It’s International Women’s Day, and I’ll celebrate by not arguing with feminists – or, better still, I will recall a long-lost era when people on different parts of the political spectrum could break bread and talk civilly with one another. I mean, of course: 2007.
Or at least, I can’t help thinking something useful was happening around then in the form of a “wonk dialogue” among progressives and free-market conservatives who were beginning to talk about the fact that government is neither as egalitarian as the former would like nor as small as the latter would like (nor as socialist as the latter usually fear but instead about as corporatist as the left had long said).
Acquaintances of mine who were not all of the same political stripe were starting to take what one might almost call a Clintonian interest in the problem of real government being unlike the ideals of any philosophical faction: Dan Gerstein, Robert A. George, David Bernstein (one of the David Bernsteins, anyway), Julia Kamin, and Koli Mitra all organized or attended events here in NYC around then that somehow fit into this trans-partisan conversation (sometimes featuring guest speakers such as the moderate John McWhorter).
Though that feels like it was only yesterday, it was a different (and arguably less partisan) era in several ways: pre-financial crisis, pre-Obama presidency, pre-Tea, pre-Occupy, and prior to the libertarian shift in emphasis toward cultivating “Ron Paul Republicans” (and seemingly pretty decisively against cultivating “liberal-tarians”). But when all those far noisier phenomena have quieted, it might be worth rekindling that progressive/conservative dialogue.
And it was a slightly different conversation than either the “liberaltarian” or fusionist (whether neo or paleo) conversations between libertarians and other strains, in that it was less about finding already-existing areas of overlap or easy agreement and more about wrestling with the colossal real-world problem of our ideologies being almost irrelevant to government as it actually is.
That problem looks more relevant than ever, though, with the Tea Party railing against the major political party that supposedly represents it for not tackling the debt, and the Occupants (can I call them Occupants?) rightly denouncing corporatism and bailouts (when not wrongly denouncing markets, accounting, and sometimes math itself). I may not be the only one who feels oddly hung over when trying to recollect what ever became of that thread of conversation.
Intellectuals were actually ahead of events at that point – and perhaps should have talked with greater urgency. But divisive Obamaphilia and Obamaphobia put those talks on hold – until now, perhaps, with people on both sides (all three if you count frustrated libertarians) willing to talk more thoughtfully again about how, as political ideologues, we’ve all screwed up royally for the past several decades and overlooked some huge problems.
Perhaps this is one of many vexing and complicating conversations we can have soon at those new bar events I’ll host in Williamsburg.
P.S. In the meantime, absent some Ron Paul-boosting miracle, I will take some small consolation (and it really is very small) in things like Romney’s Michigan victory speech last week repeatedly emphasizing the Constitution and “smaller government” – a formulation we should hold him to if he gets elected. He consciously wants those libertarian votes, I think. Santorum seemingly does not. Obama plainly does not. It’s a start. But I predict I’ll be voting for Gary Johnson in November.