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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Running on Empty: The Left's Idea Deficit

These are lean times for the pro-centralization, anti-freedom crowd. Whether it's the Left's howling over Bush's state of the union promise to allow taxpayers to actually own the Social Security money collected in their name, or the blatant resentment over the successful elections in Iraq, liberals have been reduced to whiny nitpickers with no viable agenda to offer the American people. In fact, their paucity of ideas is so bad that they seem to have given up on offering anything even remotely resembling a coherent vision.

This idea deficit was painfully obvious to observers of the Kerry campaign. The man's entire platform could be boiled down to one long-winded slogan: "I won't say what I would do differently, but I would do it smarter and better than this president because I served in Vietnam."

When your standard bearer is reduced to vague promises of "doing job" and incessant references to his military service of nearly four decades before, it's safe to say that there are few intellectual winds in your sails.

Of course, the collapse of the liberal consensus didn't happen overnight. With the defeat of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of the welfare state, the political progress that the Left made during three-quarters of the 20th century ground to a halt. Since that time
liberals have become increasingly anti-growth, anti-family, and anti-life, but they haven't been able to supplement this opposition by defining what they would actually do if given power. Education? We want better education but we oppose school choice. Social Security? We want to protect the program but we oppose partial privatization. National defense? We want to protect America but we oppose defense spending and the country's right to act on its own.

Contrast this to the surge of ideas and proposals that have come from the Right in recent decades. (E.g. Tax reform. School vouchers. Missile defense. Free trade areas. Medical savings accounts. Faith-based initiatives. Enterprise zones. 401(K)'s. Welfare reform. The Reagan doctrine. The Bush doctrine. Immigration overhaul. Tort reform. IRA's. Medical malpractice reform. Social Security privatization. Pollution control credits. The flat tax. The national sales tax.) Not all of these proposals have been written into law, nor do they even have universal support amongst the different fractions of the Right, but this list does show just how active the Right has been in recent decades at producing new proposals to advance their vision.

Where's the Left's plan? Where's its vision? The Left doesn't seem to have an identity these days except that it's opposed to whatever Bush supports.

Consider last night's Democratic response to Bush's speech. Senate Minority Leader Reid actually said the way to build a bridge to a 21st century economy was massive public works projects:

"After World War II, through the Marshall Plan, we rebuilt Europe and they went from poverty to an economic powerhouse. Today, we need to invest in our nation's future with a Marshall Plan for America, to build the infrastructure our economy needs to go and grow."

Talk about vision! Even casual observers of the political economy should immediately realize just how silly this is. Not only has this kind of Keynesian government spending been discredited in academia, real-world data show just how futile this approach is. Consider the performance of the Japanese economy over the past 10-15 years. The government spent billions on public works, producing thousands of miles of unneeded freeways, but their economy remains moribund. Meanwhile, the post-Reagan Revolution U.S. has posted strong economic growth for over two decades now, a growth fueled by lower taxes, reduced barriers to foreign trade, and the "creative destruction" of risk-taking entrepreneurs.

The American Left seems to have missed out on all of this -- it's as if time froze for them with the Vietnam War and all of the lessons of recent decades have escaped them. As a result, one of America's two major political parties seems stuck with a pacifist, economically backwards view of the world. It's no wonder that they're not offering new ideas, just shrill criticism of a center-right movement that has rightly come to dominate American political discourse.