Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"We win, they lose"

If you can bear it, you might want to read this piece by Paul Starr, co-editor of The American Prospect. For those interested in discovering how liberals who are not hysterical think about our country and its place in the world, it's enlightening. Don't misunderstand, other than making the important point that we are engaged in a great ideological struggle for the soul of the country, a struggle in which sooner or later one side must win and the other must lose, there's not much in his analysis with which I would agree. But, as I say, his tone is for the most part civil and you may learn something.

I do, however, want to draw your attention to the way in which he frames that analysis, for it too is instructive. In the article, he recalls that when the magazine was founded 20 years ago, liberal historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. penned for its first issue a piece titled "The Liberal Opportunity." For Schlesinger, American history demonstrated "a fairly regular alternation in American politics between private gain and public good as the dominating motives of national policy." (my italics) As he saw things in 1990, conservatism was spent. As a result, the looming general election of 1992 afforded an opportunity to correct the direction of the previous years in the same way Kennedy corrected Eisenhower, and FDR corrected Coolidge.

Starr maintains that the promise of 1992 went largely unfulfilled, mostly because of conservative Republican perfidy and obstructionism, but with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 the country once again has the chance to redirect, and this time for good. His judgment of Obama's first year and a half in office piloting the ship of state: All ahead full!

Anyway, I italicised Schlesinger's words, private gain and public good, because his use of them is instructive. I'm not referring here to the rhetorical sleight-of-hand he employs. You know, "private gain" sounds like greed and selfishness, while "public good" brings to mind generosity and altruism. (Yawn.) Rather, I'm thinking about the stubbornly zero-sum fashion in which a liberal thinks. That is, forever and always, one person's gain is necessarily another's loss. They simply refuse to bring themselves to see, as one of their heroes John F. Kennedy did, that "a rising tide lifts all boats."

As a result, we're stuck. Well, if it's a zero-sum solution they want, then, with apologies to Ronald Reagan, how about this one: "Here's my strategy on the Great American Ideological War: We win, they lose."


  1. Sage,

    Great piece. Didn't FDR correct Hoover?

  2. Indeed he did, and Starr names FDR as the corrective to the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover troika. But I thought Coolidge the more prominent right-wing villain Starr wanted to discredit. Asked for comment, Cal was silent.

  3. Re Silent Cal - - being weened on a dill pickle will do that to you....

  4. ...that should be "weAned" on a dill pickle. Forgive me, I'm a product of the public schools.