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Ken Masugi- Columnist

Ken Masugi is the Director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Local Government. Its purpose is to apply the principles of the American Founding to the theory and practice of local government, the cradle of American self-government. Dr. Masugi has extensive experience in government and academia. Following his initial appointment at the Claremont Institute (1982-86), he was a special assistant to then-Chairman Clarence Thomas of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After his years in Washington, he held visiting university appointments including Olin Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. Masugi is co-author with Brian Janiskee of both The California Republic: Institutions, Statesmanship, and Policies (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) and Democracy in California: Politics and Government in the Golden State (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). He is co-editor of six books on political thought, including The Supreme Court and American Constitutionalism with Branford P. Wilson, (Ashbrook Series, 1997); The Ambiguous Legacy of the Enlightenment with William Rusher, (University Press, 1995); The American Founding with J. Jackson Barlow and Leonard W. Levy, (Greenwood Press, 1988). He is the editor of Interpreting Tocqueville's Democracy in America, (Rowman & Littlefield, 1991). [go to Masugi index]

Can Liberalism Be Saved?
Not with the usual suspects...

[Ken Masugi] 3/8/05

In an interview and an essay in the NY Times Book Review various left-of-center magazine editors reflect on liberalism’s current perils and prospects.

Note the blindness of liberals in the interview of the Book Review editor, Barry Gewen, with Peter Beinart, the editor of The New Republic; Michael Tomasky, the executive editor of The American Prospect; and Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, show a distinct lack of connection with political reality—other than that their ideas have been discredited. Beinart is the most aware; vanden Heuvel utterly clueless.

TOMASKY. One of the Democratic Party's problems is that it doesn't have enough contact with its rank and file. Right-wing people in this country have a place to meet and talk politics -- their churches, increasingly the megachurches in the exurbs. There's not a meeting place like that for liberals and for Democrats.

These liberal meeting places are called universities, and they’re subsidized by taxpayers and donors who are largely kept ignorant of what’s going on inside them. See also, the bureaucracy and law firms.

VANDEN HEUVEL. In fact, liberals and progressives have done a lot over the course of history to save the market from itself and from its excesses. And there is an interesting movement under way within the Democratic Party led by people like Eliot Spitzer and the treasurer in California, Phil Angelides, to use public pension funds to invest in what are called high-road investments: clean energy, high-wage enterprises. I think that's an interesting use of the market.

For what she’s getting at in California see our posts on public pension funds, some of which, we point out, has been going to the People’s Republic of China and the Sudan.

Among these types, Beinart, who defends the war in Iraq, almost sounds like a neo-conservative (in its original meaning):

BEINART. I think one of the great problems in the debates about abortion and gay rights is the perception that liberals are illiberal and nondemocratic…. And there is an important debate for liberals to have about the role of the courts in pushing social change. Finally, I don't think you can separate these questions from people's larger concerns about the culture. Liberals should believe in free speech, of course, but there is no reason that liberals need to believe that everything that comes out of an unregulated free market is good culturally.

But then he gives the game away, which he evidently thinks is primarily about perceptions:

The Democratic Party needs a strategy with military voters not simply because of their numbers, but because military voters will give the Democratic Party credibility with nonmilitary voters who are concerned the Democratic Party is not tough enough. One cannot forget the central fact that the Democratic Party has lost every election since the 9/11 era, in which national security has been predominant. That is an enormous, enormous problem.

My Claremont Institute colleague Bill Voegeli dissected Beinart in this essay and went after liberalism again in this one, in the current Claremont Review of Books.

Franklin Foer provides a more thoughtful but even more desperate policy prescription, federalism.

In a dense essay Foer, senior editor of the New Republic, notes the left’s new-found joy in federalism. This is an extension, he argues, of a century-old debate between Herbert Croly (the founding editor of the New Republic) and Louis Brandeis, a social reformer appointed by Woodrow Wilson to the Supreme Court. Croly favored an agenda of centralization and efficiency, Brandeis the use of the states as “laboratories of democracy.” Foer maintains that President Clinton was a kind of neo-Brandeisean liberal federalist (my concoction; his middle name is Jefferson, after all.) “Progressives once championed states as laboratories of democracy. Now many of them are hoping these laboratories will produce the Democratic electoral cure.”

Federalism certainly is a fundamental constitutional principle; it is also in many respects an empty vessel. Thus champions of federalism often turn out to be merely advocates of this or that particular policy (for example, slavery) rather than defenders of constitutional principle.

In California we have long recognized this liberalism, as manifested by the State Supreme Court’s decisions making criminal justice more difficut ("independent state grounds"). (See my chapter on the courts in Democracy in California.) But how will Foer judge the success of conservative initiatives in California and in Oregon? Liberal kneejerk support of illegal immigration, race and gender preferences, criminal rights, and property regulation against direct democracy will scarcely build the Democratic party. But then neither will conservative satisfaction with direct democracy’s results build an effective conservative party.

Judging from these comments, it will be up to the Democratic Party politicians, not its intellectuals, will have to save it. But note who they voted as their party chairman. tOR

copyright 2005 Claremont Institute.


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