Where have all the liberals gone?


    With the downfall of Rep. Anthony Weiner, the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, the ousting of Senator Russ Feingold, and the dissecting out of Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s congressional district, it’s difficult to find many liberal members of Congress that continue to stand up for a no-excuses liberal policy agenda (granted, some of these said individuals didn’t always toe the liberal policy line themselves). America, it seems, has moved further to the right and many of our “liberal” political representatives across the country appear unwilling to stick out their political necks for an agenda that seems less capable of making any political headway. Take Rep. Nancy Pelosi as one major example of this point. What some conservatives decry as a “radical liberal” (i.e. Nancy Pelosi) is to liberals like myself a pragmatic liberal who will shirk her liberal policies when circumstances dictate such an event.

    Indeed, our Congress is full of pragmatic liberals like Jim Webb, Mark Warner, Henry Waxman, and many more. Although I respect these individuals for their relatively solid political leadership, they have consistently thrown off the liberal mantel when the coast has not been absolutely clear. Their unwillingness to stand up for a liberal policy agenda has left many of their liberal constituents without a voice in the Congress or a friend to turn to.

    As America moves further to the right of the political spectrum, more individuals in the liberal camp will necessarily find themselves outside of the mainstream political discourse, a discourse which was never that liberal to begin with. If, however, you respond that the recent legalization of gay marriage in house of New York State provides a counterargument to my point, let’s not be so quick to jump to that conclusion. The legalization (at least for now) of gay marriage in New York was not premised upon “equality for all,” even though you’ll hear shades of this argument. Rather, the right for gay individuals to marry was based upon an argument of “individual rights,” a classical liberal argument. Liberals seek basic equality on moral grounds, not necessarily on grounds of individual rights and freedoms, even though this is a major component of modern liberal thought.  

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      I strongly feel that one reason we see fewer liberal ideas come to fruition is that the liberal agenda has succeeded so well. For example, during the Great Recession we are still recovering from, it was possible for the liberal position on extending unemployment benefits for 99 weeks to have little real opposition. The reaction to Paul Ryan’s idiotic idea to privatize Medicare may well haunt the GOP in 2012. This week, Joe Lieberman and Tom Coburn got absolutely no positive feedback from their idea of raising the age to get Medicare. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and the neanderthal governor in Florida have dismal approval ratings. Even in Virginia, Bob McDonnell is projecting a “moderate” image.

      America is back to the center-right that is usual except in times of extreme stress. Plus, the benefits of liberal programs are now accepted parts of the national fabric.

      I would like to see us fighting to take our government back from the monied interests that control our elections. The way things are now, liberals have to get campaign money from many of the same sources as conservatives do. A change like that (public financing of elections and term limits)  will take constitutional action, not legislative action.

    • Let the record show this is the first time Henry Waxman and Jim Webb have ever been casually lumped together

    • FreeDem

      Warner may be pragmatic, but you have a very wide definition for liberal if you’re putting him down as a pragmatic liberal.

      What’s your ding on Waxman, his willingness to negotiate to pass cap and trade in the House . . . so it could die in the Senate.

      The Republican Party is a conservative party for conservative voters who want conservative politicians that will deliver conservative policies. Conservative, conservative, conservative. And they don’t like to compromise.

      The Democratic Party is a left of center party for both liberal and moderate voters who want pragmatic politicians that will deliver results, not strict ideology. And they favor compromise.

      If you just look at the types of voters out there, the GOP is far more monolithic than the Democratic Party. When you look at members of Congress, the GOP is far more monolithic than the Democratic Party. I sympathize with liberals who want a more liberal Democratic Party. But with our two party system that’s not going to happen.

    • kindler

      …I see pragmatism as a positive thing. Remember, Kennedy worked with folks like Orrin Hatch and even Dubya, Feingold worked with McCain, and so on.  Ultimately, the test of a great legislator is not whether he or she  gives awesome speeches but whether they effect actual change. That requires crossing the aisle and making some compromises — the key is how to do so without sacrificing core principles. It takes being firm on ends but flexible where appropriate on means.