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news & opinion with no titillating non-news from the major non-news channels.


I am: progressive, not a wild-eyed Progressive; liberal, but shun liberals and Liberals; conservative, but some Conservatives worry me; absolutely NOT a libertarian. I am: an idealist, but no utopian; a pragmatist, but no Machiavellian. I am a realist who dreams.


I welcome all opinions.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Clarion Call

Calling for all good progressive conservatives to rise to the aid of their country....


Blogger Jay Cline said...

The Clarion Call

The National Climate Data Center rates Hurricane Katrina as "one of the strongest storms to impact the coast of the United States during the last 100 years."

But this is not what makes Katrina unique. Nor is it the storm surge that devastated a major American port city lying eight feet below sea level. The deadliest American hurricane in recent history hit Galveston in 1900, "claiming more than 8000 lives when the storm surge caught the residents of this island city by surprise." Katrina may well claim that title, for the very same reason, but Katrina's legacy will not be one of merely surpassing that storm's death toll.

America has emerged intact from other deadly hurricanes. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 was the most recent Category 5 hurricane before this year, and the 1-2-3-4 punch that Florida endured in 2004 devastated a wider swath of Florida than Katrina did to the Gulf Coast.

But the aftermath of Katrina destroyed much more. Katrina destroyed the social fiber of an entire community.

A quarter of New Orleans' citizens stranded and left behind in the evacuation. Looting, surely to be expected in any large disaster, morphed into something ugly, dragging the city down into the throes of anarchy that threw back first responders and forced them to abandon vital rescue efforts, waiting for the restoration of order. Basic community services, like public transportation and maintaining simple law and order, just evaporated. This great American city, freed from the shackles of personal responsibility and accountability, turned inward and fed upon itself.

America has rarely experienced such catastrophic trauma on this magnitude. Certainly, 9/11 comes to mind. Both jolted the system, both were localized by geography. But our social institutions survived 9/11, they did not fail us then. The bravery of local heroes climbing the darkened Tower stairwells; searching through the rubble of the breached Pentagon; storming the cockpit door on Flight 93 as the terrorists inverted the plane and buried it hard into the Pennsylvania countryside. Individual Americans, on their own accounts, rose to those occasions and made us all proud to be Americans. And we went on.

No, for any comparable moment of social upheaval we must go back to the Great Depression.

America's response, FDR's response, to the economic calamity that put a quarter of the nation out of work was to build new institutions, social safety nets that said to every American, you will fall no further than this. FDR's New Deals widely succeeded, pulling the country out of the Depression and built a new foundation for a new society that emerged stronger and gave us strength to fight a global war against tyranny and oppression.

And, ultimately, this new society went wildly out of control. Instead of lifting people up out of misery, it institutionalized it; holding their misery at barely tolerable levels while offering little, if any, incentive to go beyond. A whole generation grew up in a welfare state. Building a brave new world, we forgot the lessons of our forefathers who created their own new nation and new form of government, of, by and for the people. We forgot the lessons of our forefathers who left their homelands and settled the Great Plains and the Western Frontier, on the sweat of their own brow and the labor of their own muscle.

In this brave new society, we left behind the individual.

Conservatives have long railed against the social programs of progressive liberals. Not because the policy was bad. The New Deal, The War on Poverty, Affirmative Action; all were good policy ideas. But they were implemented on a bad model, one that said the government knows best. Innovation, political and social innovation, suffered terribly. In fact, the only real innovative political policy that came out of this was enslaving and beholding millions to the Democratic Party with trillions of dollars in handouts and doles. Consequently, even talking about trimming back entitlement programs meant political suicide.

In the past ten or fifteen years, the progressive conservative movement has gotten off to a good start. The Welfare Reform Act of the 1990s succeeded, not in actually gutting a welfare state, but gutting a welfare state mentality. Honest debate on Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlement programs now reaches the American people. And they are listening. But they are also hearing the Democratic rhetoric that paints conservatives as being "so much better at taking things apart than putting them together" as Thomas Friedman did in a September 7 piece for the New York Times. Which is unfair. To build a better house, you have to tear down the old dilapidated one first, foundation and all.

This, ultimately, is the legacy that Katrina washed away in New Orleans. Katrina cleared the land for redevelopment.

In his speech in New Orleans last Thursday, President Bush raised hope that we can build a new city in the ruins of the old.

"Our third commitment is this: When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created."

This can be a model for the future of America, a model that can transcend the intrinsic weakness of FDR's legacy. We have already demonstrated we can tear down outdated structures and policies.

It is now time to boldly build anew.

9/16/2005 12:30 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

(also posted at In These Times

The New Deal was about getting people back on their feet, not creating lifelong subsistence programs. Considering that the objections from the other side of the aisle has substantially been against the perpetuation of welfare states, and not against lifting people up, it would not surprise me in the least if we would finally get a more progressive conservativism out of a party that has been mostly about reactionary conservatism.

9/19/2005 12:39 PM  
Blogger Jay Cline said...

So, do I get brownie points for beating David Brooks to the punch line?

9/21/2005 8:49 AM  

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