The Corner

Liberals & Economic Nationalism

I’ve long believed that the left’s economic nationalism doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves. People forget how much exhortations to patriotic and nationalistic sentiments sustained Wilson’s war socialism, the New Deal, the New Frontier and the Great Society.  Even today,  I listen to  liberals inveigh against corporations that move their headquarters or manufacturing overseas you can see the patriotic fervor underneath trying to burst through the dams of polite expression. That’s what came to mind over the weekend when I heard that central-casting union thug, Richard Trumka, proclaimed that this election needs to be between “economic patriots” and “corporate traitors.”

It’s also what came to mind when Barack Obama insisted last week that we owe it to the troops to rally around his economic agenda. From my USA Today column:

Hence, Obama blamed our economic problems on the cost of the war and tried to exploit the military’s heroic sacrifices to hawk his program. The first argument is weak, given that even the Congressional Budget Office acknowledges that the entire eight-year Iraq war didn’t cost as much as Obama’s failed stimulus, never mind all of his other spending. The second argument is perverse. It’s not “our turn” to fall in line and march in step the way the military does. Besides, the troops’ sacrifice does not need to be honored with a renewed commitment to home weatherization and windmill technology.

Obama is not making a new argument here. Ever since the philosopher William James coined the term “the moral equivalent of war,” liberals have wanted to find a way to organize American economic life as if we were at war. FDR was honest about this, unapologetically selling the New Deal as a war effort without a war and questioning the patriotism of those who criticized his economic policies. Today’s liberals often use similar rhetoric, particularly on global warming, but they don’t seem to think through what they’re really calling for.

Employers hire people when it makes sense for their business, not when some politician says hiring a worker you can’t afford is the patriotic thing to do. And Americans looking for work are looking for work to feed their families and pay their bills. They won’t be any more likely to do so because Obama has declared a new “central mission” of the American people.

In fact, the American people don’t have central missions, and it’s a good thing, too. Because prosperity depends on freedom, not on an economic commander in chief who rallies workers and industry as though they were troops. Indeed, the central mission of our troops is to keep America safe so we can pursue missions of our own choosing.

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