Home / General / “Neoliberalism” and the Democratic Party

“Neoliberalism” and the Democratic Party

President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America’s welfare system. Visible, from left, are former welfare recipients Lillie Harden, of Little Rock, Ark., and Janet Ferrel, of West Virginia, Vice President Gore, West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and former welfare recipient Penelope Howard, of Delaware. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

I found more to agree with in Chait’s big “neoliberalism” essay than Erik apparently did, but I agree that it has some major flaws that undermine its central point. I don’t mean to preempt Erik’s analysis, but since I’ll mostly be on the road tomorrow I thought I’d briefly pinpoint what I agreed with and didn’t. (I’m guessing Erik and I won’t be that far off, but obviously I’ll let him speak for himself. And, hey, at least I don’t study military history!)

Where I agree with Chait:

  • Left critics of the Democratic Party have a bizarre tendency to romanticize the New Deal/Great Society Democratic Party. Even during their brief peaks of progressive legislation, these coalitions were heavily compromised by the fact that the liberal faction of the party needed the support of Southern segregationists and marginal Republicans, respectively. And FDR’s first term and LBJ before the 1966 midterms were anomalous — during most of the period associated with the New Deal Congress was controlled de facto by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats. (The whole Taft-Hartley passing with veto-proof majorities conveniently vanishes from these accounts, although this statute had far more to do with Trump winning than Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics.)
  • “Neoliberalism” has increasingly become little more than an attempt to win an argument through the use of a pejorative term.
  • Worse than that, the “neoliberal” label is too often used to minimize the massive and growing gulf between the Democratic and Republican parties.

Where I disagree:

  • The term “neoliberal” is at least potentially valuable, describing a fetish for market-based solutions irrespective of the merit. One problem with indiscriminate usage of the “neoliberal” term is that it equates, say, the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of public insurance and much more stringent industry regulations with, say, Rahm Emmanuel’s regime passimOne reason not to conflate “liberalism” with “neoliberalism” is that the latter describes a real thing.
  • Chait is wrong to handwave away the obvious right turn in the Democratic Party in the 80s and 90s. I agree that the party has shifted left in the last decade, and Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievements — the ACA, ARRA, Dodd-Frank — are well within the New Deal/Great Society tradition in terms of both their achievements and compromises. But the four years of unified Democratic control under Carter were bereft of similar achievements, and the Democrats under Clinton failed on the one hand to pass comprehensive healthcare reform on the one hand while Clinton signed multiple conservative bills, including a welfare “reform” bill that if BCRA fails will be the worst welfare-state retrenchment in American history.

TL;DR: the tendency to conflate “liberalism” and “neoliberalism” is bad and irritating, but it’s bad in part because neoliberalism used carefully is a useful description.

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  • TheBrett

    While I don’t think it was a good thing in retrospect, I think I get why the Democratic Party tilted towards more conservative positions in the 1980s and 1990s. They’d had two presidential candidates who went down in flames because they were perceived as “too leftist/liberal”, and after 1994 they got shellacked and the Republicans won unified control of Congress for the first time in over 40 years. It’s enough to really make you reconsider, be open to other options (same thing happened with Great Britain with the devastating losses to the Conservative Party in the 1980s and subsequent rise of New Labour).

    The term “neoliberal” is at least potentially valuable, describing a fetish for market-based solutions irrespective of the merit.

    In the US, is it particularly useful as a term separate from “libertarian”? They seem pretty synonymous to me.

    • stepped pyramids

      “Neoliberal” at least theoretically refers to someone who wants to achieve liberal policy ends (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, house the homeless, etc.) but who thinks market-based means are more efficient or effective. In the ’90s, you also got the people who thought that liberal policy ends could be obtained by making people more Jesus-y and having those kids pull up their pants; this is actually a second faction along with neoliberals in what you might call the Clinton coalition.

      A libertarian doesn’t believe in liberal policy ends and thinks that market-based means are not only more effective but also morally superior (because taxation is theft, don’t punish the successful, etc.).

      • Porkman

        This is an excellent explanation of the difference.

        • stepped pyramids

          I want to clarify, though, that in practice a lot of people who are factionally in the “neoliberal” camp don’t actually give a shit about liberal policy ends. I think there’s a whole class of corporate Democrats who are just centrists who like hanging out with millionaires, enjoy the lack of competition in single-party areas like Chicago and New York, and are culturally liberal (abortion and gays = cool, guns = boo, black people = so nice if they behave). See: Emanuel, Rahm.

          (There’s also a long history of self-declared leftists who don’t really seem to care about leftist ideals, of course. Many names can be found in any book on the history of the Soviet Union.)

          • Porkman

            Well, this is a difference. Most Republicans would define liberals by the adherence to the cultural stuff like abortion and guns. Here, you are saying that isn’t what makes a real leftist. I also think the economic issues are more important, but that’s not a universally agreed upon metric.

            I think also you have to ask about what constitutes liberal policy ends. Would you say for example that Singapore with it’s mandatory, subsidized HSA’s but still fee for service system has achieved the liberal end of universal health coverage?

            • stepped pyramids

              Might as well define some terms.

              I would say, broadly speaking, that a liberal is someone who thinks that the government is morally obligated to ameliorate social ills, particularly poverty and discrimination. This tends to go hand-in-hand with progressive social views, but I don’t think progressive social views are sufficient to make a liberal.

              A leftist, in this same model, believes in collective action to eliminate social and economic oppression. They tend to believe that capitalism is itself oppressive, and may believe that it interacts with/strengthens/is strengthened by other oppressive systems like patriarchy, colonialism, white supremacy, and the like. They generally believe that liberal policies treat the symptom, not the cause of social ills. Leftists sometimes disagree about how large and powerful the government should be (but they always believe in collective action).

              Although leftism and liberalism present fairly distinct views on the world’s problems and the necessary solutions, a single person can hold views that span the gap, and there’s definitely such a thing as a left-flavored liberal and a liberal-flavored leftist. And liberals are absolutely on “the left”. I mean, the Montagnards and Girondins formed the left wing and right wing of the French Revolution, but both of them are definitely part of the historical left.

              Anyway, that’s all a very long way to say: yes, I think the Singapore health care system falls within the general range of what liberals might propose to guarantee universal health care. Hard to see the health system of a unitary city-state translating successfully to a very large country with politically distinct and geographically and economically diverse sub-units, though.

              • Murc

                Forgive me, stepped, but I’m having trouble seeing a meaningful difference between this:

                I would say, broadly speaking, that a liberal is someone who thinks that the government is morally obligated to ameliorate social ills,
                particularly poverty and discrimination.

                And this:

                A leftist, in this same model, believes in collective action to eliminate social and economic oppression.

                I mean… I don’t get how “we should convince people to give us control of the government, and then use that power to fix social and economic ills” isn’t a form of collective action. It is in fact the bedrock form of collective action in a free society that allows citizens to participate in the government, I would say.

                Speaking only for myself, for me, liberalism concerns itself largely with individual freedoms, usually “freedom from.” The Bill of Rights is an ur-example of liberal freedoms; it’s a huge laundry list of things that the state and to a certain extent other individuals aren’t allowed to do to you.

                Leftism concerns itself largely with huge collective action problems and with “freedom to.” Liberalism doesn’t have a good answer to “what if you’re poor? What if you’re sick? What if non-state actors are oppressing you? How do you solve problems that are bigger than any one person and that require state intervention?” Leftism provides answers to those problems, but historically as implemented in the real world it doesn’t have a lot of respect for, or tolerance of, individual freedom and dignity. Indeed, many leftists view such things as bourgeoisie freedoms with little productive value for oppressed classes. (There are people who are regular commenters here who don’t regard free speech as having positive value, for example.)

                This is why I personally identify as both. I don’t think either strain of thought offers a complete package by itself; they need to be fused together in order to actually not collapse in on themselves. Liberalism without leftism gives us the two Gilded Ages. Leftism without liberalism gives us the various nightmarish states that tried state socialism. Both of them together produces social democracy, which has a lot of problems but seems markedly superior to either option by itself.

                • djw

                  This is a very narrow understanding of the liberal tradition; it would seem to require denying positive-freedom liberals like John Dewey and T.H. Green are, in fact, liberals. Furthermore, plenty of other liberals associated with negative “freedom from” thinking aren’t so easily pigeonholed; I’d argue for people like Mill and Berlin negative freedom has some kind of lexical priority, but that doesn’t mean they leave no room at all for positive freedom (Mill did, after all, identify as a socialist, and Berlin said repeatedly in interviews that his “Two Concepts of Liberty” essay has been widely misinterpreted as a critique of positive freedom, when it was meant as an exploration of its dangers.

                • Murc

                  This is a very narrow understanding of the liberal tradition; it would
                  seem to require denying positive-freedom liberals like John Dewey and
                  T.H. Green are, in fact, liberals.

                  Or they’re liberals AND leftists at the same time? That could be possible?

                  That said… I take your meaning, but… hrm. How to put this.

                  I know that, inevitably, liberalism and leftism sort of blur into each other. But I also don’t like using the two terms interchangeably. If you fold everything good about leftism into liberalism, then leftism becomes purely something worse than liberalism. And that doesn’t even solve the problem, because you’d have self-identified liberals who believe in the classical liberal freedoms and identify as liberals but hate the stuff it drew in with leftism with a fiery passion.

                  Or to put it another way: Rahm Emmanuel is a liberal, but not a leftist. Bernie Sanders is both. Castro was a leftist, but not a liberal.

                  (I apologize for reaching for Castro but I’m having trouble thinking of an active US politician with a high profile who is a leftist but isn’t also a liberal.)

                  This was the bone of my initial reply to stepped, because, as I said, I was having an awful lot of trouble sussing out a meaningful difference between how they’re defining “liberal” and how they’re defining “leftist.”

                • djw

                  I chose those two liberal theorists to make my point precisely because both would almost certainly reject the leftist label, and while we could contest that rejection, it’s at least plausible. Noting that “leftism” is every bit as contested as liberalism, it’s not difficult for me to see how positive, ‘freedom to’ conceptions of freedom can find their way into liberalism without adopting specifically “leftist” commitments as I understand them.

                  (FTR, I think Dewey’s critics who thought he’d have been better off incorporating some leftist commitments into his pragmatic social liberalism–Randolph Bourne, in particular–are largely right.)

