Friday, September 17, 2010

Why are they unhappy?

Chait tackles liberal disappointment:

A few smart people I know have responded to my TRB column about liberal disappointment the same way, which means I didn't make the point clearly enough. In the column, I noted that liberals have turned against literally every Democratic president of the post-war era. The response I've heard is that the disappointment was warranted in this case or that -- Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton especially.

I mostly agree. My point is not that Jimmy Carter was a good president, or that liberals had no good reason to resent Lyndon Johnson. What I'm saying is that, if you're a liberal and you think every Democratic president is a disappointment, then you need to recalibrate your expectations.

It's pretty simple, really. Liberals expect every new Democratic president to be the next F.D.R., and they're always angry when it turns out not to be the case. Of course, the liberal idea of Franklin Roosevelt is as airbrushed and distorted as conservatives' view of Ronald Reagan--one in which Roosevelt's conservative legislation like the budget-slashing Economy Bill and the enduring shame of the Japanese Internment never happened--but the difference is that it doesn't seem that conservatives actually get angry when their presidents fail to live up to the Reagan model, while liberals still can't forgive Bill Clinton for welfare reform.

I have to agree with Chait here that our expectations have to be recalibrated. A decent expectation for a new Democratic President would be a second-term Bill Clinton--a moderate but progressive leader who knows how to fight conservatives and is able to win constant incremental change, all the while preserving past progress. To me, that should be the bar. I'd say that Carter falls below it while Obama exceeds it palpably, as does Johnson despite some rather gross missteps. But setting the greatest president of the past 145 years as your expectation is a recipe for disappointment, and so much of what Roosevelt accomplished was just so sui generis--a once-in-history combination of man and moment that frankly will never recur.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.