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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Talk About a Political Role Reversal ! That's Just What's Happened to the Right and Left in the U.S.

says Daniel DiSalvo in his COMMENTARY article, ' The Reformist Right and the Reactionary Left ', excerpts from which follow.

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The action in America’s state capitals reflects a broader trend with profound ramifications not only for present-day governance but also for the ideological alignment of the nation’s parties. This trend, put fully into gear by the Great Recession, is the reconfiguration of the political categories of the West, and in a manner that has surprised almost everyone.

Initially, most analysts believed that the profound crisis of capitalism suggested by the market meltdown of 2008 would redound to the benefit of the left. It seemed logical. The Times of London even dragged Karl Marx out of the dustbin of history to ask whether his “hour has come at last.” Instead, the cunning of history, operating through the selfsame financial crisis, brought center-right governments to power in many countries. Even many places in which leftist governments are hanging on have adopted policies often associated with their adversaries. The dismal fiscal situation and even more dismal prospects for the future forged a rough consensus internationally on the policy medicine needed to move forward. It involves slashing spending, avoiding tax increases, cutting red tape, and shrinking government.

For the first time in more than a century, the left, normally preoccupied with imagining a better future, appears bereft of a major policy project and is stuck defending its past achievements, even those of extraordinarily recent vintage, like the passage of the health-care bill. The Great Recession and the underlying fiscal disaster it helped reveal has caused a crisis in what Walter Russell Mead has called the “blue social model.” According to this model,  both blue collar and white collar workers hold stable jobs, a professional career civil service administers a growing state, with living standards for all social classes steadily rising while the gaps between the classes remain fairly stable, and with an increasing “social dividend” . . . longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks and so on.

The “blue social model” suggested that incremental improvements engineered by government would proceed apace, but fundamental changes would be unnecessary. This was how a modern society should be run. It was logical, practical, and fair.

Myriad factors—from mass migration to technological innovation to global competition—has [sic] rendered the “blue state model” obsolete. Now the nations of the West face two intractable problems. One is the exploding cost of health-care entitlements and old-age pensions, which are straining budgets. Another is that government work is expensive but not very efficient: every year, taxpayers spend more for less. Addressing these problems will require complex and innovative solutions. Those solutions are already meeting resistance from those most immediately affected—and they just happen to be the backbone of the left. As the principal architect of the social safety net, the left is resistant to changing its composition. Paul Starr, editor of the American Prospect, has noted that liberalism has become largely “defensive” and “oppositional.” It must not only defend policies put in place a half-century ago, like Wisconsin’s collective bargaining rules, but also the signature piece of legislation of the Democratic political and electoral wave that rolled over the Republicans in 2006 and 2008 before it was engulfed in turn by an anti-Democratic wave in 2010.

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