Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Revolution: Reagan, Bush, Obama

A very long time ago, in 1987, I wrote an article on social change comparing the Reagan Revolution with the Russian Revolution. At the time, I commented that the real disaster of that revolution was that it paved the way for Stalin. The phrase I remember using was, "Stalin was waiting in the wings," and I wondered then if the Reagan Revolution would have its Stalin. Now, over 20 years later, I believe I can say that the answer was yes: it was Bush II and Cheney.

Lenin was not the brutal mass-murderer that Stalin was. The Soviet Union under Lenin had some liberal tendencies. it was Stalin who turned the Soviet Union into a brutal hell. Stalin's death did not end the hell. Instead, after a period of conflict, Molotov, Stalin's old political ally, came to power. He implemented some liberalizations but generally maintained the Stalinist model. It was left to Khrushchev to finally abandon Stalinism. And, in like manner, it appears to me that Obama, an admirer of Reagan, is maintaining the Reagan/Bush/Cheney political model. He is not going to bring about the great restoration of liberty and justice many on the left had hoped for, and even this cynical bird has been surprised at the Obama administration's defense of some of the worst civil rights policies of Bush II. At the same time, as I've written before, he has undertaken some genuine liberalizations in less-public corners of the government.

What, therefore, are liberals to do in these times? It seems to me that, if anything, we must look towards a future when younger people, who are more liberal by inclination, begin to take power. We must also recognize that we will not "win" in any final sense. Too much of the United States will adopt progressive policies only grudgingly and the USA will continue to have a faction of wealthy reactionaries. But matters can be improved, and I believe our heirs will do so. I like to speculate about the nature of the new radicalism. For it will be radical: the United States has never been moderate in its politics. I think the broad outlines are clear enough: intense regulation of wealth and the wealthy, environmentalism, social libertarianism. In ten years new production technologies based on information technology will be making themselves felt, giving rise to new economic possibilities.

It all promises to be very interesting!

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