Writing for the New Republic, political historian Alan Brinkley (whose 1982 masterpiece, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, is instead your loss if you haven't read it) asks: "The L Word Lives: Is it safe to say 'liberal' again?"
It seems it is, although liberal politicians remain skittish and progressives probably a bit jealous of the left's old lover. It's too early to know if the electorate has swung officially "liberal," and politicians, being followers, will surely wait for voters, via Gallup, to rule on the "liberal" question. As for progressives, they finally convinced the rank-and-file left to use their hipper, less terminologically toxic moniker; and yet now here it is, liberalism, under the streetlight again.
Whatever. I still intuit a distinction between liberalism and progressivism, the former being more incrementalist and FDR-like (hence more Obamian) than the rowdier, impatient latter. My previous attempts to demarcate the two schools drew but little notice, however, so I cashiered the effort. Alas, my withdrawal from the labeling battlefield has drawn as little notice as did my active engagement, which is a real ego-crusher.
Yet I am so pleased to read that my more recent and aggressive campaign--noting not the differences between liberalism and progressivism, but the similarities of liberalism and conservatism--has found its way into Brinkley's brief essay:
[T]he liberal creed remains one that even many conservatives, if they thought about it, might agree with. Modern liberalism means liberty for speech and the press. It means freedom of religion and a separation of church and state. It provides equal rights under the law. Other elements of liberalism have begun to emerge in our own time: protecting the environment, securing social security and health care, stopping unnecessary wars, supporting the poor, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless.
By "conservatives" Brinkley means, of course, genuine conservatives--not the nihilistic fanatics and anarchistic bombthrowers of the contemporary GOP, who essentially cling to their guns and religion and "conservative" label because they market well. And Brinkley is correct: Go ahead, dear genuine conservatives, reread his itemization and locate, if you can, even one to which Burke or Lincoln or T.R. would object.
"Most of all," continues Brinkley, "liberalism in our time means the support of equality," which converts negatively into the struggle against "economic and social inequality," which positively and rather naturally reconverts into championing equality of opportunity. And who, as they say, would argue with that?
This, it would seem, is the new American consensus, and it looks remarkably like the old American consensus. It is traditionalist and experimental and characterological and pragmatic and hesitant and forward-looking; it is both profoundly liberal and imperishably conservative. And since it is both, it is really neither.