                • djw

                  To put it more succinctly: a leftist critique of capitalist political economy is one (very good) reason a liberal might make room for positive freedom, but it’s not the only one, and some of the others are more clearly internal to liberalism.

                • Murc

                  Noting that “leftism” is every bit as contested as liberalism, it’s not
                  difficult for me to see how positive, ‘freedom to’ conceptions of
                  freedom can find their way into liberalism without adopting specifically
                  “leftist” commitments as I understand them.

                  These would still largely be framed as matters of individual, rather that collective, freedom, though, wouldn’t they?

                  To my mind, you can be a liberal without being much of a leftist and say something like “people should be able to exercise their freedoms in a practical way; if your political actions and personal life choices will get you fired from your job, that’s a problem that we should do something about, because you have to work to eat.” That’s a “freedom to” argument but it is one rooted in an individualized conception of said freedom.

                  Whereas, “the fact that there are people with the authority to deprive a laborer of their wages at all, regardless of the reason and at their mere whim, is totally fucked up” is leftist. That’s a class based argument that doesn’t necessarily also have to agree with the notion that any individual laborer should be able to exercise individual freedom if it conflicts in some way with the class goals.

                  I’m not saying your wrong, but I am saying that if you can define a liberalism as being just as concerned with class and collective problems as it is concerned with individual rights and freedoms as classically conceived, at that point it has swallowed leftism.

                • djw

                  Whereas, “the fact that there are people with the authority to deprive a laborer of their wages at all, regardless of the reason and at their mere whim, is totally fucked up” is leftist.

                  I don’t think it’s difficult at all to come up with objections to this kind of power that are both individualistic and entirely internal to liberalism. Recall that one of liberalism’s first bete noires was absolute tyranny! This looks like that. (Green, again, was on this, but so was Mill, who didn’t really need any class analysis or leftism to get to socialism.)

                • stepped pyramids

                  Other people beat me to responding, but, yeah, in this context I was meaning to define “liberal” in the American tradition, not in the classical negative-liberties tradition.

                  A simpler way to explain the difference I was trying to explain is radicalism. Liberals tend to believe that the existing social order can be reformed, and that social problems are imperfections that can be cured by progressive improvements to government services. Homelessness can be solved by subsidizing housing; ignorance can be solved by public education; discrimination can be solved by banning it and with hiring quotas; etc.

                  Leftists tend to believe that these problems are caused by fundamental inequities in how society is structured — in oppressive systems — and that they can only truly be solved by directly combating those systems. Instead of simply legislating better workplace safety, a leftist might favor transferring power more directly to workers to protect their own safety (via unions, for instance). A leftist also is less likely than a liberal to be swayed by arguments that transferring power to the powerless is “unfair” or “inefficient”.

                  Chait’s hatred of teachers’ unions is a perfect example. He sees issues with how the unions operate and probably thinks that the government is better-suited to regulate educational issues. The leftist response is that in the context of public education, the government is the employer, and cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of its employees, and that concentrated power among workers is a good in itself.

                • That’s a fairly good way to describe the difference in very broad terms but of course there’s a lot of overlap. There’s a lot of people who see themselves as leftists, and do see that “these problems are caused by fundamental inequities in how society is structured”, but their approach is still essentially reformist because they are working within the current system. These are the social democrats.

                  That’s why contrasts made between the “socialism” of, say, Bernie Sanders and the “incrementalism” of liberals tend to be overblown. Sanders’ policies are somewhat more radical but they are still reformist. Sanders is not an actual revolutionary, any more than Jeremy Corbyn is in the UK. There are actual leftist revolutionaries who think you need to more fundamentally change the political and economic system, but to the extent that Sanders wants that kind of change he is only prepared to move towards it incrementally.

                • stepped pyramids

                  Yes, I agree. And I don’t consider Sanders to be a leftist at all (nor do many leftists). My anguish and fear over the rise of the far right has pushed me in a more revolutionary direction but in general I think reformism is necessary to actually improve people’s lives in the here and now. I see these as almost probabilistic definitions — a liberal is likely to hold most of this set of opinions and disagree with this set of statements, etc.

                • Murc

                  And I don’t consider Sanders to be a leftist at all (nor do many leftists).

                  I would submit that whatever you think of his competence or character, if Sanders policy positions and statements about the role of government do not make him a leftist, especially in the context of US politics, then the term is far too narrow to be useful. Indeed, I would argue that you can be to the right of Sanders in some ways and still be a leftist.

                • stepped pyramids

                  I just don’t see it. Sanders has demonstrated no interest in dismantling capitalism. Like most liberals, he wants to use the government’s tax-and-spend powers to redistribute wealth more equitably. The difference between him and Hillary Clinton (who I think it’s uncontroversial to say is not a leftist) is of degree, not kind. Both of them believe in a mixed economy where the excesses of capitalism are attenuated by regulation and redistribution.

                  EDIT: and to be super-duper clear, I don’t see this as a flaw in Sanders’ competence or character. I don’t think a leftist could be elected to the US Senate. I don’t think he’s dishonest about this or a sellout or anything of that nature.

                • Murc

                  Ah, I see!

                  I’m not entirely sure I’d use the terminology you are, but this is entirely cromulent.

                • Let’s just say there is a considerable overlap between ‘liberalism” and “center-left”, especially in the United States.

                  “for myself, for me, liberalism concerns itself largely with individual freedoms, usually “freedom from.””

                  That is, in fact, a very traditional definition of liberalism, but it is not exclusively that in the United States, the UK, or in Canada for that matter. It hasn’t been for over a century, really.

                  I think the main concept behind modern liberalism is the recognition that in a society such as ours, there are many different people with differing interests and ideals, and rather than trying to impose any one vision on everyone we need to try find a compromise everyone can live with that leaves people the freedom to live their lives more or less according to their vision (inasmuch as this is possible) and which is also going to be reasonably fair to everyone.

          • NewishLawyer

            I think it goes beyond Rahm. San Francisco is a lot more moderate in politics than people think. We are deep blue but in every city wide race that I have seen here, the more moderate and usually business friendly Democrat ends up winning the city-wide race. Or even the district race most of the time.

            Chiu beat Campos. Weiner was the victor of Kim. Etc.

            • njorl

              If your business doesn’t involve excessive pollution on US soil, exploitation of a lot of low wage employees, or legalized defrauding of the masses, you’re probably better off with Democrats in power.

            • Free Fries

              Hell, keep going-Newsom and Feinstein

          • mattmcirvin

            I always assumed “neoliberal” came from the European use of “liberal”, which purely means laissez-faire capitalist, and mostly gets applied to Democrats in the US simply because of the coincidental association with our use of the word “liberal”.

          • ackfoo

            I really like your point here drawing out the difference between (some) democrats in democratically-dominated areas. When I lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Speaker of the House (Finneran) was more of a Republican then Democrat if judged against national norms, but since Massachusetts is hugely dominated by Democrats, Finneran ran as a Dem.

            To me, this phenomenon is likely to enhance the ability of those who want to go neoliberal hunting to find some centrist, corporatist examples and use them to stand for the entire party.

          • Hummus5989

            Well put. There’s also a certain sub-set of putatively leftist critics of US foreign policy whose real, albeit undisclosed, motive seems to be admiration of dictators rather than any principled and consistent position. Witness, e.g., George Galloway’s lavish praise of Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic or Stephen Cohen’s denial of Russian atrocities.

            • George Carty

              Not so much admiration of dictators as hatred of “Western imperialism”, as I see it.

              • Hummus5989

                While being completely supportive of Russian imperialism? Do keep in mind that what prompted the war in Ukraine was Ukraine’s desire for closer economic relations with Europe, not even the US. There is no principled justification for supporting the right of a state to annex the territory and control the economic decisions of its less powerful neighbor. Also, there’s a big difference between saying a war is a bad idea for any number of reasons and lavishly praising the dictator against whom the war is waged.

                • George Carty

                  There’s a reason why I wrote “Western imperialism” rather than just imperialism, and included the quotation marks.

      • TheBrett

        I’ll second Porkman and say that’s a good explanation of the difference. I guess we can really see that with the “school choice” debates. The Neoliberals want charter schools, vouchers, etc because they support universal education but are suspicious of teachers unions and government bureaucracies (and think more “choice” and competition will improve outcomes). The Libertarians are just suspicious of publicly funded education at all, and at best support vouchers like Milton Friedman.

        • Cranky Observer

          Since the endpoint for both is breaking teachers unions (Peters was explicit about that), implementing vouchers, and ending the US experiment with free universal public (and publicly controlled) schools I am struggling to see the difference.

          • MaxUtil

            Does a “true libertarian” even accept the idea of guaranteed and compulsory schooling? I don’t see the neoliberal position as being to end “free” universal public school, just the means to provide it.

        • The other side of that is the neoliberals who like NCLB because they do believe government can and should run excellent schools, but often does not–and this can be managed by setting standards from on high to raise the bar (often to traditional measures of education), testing, and carrots/sticks for everyone involved, and maybe moral education and “cultural literacy.”

          • Cranky Observer

            NCLB was very carefully designed by its Republican writers to destroy public schools by creating reasonable-sounding “goals” that could never be met by any school with a significant number of disadvantaged students. Gullible right-leaning Dems ate it up.

            • mds

              Gullible right-leaning Dems ate it up.

              So, we’re already having a hard time thrashing out what “neoliberal” means, and now we have to deal with Teddy Kennedy being “right-leaning.” Thanks.

              • Cranky Observer

                Kennedy was not right-leaning but on NCLB he was colossally gullible.

                • mds

                  Okay, that I can agree with. Exploitation of a presumption of good faith continued way past the point when actual liberals should have gotten a clue.

              • Justin Runia

                It’s almost like there’s more than one “left”, and the “neoliberal” epithet could be applied on a conditional basis!

                • mds


            • John Silber and Diane Ravitch (before she saw the light) are the kinds of people I had in mind. They didn’t need any Republican to trick them. This is kind of the reverse of the “only Ds have agency line.”

      • andrekenji

        There is a confusion about neoliberalism, because outside the United States people think of neoliberalism as Free-Market Libertarianism.

    • Nym w/o Qualities

      Oh they are very different. For one thing, true neoliberals exist in the wild, and true libertarians do not.

