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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Today’s Liberalism

<ve to admit I’m getting pretty sick of George Will’s shtick. If you’re not familiar with the commentator, Will is a Washington Post columnist, author, and regular commentator on the ABC show This Week. My issue with him is not that I disagree with his policy ideas, it is that he never really talks about specific policy. Preferring to frame most issues in a grand theological scale, using big words and a scholarly and thoughtful sounding voice, he makes statements that underneath do not make a lot of sense. This kind of rhetoric is common in our political system in general, and many politicians’ dependence on using big vague terms with no substance a reason we have a confused and frustrated public.

Now, Will’s main sentiment is this idea of “today’s liberalism,” a strain of thinking that calls the American people “dopes” (his wording) wh­­ose government must therefore make their decisions for them. Conservatives like Will have long practiced this short-sighted characterization of liberalism; and their attitudes and rhetoric are part of a mindless flattery of the American people that demonstrates the opposite of what leadership should look like. Furthermore, these types of hyperbolic categorizations of another ideology make the political discourse and process in the country more and more polarized and deadlocked.

Really, Will’s representation of liberalism signifies the problems our government seems to have in reaching any sort of consensus. We have a genuine “lost in translation” situation; each side seems incapable and unwilling to recognize the assumptions of the other in order to work through debate. It isn’t that liberals think people are stupid; it is that many recognize that government is in a unique position to formulate a well informed analysis of different parts of a nation. It can gather and digest information that regular people are simply not in the position to be able to do. In addition, government can do some things better than the private sector where the for-profit motive might actually hurt a product’s quality and functionality (many would argue this is the case with health insurance).

Lastly, a tenet of Will’s argument (and a central conservative talking point) is that government needs to get out of the way so that the people can have the power, because they know what is best for themselves. Like I said, this is flattery, and cynical flattery at that. Of course people are smart and capable, we are truly amazing creatures! But making this argument a central part of a political philosophy means limiting the amount of leadership any sort of public official can ever exercise. It is not that government should make all decisions or even many decisions, it is not that it should control everything; it is that government is simply capable of viewing the whole system of our country in a way individuals simply cannot. It can be our public officials’ jobs, therefore, to bring issues to the public’s attention that are not well known or dealt with in the private sector. We need government because it is uniquely capable of framing and making our adaptive challenges (as my Dad would call them) clear.

There is no doubt that government cannot solve the many problems in our society, only the people can do this. But unless people understand the stakes and the full extent of a situation can they be fully capable of reconciling their contradictions and attitudes to adapt to a problem. Our government officials can exercise better leadership in putting the work back on the people, but inherent in this is acknowledging that work needs to be done. If the public, without the government, is not able to recognize the presence of an adaptive challenge, then government must make the presence of that challenge clear to its public so that it can then solve it itself.

-David Heifetz is a Carletonian columnist

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