21 Nov 2011

Liberals Dissatisfied Again

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Jonathan Chait, in New York Magazine, discusses the history of liberal dissatisfaction with incumbent democrats at length.

Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president. an apologetic Chris Rock said earlier this month. “I believe wholeheartedly if he’s back in, he’s going to do some gangsta shit.”) Obama has already given up on any hope of running a positive reelection campaign and is girding up for a grim slog of lesser-of-two-evils-ism.

Why are liberals so desperately unhappy with the Obama presidency? …

Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing. The various theories of disconsolate liberals all suffer from a failure to compare Obama with any plausible baseline. Instead they compare Obama with an imaginary president—either an imaginary Obama or a fantasy version of a past president. …

For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. (Except for Johnson, who was a bloodthirsty warmonger.)

Is it really likely that all these presidents have suffered from the same character flaws? Suppose you’re trying to find dates online, and everybody you meet turns out to be too ugly. Might it be possible that the problem isn’t the attractiveness of the single people in your town but rather your standards? …

Conservatives are an interesting counterexample. While they are certainly capable of expressing frustration with Republican presidents, conservative disappointment is neither as incessant nor as pervasively depressed as the liberal variety. Conservatives are at least as absolutist as liberals in the ideological demands they make upon their leaders… At the same time, they are far less likely to turn against their president altogether. They assail the compromise but continue to praise the man. Conservatives did turn against George H.W. Bush after he raised taxes. But they stuck loyally with his son well through his midterm election. They remained consistently loyal to Nixon and Reagan. They’ll circle the wagons around Romney, too—trust me.

Why? Because conservatives are not like liberals. They think differently.

Chait shouldn’t be surprised.

Liberalism really amounts to a fanatical enthusiasm for 19th century fantasies involving the achievement of a Utopian society with no form of unhappiness or inequality, brought into being by the calculative powers of human reason operating through the rule of the collectivist state by scientific experts.

If electing the democratic candidate the liberals rallied behind fails to bring about a completely successful socialist revolution, silencing conservative opposition forever and eliminating capitalism, the market economy, and the economy of scarcity; if the entire population is not promptly converted into accepting the editorial perspective of the New York Review of Books in its entirety; if their president cannot crush the kulaks; then he, too, is going to wind up, rather like Capitalism and American society, being compared to an impossible fantasy yardstick of imaginary perfection and condemned.

Chait is, in essence, perfectly correct, but if one removes doctrinaire Utopian fantasy from the politics of the American left, the philosopher is bound to wonder: what exactly would remain?

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SDD

Liberals envision a world in which smart people (read:liberals) are able to repeal the laws of economic and human behavior with impunity. When they discover that they can’t — or that unfortunate things happen when they try — they turn petulant. The problem cannot be with the impracticality of the vision, so it must be with those who fail to deliver it.

Conservatives experience a similar disillusionment. They envision a world where conservatives who go to Washington continue to behave like conservatives rather then self-interested human beings (aka career politicians). Then a George W Bush launches a prescription drug entitlement (or a Mitt Romney enables a health care monstrosity for Massachusetts)
and they are hugely disappointed.



hillclimber

“The liberal is continually angry, as only a self-important man can be, with his civilization, his culture, his country and his folks back home. His is an infantile world view. At the core of a liberal is the spoiled child — miserable, as all spoiled children are, unsatisfied, demanding, ill-disciplined, despotic and useless. Liberalism is a philosophy of snivelling brats.” P.J. O’Rourke



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