      • MaxUtil

        This is a very good and broadly applicable point…

    • mpowell

      Part of the problem is that moving toward the center is now regarded as a dirty (and stupid) electioneering tactic. In reality, moving toward the center should be considered a normal and healthy response to substantial electoral defeats and an indication of respect for the democratic process. The losses sustained in the 80s and 90s are not at all comparable to Clinton’s 2016 defeat though, but state legislative defeats from 2010-2106 are more ambiguous…

      • Origami Isopod

        In reality, moving toward the center should be considered a normal and healthy response to substantial electoral defeats and an indication of respect for the democratic process.

        “Respect for the democratic process” is what got us where we are today. Protecting vulnerable populations shouldn’t be something you do or don’t do depending on which way the wind is blowing.

        • drdick52

          Exactly. It is also the case that in general “centrism” has meant moderately liberal social policies and moderately conservative economic policies. The sad case is that today there is no “center” and most so called “centrists” are actually moderate conservatives. Moderate Republicans like Rockefeller would have supported most of Obama’s signature accomplishments today.

        • Gepap

          And how exactly do you achieve this outside of a democratic process? How do by definition disempowered minorities set up the kind of autocracy that protects them from the whims of the majority? Because if you aren’t using democracy, you are left with some form of autocracy.

        • Drew

          This is an entirely fair point, but to state the obvious, you only get to govern if you actually win. Clinton has a mixed legacy but I still think we’re better off than if Poppy had been re-elected.

    • drdick52

      The party actually shifted right during that period to attract big money donors. In the 70s, the GOP had a massive fundraising advantage and the DLC (of which the Clintons were prominent members) emerged to address this.

    • Llywelyn Jones

      “Neoliberal” and “Libertarian” may not be synonymous because the Libertarian eschews government intervention at all, while the neoliberal welcomes government intervention that explicitly prioritizes the private sector over the government as a matter of state policy.

    • Drew

      It depends on what you mean by “in retrospect.” I don’t know if there’s a path to winning in ’92 that doesn’t involve shifting a little to the right. Do I wish they hadn’t? Sure. But better to have a Clinton try to mitigate the worst of the Republican worst (Clinton vetoed multiple versions of the welfare reform bill, imagine how much worse it would’ve been if Bush I signed one of Gingrich’s earlier versions or worse). Sometimes playing defense and damage mitigation is the best you can hope for. Clinton’s legacy is mixed but I’ll still take him over a second Poppy term.

      • Phil Perspective

        Does the Gingrich crew emerge if Poppy Bush won a second term? Probably not. Gingrich and all that was a reaction to Clinton beating Poppy Bush. The GOP never thinks a Democrat is a legitimate President.

        • GWHB was lucky to get nominated. How much changes if the reckoning is pushed out 4 years of continual whining about “gridlock” and wishes for a radical inheritor of the RR mantle? I don’t think it’s that much.

  • stepped pyramids

    I read through Chait’s piece and I couldn’t find anything to object to that isn’t something that I already thought Chait was wrong on, to be honest. His facts and analysis are fine (and I thought his observation about “neo-” becoming an intensifier in the Bush years was novel and true), but he’s fundamentally a not very far left liberal. He has the Jacobin set dead to rights on conflating traditional American center-left liberalism with technocratic neoliberalism.

    • politicalfootball

      I think that’s right, and I completely agree with Scott, too. Chait is, by-and-large, rebutting people who abuse the term and (as Scott points out) he is ignoring the genuinely useful purpose that it has.

      But Chait isn’t nutpicking either, unless you consider Jacobin to be written and edited by nuts. (A case could be made …)

      • Linnaeus

        Chait’s not nutpicking, but there’s something else at work here than just arguing for a more precise political discourse – he’s engaging in a bit of sloppy revisionism.

        • Aaron Morrow

          Per stepped pyramids, Chait has previously engaged in that sloppy revisionism in the past, and thus is not surprising in the least that he will continue that trend.

  • Porkman

    It’s a pretty good essay. The idea of the neoliberal is just a liberal who has been infected with the “market based solutions for everything” bug.

    The people railing against the corruption and fecklessness of the Democratic party are undoing their own policy goal, which, at its core, is to restore faith in the government to solve collective action problems.

    • shah8

      The American usage of liberal has always been rather corrupted into having a more leftist meaning that the term liberal really means. Neoliberals essentially are mostly how the rest of the world sees liberalism,

      • Azza

        Where I live the Liberal Party of Australia is the dominant member of the ruling conservative Coalition. They are a long way to the left of US Republicans on social and cultural issues but very close to them on economic policy. Some big-L Liberals described themselves as small-l liberals but most describe themselves as conservatives. As in most Western countries outside the US, there is much less space between the major parties on economic issue than was once the case. It is eyeful, even in confused Australia, to talk about neoliberalism, sometimes known here as economic rationalism, as a characteristic of both the Coalition and Labor. One New Zealand economist rather elegantly describes neoliberalism as market Leninism.

        John Quiggin, a prominent Australian econoblogger and author of Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us, talks about market liberalism. So neoliberalism has a definite meaning, at least in Australasia, and it is not just a way of distinguishing US liberalism.

        FWIW, our senate is elected by proportional representation and includes 1 minor party senator who describes himself as a classical liberal although he is actually closer to a US libertarian.

        • jmwallach

          Can your lower house do a vote of no confidence?

          • Azza

            Yes. The prime minister must resign or dissolve after a vote of no confidence. That is not very common, the last time was in 1942.

            • jmwallach

              Can it be blocked by the upper house? Sorry to ask such basic questions.

        • NewishLawyer

          FWIW US libertarians call themselves classical liberals.

          • njorl

            They’re mostly right. Most of classical liberalism concerned protecting the rights of the ruling class from the power of the monarch.

        • mds

          They are a long way to the left of US Republicans on social and cultural issues

          Such as … ? Because it looks to me more that they have a moderate / left faction, even as gay rights continue to languish, and senior ministers who talk up the inevitability of same-sex marriage get accused of “treason” to the party. And it was my understanding that the “DelCons” tend to be deranged homophobic antichoice theocrats. Isn’t there actually an ongoing struggle between these factions?

          I mean, it’s fashionable to point out how far right the center of gravity of US politics is, but it seems to me that plenty of modern conservative parties are riddled with religious reactionaries, climate change deniers, and virulent bigots. See also: the Conservative Party of Canada, post-Reform takeover.

          • Azza

            When Turnbull was gathering support to remove Tony Abbot as prime minister he made concessions to the conservative wing about marriage equality and a carbon tax. Turnbull was expected to be much more open to social change, but that has proved an illusion. They do have a delusional wing on marriage equality, climate change etc etc, but they are now very much on the outer. A number of prominent Libs including the leader of the house of representatives (a cabinet minister in the Westminster system) have called for Turnbull to act on marriage equality.

            Indeed their leader, Cory Bernardi, has left the Liberals and founded a conservative party. They had a sort of Trump-style ascendancy during Abbot’s leadership, but that fell apart within 18 months of his election as prime minister and he was ultimately removed by the party caucus. Imagine if you will a situation where someone like Bloomberg was leading the Republicans and Mitch McConnell had left the party.

      • NewishLawyer

        The American use of the word liberalism is very much from the People’s Budget of Lloyd George and seemingly everyone except liberals hates it. The lefties hate it. The libertarians hate it and can themselves “classical liberals.”

        A lot of American politics seems to be a hate-on against liberals from all sides. The left for being too feckless and the right for being extremist.

        • slavdude

          A lot of American politics seems to be a hate-on against liberals from
          all sides. The left for being too feckless and the right for being

          This pretty much describes the political picture in Russia from about 1880 until the Revolution. And look what happened there. The parallel isn’t exact, of course.

        • stepped pyramids

          I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

      • Linnaeus

        The American usage of liberal has always been rather corrupted into having a more leftist meaning that the term liberal really means.

        I tend to agree with this. I’ve said before that “liberal” is the US has, for most of the 20th century and into the 21st, meant what in other countries would most likely be called “social democrat”. You can’t say “social democracy” in US political discourse because of its historical relationship to the socialist tradition, and socialism has long been one of the quintessential devils of American politics.

    • DocAmazing

      I think we’re better off solving collective action problems in a non-corrupt and non-feckless manner, but you may have reached different conclusions.

      • Porkman

        Well, yes, and while I’m wishing, I want a pony. I would have loved for Social Security to not have Dixiecrat votes… But it did. Obamacare passed with the cornhusker kickback… Corruption should be minimized, but you have to ask yourself which is the most important personal policy goal, solving collective action problems through government action or having no corruption. Getting both is rarely on the table.

        • malraux

          But the cornhusker kickback got pulled …

          • jmwallach

            It’s as much of a fact as hippies spitting on veterans or Pelosi saying “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it…”

          • stepped pyramids

            That’s frequently overlooked, because it was in the original Senate bill but removed by the follow-up reconciliation bill. Also frequently forgotten: that the House version of the bill had a public option, a national exchange, and a more generous Medicaid expansion. I occasionally see people blame Nancy Pelosi for the lack of those things, but really it’s the Senate’s fault.

  • shah8

    I think that the idea of a gulf between Democratic Party members and Republican Party members is slightly overstated. Over the recent couple of decades, it seems that businesses have been more aggressively funding both parties instead of industries generally favoring one or the other. I believe that one impact is that you don’t see House/Senate Democratic Party members working together to roll back Republican legislation. You never really see any ideological planks about reversing things like the 2005 Bankruptcy act, even though that is a real need.

  • jamespowell

    But the four years of unified Democratic control under Carter were bereft of similar achievements

    Since I not only lived through those four years but worked in Democratic politics for the last two of them, I can assure you that there was nothing unified about the Democratic Party.

    The cracks in the foundation from the civil rights era were patched up just enough for Carter to win in 1976. And Ford’s pardon of Nixon and his lack of national candidate political chops helped. But the Democratic Party was crumbling under our feet.

    Say just about anything, but don’t say unified.

    • liberalrob

      I was 9 years old in 1976 so I really don’t have a good handle on those days from personal experience (plus my family lived in Mexico from 1977 to 79), but from what I do remember and what I’ve learned since it seems like the Democratic Party was still reeling from the losses in 1968 and 1972. I don’t think the Carter Administration had any idea of what it really wanted to accomplish besides trying not to blow up the world. I don’t think the Congress had any idea either. So many huge shocks had come one after the other from 1968 to 1975; it’s not surprising that there would be a period of relative inaction. Arguably, that’s what we needed.

