Opinion: Where Are the Liberals? Here, Here, and Here

Friday, January 13, 2012 - 10:56 AM

A job seeker looks through green job pamphlets at the Green Jobs and Entrepeneurship Fair on February 16, 2011 in Berkeley, California. (Getty)

Earlier this week, New York Times columnist David Brooks asked, "Where are the liberals?" He claimed that liberals are failing to expand their reach in the American population, despite a generally agreeable worldview and cultural influence.

Brooks' argument is a collage of smaller theses, not all of which seem to go hand-in-hand. I take exception to his claim that liberals are trapped in alliances with "rent-seekers" who only want to take for themselves from the federal coffers and therefore show no interest in innovating government. From a push to raise wages to the movement to curb climate change, the most dynamic liberal causes tend to be animated by people not arguing for their own benefit, but for a greater good. On the other hand, I do agree with his assessment that Democrats, including President Obama, do themselves a disservice when they demonize the government. The government needs to be the tool that utilizes our shared resources to achieve our common goals. That doesn't happen by campaigning against it.

That said, whenever David Brooks gives advice to liberals, it should be taken with the same grain of salt as when I give guidance to conservatives. Brooks is more interested in pinching progressives than encouraging them. However, because of his valuable real estate on the Times op-ed page and his smooth style, he probably has gotten many readers asking: "Where are the liberals?"

The short answer is that they are everywhere—pushing solutions, envisioning a stronger America and building a movement.

There is the People's Budget, submitted by members of Congress, which suggested straightforward steps to reducing the deficit while remaining compassionate to those in need and effectively using government to serve all its citizens. An alternative to Paul Ryan's draconian vision, this much less-touted plan showed that progressives could limit the deficit without limiting our values.

There is the vision for green jobs, put forth by organizations like Green For All, which outlines a strategy to bring effective job training to urban populations, and put them to work retrofitting buildings—a program that erased the divide between environmentalists and urban activists, created skilled jobs, and supported a workforce suited for the new economy. The champion of this blueprint, Van Jones, was set to bring this approach to Washington until Glenn Beck and Fox News chased him out.

There was the new program backed by the AFL-CIO and other unions to invest their own pensions in green infrastructure: creating jobs, impacting the environment, putting their money to good use and seeing a profit from it.

There is the argument for a smart financial speculation tax, articulated by economists like Dean Baker, working out of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which would be a simple step toward reining in Wall Street excess and recalibrating our economy.

There are those arguing for Medicare For All, an elegant route to create savings throughout the healthcare industry, model our system on successful precedents, and increase health coverage. There is the Contract for the American Dream, a series of simple planks for improving government services, strengthening our financial security and improving America's economic and international standing.

If some of these ideas are new to you, that's not your fault. It may mean these groups haven't communicated broadly enough, or aren't given the same air time as those who hawk more conservative visions. It is also because the Democratic leadership in Washington does not always embrace these visions. If you look at an Obama Administration that fell short of its promise, a chief executive who has too often negotiated away from our principles, a Democratic contingent on the Hill that has embarrassed itself with a mix of ineffectiveness at certain times and incredulous deal-making at others, you might agree that there isn't liberal leadership in this country.

But the next step isn't Brooks' answer that liberals need to reinvent themselves: it's that the Democrats in Washington need to embrace these liberal solutions; that liberals—who champion a compelling agenda—need to to find allies who propel these ideas further into the mainstream; and that ultimately we would be better if liberals—not just any old Democrats—held more influence in Washington.


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Comments [4]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

@listener -

Time for some bubble bursting. Democrats took the House and Senate in 2006 more or less powered by voter disgust with GOP mismanagment...Remember Iraq before the surge? Abu Ghraib? Katrina? The 2008 election gave the Democrats an unblockable super-majority in the Senate as well as the White House. I presume this is the lock to which you refer. One problem...Al Franken was blocked from taking his seat by a recalcitrant Norm Coleman until July, 2009. The Republicans exercised the filibuster early and often during that six months. The Senate was in session for NINETEEN DAYS in July and then went on their August recess during which TED KENNEDY DIED. The Republicans went back to filibustering EVERYTHING at that point. So where is the lock?

Please stick to reality and not what you hear on the news. If you are unwilling or unable to do the work of keeping your own head on straight at least don't waste the time of others who do.

Jan. 17 2012 09:58 AM
another listener

Did the Dems have a lock on Congress? I seem to remember that the 60 vote rule kept getting invoked and a president came in with the express wish to conduct business in a different way. Bad for him, right? Given the way the other party has reacted to his wish to quiet the rhetoric and find compromise (against what may have been his better judgment) I find it ironic that you would say such a thing. The right's continued assault on the middle class's own best interests, and that group's lemming-like behavior speak ill for this country and its direction. Krugman (and Keynes) predicted the stimulus wouldn't be enough. What the Republican party will do once they are re-established is create more wealth for the wealthiest, grow the lowest classes, and further shrink the culture the once existed here in post-war USA...

Jan. 15 2012 02:51 PM

In two years the Democratic Party had a lock on the government led by the progressives Obama and Pelosi and the result of that leadership is our current economy.
Is it not curious that the "People's Budget" was presented after "the people" threw Democrats out of office in large numbers after no serious budget was presented by the Senate, House or President in two years when they had the chance to officially present it to "the people" and hear their response?

Jan. 14 2012 11:44 AM
sherryerdmann from ny

No College Degree? New data suggests jobs picture Is Bleak for those with out college degree, it is the reality get a degree from "High Speed Universities online

Jan. 14 2012 02:10 AM

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