Monday, August 31, 2009

Edward Kennedy and the Descent to Modern Liberalism

The death of liberal “icon” Edward Kennedy keeps the mind occupied pondering how modern liberalism came to be and how its adherents rationalize it all, given that it is the opposite of everything classic liberalism holds dear and the opposite of the enduring and liberating values that sustain this country. How and why have huge swaths of Americans left behind traditional values of personal liberty, personal responsibility, and self-reliance and the enabling framework of limited, divided government, rule of law, and equality of opportunity and of treatment, all to embrace various principles whose organizing theme is the need for government control over all significant aspects of life to enforce “fairness” and “equality”?

It is puzzling that there are those who feel that the answer to bias in years past is more bias in years to come, with just the beneficiaries and disadvantaged flip flopped. It is puzzling that for some the answer to poverty of culture and of skills is perpetual dependency on handouts from an impersonal government rather than the building a culture of personal responsibility, self-reliance, and achievement. Why for some is government, ever larger, more powerful, and more pervasive, always the first and last solution to all problems, real or imagined?

And why do so many of the privileged rich, be they trust-funders like Edward Kennedy or celebrities from the movies, embrace this totalitarian vision for government, when in their personal lives are one of license and liberties? David Pryce-Jones has perceptive thoughts (link) on this phenomenon at National Review online:
Senator Edward Kennedy was, and will remain, an outstanding example of a champagne socialist…. those who vote on the Left but dine on the Right. Such people are exploiting their privileged position in society to curry favor with those less privileged, and so find the way to continue being privileged while also being applauded for it. Clever, or what?.... In simple fact, [Edward Kennedy] owed everything in his career, especially his position in the Senate, to the fact that he had been born who he was, too well-connected and too rich ever to have to work his passage on his own. If this isn't privilege, what is?... As for morals, Chappaquiddick is only one incident among others when his behaviour proves him to have been a man of bad character. Normally speaking, ordinary people would never tolerate someone like him as their elected representative. To present himself as a tribune of the people was the only possible protective covering available to him. That he was successful in this respect, and comes to be buried in Arlington with the president speaking at the graveside, is really the only arresting feature of his career. He has enjoyed the sort of lifelong allowance that once would have been made for a corrupt eighteenth-century English duke. It is hard to believe that he was ever sincere in the populist causes he took up, declaiming about righting wrongs only to go home and commit plenty more wrongs of his own without having to account for them. That's champagne socialism for you, and it seems a taste everybody and anybody can get drunk on.
And for their techniques in pursuit of their aim of big-government enforcement of “fairness” and “equality” and “social justice”, Carol Iannone put it this way this past January at National Review Online, writing about modern liberalism through the prism of the notorious and quite nefarious frame-up of three innocent Duke college students on a falsified rape story by an ideologically corrupt liberal legal establishment (most notably by prosecutor Nifong, a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and the enabling judges) aided and abetted by a radicalized leftist university faculty and administration and a corrupt national media:
[I]t is important to note the distance that PC-liberalism has traveled from the older type of liberalism. In the older type, proper procedure, rule of law, innocent until proven guilty, etc., were highly respected principles, and informed many works of literature and popular culture, such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Twelve Angry Men. But PC liberalism is like Leninism—morality is what serves the revolution, so to speak.
And how will these new leftists, the opinion leader vanguard of modern liberals, snooker the rest of us to let them take over our lives? Through health care and environmentalism. Writes Mark Steyn (link):
Beginning with FDR, wily statists justified the massive expansion of federal power under ever more elastic definitions of the commerce clause. For Obama-era control freaks, the environment and health care are the commerce clause supersized. They establish the pretext for the regulation of everything: If the government is obligated to cure you of illness, it has an interest in preventing you from getting ill in the first place — by regulating what you eat, how you live, the choices you make from the moment you get up in the morning. Likewise, if everything you do impacts “the environment,” then the environment is an all-purpose umbrella for regulating everything you do. It’s the most convenient and romantic justification for what the title of Paul Rahe’s new book rightly identifies as “soft despotism.”
Andrew Klavan’s recent distillation of it all (link) once again comes to mind: “Free people can treat each other justly, but they can't make life fair. To get rid of the unfairness among individuals, you have to exercise power over them. The more fairness you want, the more power you need. Thus, all dreams of fairness become dreams of tyranny in the end.” And all for our own good, imagine that.

John M Greco