Passive-Agressive Liberalism

James Taranto:

Former Enron adviser Paul Krugman actually manages to take his rage over Katrina beyond the usual Angry Left argument of blaming the devil Bush. He also blames the devil Reagan:

The federal government’s lethal ineptitude wasn’t just a consequence of Mr. Bush’s personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn’t forthcoming?

The obvious objection is that Krugman has a cartoonish view of conservatism, which is anything but uniformly antigovernment (the Brooks/Kristol piece cited in the previous item elaborates this point). And while it’s true that Reagan described government as the problem, not the solution, 25 years ago, those words would be shockingly out of character if George W. Bush were to utter them.

The more interesting point is that Krugman’s implicit view of liberalism is about 35 years out of date. To put it bluntly, American liberals no longer believes in activist government. Oh, they believe in big government, but that’s a matter of feeding existing bureaucracies and interest groups. But suggest doing things differently–welfare reform, Social Security reform, the Patriot Act–and they have nothing to offer but fear, anger and hate.

Among the first complaints we heard when Katrina struck was that the government failed to respond because of (a) Iraq and (b) tax cuts. This is passive-aggressive politics, not activist government. Lyndon B. Johnson cut taxes and waged war both in Vietnam and on poverty. To be sure, LBJ’s administration was far from an unqualified success, but the point is that in those days liberals were confident–arguably overconfident–in the power of activist government.

To illustrate the point, consider some of the dour and whiny Democratic campaign slogans of the past two presidential campaigns: Lockbox. Risky scheme. Miserable failure. Two Americas. Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time. Let America be America again.
This is the problem with the modern Democratic Party: they are out of ideas. It would be one thing to have debates over Social Security reform if there was a comprehensive plan from the Democrats being offered as an alternative. It would be one thing if the Democrats could offer a clear blueprint for waging the war against the Islamofascist terrorists who wish us ill. They are doing neither, choosing instead to whine and complain about the administration and political party that is doing something.
Conservatives, when they are being honest, want the Left to bring something to the debate other than empty rhetoric. The current state of affairs isn’t good for anyone, as it will lead to complacency and stagnation in the realm of ideas. Persons within the Democratic Party need to have the fortitude to cast off the pockets of the Angry Left which have attached themselves like leeches to a formerly grounded organization. Until that happens, and they begin to offer reasonable alternatives instead of mouth-foaming hot air, they will continue to lose elections.