      • Taylor

        it’s not surprising that there would be a period of relative inaction. Arguably, that’s what we needed.

        Carter tried to put energy efficiency on people’s radar screens, but was derided for it. Back then climate change was being talked about, but as an abstraction instead of the evolving catastrophe that we are looking at today. Action then could have given our children some hope.

        • jmwallach

          Granted I wasn’t alive but I think the Carter presidency is interesting as an examination of how a Democratic president could function after there wasn’t a guarantee of the “Solid South.”

          • FlipYrWhig

            But Carter swept the South…

            • jmwallach

              Not in ’80. But his margins aren’t as bad as the overall map looks like.

              • FlipYrWhig

                OK, I was thinking ’76. Still it seems like there were a goodly number of old-school Southern Dems up through the Clinton administration, like Sens. Howell Heflin and Fritz Hollings. When Sen. Richard Shelby switched it seemed like the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, or the jumping of the shark, or what have you.

                • jmwallach

                  I claim not being alive for both elections.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  *shakes cane at jmwallach*

                • jmwallach

                  Hey, ’83. Pretty sure I am not a millennial.

                • FlipYrWhig

                  I realized a few years back that an election-returns map on TV from 1976 may well be my earliest conscious memory. (Born late 1971.)

                • jmwallach

                  My kindergarten class picked Dukakis in the Scholastic poll because his tie was more colorful than GHWB’s.

                • Drew

                  I believe you are! Gabba gabba we accept you we accept you one of us!

            • Sly

              Carter didn’t win Alabama by 13 points in 1976 because he promised to put solar panels on the roof of the White House; he got that margin because a significant portion of the white South could point to him as “one of us,” and the post-CRA/VRA Democratic Party could mobilize an overwhelming share of black voters into his column.

              He lost that Southern white constituency in 1980, when the Religious Right began as a national political force by attacking the Democratic party, and Carter by extension, over desegregating private parochial schools that were designed to evade the ruling in Brown.

              Bill Clinton effectively went through the same process. He did reasonably well in the South in 1992, but after four years of being associated with all those perfidious liberal Yankees, his Southern margin fell precipitously in 1996.

              • FlipYrWhig

                Exactly! What I was trying to complicate was the idea that Carter’s elections showed something about how to navigate Democratic politics without the erstwhile Solid South. The Democratic South retained some degree of solidity up through the 1980s, after which point the old segs started to be replaced by the New South characters like Clinton.

    • Hogan

      I think in context “unified” means “controlling the White House and both branches of Congress,” not “internally harmonious.”

    • Scott Lemieux

      That was my point.

  • liberalrob

    it’s bad in part because neoliberalism used carefully is a useful description.

    So are “communism” and “socialism” but that never stopped anyone from equating/conflating them with Stalinism. The modern usage of “progressive” evolved essentially as a rebranding
    tool for traditional liberalism, when the term “liberal” became an epithet in the Reagan years. (I don’t see any daylight between modern “progressives” and New Deal/Great Society “liberals” in terms of
    ideology.) Labels are used as epithets all the time. Outside the academy, that’s their primary function.

    • DocAmazing

      “Deep state” is another useful concept, as well, but it doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means.

      • mds

        Indeed, regardless of the reality of a “deep state,” what we’re mainly seeing now is the use of “deep state” as a pejorative for “rule of law,” or “investigating possible crimes.”

        • jmwallach

          Quiet McCarthy.

    • Perkniticky

      Progressive is a particularly unuseful description, as it appears to stand for whatever values your interlocuter feels passionate about.

      • Terok Nor

        I hate the P word. When mainstream liberals, left-liberals, socialists, and Communists all call themselves “progressives” not only is it confusing, it makes it easier for conservatives to claim it’s all the same thing.

        • Perkniticky

          Yeah I hate it too. It’s such a waffle word, yet the people who wield it think they are dealing you a mortal blow. I’ve started to assume that anyone who proudly calls themself a progressive is either a) very young or b) not particularly well informed.

        • Deborah Bender

          I dislike it for some other reasons. It implies that there is such a thing as progress, that progress means things getting better for everybody or nearly everybody, that it is obvious which future changes constitute progress, and that if you disagree that whatever the self-identified progressives have concluded are the changes which will make things better, then you are “on the wrong side of history.”

          That’s four or five kinds of question-begging wrapped up in one adjective.

          Some reforms make things better for nearly everybody, but most reforms have losers and winners, some have mostly losers, and all have unintended consequences. A political label that assumes the moral high ground instead of being open about whose interests the adherent is supporting is smarmy and also gets in the way of realistic analysis. The original Progressive movement suffered from this too.

  • CS Clark

    Surely for many people neoliberal just means Democrat, but supported/supports Iraq, Libya, extra-judicial drone killings, ‘neo’ in this case meaning ‘warlike’, and the domestic policy struggles being secondary to these?

    • stepped pyramids

      I’m sure that some people see it that way (Chait suggests that “neo-” has taken on a negative connotation because of the Bush years), but it’d be astoundingly ahistorical. The term historically has nothing to do with military policy, and the correlation between liberalism and dovishness is highly overestimated.

      • DocAmazing

        Look at everybody’s previous favorite president, LBJ: he gave us the Great Society and a heated-up Cold War with a Vietnam garnish. The Democratic Party has produced a number of Scoop Jacksons over time.

        • stepped pyramids

          The history of the 20th century should be all the proof necessary to demonstrate that neither liberals nor leftists are naturally dovish. That isn’t to say that anti-militarism doesn’t have a long and proud history on the left, but it’s never been a defining or universal position.

          • Porkman

            Well, a lot of that is because of the coopting of the Left to take the Soviet line on issues of international conflict. Also, so many unironic posters of Chairman Mao around in the 1960’s. I always wonder if any of the western people talking about the “success” of the Cultural Revolution ever had a reckoning.

            • firefall

              Well of the leaders of the Uni group who were espousing that success (I forget their exact label), one ended up as a rightwing speechwriter for the PM, one as an -extreme- rightwing TV commentator, and one as a Rugby coach (more or less the equivalent of a Methodist minister, if you live in NZ). So, yeah, they had a reckoning :(

        • IM

          That was cold war liberalism. Scoop Jackson wanted guns and butter.

          Neoliberalism has no foereign policy approach if its own.

          • jmwallach

            It’s critics tell us that it is an entire world view.

          • The foreign policy approach of neoliberalism was/is to promote free trade and market solutions to international issues, and that is actually one area where neoliberalism still has a lot of influence, although it is in decline. (Obama still thought more free trade deals would be great, and so does Justin Trudeau in Canada). Ostensibly benevolent militarism, on the other hand, is a longstanding feature of liberalism.

      • Perkniticky

        The poster must be conflating neoliberalism with neocoservatism. It is a rather… imaginative analysis.

        • FlipYrWhig

          A LOT of people do this (make neoliberal and neoconservative synonymous). I’m not sure if it’s a mistake or if it’s supposed to be clever. By and large I think a huge number of people who talk about “neoliberalism” are actually trying to say “pseudo-liberalism.”

          • By and large I think a huge number of people who talk about “neoliberalism” are actually trying to say “pseudo-liberalism.”…

            … with the implication that the speaker is a True liberal Progressive.

            • jmwallach

              And has the correct attitude towards Zionists.

      • CS Clark

        Well yes, it would be, but that’s the point of the original article and the follow-up isn’t it? That a) people are using it wrong and b) is it still a useful term that should be reclaimed, is it now meaningless, or has it a new meaning or meanings that can’t be reclaimed?

  • Michael

    Chait is a very silly, not serious man. I mean, he wrote a critique of Marxism without ever quoting Marx. This New Republic piece nails it: “What distinguishes him from other commentators is his knack for distilling the complicated arguments of his opponents into a few essential premises, and then, with inexorable logic, taking these streamlined arguments to absurd conclusions.”


    • Chait has his flaws but ironically enough your source doesn’t support your claim, as its analysis of Chait is far more nuanced.

      • Michael

        Yes, because I don’t value the type of hyperbolic take down that exaggerates the claims of those I think are wrong. I think that piece very persuasively lays out the shallowness of Chait’s thinking.

        But if that’s more your speed, this piece is quite good (though I’ve since grown very tired with Doyle): http://inthesetimes.com/article/17584/jonathan_chait_pc

        I also think Rensin’s addendum to his Smugness piece is excellent: http://emmettrensin.com/blog/2016/4/28/fact-finding-with-jonathan-chait

        • Again, the source you cite claims that Chait’s style sometimes results in strawmanning; you use it to claim that it always does, and I find it ironic that someone would do that when they are expressly accusing another of oversimplifying what other people are saying.

          • Furthermore it’s unclear how the charge of strawmanning is relevant here. Are you claiming that people do not use the term “neoliberal” in the way that Chait is critiquing here? I would beg to differ.

        • Kevin

          His smug style was one of the worst articles I’d read. What a disaster that guy is.

          • djw

            Yeah, there’s a half-decent point buried somewhere in there, but it’s such a complete mess he clearly has no chance of ever finding it.

          • Michael

            I am shocked, *shocked*, that a critique of LGM commentator style superiority would be less than popular here.

            • Kevin

              Well, you shouldn’t be shocked that it’s not popular here, it’s poorly written and he steps on his own dick about 20 times in the never ending derp parade he wrote.

            • Kevin

              BTW, Scott ripped on that one pretty well here:


              and here:


              I forgot how bad it was. Jamelle Bouie eviscerated it (Scott’s second link)

              It’s a comprehensive case. It’s a full-throated case. And it’s informed by a tradition of intra-left criticism of liberal elites, much of it fair and often needed. But it’s wrong. Or at least, it has three fatal flaws that make it far from persuasive.

              The first is just history. That liberal smugness might deter the white working class from the Democratic Party seems reasonable, if unfalsifiable. But to suggest that it is a prime mover in their alienation from the party is to ignore the actual dynamics at work. The driving reason working-class whites abandoned the Democratic Party is race. The New Deal coalition Rensin describes was devoured by its own contradictions, chiefly, the racism needed to secure white allegiance even as the party tried to appeal to blacks.

              Pressed by those blacks, Democrats tried to make good on their commitments, and when they did, whites bolted. The Democratic Party’s alliance with nonwhites is what drove those whites away, not the sniffing of comedians on cable television. And, looking at the politics of the last seven years, it’s still keeping them away. (It’s worth noting that, up until left-leaning whites and minorities elected Barack Obama president, Democrats suffered little loss with working-class whites outside of the South.)

