On tap tonight, competing strains of liberalism

I thought this piece at the NYT site was interesting, contrasting the two strains of liberalism that compete for control of the Democratic Party these days — personified in two speakers at the convention tonight. An excerpt:

Wednesday, though, begins the hard sell of President Obama to the middle class. And for this task, the campaign has juxtaposed two prime-time speakers — Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton, one right after the other — who in their core philosophies represent contradictory, even irreconcilable strains of American liberalism….

Mr. Clinton is the president who made the sustained case to Democrats that they had to be pro-growth and pro-Wall Street, not just to get elected, but also to build a more modern economy. He was the one, as spokesman for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, who told Democrats again and again that they couldn’t succeed as a party that “loved jobs and hated business.” Mr. Clinton transformed welfare, balanced the budget and declared an end to the liberal era of government, which is why a lot of conservative-leaning independent voters would re-elect him if they could.

As a Harvard law professor during the Bush years, Ms. Warren, who is now a candidate for Senate in Massachusetts, came to represent a rebuke of such Clintonian expedience. Her indictment against the excesses of Wall Street and the abdication of centrist Democrats became popular among a new generation of old-style economic populists (most notably John Edwards and then Mr. Obama), who often cited Ms. Warren’s arguments in making the case that the party had to reverse course from the Clinton years and rein in a business community that was prospering at the expense of the middle class…

Of course, if I had to pick one of them, it would be the Clinton strain. There are things I liked about Bill Clinton, and things I didn’t like. I tended to like him when he was being a Third Way guy, when he seemed to be channeling my main man Tony “New Labour” Blair.

4 thoughts on “On tap tonight, competing strains of liberalism

  1. tavis micklash

    I was and still am a big clinton guy. His extracurricular activities were an embarassment but overall the country was in a good state.

    I liked the part that you can’t love jobs and hate business. That sums up my feelings pretty much.

    Then again I’m an unapologetic centrist. A person is the sum of his policies not his party.

  2. Phillip

    There’s some truth, obviously, to this view of liberalism: you have your Bernie Sanders-es and your Dennis Kucinich-es, and then you have your Bill Clintons and your Blue Dog Democrats.

    But there’s another way to look at it, which is that conservatism became so radicalized from about 1980 onward, with the end goal or target or result-if-unchecked of that movement so obvious that opposition to it by definition had to include a strong championing of the working class and strong criticism of the excesses of unregulated markets. Clinton may enjoy strong approval numbers now, but to even suggest going back to maximum tax rates of his era is to be called a socialist or worse. The GOP and conservatives and the Norquistians have moved the goalposts so far that essentially all of us who oppose Anarcho-Capitalism are Elizabeth Warrens now, Bill Clinton included. One can express that in language that is more or less aggressive in calling out the radical-pro-oligarchists for what they really are, or not, but in a world where Barack Obama is seriously accused of being a socialist, where Ronald Reagan would be accused of RINO-ness in some quarters, who can seriously worry about parsing this supposed “distinction” between these wings of liberalism. We’re all in one boat now. (Except for millionaires & billionaires of course…Romney’s only natural constituency, who I wouldn’t blame for voting for him).

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