Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Progressive Crisis

An important article (excerpt):

"The fight for limited government that animates so many Americans today isn’t a reaction against the abuses and failures of government. It is a fight to break the power of a credentialed elite that believe themselves entitled by talent and hard work to a greater say in the nation’s affairs than people who scored lower on standardized tests and studied business administration in cheap colleges rather than political science in expensive ones.

"In the progressive era, the hierarchy of American adult life came to look more and more like the opposite of the social hierarchy in a typical high school. There, the unpopular and awkward smart kids were marginalized by the jocks and the cheerleaders. In adulthood the nerds ruled the roost and the ex-jocks pumped gas. Or if they sold cars or developed real estate, the nerds looked at them as if they pumped gas.

"One way of encapsulating the aims of people drawn to figures like Sarah Palin is to say that these are people who want adult America to look more like high school, with intellect less highly regarded and rewarded, and people smarts and character counting for more. There might have been a time when the regular kids were in awe of the special knowledge of the brainiacs, but the serial policy failures of recent years have dramatically eroded the prestige of the smart kids.

"To understand the populist anger that seethes in a significant portion of the electorate (not, I think, a majority, but a group large enough that it’s hard to build a stable majority without at least a fair share of them), policy wonks and political intellectuals need to go back to those dark adolescent days and think about the resentment and anger they sometimes felt when the social hierarchy seemed hostile and unfair. Think about that resentment slowly ripening and deepening for a decade and more. Think about it tied to a sense of economic grievance and compounded by the (perceived at least) serial failures of brainiac policy on matters like immigration, health care, multiculturalism and trade. This anger feeds the energy that a Sarah Palin is able to tap; it is part of why the jocks and cheerleaders on Fox News so consistently outdraw the nerds on CNN — to say nothing of PBS.

"This is the new Jacksonian surge, and progressives will have to dig deeper than even Stan Greenberg has yet done to figure out how to come to terms with it."