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Walking the Walk


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130204taco_talk_hertzbergThe New Yorker:

Hendrik Hertzberg

February 4, 2013


This address was in every way superior to the one he had delivered from the same spot four years earlier. That one, coming amid a terrifying financial crisis that the speaker described in surprisingly mild terms (“our economy is badly weakened”), had been a surprisingly pedestrian call for unity, for abandoning “stale political arguments” and “worn-out dogmas.” This one was a political argument—a political argument that advocated, if not a dogma (outside of the Vatican, nobody likes dogmas), a political creed.


In front of the Capitol last Monday, Obama did not specify that creed. But the Tuesday papers did. OBAMA OFFERS LIBERAL VISION: ‘WE MUST ACT’ (the New York Times). A LIBERAL VISION (the Hartford Courant). FOR HIS SECOND TERM, A SWEEPING LIBERAL VISION (the Los Angeles Times). That mainstream newspaper editors felt free to trumpet what is still sometimes called “the ‘L’ word” in such a charged context, and with no discernible fear of giving offense, suggests that the Arctic isn’t the only place where the ice is melting.


The modern crisis of liberalism began in the nineteen-sixties with the disintegration of New Frontier/Great Society euphoria in the quagmire of Vietnam, continued through the riotous turmoils of the late sixties and seventies, and crested with the Reagan ascendancy of the eighties. Liberal politicians, especially those with Presidential ambitions, assumed a long-lasting defensive crouch. A quadrennial feature of the past half century has been the spectacle of some liberal grandee indignantly denying that he is anything of the kind. In 1988, when George Bush the Elder referred to the “liberalism” of his opponent, Michael Dukakis, the Dukakis campaign accused him of “mudslinging.” In 2004, John Kerry, asked if he was a liberal, remarked, “I think it’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.” So comprehensively was “liberalism” anathematized by a combination of liberal timidity and conservative demonizing that it became the political orientation that dared not speak its name. “Pragmatist,” “progressive”—these were acceptable, though even the latter was deployed cautiously. A common liberal dodge was to dismiss “labels” per se. Conservatives, by contrast, have evinced no such reluctance about their appellation. They say it loud and they say it proud.







The View From The Other Side.




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