              That said, there’s no question that smug liberals exist. It’s incontestable. (I’ve complained about them myself.) But Rensin doesn’t argue for the mere existence of liberals who are smug about their beliefs and ideology. He argues that smugness is key to contemporary liberalism. That it’s all but a plank of today’s Democratic Party.

              But his evidence is lacking. “The smug style in American liberalism” is defined entirely through media and social media. It is The Daily Show, it is liberal Twitter, it is Gawker. (Rensin devotes a portion of the essay to excoriating an essay by writer Hamilton Nolan.) But these are small portions—fractions—of the Democratic Party. And they’re far from representative of American liberals.

              Argue that, tell me how Rensin was right.

              • Kevin

                more from the first link, from Scott (btw Scott, you need to get the old comments back, I remember having fun ripping this tool apart in those comments)

                Resnsin still has no idea of the magnitude of this concession. Remember, his argument is that southern white workers not voting for Democrats is a recent development driven by factors such as Gawker posts and Jon Stewart monologues. If this realignment was not only driven largely by resentment towards the Democratic embrace of civil rights but was mostly complete several decades ago, his argument is reduced to virtually nothing right at the outset. (And when you add in the fact that even before the realignment these voters might have been voting for Democrats but generally weren’t voting for liberals — that this realignment was more about more coherent parties emerging than a change in voter ideology — any possible bite to his argument becomes even more threadbare.)

                Seriously, Rensin’s essay was just atrocious and wrong on all levels. That you like it to this day shows all i need to know about you.

              • Michael

                Here: http://emmettrensin.com/blog/2016/4/22/what-do-we-mean-when-we-say-elites

                There is a reason I linked to Rensin’s addendum rather than the original essay. I encourage reading that specific blog entry.

                “The elite are, by definition, a rather small slice of the population, and arguing that their absolute size means that they are not particularly important seems to ignore their capacity to drive the national political conversation. Bouie attempts to address this, conceding that smugness “influences” the conversation but doesn’t “constitute” it. (In fact, he says this of The Daily Show specifically.

                Throughout his piece, Bouie pushes back against the total effect of smug by arguing against the capacity of any given part of it to wield great power.) He writes: “Rensin has mistaken this segment of national political dialogue for something that actually drives political activity”

                But on this point he appears basically mistaken. The opinions, preferences, priorities and culture of elites do, in fact, have a massive outsize influence on policy. The fact that they merely “influence” but do not literally constitute the whole of “the conversation” elides the fact that they influence it quite a bit.”

                [i don’t know how to blockquote, sorry!]

              • Michael

                It’s perhaps worth clarifying: I find Rensin’s piece a compelling look at the mindset of some liberals (“fact based superiority”) far more than I find it a good explanation for why the working class abandoned the democrats. In classic leftist fashion, his critiques are good but his solutions are not.

                • Kevin

                  I think it’s utterly useless. His thesis (smugness caused WWC to abandon Democrats) is utterly absurd and has no basis in facts. And then…so what to the rest? Some liberals are smug? Golly, imagine if they went around saying that only they were real Americans, and those coastal elites were traitors and perverts! Talk about smug!

                  (which is to say, people are smug, and harping on one side’s smugness as an important thing explains precisely nothing about the current political situation.)

                • Michael

                  Read the addendum that I posted, where he clarifies that “the smug style” does not merely mean “some people are smug.”

                • Kevin

                  ..no. Honest, I gave the hack a chance, but his poorly argued crap is also poorly written, and if I never read Rensin again, it will be too soon.

                • Michael

                  Ok then you completely missed the point of the article and are content to denigrate based on poorly constructed memory and superficial summaries. So, Chait style.

                • Kevin

                  No, I in fact did not miss the point of the original article. It was quite explicit.

                  But honestly, you know what is worse than reading an article written by Emmit Rensin? Arguing with his fanboys about him. Done.

                • Michael

                  Asserting your empirical accuracy and then failing to engage with the actual substance of an alternate perspective is actually a perfect encapsulation of The Smug Style, complete with a self-aggrandizing ad-hominem attack. But I’d expect nothing less from a “Chait Cheerleader.”

      • Michael

        For that matter, here is Rensin with a brilliant critical review of “Audacity”: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/apology-on-jonathan-chaits-obama/

        • Kevin

          I could not close that window fast enough when I saw that Rensin was in fact Emmit Rensin. There are few people whose opinion i value less than his.

        • Origami Isopod

          “Brilliant” and “Rensin” don’t belong in the same sentence, unless the phrase is “a brilliant takedown of Rensin.”

          He and Chait deserve one another.

          • Kevin

            Honestly, That’s not fair to Chait, lol. He’s actually pretty good most of the time, just a few annoying blind spots. Rensin just sucks always, and he takes the long way around because he just can’t form a real argument. Even Chait’s “long” pieces can be read fairly quickly. Rensin just buries his point in mountains of bullshit.

        • Scott Lemieux

          Arguing that strategic and tactical disagreement are logically impossible is the opposite of brilliant.

          • Michael

            But that’s not what Rensin argues at all. Rather, he suggests that Chait’s argument is that technocracy is the *only* thing that moves progress forward. I believe Rensin is honest enough to see the value in both liberalism and leftism.

            • Although I’ve not read Chait’s book much of the review seems fair enough, a fairly nuanced assessment. There is, however, this bizarre passage:

              “Left-wing criticism of the Affordable Care Act on the grounds that it
              constituted a massive giveaway to the insurance industry, for example,
              “made no sense from a liberal standpoint, or even a socialist
              standpoint. Instead, it reflected a kind of infantile rejection of the
              compromises inherent in governing.” Nowhere does Chait attempt to
              engage, or even seriously represent the liberal or left cases against
              Barack Obama.”

              Sorry, but I have to agree with Chait there, and here “failure to engage” seems to be a way of complaining that Chait is being mean to people who are saying things he sees as idiotic. Whereas to me, part of “engaging” with people means saying what you really think of what they’re saying. And I will say it too: it is ridiculous to suggest that the ACA was a “massive giveaway” to the insurance industry.

              • Michael

                Agree 100%, and that actually isn’t a case of Chait picked a bad version of a bad argument – that “massive giveaway” argument is made all the time and I agree it’s stupid.

                I too have not read Chait’s book, and the funny thing is that I’m predisposed to his conclusion. But I think Rensin identifies effectively the way in which Chait argues, and the deep limits of it. If you want a substantive discussion, you pick the best arguments of your critics, not the weakest ones.

    • “wrote a critique of Marxism without ever quoting Marx” is also, again ironically, a somewhat superficial critique of that critique.

      Firstly, it’s like saying you can’t criticize Christians or the Christianity they proclaim and/or practice without quoting Christ.

      Secondly, it suggests that any old Marx quote would have improved matters. Yet I doubt very much that you’d have appreciated it if he’d started his critique of present-day “Marxists” in Jacobin who may have learned from the failures of Communism but maybe not with the quotation:

      “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

      • Michael

        No, it’s like arguing Christianity is *inherently* discriminatory and using as evidence Pat Robertson. You’re right that I wouldn’t think a single quote would add much, but that’s because I think dismissing any belief or ideology wholesale requires a level of reductionism that reveals the argument to be useless.

        • No, it’s like arguing that Christians have a long history of discriminatory and authoritarian behavior and that this history continues to the present day, and Christians might want to reflect on why that is. Which is true, by the way. There are other aspects to Christianity, which is why that argument doesn’t suffice to completely dismiss Christianity. If you are arguing that Chait is arguing for a blanket dismissal of all Marxist thought based on a few Jacobin articles I would like you to direct me to the relevant passage as it has clearly completely slipped my memory.

          • Michael

            “A long history of discriminatory behaviour” also extends to: whites, men, Americans, the Democratic Party. I would consider an argument that uses that fact as a blanket dismissal of any of those groups to be absurd, as of course would Chait.

            “The gap between Marxist political theory and the observed behavior of Marxist regimes is tissue-thin. Their theory of free speech gives license to any party identifying itself as the authentic representative of the oppressed to shut down all opposition (which, by definition, opposes the rights of the oppressed). When Marxists reserve for themselves the right to decide “which forms of expression deserve protection and which don’t,” the result of the deliberation is perfectly obvious.”

            From here: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/03/oh-good-were-arguing-whether-marxism-works.html


            “Many Marxist theorists have long attempted to rescue their theory from its real-world adherents by attributing its failures to idiosyncratic personal flaws of the leaders who took power (Lenin, Stalin, Mao … ). But the same patterns have replicated themselves in enough governments under enough leaders to make it perfectly obvious that the flaw rests in the theory itself. Marxist governments trample on individual rights because Marxist theory does not care about individual rights. Marxism is a theory of class justice. The only political rights it respects are those exercised by members of the oppressed class, with different left-wing ideological strands defining those classes in economic, racial, or gender terms, or sometimes all at once. Unlike liberalism, which sees rights as a positive-sum good that can expand or contract for society as a whole, Marxists (and other left-wing critics of liberalism) think of political rights as a zero-sum conflict. Either they are exercised on behalf of oppression or against it. Any Marxist government immediately sets about snuffing out the political rights of parties or ideas deemed reactionary (a category that also inevitably expands to describe any challenge to the powers that be). Repression is woven into Marxism’s ideological fabric.”

            From the original: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/03/reminder-liberalism-is-working-marxism-failed.html

  • wengler

    There is already a well-established definition of neoliberal in International Relations, and now Americans have to go and make some sort of weird variation on it just like they did with the words liberal and libertarian.

    • Perkniticky

      Really? I’ve only ever heard it used in the context of domestic market economies. Are you sure you’re not confusing it with neoconservative?

      • stepped pyramids


        It’s technical jargon that’s only loosely related to the economic ideology and almost completely unrelated to the way it’s used as an epithet in US politics. It’s not surprising you haven’t heard it. I’ve heard it a couple of times but I don’t know that I ever knew specifically what it meant.

        • Perkniticky

          Nope, definitely haven’t heard that version. Also, the economic version of neoliberalism is also commonly used in the UK as an epithet against Labour centrists, so it’s not unique to US politics.

