I loved this paragraph from Jeff Shesol’s review of Eric Alterman’s book (on the opposing page from Klein’s review):
The net effect is that of a Pointillist painting, though when you step back from the canvas and squint a little, the dots fail to cohere into a discernible image. As “The Cause” smash-cuts from Henry Wallace to Richard Hofstadter and from Gloria Steinem to Gary Hart, Alterman pauses all too infrequently to reflect on the “cause” — or causes, or ideals — that connects them. This, to be fair, is a challenge, one compounded by liberal schisms and by the nebulousness of much liberal thought; Trilling, as Alterman notes, described liberalism as “a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine.” Liberals, quite unlike leftist radicals or conservative ideologues, tend to reject dogma and theory in favor of “bold, persistent experimentation,” as Roosevelt called it, or, put another way, pragmatism grounded in enduring, yet evolving, values. It is hard to dissect a gestalt.
First, if you’ve read either of my books, or about 6 trillion Corner posts of mine, you’d know that this half of my point about liberalism. Liberals aren’t oriented toward their own intellectual history the way conservatives are. This has the result of making them more, not less, dogmatic. Indeed, they are so dogmatic, they can’t see it. They think they’re ideology free. This is the lie liberals tell themselves and then everyone else: “We’re not ideological, we’re pragmatists!”
Klein and countless other liberals don’t think it’s a lie precisely because they are so dogmatic about their ideological commitments.
But, really, how can it be anything other than an illusion? Where, exactly is the spirit of bold, persistent experimentation in the Democratic Party today? Is it evident when it comes to Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security? How about the role of public sector unions, liberal educational pedagogy or racial preferences. Obama hid behind his deficit reduction commission and then rejected its recommendations. He is an adamant defender of the status quo, as are Nancy Pelosi and her whole crowd.
Some might cite ObamaCare as some grand experiment. That’s plausible, from a certain perspective. But, then again, liberalism “experimentalism” is always bold when it comes to rationales for expanding government. And if every “experiment” involves expanding government, it’s not really experimentalism, now is it? It’s more like an ideological commitment to keep trying new ways to grow government. On this front, liberals are persistent, at least.