teisipäev, oktoober 21, 2008

whither liberalism?

Flipping between the 24-hour cable news networks on my JetBlue flight out to San Diego on Sunday was interesting.

MSNBC showed Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama over and over again, and why wouldn't they? He explained much of it on their own program, Meet the Press.

CNN's approach was dominated by their newfound appreciation for the celebrity journalist. Four years ago, Anderson Cooper seemed like the only interesting person on the network -- to the point that they extended his program, Anderson Cooper 360, from one to two hours every night. But now they have Campbell Brown and Soledad O'Brien and Lou Dobbs and Jack Cafferty. It's a news celebrity love-in. You tell 'em, Anderson/Campbell/Soledad!

FOX, unsurprisingly, did not cover the Powell endorsement, except to trot out a few loyal analysts to explain how Colin Powell isn't that important. What's really important is that Barack Obama once sat on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago with former "Weatherman" Bill Ayers. And McCain has taken to calling Obama a "socialist" or purveyor of "tax and spend liberalism," which was Alan Keyes' line of attack during the Illinois senate campaign four years ago.

As a person who first became aware of the political world at a time when Reagan and Gorbachev were sitting down in Geneva to discuss a ban on ballistic missiles, this deep spring of knee-jerk anti-liberalism that McCain is hoping to tap into is foreign to me. The first political reality I ever knew was one where "greed was good." I learned about Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiatives in school; the idea that you are going to stir me into voting Republican by linking Obama to a philosophy of government that hasn't really been in vogue since 1966 isn't going to sway me.

FOX, though, relies not on first-hand experience, but conditioning. Their newsmasters believe that you may not remember Lyndon Johnson or the Weather Underground or even a time when liberal politicians won districts in the American South handily. But if we link Obama to domestic terrorism and Kennedy-Johnson liberalism, nay, socialism enough, it will stick. McCain stands for "real American" values like free trade and cutting taxes and preemptive war. Lyndon Johnson? Socialist. Harry Truman? Appeaser. Jack Kennedy? Elitist. Barack Obama? Terrorist.

Estonian politics aren't too far removed from American politics. I recently sat down with an Estonian journalist who referred to Finance Minister Ivari Padar as a "socialist" throughout the conversation. Now, if you are like me and you have traveled the dark backalleys of the Left, you know the difference between your socialists and your communists and your anarcho-syndicalists. To them, social democrats are right wing. To a lot of Estonians, though, they're all the same.

Still, a recent poll though found that 50 percent of Estonians said that Padar was performing well, compared to a third who said the same of Prime Minister Ansip. On Hannes Rumm's blog though, a commenter pointed out that unlike their counterparts in Finland, Sweden, and the other nordic countries, Estonian Social Democrats only can garner 10 percent of the electorate's support.

That seems like a tiny sliver, but when you realize that most voters have no party affiliation, it's a reliable slice of the Riigikogu and one that has served their interests well enough to boast of Padar's public approval. At the same time, there is a disconnect. Pre-war Estonian Social Democrats went the way of the Estonian state in 1940. The heydey of social democracy was in the 1960s. Now as we near the end of this decade, some Estonian voters are looking for a viable alternative to the economic liberals and conservatives, but it doesn't seem to exist.

There is an unmet market need for something new, the only question is in which ways it will materialize. In America, some voters might see a false choice between Reagan and Johnson, when Obama and McCain perhaps represent neither. In Estonia, voters may see a choice between liberalism and socialism or conservatism and populism, but is that really the case?

In presidential and parliamentary democracies alike, there is an idea that there are two polarities each tugging the electorate one way or the other given the time and circumstances. In the US, we've had a quarter century of the Washington consensus. In Estonia, you've had nearly 20 years of a similar consensus. But as we prepare to consider the other side of the coin, voters like me in either country are confused about just what that other side will be.

10 kommentaari:

plasma-jack ütles ...

I've always (=twice in parliament elections) voted SDE, since I wanted to see how they would perform in government. Unlike many of my compatriots, I am not a fan of Jüri Pihl - surveillance society is not my social democratic dreamworld, but I bet he'd differ with me on that. Overall, the government follows mostly rightist agenda, so I really don't know who to vote next. (Though in EP, they would all look quite similar and oh, EP doesn't have any legislative power anyway.)
I know the worst scenario - government of KESK & RE (and maybe a bit of worst Res Publican rhetorics for taste). So it's probably the SDE again, though I despise half of the most important guys. But I really must say that it's not easy to be a leftie if you must choose between a crook and a wannabe.

Kristopher ütles ...

I guess the main fight is taking place for the souls of the baby boomers in the battleground states, so that is why the invocations of Johnson etc. seem irrelevant to someone your/our age.

And then the other undecideds are the poor whites, and that explains the cruder tactics being used, including, most recently, Rush Limbaugh with his brilliant "neeger toetab neegrit" thesis. Who would have thought of that?

