Yglesias thinks Chait’s sermon on the irrelevance of ideas is “the definitive rebuttal of the notion that Republicans are ascendant because they have all the ideas, that Democrats need new ideas to win, that idea-quality or idea-novelty have anything to do with winning, and all such related theses.”
Now, I felt sort of uncomfortable reading the Chait piece because there’s something pretty bitter and depressed about it. To the incontrovertible datum that Democratic ideas are not winning over voters, Chait complains, at length, that voters are stupid and ideas don’t matter anyway. This does not sound like a man of ideas at peace.
He’s right: if “ideas” mean novel projects for the technocracy, then liberals are chock ful of them. I think the real complaint here is that there is nothing to be found that is not a specification of “use state power to make things better, according to our peculiar standards of better.” The problem for liberals is that if that if they give that up, then they’ll stop being who they are. But that’s what the voters, the stupid, stupid voters, aren’t resonating to. So what we’ve really got here is a crisis of identity — the threat that integrity is equivalent to obsolescence.
So how to respond to New Deal/Great Society liberalism’s mid-senescence crisis? Attack! Maybe Chait’s right, and Democrats just need prettier, taller candidates, better attack ads, and soaring rhetoric that taps into the reptilian part of the voters’ brains so that the governing philosophy that we are too stupid to understand and endorse can be imposed upon us, for which we will be grateful, I’m sure.
As Matt says in another post “the lodestar of liberal thinking has to be regaining political power through elections,” which is, I think we can all admit, really something to stir the soul.