One of the oddities of the Barak Obama platform was that is was reactionary. Everything he talked about was in reaction to some slight or affront to liberalism over the last few decades. It was if they were keeping a list starting in the Reagan years and were nursing a grudge over each and every failure. His policies were both anti-intellectual and anti-ideological. Most was either the opposite of whatever Bush or Reagan had done or a promise to redress some failure to implement liberal dogma in the past.
Once he was in office that become more obvious. The whole Russian “reset” nonsense was particularly strange. The Russians accepted the fact they lost the Cold War and they were pretty happy about it. After all, it made Russian rulers much wealthier. On the other hand, the American Left was still angry over the end of the Cold War. They resented the fact Reagan threw them overboard and confronted the Soviets. They insisted that they would have ended it better, thus the talk of “fixing” relations with Russia.
The last five years have seen a series of such moves by this administration. In foreign policy, doing the opposite of Bush is the default. They threw away the peace deal in Iraq and tripled up on the pointless Afghan campaign. They threw over every ally we had left in the Middle East and embraced the Arab Spring nonsense. In Europe, all of our traditional relationships were cast aside to the point where even the French hate Obama. The Iran policy is an attempt to vindicate Carter and repudiate the Reagan critique of him.
On domestic policy, we see the same things. ObamaCare is just a re-do of the failed HillaryCare initiative the Left pushed in the 1990’s. The Left was convinced that they were wronged by the Clintons and wrongly blamed for the failure of HillaryCare. Here, the narrative gets weird. The Left argued that the failure to pass an unpopular proposal was the cause of the 1994 election. If only had rammed it through, they would have been fine, so they were determined to ram through ObamaCare.
For the last five years, liberal policy has been driven by reaction to the past or simply doing the opposite of the Republicans. From the stimulus bill forward, if Republicans are for it, the Left is against it. If liberals of a bygone era were thwarted in their past attempts, then now it is time to pass it, even when it made no sense at all. Undermining welfare reform, for example, is counterproductive. That was the one “reform” in the 1990’s that made any sense and was embraced by both parties and state government.
Liberalism today is nothing more than a grab bag of slights and grudges. It’s a strange form of reactionary politics, in that they are not actually protecting the status quo against reforms. It’s as if they think they need to rewind everything to some starting point in the 1960’s and have a do-over. They long for a present that never came to be, so they seek to go back and recreate the past in order to arrive at a new present. It’s a very oriental form of reaction, when you think about it. It’s spiritual and mystical.
Some right-wing Progressives like Jonah Goldberg argue that American Liberalism may be in a final stage and about to expire. The surge of liberal candidates was a rear guard action signaling the end. That’s mostly wishful thinking. A key argument of the ossified Right is that doing nothing will result in victory. It is a weird appropriation of the old Progressive line about being on the right side of history. It an appeal to authority, but the authority is an unmentioned spirit force that is just assumed to exist.
Now Charles Krauthammer is peddling the same idea. It’s an odd thing that all of the neocons have suddenly embraced this weird new right-wing mysticism. They also entangle tangible politics with ideological currents. That’s what Krauthammer is doing with ObamaCare and the Democrats. It is bad for the party, but it has nothing to do with what Progressive is becoming. If anything, the death of the old pragmatic politics of the Left, in favor of this new reactionary mysticism says the Left is reborn.
Maybe this type of politics is doomed. The weirdness of addressing all of these old sins and old slights is too obvious. Politics is about bread and circuses, not mystical trips to the before time in order to recreate a new present. That stuff is for grad school seminars on ontology, not practical politics. Still, the intensity of this new type of liberalism, however, suggest it is just getting started, rather that headed to the dust bin of history. The Left has believed in nuttier things than mystical reaction.