Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, April 14, 2004  

The New Liberal Vision

Outer--Foreign Policy
Liberals have toyed with foreign policy, but rarely and briefly and certainly not recently. The whole Iraq debacle developed in part because, in the face of the neocon agenda, liberals had no alternative guiding principle. Thinking through the notion of a liberal vision, I kept coming back to this idea. In an age of connectivity and globalism, it's inconceivable that liberals have neglected making foreign policy a cornerstone of their agenda.

We live in a world in which factories across the globe manufacture separate components and then ship them to another factory for assembly; one in which the words of leaders and actions of nations are broadcast in real time across the globe; a world in which pollution from US tailpipes affect monsoons in India. Now more than ever we understand that the world is an organism--we do not stand alone.

To this fact we can respond either by participation or dominance. The current administration has chosen the latter path, and the consequences are now becoming clear. Far from actually gaining control or securing US security, the Bush Doctrine of unilateralism is a recipe for world and US destabilization.

I'd like to suggest that the future of the world would be achieved by exactly the opposite--a radical effort to establish a world democracy.

We've already seen an example of how this would work in the European Union. Far from compromising the security of participating countries, the union of nations has greatly improved it. New countries want to join and are willing to change their governments and behavior to gain admittance. If we really want countries in the Middle East and Africa to change, if we're really committed to the humanitarianism Bush describes with his "liberated Iraq," global democracy is a far better solution than invasion.

The sacrifice, of course, is our preferred status in NATO and the UN. No longer would the nuclear powers get to dictate international law. But the risks are far different now that we live in a post-Soviet world. State-to-state violence is almost obsolete (particularly if you exclude US invasions). Most wars are civil wars. Most violence is terrorism resulting from the very destabilization a global democracy would address. Democracies with healthy economies just don't attack each other.

Structured properly, the global democracy could dictate rules for inclusion in its body--and offer substantial rewards, much like the EU. Conservatives will argue that such a plan would jeopardize US sovereignty, but it's hard to see how. What it would jeopardize is US control: we could no longer coddle dictatorships or foster client states like Kuwait and Israel. But the US doesn't feel its sovereignty jeopardized by other democracies like Canada, Japan, or even--despite the rhetoric--France. The loss of control will pay off in long-term security.

Why is it that the country that pioneered modern democracy is so fearful to adopt it on an international scale? It's time to change that mindset.

Inner--Domestic Policy
Since the Reagan Revolution, liberals have been caught in a push-pull of what the role of government should be. This culminated in the 90s when Clinton--a Democrat--signed the bill that rolled back welfare. The party of the people became the party of the businesspeople, a de facto acknowledgement of Reagan's central thesis that markets, not the government, were better able to serve Americans.

Starting from the same place we started at in the foreign policy frame, liberals need to seize the power of the interconnected world. if we move toward a global democracy, our need for this fantastically bloated, expensive military vanishes (even reducing expenditures by a third would give us a bigger military than any of our nearest competitors--by a long shot). This frees up federal funds for restoring portions of the safety net lost in past years.

Yet that's not really a vision, is it? Let's go back to interconnectivity. What's the biggest issue confronting the US over the coming century? Terrorism, war? No, it's environmental catastrophe. This is partly a national issue (aquifers across the Southwest are being rapidly depleted), and partly an international issue. But we can't envision a world in which radical change won't be necessary to address these needs. The countries that begin changing soonest will reap the benefit as the world shifts off fossil fuels and coal and moves toward alternative, non-polluting energy sources.

The last great economic boom disproportionately benefited the US because the innovations that created it were developed in Silicon Valley. A national investment in green technologies would accomplish a number of objectives: it would position the US in the global economy of the future; it would create jobs; and it would create federal revenues to further strengthen our position in the world.

In 1961 (2?), Kennedy challenged scientists to put a man on the moon in ten years. A liberal vision that challenged America to put an end to petroleum-based engines in ten years would spark a similar technological renaissance. Targeted incentives and tax breaks for companies participating in such a program, combined with the incentive of creating the technologies that will power the 21st Century, would shift the dominance away from the cluster of oil-based technologies. It would also have the very strong fringe benefit of reducing our dependence on Mideast oil (which in turn would force those countries to modernize, and cut off the main source of funds for the repressive oil sheiks who run the countries).

The future is green. It can happen at the moment of environmental crisis, or it can begin now. One of the main reasons the US has failed to address the environment in any serious way is because the prospect is too frightening. But regarding it as an opportunity--and acknowledging it as our inevitable destiny--changes the calculation. Preserving the environment is a perfect metaphor for the liberal mission--and is an ideal vision for the 21st Century.


Globalism is our future, no matter what our relationship is to that fact. The current administration uses fear to force a kind of isolation-though-domination that ignores the global reality. It dumps federal resources into old industries and does nothing to position the US for future competition. Liberals would do well to look to the future and seize it. However they choose to fashion a big vision, it must begin by including the world.

posted by Jeff | 8:33 AM |
Blogroll and Links