LESS COMMON, MORE GOODS. Ed Kilgore's remarks on the Supreme Leader's "common good" article inspires some thoughts of my own. I certainly agree that the interest-group model of party and movement organization is ill-serving progressive politics. I'm not 100 percent sure how that insight translates into Kilgore's contention that "there is tangibly a deep craving in the electorate for leadership that appeals to something other than naked self-interest and the competing claims of groups." I see a tangibly deep craving in the electorate not to have one's kids killed either in terrorist attacks or in misguided invasions, and a tangibly deep craving for more disposable income after the costs of housing, energy, education, and health care. Basically, people would like to have more stuff and be safe so they can enjoy it, and they worry about pop culture screwing up their kids. No doubt they also would like to feel more altruistic, but if you could convince 60 percent of the population that your party would clearly serve their self-interest better than the other guys, I'm pretty sure you would win.
This isn't incompatible with the concept of the common good, but it highlights a certain ambiguity within it. As E.J. Dionne writes today with regard to the same article, "Progressive ideas do best when a majority of citizens believe their own self-interest is implicated in a common project" rather than merely offering a vision of sacrifice. One problem I think liberals tend to have, is that people who are "professionally liberal" -- working as pundits, congressional staffers, think tankers, whatever -- tend to have a rather different demographic profile from our main constituents. This promotes a view of liberalism as something that nice people do on behalf of others, rather than something smart people do on behalf of themselves. Ultimately, though, I don't think a politics of altruism can get you very far. Indeed, if I had a really strong belief in the power of altruism, I wouldn't be a liberal; like conservatives, I'd trust private charity to take care of social needs.
If this sounds a little too crass, I think it's helpful to think in terms of justice. We have a very rich society here and insofar as the bottom 85 percent or so of the population might be interested in acquiring more stuff, this is less greed on their part than a wholly justifiable sentiment that they're entitled to a fair share of America's collective prosperity, which all of us who are reasonably law-abiding played integral parts in creating.
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