Short-Line Liberalism Has Its Limits.

In the latest issue of Democracy, Time's Joe Klein suggests that the way to reinvigorate liberalism as an appealing political doctrine is to celebrate its comforting efficiencies, its unwavering competence, its you-can-leave-your-house-keys-with-me-ness:

Liberals are congenitally disposed to thinking grand thoughts, and that’s a good thing -- in the long run. In the short term, however, liberalism has to embrace -- and work to markedly improve -- the quotidian ceremonies of governance, the places where the public meets the government every day. Liberalism has to prove that it will be hard-headed in spending public money, that it will not go wobbly in defending the country’s security, that it stands for change that is humane and truly progressive rather than simply aggrandizing its traditional allies.

I am not pessimistic that this can happen, but it requires discipline and vigilance. It requires a steady accretion of benign interactions between the government and the public. A successful progressive vision involves not only eyes on the prize, but also on the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Now, I've got a technocratic streak that runs wide and deep. I've got an obsession with procedure that I'm not even ashamed of. But even I'm left wanting a next paragraph after "Department of Motor Vehicles." I do believe that progressives can make bones on a record of competence, but a zippy DMV experience still has to be the tangible embodiment of something somewhat more primal. The reining in of chaos through the inspired application of human knowledge? The perfecting of human experience that is only achievable when people's individual actions build on one another? Something.

-- Nancy Scola

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