Along the Tracks

Thursday, March 28, 2002

The shock! The horror! The scandal!

The Bush Administration spoke with energy experts in formulating energy policy? Scandalous. All the usual suspects are crying foul, saying the resulting document is “unbalanced” and results in special advantages for energy producers. My question: What exactly do these groups think an “energy policy” is? And why would some of the complaining groups expect to benefit from it?
Let’s look at this from a different angle, for the sake of fair play, shall we?
Who did the Clinton Administration talk to - oh, that’s right, there was no Clinton energy policy. Okay, they were big on the environment, right? Well, who did they talk to in setting environmental policy. Environmental groups? Scandalous! And just think, there were those ergonomic rules, Kyoto Accords, the mass public land grab at the end of the Clinton years - all a sure sign of influence by the most extreme environmental groups. There should have been a major investigation into whether these actions were precipitated by the “undo influence” of these one-sided groups!
Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. Of course environmental groups wielded great influence on Clinton’s proposals. That’s because his party is heavily influenced by groups on the left, including the more extreme environmental groups. And you know what? That’s just fine - after all, we elected Clinton. We knew what we were getting.
The same holds for Bush (and don’t start with another election controversy rehash - we’re a nation of law, and the law was followed, even if some didn’t like the results). Bush laid out the basics of his energy policy prior to his election, and everyone knew it would favor energy producers based on the outline. It is not a scandal to do precisely what you always said you’d do, what your party has always stood for. The Left is forced to portray the lack of environmentalist input as a “scandal” because in an open debate of legitimate plans and ideas, they would lose the battle for public opinion.
This “politicization” of debates is occurring across a wide range of topics this spring: Enron, the economy, energy policy, even the war. It indicates two things: The Left has no positive plan for America, and damaging Bush’s approval ratings is seen as the only hope for success in this fall’s elections. It is a sad state of affairs for a once vibrant liberal base.

Whatever happened to liberalism?

They say you become more conservative as you grow older, and in my case this is probably true - but with some caveats.
“Neo-conservatism,” the ideological camp I find myself closest to these days, is said to be the refuge of disillusioned liberals. That definition certainly fits this writer - I still proudly consider myself an idealist, but tempered with the jaundiced eye of realism.
Idealism draws the energy and interests of politically-enlightened youth. Yet the past 30 years have seen traditional liberal idealism devolve into a grab-bag of “right thinking” on almost any subject, without clear (and energizing) goals which these directives are meant to achieve. What is the ultimate goal of the civil rights movement today? Is there a goal? How about labor? Does the AFL-CIO have a vision of American society which it is trying to achieve? What is it? What about the gun control lobby? Environmentalists? Health care reformists?
At least when many on the Left were powered by socialism or Marxism, they had ultimate goals in mind; they sought a utopia which, if fanciful and unrealistic, was at least admirable as a premise. The abject failure of communism and the less extravagant shortcomings of many socialist programs have resulted in a void of ideology. If a magic wand could be waived and society recreated in the ultimate vision of the Left today, what would it look like? Does anyone know?
This lack of vision has resulted in splinters and frays of self-interest. Frankly, many groups on the Left are mirror images of the close-minded circles on the Right which are regularly denounced as “radical” and “fringe.” Are the “anti-globalization” protesters very different from the black helicopter crowd? How exactly was Ted Kaczynski, of “Unabomber” fame, different from Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber?
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, liberalism tied its goals to the power of the group in an effort to effect change. This momentous decision resulted in vast, important transformations in societies around the world. In America, civil rights, collective bargaining and Social Security all owe their successes to liberal ideals coupled with group action. But since the 1960s, the structure of this alliance has been reversed. Today, the group comes before the ideal. This upside-down organization of the Left results in political actions meant to perpetuate the group, rather than effect meaningful change. The dignity of the individual is lost in the sea of group grievances.
Is there a path out of this quandary for liberalism? A return to roots would seem to be in order. The Progressive movement of late 19th century America sought to guarantee civil rights, opportunity and dignity to the individual through government action. That is a noble goal too often missing from the arguments offered by liberals today. In fact, it is close to the argument made by many on the Right today.
The debate among conservatives primarily concerns how much - or more precisely, how little - the government should be involved in the effort. But there are those who feel the government does have a proactive role to play in guaranteeing the promise of the Declaration of Independence: The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These action-oriented “conservatives” may in fact provide the impetus, ideological underpinning and, perhaps, even the individuals to reignite the proud tradition of liberalism in America and around the world.
Honest, intelligent political discourse provides America great strength, and it is needed today more than at any time in 30 years. A reinvigorated liberalism is necessary to provide that debate, and the moral clarity and purpose which will arise from it.

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