I still think/hope Obama is that something new you speak of (the "R" word instead of the "S" word if you will). That he's from one of the two parties simply because that is the only acceptable way that wouldn't be dangerous to himself and America.

Estonia is more problematic. The R word was overused for 50 years and now no one wants to hear it. But With the currency board and no possibility of a deficit budget, and openness to FDI, I think the people who say that any government has no real room for improvisation tend to be right.

FVM ütles ...

Interesting analysis, but I'd like to hear what you think of Greens. They might not be very popular in Estonia, but at least here in Finland they provide an alternative if you want to vote social liberals but don't want to vote Social Democrats or Left Alliance.

Ly Kesse ütles ...

With regard to American politics, unfortunately the choice is between the current political party corporate choice (McCain) and backbench party corporate choice (Obama).

Disguised in the political wrangling is that the corporations and Walll Street types will still maintain power. Political arguments and economic arguments here have such a narrow focus that anything restricting laissez faire econimics is verboten. Anything suggesting any form regulation or restriction is quickly labeled as socialist (meaning a form of debunked communism) and therefore outside the possible range of motion. Since the collapse of communism (and I am no Lenin fan), laissez faire politics has reigned supreme.

The extent to which economic power controls political power is under wraps.

Many are very well versed in political power, but the potential political might of those wielding economic power is not addressed. The need for understanding economic history and its political ramifications is missing.

Again and again, American history has shown that concentration of wealth leads to boom-bust cycles; the captain of industry/masters of the universe pervert and subvert the political process through cronyism. It happened in the 1890's and it is happening again now. In short, laissez-faire economics is anti-democratic.

Unfortunately, all the Wall Street types cannot get it through their collective heads that infinite growth (which is necessary for those large returns on investment) is not possible in a finite world. This is why the booms lead to busts.

Or, more likely, the Wall Street types DO understand and don't care, figuring they will still be on the receiving end of Paulson's $700 billion handout.

It's the rest of the electorate that needs to resist the siren song of infinite growth. That means being educated in Wall Street's functions and economics, something many of us resist to our own peril.

Opaqueness leads to theft on a frighteningly grand scale.

Ly Kesse ütles ...

Pardon the typos. My proofreading leaves something to be desired.

Kristopher ütles ...

If I'm reading the news correctly, mineral exploration and mapping of the moon began today.

I'm not sure that's really what Stephen Hawking meant when he said the future of mankind is in space.

But I think that economic growth will find a way of continuing.

Giustino ütles ...


The Greens are a relatively new phenomenon in Estonia. They have a relatively charismatic leader, but they obviously lack the same political lineage as the Finnish or German Greens. If they have develop some other political heads beyond Strandberg, they may do as well in the next election.

Martin-Éric ütles ...

As someone who is about to cast his vote in the Helsinki municipal elections, I must say that I found the Green Party of Finland to be a bunch of daydreamers who find the idea of focusing on real policy making too gruesome to entertain. However, I'll agree that, in some aspects, they are the lesser evil, between the racist capitalistic right and the outdated post-Soviet left.

As for wanting meaningful alternatives to traditional parties, yes please. It just might solve the low participation rate of the voters, if you give them real alternatives to vote for, instead of a bunch of slightly blue Yes-sir or slightly red Yes-sir who will do anything EU or US wants them regardless of how it might contradict the will of the people.

However, that would also require getting rid of career politicians and instating a Maximum 2-Terms rule for all elected positions. The goal is to give average folks with a good common sense a chance to take the leads, do what's right for their country, for a maximum of 8 years (2 terms) then move on and continue their career in their normal field of employment.

However, career politicians don't want a truly democratic society. There would be more accountability than they could ever bargain for. Meanwhile, people who would be elected to see an agenda item or two through, then move on, have nothing to lose if they are held accountable, because it's already understood that the goal is not to be re-elected, since that can only happen once under a Maximum 2-Terms system.

Basically, there has to be real alternatives to vote for and some airthight limitations on how long someone can stay in power. Until that has happened, I don't see much hope for what some people desperately want to call democracy.

PS: and I haven't even touched on extrajudicial governance, such as the IATA, who gave us the security theater that we see in airports everywhere. Those people are not elected, have no democratic accountability, yet their decisions have profound impacts on people's everyday life. We need to get eject them too and bring common sense back into public life.

FVM ütles ...

"As someone who is about to cast his vote in the Helsinki municipal elections, I must say that I found the Green Party of Finland to be a bunch of daydreamers who find the idea of focusing on real policy making too gruesome to entertain."

Martin-Éric, two words: Osmo Soininvaara.

Too bad his website and blog are only in Finnish, but here it is anyway: http://www.soininvaara.fi/

Wahur ütles ...

unfortunately, non-professional politicians make for bureaucratic rule. Amateur politicians will not be able to control their professional apparatus in ministries and offices. So make your pick.