Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2005 / 15 Shevat 5765
Soros should revive the old liberalism
So, George Soros plans to put more cash into building up the intellectual establishment on the left. The philanthropist billionaire will, one presumes, endow giant think tanks, fortresses from which neo-conservatives will flee. He will pour dollars over debaters until they morph into intellectual superheroes, capable of obliterating the scholars of the right and leading the Democratic Party to victory in 2008.
To which one can only say: Swell! One of the most embarrassing things about the 2004 election was watching the Democrats find their inner jackal. It is downright painful to hear middle-aged political science professors howl over the air waves. If Democrats want to imitate Republican intellect, we will forgive them. And as long as Soros is contemplating such a large agenda, we can offer a few suggestions.
Demand numeracy. Consider the debate over Social Security.
Actuarial work shows the value of changing the system early: If the U.S. waits, reform will be far more costly. Yet because most thinkers on the left prefer to view such government programs in legal rather than economic terms, they insist that the party's job is to block change. Reformers' arguments fall on deaf ears: The chat rooms and the lawmakers have taken the cue and begun debating in emotional terms.
Hence the widening divide on the topic in Washington.
Another example involving innumeracy: patients' rights.
Democrats love to expand them, and so do their big-time donors, trial lawyers. But sometimes that goal is illogical and can even hurt the quality of medicine. Merck's removal of its anti-arthritis drug Vioxx from the market is an example.
"Heart attacks and strokes double with Vioxx" was the headline about its withdrawal. But as the American Council on Science and Health points out, that doubling was from the small base of 1.9 percent of the population to 3.5 percent. The drug is a risk, but one a patient might choose to run, given the choice. This, however, is hard to impress on a party leadership that prefers the "perception is reality" argument.
Another suggestion: teach history. One premise of debates over large government programs is that to alter them would be to betray the legacy of President Franklin Roosevelt. The truth is that Roosevelt himself could not have imagined such sweeping social commitments; his Social Security data did not assume people would live to 70. As for health care, Roosevelt thought it best that medicine "be kept out of politics."
This basic approach would allow Democrats to sort out their political philosophy. Many in the party today view the "liberal" label as problematic: "Liberal" is what Ann Coulter, the conservative columnist, calls them. But it is possible to redeem this label by returning to the classical liberalism of Europe and the United Kingdom. Think tanks could do worse than take their cue from philosopher Isaiah Berlin's "Two Concepts of Liberty." The 1958essay separates "negative" liberties, the freedom to be left alone, from "positive" ones, the freedom to take actions on behalf of others that might in reality limit their freedoms.
The old negative liberalism would include choosing your own arthritis drug or pension format. And it stands for open-mindedness, because that allows the individual to inform himself.
This brings us back to Soros' dramatic move and the reason Republicans are perceived as such awesome foes today.
About 20 years ago an illiberal left came to dominate U.S. universities, especially in the humanities. In academic review committees, centrist or right-leaning applicants lost out. There were often good reasons for rejecting the candidates. But a vicious cycle was also at work: Non-left candidates could not get credentials because they did not have them. The best headed for Washington and laid foundations for the very think tanks Democrats are now so assiduously trying to replicate.
The illiberal university culture did a second thing. It refused to share space with the old disciplines, traditional languages and history especially, and supplanted them with postmodern literature and (fact-averse) social sciences. Since these newer disciplines have their own lexicons, younger generations came to speak a new language.
There is enormous potential in the U.S. for the old liberal ideal. What is more, Republicans have left a tactical opening by staying right on gay marriage and other social matters. And nobody knows better than Soros how to leverage a tactical advantage.
Still, he seems to like the label "progressive."
Progressivism, too, can strengthen the fragile Democratic Party as long as it incorporates more logic, more facts and more openness to ideas. Winning in politics is not merely about non-profit formats, blast-mails, filibusters and vote counts: It is about the substance of the debate. If improving that is where Soros wants to put his next $65 million, all we can say is: Welcome, George.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington
and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times
. Her latest book is
The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.