        • Gepap

          EDIT: nevermind, confused the terms myself

  • louislouis

    It’s pretty annoying how he cites to other essays/articles and reduces them to slurs without bothering to engage the arguments.

    I have never heard anyone argue that the Democratic party was totally *perfect* at some point in the past. What I have heard is that the bullish government intervention of the 30’s and 60’s should be touchstones for the party going forward, as opposed to the DLC model. With that in mind, Chait’s argument that these interventions included compromises with some unsavory interests proves nothing. Although they may have arisen from a flawed process, SS and Medicare/Medicade are examples of major social welfare programs that were successful. It’s possible to want more of these types of programs and not want the flaws in the processes that birthed them. The point of contention now is whether major social change of the SS/Medicare variety can ever happen without these types of compromises at the legislative level. I don’t claim to know the answer to that but I expect it won’t come from the Iraq War cheerleader who implored “Don’t let the left defeat Lieberman.” Chait himself is an indictment of centrist liberalism, so his defense of it/treating it as an inevitability is unsurprising. Bill Clinton’s embracing conservative policy goals is emblematic of what the left regards as self-inflicted wounds. Regardless of what compromises must be made, Democrats should never preemptively concede in the manner of Chait (yes, I realize he has never held office) and Clinton.

    • Michael

      “It’s pretty annoying how he cites to other essays/articles and reduces them to slurs without bothering to engage the arguments.”

      ^This is classic Chait. Of course, he’s hardly the only writer who does this, but few others adopt his world weary tone of intellectual smugness while being quite so facile with quite the same aplomb.

    • I hate defending Chait from leftist critics but all of this ignores the elephant in the room: the Affordable Care Act’s compromises were very much in the tradition of previous liberal reforms such as Medicare and Social Security. Liberal reforms always involve compromise, as liberalism is itself a compromise. Those who dislike the compromises are critiquing liberalism- including FDR New Deal liberalism- not neoliberalism. That is the main point. If you’re a socialist, of course you will critique liberalism. Just don’t confuse the issue by confusing liberalism with neoliberalism.

      • Scott Lemieux

        A Medicaid that covers a subset of the extremely poor is real liberalism, whereas a Medicaid that covers everyone within 138% of the poverty line is a neoliberal bailout of insurance interests. This is obvious.

        This argument is so obviously bad that it seems like a strawman — but it’s not. People argue that the ACA was a betrayal of the Real Liberalism of the New Deal all the time.

        • Latverian Diplomat

          I think you’re being sarcastic in the first paragraph, but I don’t see why. I have no trouble seeing the ACA as a mixture of neoliberalism and Great Society style liberalism. The insurance markets and participation of “efficient” private companies in delivering services is to me, clearly a neoliberal approach.

          To me, neoliberalism, as described by its proponents, would be the strategy of harnessing the (supposed) power of markets, competition, and the private sector for liberal policy ends.

          Does it work often? IMHO, no. Can it ever work? I think the Cap and Trade approach to some types of air pollution did work pretty well.

          HAMP tried to work with the private sector to help people in mortgage difficulty. It was a failure. Race to the Top tried to help schools be better by having them “compete” for funding for innovative approaches. It accomplished basically nothing. Obama was no stranger to neoliberalism.

          If people want a definition of “neoliberalism” that just means “corruption” or “corporate welfare”, then I’m not interested, because we already have words for those things. If we only call things “neoliberalism” when they don’t work. then that falls into the same trap.

          Personally, I am deeply skeptical of neoliberal approaches, not because of the people proposing them, necessarily, but because they are built on a mythology of how capitalism works (or doesn’t work) in practice, and when tried, they have a pretty poor track record overall, with a few examples of some success.

          One can make an argument against neoliberalism without claiming that the ACA can’t have any neoliberalism in it because “it works”, or that Obama didn’t enact any neoliberal policies because “i like him”.

  • IM

    You americans are funny.

    Neoliberalism is clearly neoclassical economics put into political reality. Starting with Pinochet or Thatcher. And we are talking about economic politics here. Not regarding economics neoliberals can be pro-choice or not, pro GLBT or not, proponents of an interventionist foreign policy or not.

    Since the heyday of Neoliberalism as on ideology was in the nineties, people politically formed in the nineties like Chait tend to be almost unsconscious neoliberals. You can take the man out of TNR but not TNR out of the man.

    Now there was an american political term of neoliberalism centered around The Atlantic in the eighties but that has faded away.

    .Nowadays even in the US if you encounter “neoliberalism” it is the international usage.

    And following the international usage, Clinton and the democrats until the mid Bush period were indeed neoliberals.

    • IM

      Ok, Washington Monthly, not Atlantic. But then I certainly didn’t follow american politics in the eighties.

  • MariedeGournay

    At this point, neo-liberal just serves as an indicator of whether I should listen to someone’s argument or not. A sort of Internet barometer of political good faith, especially when used as an adjective.

    • Sly

      A lot of this is wrapped up in a conversation between two groups that either want to claw at the existing fault lines in the left of center coalition or ignore them, which are equivalently dangerous goals, in order to rationalize their own individual ideological commitments. Its guided more by affectation than anything else.

      The discourse itself is thus saturated with bad faith, whether you’re glossing over the power white supremacy had within the New Deal coalition to concoct a Golden Age of leftist politics against which present Democratic politicians are measured and found seriously wanting, or you’re operating under the delusion that the power of unions, predominately black churches, and/or universities (the traditional reservoirs of institutional power in American left politics) can be easily replaced with the vanishingly amorphous “moderate vote” of white suburbanites and all these hippies just need to shut the fuck up and get with the times.

  • IM

    “A generation ago, “neoliberalism” was the chosen label of a handful of moderately liberal opinion journalists, centered around Charles Peters, then-editor of the Washington Monthly.”

    See, here Chaits already goes of the road. A generation ago, neoliberalism was already the term for the economic theories of Friedman and the economic policies of Thatcher.

    • Cranky Observer

      Conflating European neoliberalism and its roots in 1930s with Peters’ “Neoliberal Manifesto” of the 1970s and the implementation of the latter in the Clinton Administration does not add to understanding.

      • IM

        But we are not talking about Peters. Chait is using him and his short-lived fad as a strawman. We are very much talking about “big” neoliberalism and its influence on politics in the nineties. Including Clinton.

        • Cranky Observer

          Ah, many of the writers Peters recruited for the Washington Minthlyvwent on to Key positions in the Clinton Administration, so I’m not sure about the “short lived” part.

          • sapient

            Thanks for the reference to Peters’s manifesto. Here is a link . (Is there an easier way to imbed links in Discus?)

        • 1. It’s a fair question why Peters chose a name that was already in use to mean something else. One possible answer is that he knew what it meant and thought he meant the same thing, and/or that his readers did, or at least more or less in that ballpark. Another is that people in that circle (Andrew Sullivan, for one), who wanted something that would move significant numbers of liberals to the right, had some influence on the choice.

          2. Neoliberalism just doesn’t only mean Thatcher and Friedman. It also means the whole complex of cultural and social thought that Foucault discusses. This also happens to be closer to the “pull up your pants” US variety. And there is a huge cultural, early-Marx-on-alienation element in the Left that sees the concept from this perspective.

      • There are a lot of people who just feel words should name one thing and everyone else is using them wrong. They’re wrong but pretending 80% of the times you see the word, that’s it what it means, doesn’t help, either. I closed the recent NPR piece on neoliberalism when I saw it was apparently going to be devoted to teaching that the British use of the word to mean Thatcherism, though doubted by many Americans, has a lot going for it.

        Edit: I don’t see the point of insisting that the Clintons are neoliberal in the British sense (they weren’t, except in the sense that even socialist parties were finding it hard not to be), and making it impossible to focus on the ways they’re neoliberal in the American sense.

        And at the extreme I’ve seen people say neoconservatives are just a confused variety of neoliberal.

        • prognostication

          Also, to further add to the confusion, Blair and Third Way-ism are pretty clearly neoliberal too.

          • Yeah, this is really the “correct” definition, I think, the movement to the IMF, growth, privatization, and European technocracy by left parties.

  • IM

    >In the international context, “neoliberal” means capitalist, as distinguished from socialist. <

    Another strawman. In the international context it means neo-classic and anti-keynesian.

    Like this:

    ."In 2002, Peter Mandelson wrote an article in The Times declaring "we are all Thatcherites now", referring to the acceptance among the other political parties of Margaret Thatcher's economic



  • Cranky Observer
    • IM

      Beside the point.

      • sapient

        It’s actually really important.

        • IM

          It is actually quite irrelevant for politcal discussions in 2017. If someones say neoliberal he means Thatcher/Friedman/Reagan and the turn against Keynesianism.

          Peters is relevant for something like:

          “From Carter to Dukakis: A history of the democratic party in the eighties. ”

          You wrote yourself that you forgot about the manifesto. How many, using neoliberal as pejorivative or not, do really talk abot Peters and co. ?

          • sapient

            “If someones say neoliberal he means Thatcher/Friedman/Reagan and the turn against Keynesianism.” No, in the US, the term “neoliberal” is often used as a political epithet by people who don’t like banks.

            • IM

              Well yes, but the surely don’t talk about Peters, Gary Hart und Washington Monthly.

              • sapient

                Not sure why it’s a bad thing to understand the context in which some of the Clinton policies that are now derided arose.

          • Cranky Observer

            If you ignore the affect of the Clinton Administration on the US and the Democratic Party, and how the limited set of choices left on the table post-WJC affected the political outlook of Barack Obama, sure.

            • IM

              Well, the bigger neoliberalism had a much stronger impact on Clinton – “the era of big governemt is over!” and all that then a circle of falied Gary Hart advisers.

    • sapient

      Ha! I should have waited ….

  • I know what a neoconservative is: “We have to attack every country that ever looked at us funny (or that we think might look at us funny someday)”.

    Can someone give me a one sentence definition of a neoliberal? I hear the term tossed around a lot but, mostly as a pejorative from the Bernie Sanders people.

    • IM

      The market will provide.

      • Thom

        … but it moves in mysterious ways.

    • KiddoMcLargeHuge

      Former Democrats who became Republicans in the 1960s and 1970s, and domestically are social cons/tough on crime/Charles Murray wankers. That’s just as much valid as the foreign policy definition. You also neglected to mention “Israel”.

      • KiddoMcLargeHuge

        Well, that the definition of neoconservatism, not neoliberalism. I can’t read.

