Blogging: Real Work for Real Americans

September 21, 2008

Matt Yglesias usually tempers his populist rhetoric with some respect for the free market as a powerful tool that, though usually used to promote the well being of a kleptocratic cabal, could perhaps some day be used to advance causes that are enlightened and just; the current crisis has him pretty worked up, however, and there are signs he may be getting a bit carried away:

Of course it would hardly make a dent in the overall $700 billion cost of the bailout, but it seems to me that we should be seizing all the homes belonging to all the executives of companies in need of bailing out and selling them to raise some of the bailout funds. Maybe they could get real jobs and work for a living.

Yglesias is no doubt employing his highly developed sense of irony for comic effect here, but still, I expect a little more tolerance for non-manual labor from those who blog in glass cubicles.

On top of his concrete concerns about Paulson’s bailout plan – some of which I share – he has some meta-concerns about Democrats dropping the ball:

It’d be one thing for a bunch of conservative politicians to ram a terrible policy through. Then we could say “well, if some progressives win the next election things will be different.” But if this comes through an allegedly progressive congress then the whole enterprise starts looking pretty hollow.

That’s the second time in the post Yglesias refers to the Democratic majority as ‘alleged progressives’, which got me wondering: who ever alleged that? Who other than Yglesias has regularly referred to the left as ‘progressives’ at all? I looked into that question for a few minutes, but instead found this:

Commenter Freddie mentioned something yesterday that I’d like to endorse:

You know, I really dislike the use of “progressive” in the place of “liberal”. Among other things, it makes the Jonah Goldberg-style conflation of the Progressives of the 1920s with contemporary American liberalism that much easier.

Quite so only one shouldn’t even really blame Jonah Goldberg in this instance. The people who went about rebranding liberals as “progressives” were clearly and deliberately inviting this conflation. But while the historically Progressives did stand for some good things, and are a part of the backstory of contemporary American liberalism, they also stood for some very bad things. Certainly, whatever sins liberalism may have committed in the 1970s as it fell into disrepute were distinctly minor compared to the problems with the Progressives.

“Liberal,” by contrast, is an important term with a noble history and a contested legacy. I think the notion that something like contemporary American liberalism is, in fact, the correct instantiation of the historic liberal project for our times is a proposition that’s worth fighting for.



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