Joel Kotkin argues that old-style New Deal liberalism aspired to improve general prosperity and new Obama-style liberalism proposes to facilitate the ability of the New Class intelligentsia to tell everybody else what to do. The New Deal erected massive federal dams and contemporary liberalism bans Happy Meals. The appeal of the petty dictatorship of the self righteous is inevitably restricted to the urban enclaves where the elites themselves live and to college communities full of brainwashed undergraduates.
Liberalism once embraced the mission of fostering upward mobility and a stronger economy. But liberalism’s appeal has diminished, particularly among middle-class voters, as it has become increasingly control-oriented and economically cumbersome.
Today, according to most recent polling, no more than one in five voters call themselves liberal. ...
Modern-day liberalism… is often ambivalent about expanding the economy — preferring a mix of redistribution with redirection along green lines. Its base of political shock troops, public-employee unions, appears only tangentially interested in the health of the overall economy.
In the short run, the diminishment of middle-of-the-road Democrats at the state and national level will probably only worsen these tendencies, leaving a rump party tied to the coastal regions, big cities and college towns. There, many voters are dependents of government, subsidized students or public employees, or wealthy creative people, college professors and business service providers. ...
The failure of Obama-style liberalism has less to do with government activism than with how the administration defined its activism. Rather than deal with basic concerns, it appeared to endorse the notion of bringing the federal government into aspects of life — from health care to zoning — traditionally controlled at the local level.
This approach is unpopular even among “millennials,” who, with minorities, represent the best hope for the Democratic left. As the generational chroniclers Morley Winograd and Michael Hais point out, millennials favor government action — but generally at the local level, which is seen as more effective and collaborative. Top-down solutions from “experts,” Winograd and Hais write in a forthcoming book, are as offensive to millennials as the right’s penchant for dictating lifestyles.
Often eager to micromanage people’s lives, contemporary liberalism tends to obsess on the ephemeral while missing the substantial. Measures such as San Francisco’s recent ban on Happy Meals follow efforts to control the minutiae of daily life. This approach trivializes the serious things government should do to boost economic growth and opportunity.
Perhaps worst of all, the new liberals suffer from what British author Austin Williams has labeled a “poverty of ambition.” FDR offered a New Deal for the middle class, President Harry S. Truman offered a Fair Deal and President John F. Kennedy pushed us to reach the moon.
In contrast, contemporary liberals seem more concerned about controlling soda consumption and choo-chooing back to 19th-century urbanism. This poverty of ambition hurts Democrats outside the urban centers. For example, when I met with mayors from small, traditionally Democratic cities in Kentucky and asked what the stimulus had done for them, almost uniformly they said it accomplished little or nothing. ...
Of course, green, public-sector-dominated politics can work — as it has in fiscally challenged blue havens such as California and New York. But then, a net 3 million more people — many from the middle class — have left these two states in the past 10 years.
If this defines success, you have to wonder what constitutes failure.
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Hat tip to Bird Dog.