      • sigaba

        Democrats of the early 70s whose “party left them” when it stopped taking a hard anticommunist line and seemed to be complicit/feckless in the urban crime phenomena of the 1970s.

        Charles Bronson’s character in the original “Death Wish” was meant as a dramatization of the liberal’s Journey Through Darkness to the wokeness that was Angry White Man-ism, which is a populist aspect of neoconservatism.

        Meanwhile the Democrats had been known for their fierce anticommunism, but by the 70s in the wake of Vietnam most of the Democratic hawks were discredited and those that remained were systematically destroyed by Nixon ratfucking.

        • I sometimes wonder if some neoliberals are people who ten years earlier would have become neoconservatives, and something happened to change the way people were tending to move when whatever-that-was happened to them. People like Lieberman and some others.

    • Linnaeus

      Can someone give me a one sentence definition of a neoliberal?

      The core idea is that market-based mechanisms are the optimal means by which we can provide liberal social outcomes.

    • AMK

      “Democrats with money or corporate/Wall Street connections.” That’s what it actually means for most people.

      So HRC runs on the most liberal policy platform in decades, but she’s been rich for a while, vacations in the Hamptons and had lots of photo-ops with bankers as a Senator from New York, so she’s neoliberal. Joe Biden is to the right of Hillary on just about every issue, but he’s from Scranton and doesn’t seem to hang out with hedge-funders, so he’s not neoliberal.

  • IM

    It is a bit odd to write about neoliberalism and the democratic party and never to mention the DLC.

  • to sum up the comments so far: “neoliberal” means exactly what the speaker wants it to mean, and it’s almost always used as an insult.

    which is why i tend to stop reading whenever it appears.

    • sapient

      I agree, and I’ll continue that practice, except that I found reading the Peters manifesto very enlightening. I knew about him, and have long been a fan of The Washington Monthly, but somehow forgot about this “manifesto.” It might be worth discussing someday, all by itself.

    • Steve LaBonne

      Yup. Scott isn’t wrong that there is a real political tendency for which neoliberalism may once have been a useful name, but that ship sailed quite some time ago.

    • FlipYrWhig

      It’s hard to see much difference in popular political usage between “neoliberal” and “sucky.”

  • Tim Reynolds

    Neoliberal blog wants people to stop criticizing neoliberalism.

    A few years ago, this very blog pretending that neoliberalism wasn’t even real.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      so explain what it is in terms a casual observer, not a political pro, would understand

    • IM

      Now that is an perfect example of using the term in a nonsenical way.

    • Dr. Waffle

      Please, oh True Progressive, provide examples of LGM’s “neoliberalism.”

  • gilmanc

    I need some help, and I fear the snark that will be heaped upon me.

    What exactly is a “market-based solution?” Is it where the government provides incentives to private industry?

    I ask because I think of myself as believing in market-based solution mostly because I look at the market from a supply and demand perspective and thus is always seeking equilibrium, rather than thinking of the market as a euphemism as private industry. So while I am indifferent to whether public programs or private industry do the supplying or demanding as part of the solution, I feel the market will continue to seek equilibrium to make the goods or services more or less costly.

    • Kevin

      “schools are not performing, let’s switch to charter schools!” would be “market based solutions”, and is certainly neoliberal.

      • prognostication

        To defend the perfidious neoliberals a little bit, once in awhile it actually works. Like, cap and trade works under some circumstances.

        But yes, charter schools are mostly an abomination.

      • Lurking Canadian

        More generally: what those civil service workers need to be more productive is lower wages fewer benefits and a greater risk of losing their jobs.

      • gilmanc

        Privatize the supply side and potentially subsidize the demand side seems to be the idea.

    • Linnaeus

      I’ve used Mike Konczal’s theoretical example of the neoliberal “public” library before to illustrate this. You could have a local government simply build and operate a library, that is accessible to everyone, and funded via taxation. The neoliberal way would be to privatize the library (or have it private to begin with) and try to offset any costs to users via mechanisms like vouchers, etc.

      • gilmanc

        Got it. That does not comport with my idea of the market. So for, let’s call it “classical neoliberalism”, the idea is privatize then subsidize the demand side (possibly)

      • But I disagree about that, because actual neoliberals are mostly in favor of the tried and true institution that seems to elevate the population at low cost. Libraries are great, communities choose which books they want and support them through not-too-high taxes and volunteering, and people choose which books they want to read. Poor kids can wander in, like his granddad did, and get a real education, without anyone heavy-handedly stepping in.

        IMO the idea that neoliberalism means no institutions at all except free individuals acting in a free society where things just work out is a conservative caricature of “liberalism” in the philosophical sense (which let’s not get into)–though economics itself these days is just such a caricature, and in its imperialism attempts to overtake any field that attempts to be something other than a caricature, so it’s at least understandable.

        • Linnaeus

          The idea, though, is to demonstrate the goals and means of neoliberal policy making through a hypothetical example. One could apply this to other policies and institutions if the library example isn’t sufficient.

          • Okay, it’s just that the example reproduces the US-everyone else split in how we should define “neoliberal” while also raising a bunch of other pet peeves probably personal to me, and maybe also introduces a new split between how academics and the rest of us use the word.

            • Linnaeus

              That’s fair. I like to use Konczal’s formulation because I think it crystallizes how neoliberal policy has tended to function in multiple areas in a manner that’s easier to understand, but there are appropriate caveats.

        • slavdude

          neoliberalism means no institutions at all except free individuals acting in a free society where things just work out

          That actually sounds more like the self-definition of libertarianism, rather than the (not-inaccurate) caricature of it as pot-smoking conservatism.

          • Arguably, I guess, intellectual libertarianism is what you get when you try to build society from first principles without knowing anything about people, and are committed to not accepting anything except what you invent from your own head. And neoliberalism is not liking the consequences of that but not knowing what else to do about it.

        • A neoliberal might stop short of privatizing the public library, since you’re not going to turn it into a profitable business. Instead, they will change the management of the library to make it “run more like a business”.

          • gilmanc

            So would it be where you hire a library consulting firm to run the library for you?

            • You’d bring in managers with no library background at all and impose all kinds of quantitative statistical targets on library operations to prove their effectiveness.

              • Deborah Bender

                And throw out all the books that haven’t been checked out in awhile, to make room for computers, DVDs and hobby rooms.

      • Also–I read too quickly–isn’t his example not voluntary libraries, but no libraries, just subsidies for Amazon purchases?

        • gilmanc

          Sounds like it would also include a book exchange, with a fee for the market makers.

  • sigaba

    Phil Ochs summarized the leftist critique of the Democratic establishment pretty much perfectly. The terminology has changed but that’s all; in terms of the actual issues everything he mentions is striking recognizable, just sub Hillary for Hubert Humphrey. When people say neoliberal this is what they mean:

    I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
    Tears ran down my spine
    I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
    As though I’d lost a father of mine
    But Malcolm X got what was coming
    He got what he asked for this time
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    I go to civil rights rallies
    And i put down the old DAR
    I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
    I hope every colored boy becomes a star
    But don’t talk about revolution
    That’s going a little bit too far
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
    My faith in the system restored
    I’m glad the commies were thrown out
    Of the AFL-CIO board
    I love Puerto Ricans and negroes
    As long as they don’t move next door
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    The people of old Mississippi
    Should all hang their heads in shame
    I can’t understand how their minds work
    What’s the matter don’t they watch Les Crane?
    But if you ask me to bus my children
    I hope the cops take down your name
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    I read New Republic and The Nation
    I’ve learned to take every view
    You know, i’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
    I feel like i’m almost a Jew
    But when it comes to Times like Korea
    There’s no one more red, white and blue
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    I vote for the Democratic Party
    They want the UN to be strong
    I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
    He sure gets me singing those songs
    I’ll send all the money you ask for
    But don’t ask me to come on along
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal

    Once i was young and impulsive
    I wore every conceivable pin
    Even went to the socialist meetings
    Learned all the old union hymns
    But i’ve grown older and wiser
    And that’s why i’m turning you in
    So love me, love me, love me, i’m a neo liberal.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I don’t see that so much as a critique as “why won’t all these *old* people get out of my way?”

      • sigaba

        Exactly my point. A neoliberal is just a liberal with a mortgage. The debate over economic policy isn’t very substantive when you actually get down to the positions, it’s mostly a cultural divide based on differing levels of investment in the status quo, and radicalism vs. meliorism, and a commitment to social change through direct action versus submitting to a political process.

        Oh, also war.

        • Origami Isopod

          That’s much more substantive than you give it credit for.

        • Well, you could say a radical is a neoliberal who (like Rorty’s ironist intellectual) doubts everything she ought to believe. But why would you want to say that?

    • sapient

      A lot of people still haven’t recovered from the 1968 election, I see.

      • sigaba

        Ochs committed suicide a bitter and broken man, ’68 deeply shook him and Pinochet finished him off.

  • A lot of the confusion comes from the fact that liberalism has always been “pro-business”, albeit attempting to balance support for business interests with support of other interests. Neoliberalism emerged based on the claim that liberals had got this balance wrong, and needed to revert to some extent to 19th century economic liberalism, embracing ‘free trade” and “free markets” while curbing their worst excesses where convenient. That strain of liberals still has some influence although nowhere near what it was at its peak.

  • NewishLawyer

    The issue for the Democratic Party is that there are still a lot of people in the Democratic Party who have moderate to right-leaning economic views even if they don’t use or know the term neo-liberal. The SF/Bay Area is as deep blue and area as can be but you don’t exactly see solidarity when BART workers strike. What you see is people worried about their own lives. There was a protest outside my office building recently because one of the companies in the office building ripped off workers for pay or hired scabs or something like that. A young person’s reaction was to think the protestors were kind of lame because that person was or saw herself on the management track.

    But the GOP has gone off the deep end socially and while this has gotten the Democratic Party votes, it also makes us split the difference on economics.

    • Scott Lemieux

      But, again, there’s never, ever been a time in which the Democratic Party didn’t have large numbers of moderates or worse.

  • NewishLawyer

    And then there is just a lot of purity ponies in politics. People who would rather just go home instead of getting 60-85 percent of what they want.

  • Kevin

    I don’t know, i find very little to disagree with Chait with, and I find your disagreements to be quite minor. While I agree with Scott that the term does have a real definition (I don’t think Chait disagrees), I think the left has overused it to such a massive extent the last 2 years that it has become useless in public discourse. It may have a real meaning, but that has been drowned out by everything an inch to Sanders right being branded “NEOLIBERAL!!!”

