Yes, I know, for liberals to have any second thoughts requires that they had some first thoughts. (Rim shot!) There are a few liberal thought leaders, like Mark Lilla and Damon Linker, who are honestly confronting the destructive dead-end of the identity politics that is now the core desideratum of the Democratic Party. But there is a déjà vu all over again quality to some of these ruminations.
Take, for example, this lament of a losing Democratic Senate candidate from Oklahoma:
The culture war is real, and it is a conflict not merely about some particular policy or legislative item, but about modernity itself. Banning gay marriage or abortion would not be sufficient to heal the cultural gulf that exists in this nation. The culture war is about matters more fundamental still: whether nationality is, in a globalized world, a random fact of no more significance than what hospital one was born in or whether it is the source of identity and even political legitimacy; whether one’s self is a matter of choice or whether it is predetermined, before birth, by the cultural membership of one’s family; whether an individual is just that—a free-floating atom—or whether the individual is part of a long chain that both predates and continues long after any particular person; whether concepts like honor and shame, which seem so quaint, are still relevant in a world that values only “tolerance.” These are questions not for politicians but for philosophers, and, in the end, it is the failure of liberal philosophy that we saw on November 2.
For the vast majority of Oklahomans—and, I would suspect, voters in other red states—these transcendent cultural concerns are more important than universal health care or raising the minimum wage or preserving farm subsidies. Pace Thomas Frank, the voters aren’t deluded or uneducated. They simply reject the notion that material concerns are more real than spiritual or cultural ones. The political left has always had a hard time understanding this, preferring to believe that the masses are enthralled by a “false consciousness” or Fox News or whatever today’s excuse might be. But the truth is quite simple: Most voters in a state like Oklahoma—and I venture to say most other Southern and Midwestern states—reject the general direction of American culture and celebrate the political party that promises to reform or revise it.
If the date of election day and some of the examples seem slightly off, that’s because this passage was written in 2004 in The New Republic, by Democrat Brad Carson. Seems liberals have to learn this lesson every so often, but the “side of history” always seem to reset with liberals, and they dust themselves off and carry on as if nothing happened. Liberalism is going through its “rinse and repeat” cycle after the ungrateful American people slapped them down once again.
I think I feel a new series coming on.