunity employer

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