    He does handwave the real shift that did occur, as you say, but he is also right to note that this was always part of the party, including the halcyon days that the left pretends to pine for.

    • Kevin

      I also think this is a good point, talking about Jacobin, which frames 3 possible alternatives for the west:

      One is nationalist authoritarianism of the sort advanced by Trump, Hungary’s Jobbik Party, France’s National Front, etc. The second is Singapore, an authoritarian technocracy that he calls “the unacknowledged destination of the neoliberal center’s train.” And his third option is “avowedly socialist leaders like Mr. Sanders and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France.”

      Sunkara omits from his choices any liberal mixed economy of the kind that exists in Western Europe and Scandinavia and that American liberals would like to build here. He is very clear that this final option, the one he advocates, is “not the social democracy of François Hollande, but that of the early days of the Second International.” He excludes the more moderate brand of social democracy from the menu because he believes too many people would choose it. The whole trick is to bracket the center-left together with the right as “neoliberal,” and then force progressives to choose between that and socialism.

      The socialist left has an argument to make against liberalism. It reveals a certain lack of confidence in that argument when it tries to win it with an epithet.

    • Linnaeus

      He does handwave the real shift that did occur, as you say, but he is also right to note that this was always part of the party, including the halcyon days that the left pretends to pine for.

      Chait does a little more than handwave here, IMHO – he’s engaged in a bit of retconning social democratic impulses onto a faction and movement within the Democratic Party that for a couple of decades was moving away from those impulses. He wants it both ways: crediting the Democrats for “moving to the center” in one context and then downplaying what that actually meant in another.

  • llennhoff

    I’ll just leave this here.

    • Origami Isopod

      “And to take their wives and introduce them into the labor force.”

      Right, because all women want to stay home and form babby, and they have no agency of their own. Also, “their enemies” are all men; women are just their enemies’ possessions. Fail.

      (And, yes, I’m familiar with the Conan quote.)

  • diogenes

    I hate the term Progressive, as it embodies the wimpishness liberals are credited with. Hard to see Roosevelt, Kennedyand Johnson as wimps. I’ve always stuck with liberal. Simpler.

    Neoliberal is a useful term. For example:

    A neoliberal would abolish Glass Stegal. Liberals passed it.
    A neoliberal would not get caught on a union picket line. Liberals died on them.
    A neoliberal bails out Wall Street. A liberal welcomes their hatred.
    Neoliberals deregulate. Liberals understand that the malefactors of great wealth need regulation of the people and by the people.

    Liberals can draw a clean bright line from how government should operate directly to the Declaration.

    • Gepap

      To me the problem with Progressive is that is makes the assumption that there is a “direction” to things, and that we are simply “progressing” there, but it fails to speak to the values that we are supposedly standing for. Liberalism at least clearly places itself on the side of Liberty as a value rhetorically.

    • stepped pyramids

      Where did liberals die on picket lines?

      • diogenes
        • stepped pyramids

          I see a lot of workers killed in defense of their own rights, and I see the IWW and other socialists in there. A lot of people who would not like to be remembered as “liberals”.

          • diogenes

            A lot? Perhaps.

            Certainly not all.

            • stepped pyramids

              What I’m getting at is that I have read your comment before, except with “liberals” substituted for “neoliberals” and “leftists” or “socialists” substituted for “liberals”.

              • diogenes

                Gentle friend, perhaps you have me confused with someone else. While I appreciate academics debating/defining the finer points of our politico/economic environment, it is of limited utility in storytelling, which is one area we Democrats need to up our game. There’s a little too much of an angels/dancing/head of a pin aspect for a broader audience. More to the point, I am not nearly versed enough in all of the nuances to use the term “leftist” unless I am citing someone else.

                I am happy to be clear about what I think. I see the term “liberal” to mean government of and by the people operating in the economy to promote the general welfare. I believe that the New Deal was the greatest advance for citizens since the Revolution, and readily agree that the New Deal was flawed and incomplete. The Great Society was another flawed and needed advance.

                I view it as the task of liberals to perfect our citizenship in the politico/economic sphere, ameliorating inequity, racism and sexism so that everyone can live their lives to the fullest.

                It is easy for me to understand that Tories will always oppose full citizenship. One of their tools would be to co-opt liberals.

                The DLC is a good example.

                Questioning Obama and the Clintons is healthy – I trust government more than I trust “markets”. Much as the Tea Party dragged the Republican Party to the right, it is liberals’ job to drag the Democratic Party to the left.

                Your prerogative to take issue with that.

  • NobodySpecial

    Neoliberals are guys who think liberalism is a great thing, as long as it’s not too close to their back yard.

    Public schools are a great idea, but give me a magnet charter I can put little Austin in.
    Unions are a great idea, but those people have no business making $15 an hour if it makes my coffee cost $8.
    Affordable housing is a great idea, but not in my neighborhood.
    Government safety nets are great, but my taxes are too high.

    That’s your basic neoliberal, Rahm Emanuel style.

    • Becker

      Actually, you’ve just described white people.

    • stepped pyramids

      Exhibit #too many to count for the proposition “neoliberal is just an epithet for people somewhat to my right”.

      • NobodySpecial

        Are neoliberals to the right of conventional liberals?

        • stepped pyramids

          Yes. The “epithet” part comes in because all of your examples indicate hypocrisy and greed.

        • stepped pyramids

          I don’t think “neoliberal” means anything as a noun other than an epithet.

  • MikeJake

    Left critics of the Democratic Party have a bizarre tendency to romanticize the New Deal/Great Society Democratic Party. Even during their brief peaks of progressive legislation, these coalitions were heavily compromised by the fact that the liberal faction of the party needed the support of Southern segregationists and marginal Republicans, respectively. And FDR’s first term and LBJ before the 1966 midterms were anomalous — during most of the period associated with the New Deal Congress was controlled de facto by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats. (The whole Taft-Hartley passing with veto-proof majorities conveniently vanishes from these accounts, although this statute had far more to do with Trump winning than Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics.)

    Listen, I’m not gonna disagree that the voters are a bunch of hoopleheads, and things gotta get screwed up pretty bad before you see any sort of mandate for progressive legislating. But what’s “bizarre” about looking fondly back on times when the elite lost credibility and had to fall in line behind the People? 2008 was one of those times, and I know, Joe Lieberman, Max Baucus, yadda yadda, but the failures in terms of rebuking and reining in the powerful are still pretty raw, and part of that comes down to the fact that the wealthy and powerful get treated differently than everyone else, and too many Dem politicians who came of age post-Reagan are resigned to that reality or think it’s proper.

    • stepped pyramids

      “Romanticize” doesn’t mean “look back fondly upon”, it means “have an inaccurately rosy view of”.

  • andrekenji

    The problem is the confusion about what neoliberalism is. In the United States it was originally thought as Centrist Liberalism/Progressivism. Outside the United States people think of neoliberalism as being pro-market, what Americans call Libertarianism.

    Something that has too much definitions has no definition at all.

  • drdick52

    I would generally agree with this, though, as a socialist, I have a lot of issues with FDR/LBJ liberalism as well.

  • DN Nation

    Poor Chait. He was really getting in with the Brooklynite Podcast Set for endlessly ripping on collegiate SJWs, but now he’s gone and mucked that up.

  • It occurs to me there’s one definition of “liberal” I think no one on the thread has even mentioned: the idea that liberalism is a not especially free state, culturally, that’s market-focused, economically, and dominated by the upper bourgeoisie. This seems mostly used by German speakers.

    I honestly don’t see any reason to prefer this definition, however.

    It has serious fault, most notably that it forces us to describe the US as more culturally authoritarian than it’s ever been, and that it puts someone like Peters in the position of trying to define “neoliberal” to mean “liberal,” when it’s obvious he doesn’t think that’s what “liberal” means. It’s obviously a 180-degree contradiction of the idea that neo-liberal means LESS dominated by upper-middle class ideals and norms, besides.

  • This “debate” is even worse in LatinAmerica. The word “neoliberal” is the trick and insult of choice within almost every leftist group. If you want to discredit someone or something, just shout “neoliberal!”. The facts and the very ideas don´t matter… And not only that: the vast majority of “latin” leftists believe in the “scientific” equivalence of “neoliberal” and “liberal”. If you are a liberal, then you are a neoliberal, you just have to be!; if you are a neoliberal, you are nothing but a liberal, and we know what liberalism is… There are two main causes of this self-defeating idiocy: the philosophical and scientific ignorance and the manipulation of the word “liberal” by neoliberals. The mutual reinforcement is obvious… The true neoliberals try to clean up and deter attacks presenting themselves as liberals -which is complemented with the idea that neoliberalism doesn´t exist, because “everybody says different things”-, and leftists fire against the liberalism they are confused about. So, the local/regional antiliberal right has been contributing (succesfully) to the iliberalism or antiliberalism of the left, which is, realistically, a huge problem. Thus, we liberals have to enter the public sphere to make distinctions, clarify and insist, instead of supporting the “convenient” disappearance of the words “neoliberal” and “neoliberalism”. Neoliberalism does exist, it´s an antisocial ideology, and a dangerous program that denies and opposes liberalism properly understood. We, I think, should combat all true and real neoliberals and combat some antineoliberals too. Liberalism and neoliberalism are not the same and we must make it clear.

  • xq

    The problem with “neoliberalism” is that the left-right axis is so powerful in our polarized political climate that terms describing positions outside that axis are rarely that meaningful. The 80s/90s right turn was real, but what does “neoliberal” add after already describing it as a “right turn”? If you know someone’s place on the left-right spectrum, “neoliberal” perhaps adds information as to their views on education and trade, but those are the only issues I can think of where there’s a real difference between left-liberals and a coherent group that could be described as “left-neoliberals.”

    • Aaron Morrow

      I’m okay with whatever -ism is chosen as long as welfare “reform” and entitlement “reform” can be referred to by the same -ism.

  • Simon Johnson, former IMF chief economist, has accepted the existence of the economic reality and the use of the concept “neoliberalism”. That says something…

  • on the one hand while Clinton singed multiple conservative bills, including a welfare “reform” bill that if BCRA fails will be the worst welfare-state retrenchment in American history.

    I don’t think he singed enough.

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