01/11/05: Fannie Mae's story is not one of corporate greed, or executive compensation, or the challenges of accounting regulation standards. It's a story of moral hazard
12/22/04: Focus on growth, not backbiting
12/09/04: Tide of democracy sweeps the globe: Prospects for free elections becoming a trend
11/30/04: Change the tax regime to help America save
11/11/04: Ignore the scaremongers Social Security `crisis' fixable
11/01/04: U.S. election about class, not politics
10/20/04: Reckless and extreme
10/06/04: Under construction: Threat of nuclear proliferation
09/19/04: A no-confidence vote in consumers
09/08/04: Caught in a triangulation traps
09/01/04: Competitive endgame
06/22/04: Oil as a curse
06/16/04: What de Gaulle can teach us about Iraq
05/18/04: Why trade matters in a time of war: Promising steps by U.S. and EU against protectionism
05/12/04: Let's face it, planning your life to reduce your tax bill is a time-honored and legal tradition
04/29/04: Being caught between 2 complicated syndromes: The high cost of living in big cities and the progressive structure of the U.S. tax code
04/20/04: Kerry's Misery Index is just sad
04/15/04: John Kerry's tax the rich mantra won't get the jobs done
04/02/04: Faithful following at the White House
02/25/04: It's back to the Dark Ages on trade
02/20/04: Trust the U.S. or trust Al Qaeda
02/12/04: A Political Year of Yalies: Boola Boola for Meritocracy
02/04/04: Here's what America doesn't need: Another New Deal
01/15/04: Forget Mars, U.S. economy looking like the final frontier
12/30/03: Bob Bartley put morality's place in the market economy
12/18/03: Mission accomplished: 1991's, that is
12/11/03: Shrugging off outdated data: Inside America's economic machine
11/13/03: Leaving a little something for the kids? Good luck
11/05/03: Never, Never will we Desist
09/30/03: Tax, lies and a few supply-side parables
10/09/03: Free markets are the key to rebuilding Iraq
09/25/03: Don't be sentimental, Mr. Bush
08/12/02: Howard Dean, Robin Hood
05/29/02: Berlin Diarist: To believe that by self-improvement and restraint, we can end tyranny
03/27/02: The curse of oil
11/12/02: Political Correctness at the Fed (No joke!)
10/31/02: Local enforcer who has changed national laws
10/12/02: No Mirror for Europe; US is a picture of unity
08/14/02: Keeping your financial eggs at home
07/24/02: New Democrats' unaffordable luxury
06/26/02: The evolution of eminent domain is the story of the lasting power of Supreme Court decisions to alter the American cultural fabric
06/20/02: The distinction between known risk and uncertainty: What was lost in the Martha Stewart flap
06/11/02: Europe, long waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the US on the world stage, is clueless to terror's threat
06/04/02: A Cold Warrior's lessons for the Middle East
05/21/02: Geography does matter when it comes to development, but aid must nonetheless be linked to good governance
05/14/02: The increasing number of new claims is hurting innocent companies and making a mockery of the Common Law system
05/09/02: Aid, development and guilt in our times of terror
04/30/02: Wine lovers may at last be able to stray across state borders. The Internet is coming to the aide of free trade
04/23/02: Taxation by way of Madison Avenue
04/17/02: Special relationships and free trade do not mix
04/08/02: Is terror the flip side of globalization?
03/20/02 Bush gives aid but seeks results
03/13/02 The Danger in policy by numbers
02/26/02: States' smokescreen for tax hypocrisy
02/20/02: Echoes of leadership against a global threat
02/13/02: Jackson Vanik May be a Useful Analogy When Thinking About the Middle East
02/07/02: Budgeting for victory: Requiem for a peace dividend
02/05/02: The detectives of 1930s pulp fiction had a nose for clients bearing gifts. Sadly, those consulted by Enron did not
01/22/02: Allow all American children a decent chance
01/15/02: Do not disturb the profit-sharing revolution
01/09/02: It is dangerous to elevate a currency as a political emblem if the need for other economic reforms is obscured
01/03/02: There is only one way for a free thinker to bring up children
12/20/01: Why America's economy always bounces back
12/18/01: When it comes to taxes, Washington lawmakers can learn a thing or two from The Honeymooners
12/13/01: Bush opens a new era
12/12/01: A flamboyant reversal for the Democratic party
12/06/01: Threat of an oil embargo on the U.S. is a bluff
11/29/01: Which is more important--the war or diplomatic comity?
11/20/01: Unbalanced by a wealth of oil and diamonds
10/17/01: Afghanistan Needs a General MacArthur
09/27/01: The US has gained an understanding of the costs of war for which its European allies have hitherto wished in vain
09/13/01: War against terrorism will rise from the ashes
08/15/01: Geography is no excuse for the state's economic stagnation. Its policymakers should take a leaf from Ireland's book
08/07/01: Teamsters may pay a heavy price for winning its batle in Congress
07/25/01: Towards a patent-free nirvana?
