Walter Russell Mead- the strangely realistic yet (mostly) orthodox liberal- notes that in some places, for example California, Democrats have complete power and all conflict is intra-party. Mickey Kaus- a less realistic but verging on heresy liberal- makes note of the consequences of seeking reform from within.
I’ve got a lot of sympathy for realistic liberalism. In the old days- hell the old days as recently as 1990- realistic liberals were usually a kind of creature called a “conservative Democrat”. Realistic liberalism is a perfectly good way to run a white country, and pre-1965 I may well have been a conservative Democrat, before feminism, gay rights and civil rights took over. But since no mainstream political movement can cope with these, we have no realistic political mainstream.
Mead is more intellectual than Kaus- he is a liberal of the mind more than the heart- but is more optimistic that liberalism can reform itself and rule effectively. Kaus is more of an emotional liberal and has less intellectual loyalty, and sees the problem more clearly- that the problem is built into liberalism itself.
You can’t understand what a thing is unless you know what it is for. Here’s a scene from “Robocop” where the rising young executive, Bob Morton, has just triumphed in getting his project- Robocop- approved over the security robot project of his older competitor, Dick Jones. A little over halfway through Jones explains the real purpose of the project- not to work, but to make money-
This kind of criticism of military spending is offered by liberals all the time- it’s the obvious subtext of this scene- but they forbid this towards any of their pet projects.
Mead’s attitude is that liberalism should focus less on money transfer and more on its control mechanisms. Kaus believes that the control mechanisms need to be reformed. Kaus is less wrong than Mead, but he is still categorically wrong, in the same way that mainstream conservatives are categorically wrong, because they mistake the purpose of the control mechanisms.
Take the often-discussed Head Start. The stated purpose is to improve educational outcomes of poor children- by which we mean minorities. Conservatives say it doesn’t work, because numerous studies show any improvement in academic performance disappears after third grade. This assumes the purpose of Head Start is to improve academic performance. But its purpose is to employ poor minority women as Head Start teachers and middle-class minority women as administrators. A real critique of Head Start must take this into account, and will thus be dismissed as racist. Liberals won’t say what the true purpose is, and conservatives can’t say.
A few decades ago, Democrat and former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt suggested putting a means test on all government programs. This makes a lot of sense. If the government is going to give money to people, it should at least give it to those who actually need it. This went nowhere of course. It was and is suggested that the beneficiaries of government need to be spread across classes to maintain support, which is the closest to the truth anybody will get.
Direct beneficiaries of government spending are less important clients than individuals government employs and businesses government contracts with. The only reason that direct beneficiaries get anything is that employees and contractors are taken care of first.
Take what you can from the government, but expect and lobby for nothing.