Liberal Image vs. Liberal Achievements

Ezra Klein hits on something that I've been thinking about.


The first year of the Obama presidency has been a long tutorial on the difference between liberal ends and liberal means. If I told you America has a president determined to pass large amounts of Keynesian stimulus spending (that's particularly concentrated in impoverished areas), a near-universal health-care plan, and a bill addressing climate change, you'd say liberals had recaptured the White House. Ambitious liberals, even.

But though Obama's program is quite liberal, he doesn't seem to care much how it's achieved. A public option would be nice, but if it's not there, then that's fine, too. Full auction of permits is a good idea, but if most get given away to corporations, then that's how it goes. Infrastructure spending is good, but if tax cuts are the price of passage, then tax cuts there shall be. The best description of the administration's ideology probably came from Rahm Emanuel when he said, "The only nonnegotiable principle here is success."

You could imagine a lot of presidents more dogmatically liberal than Obama, but I wonder whether there are a lot of plausible hypotheticals in which they amass more liberal achievements than Obama. At the executive level, it might be the case that being too liberal is a liability to, well, liberalism.

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