07/17/01: History proves the lasting value of tax cuts
07/10/01: Stem cell research has awakened a bitter debate in Washington but voters care more about other electoral issues
07/03/01: America foots the bill for Europe's largesse
06/26/01: America the litigious, land of the lawyer's fee
06/20/01: Five reasons for gloom about global growth
06/18/01: Show pity for Alice in Tax Wonderland
06/13/01: America must take a French lesson in trade
06/11/01: Time to dream the impossible dream for Iraq
06/07/01: Whatever happened to simple?
06/04/01: When the relationship between companies becomes as close as a marriage, the eventual break-up is often very painful
06/01/01: Loving and hating the Bush tax bill
05/30/01: Will Grisham soon be unemployed? In America's courts these days, there's no room left over for legal fiction
05/22/01: Republicans sample the rhetoric of confidence
05/16/01: Boeing has been promised $60m to site its headquarters in Illinois. The deal looks a poor one for taxpayers
05/14/01: Adam Smith in love
05/09/01: Those rotten Russian capitalists
05/07/01: Why tax havens provide shelter for everyone
05/04/01: Middle classes pay for get-the-rich folly
05/01/01: Money can't buy happiness? Think again.
04/26/01: Calling America's rogues and entrepreneurs
04/19/01: High earners right to feel lonely at the top
04/11/01: The right must learn the comfort of strangers
04/04/01: When domestic law arrives by the back door
03/30/01: A Lexus tax cut suits the jalopy driver
03/27/01: The unchallenged dominance of King Dollar
03/20/01: Natural selection of an intellectual aristocracy
03/16/01: The hidden danger of a regulatory recession
03/14/01: Is the American condition that boring? Why so many Oscar nominated movies aren't set in America
03/07/01: Trampling on the theory of path dependence
03/05/01: Fighting the good fight
03/01/01: It is time for Fannie and Freddie to grow up
02/27/01: IT's important
02/22/01: The guilty conscience of America's millionaires
02/14/01: The benefits of helping the 'rich'
02/09/01: The Danger and Promise of the Bush Schools Plan
02/05/01: Crack and Compassion
01/31/01: Debt is good
01/24/01: A gloomy end for a half-hearted undertaking
01/17/01: The challenge of an ally with its own mind
01/15/01: An unexpected American family portrait
01/10/01: A fitting legacy for America's beloved dictator
01/08/01: The trick of tax 'convenience'
01/03/01: Time to stop blaming Greenspan over taxes
12/11/00: So smart they're dumb
12/06/00: How economic bad news came good for Bush
12/04/00: The Boies factor
11/30/00: "The inevitable demands for recounts erupted like acne…"
11/28/00: Fair play and the rules of the electoral game
11/23/00: The shining prospect beyond a cloudy election
11/21/00: Try the Cleveland model
11/16/00: A surprising winner emerges in the US election
11/09/00: Those powerful expats
What's right for America versus what works
11/02/00: Time to turn off big government's autopilot
10/30/00: Canada beating America in financial sensibility
10/26/00: When progressiveness leads to backwardness
10/24/00: The most accurate poll
10/19/00: The Middle East tells us the hawks were right
10/17/00: The split personalities of America's super rich
10/10/00: 'Equity Rights' or Wake up and Smell the Starbucks
10/04/00: Trapped in the basement of global capitalism
09/21/00: The final act of a grand presidential tragedy
09/21/00: Europeans strike back at the fuel tax monster. Should Americans follow?
09/18/00: First steps to success
09/13/00: America rejects the human rights transplant
09/07/00: Minimum wage, maximum cost
09/05/00: Prudent Al Gore plans some serious spending
08/31/00: A revolution fails to bring power to the people
08/28/00: A reali$tic poll
08/21/00: "I Goofed"
08/16/00: Part of the union, but not part of the party
08/09/00: Silicon Alley Secrets
08/02/00: Radical Republicans warm up for Philadelphia
07/31/00: I'll Cry if I Want To
07/27/00: Cold warrior of the new world
07/25/00: The Estate Tax will drop dead
07/18/00: Shooting down the anti-missile defence myths
07/14/00: A convenient punchbag for America's leaders
07/07/00: How to destroy the pharmaceutical industry
07/05/00: Patriots and bleeding hearts
06/30/00: Candidates beware: New Washington consensus on robust growth stands the old wisdom on its head
06/28/00: White America's flight to educational quality
06/26/00: How Hillary inspired the feminist infobabes
© 2005, Financial Times