Kevin Drum thinks that the problem with both Liberals and Conservatives is that each side has only its hatred of the other holding them together.
So what we’re left with is little more than conservatives who are appalled with liberalism and liberals who are appalled by conservatism. There’s really not much of a vision on either side, unless you consider tearing down the last 60 years of social progress a vision. Our current political deadlock will probably remain until one side or the other comes up with one.
This is a classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. The reason that the two sides seem to share so little in common is precisely because they actually share so much in common that there is little left over to distinguish one side from the other.
“Liberalism” can be viewed as a political alliance, one which links together groups such as labor unions, lawyers, feminists, school teachers, minorities, etc. all of which are despised by the Right. But it can also be understood as a political philosophy. It is in this latter sense that Ralph Nader is correct when he says there is no difference between the Republican and Democratic parties, for there is actually broad agreement over the core values and beliefs which serve to legitimate the policy stances of both parties. Where they differ, and pace Nader, they do differ, it is not so much because of ideological differences but because of the different sets of political alliances upon which each side’s political power is grounded.
Interestingly, while the values espoused by both parties are “liberal,” those of many of their core supporters are anything but. On the Right, there is little tolerance for “liberal” values regarding religion and morality. On the Left are many, such as myself, who would use the term “progressive” rather than “liberal” to define their political beliefs. For progressives, liberalism makes the mistake of assuming an even playing field as the starting point for value-neutral policies of “fairness.” Progressives seek to construct policies which recognize the existence of social injustice and inequality. We seek to level the playing field rather than assuming it is level to begin with.
One professor of mine often uses the examples of handicap accessible sidewalks and buildings. Before a city is made handicap accessible, wheelchair bound citizens are unable to be “equal” with everyone else. By choosing to undertake the cost of installing ramps, elevators, etc., society reaffirms its commitment to the principle of equality.
There is very little progressivism left in the Democratic party platform. I believe that the progressives have been much more effectively marginalized by the Left than the conservatives have been by the Right. While Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000 made it seem as if he might be willing to sacrifice some of the conservative values of his core supporters, his policies since taking office have been far less “liberal” than many Republicans would like. If Bush looses this year it will indeed be a victory for liberalism, and a defeat of the conservatism of the far right — but only by restoring the traditional liberal consensus of Washington, DC. It won’t be a victory for those “Liberals” so despised by the Radical Right. In that sense, they’ve already won.