They Only Look Dead by EJ. Dionne, Jr.
In his last book, Why Americans Hate Politics (1991), E.J. Dionne, a columnist for the Washington Post, and one of our most thoughtful political commentators, took issue with both contemporary liberalism and contemporary conservatism and attempted to articulate a new middle ground. His belief, on the one hand, in the desirability of a vigorous public sector—big government—put him in opposition to conservatives of most stripes. His aversion, on the other hand, to the “antidemocratic impulses” reflected in multiculturalism, radical feminism, and the like sharply separated him from the liberal mainstream. Between the two poles, Dionne attempted to delineate a renewed liberalism that would rescue itself from irrelevance by learning “the many lessons that conservatism has to teach about the value of tradition, value, and community.” Dionne, in short, was mapping out the very path Bill Clinton attempted to walk as he campaigned for the presidency in 1992 as a “new Democrat.”
Four years and nearly one complete term of the Clinton administration have passed since Why Americans Hate Politics was published, and Dionne’s position has evolved. In his new book, instead of offering a prescription for repairing liberalism, he has abandoned the term altogether, evidently accepting the conclusion that the “L-word” has become synonymous in the public mind with bureaucracy, big government, and failed social experiments. Now he embraces “progressivism”—a term with more neutral associations and also with roots in America’s past. Not only does he provide an outline of “progressive” politics, but he boldly argues the case for the prediction set forth in his subtitle: “progressives will dominate the next political era.”
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