Liberalism's Uncertain Fate

04/18/2011 05:30 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2011

In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all. ~ Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"

Liberalism's fate, under siege from the rage of pseudo-Reagan conservatives and the ultra right, hangs in the balance.

Liberals are on the run. Their great retreat began before the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, but now the echo of their footsteps grows faint in the distance -- choosing isolation from conservative fury, fearful of Big Government labels, avoiding un-America accusations, evading charges of "socialist sympathies", dodging indictments of Communists loyalties.

The nightmare of McCarthyism appears reborn.

Richard Hofstadter's great work of history, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", appears relevant again. Increasingly it's an ugly and dangerous time, for hell hath no fury like reactionaries scorned. To invoke the Salem Witch trials would be a stretch, since no one has yet been burned at the stake, but the same villainy masking as virtue then is back. It is a mindset that rejects conformity, believes compromise is evidence of moral weakness, and is supremely confident of its own righteousness.

As Hofstadter's wrote:

Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated -- if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention.

At a time when the voice and values of liberalism, equality, social justice, and a fair deal for every American, is needed more than at any time since the Great Depression, that voice is muted, its history trivialized, its values ignored.

Instead, we hear budgets must be slashed, government agencies closed, financial reform stopped, Wall Street regulations shelved, entitlements reduced, poverty programs cut, education funds ended, environmental protection eliminated -- all in the name of the right's newly discovered, post Bush presidency Holy Grail -- "balanced budgets."

Yes, some liberal media voices remain -- magazines like Sojourners, Mother Jones, The Nation and The American Prospect, influential columnists like Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, and Gail Collins in The New York Times, plus MSNBC, liberalism's flagship cable channel, with Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz, and Chris Matthews (but Olbermann's absence is huge).

But weighed against Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, and the 1,200 radio stations owned by Clear Channel, whose talk shows feature Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Savage, O'Reilly, and Ingraham, with zero corresponding liberal voices, the "debate" is dangerously one-sided -- and by that fact democracy's dialogue is imperiled.

Cable television news and radio talk show ratings prove decisively the right owns the airwaves. The collective daily viewing and listening audiences for Fox News and Clear Channel may exceed 50 million (so suggests the Washington Post), while MSNC struggles to reach a million.

Recently Ruth Marcus in an op-ed for the Post tried to understand the economic Armageddon likely if proposed budget cuts pass (they were agreed to late Friday-before-last night).

Her heart was in the right place but her mind wasn't quite there. She wants to be compassionate but also fiscally responsible -- a worthy but elusive goal.

Ms. Marcus' problem arises out of a preoccupation with all things Washington, a common "national" media failure to see the world beyond the beltway. Virtually every city, county, and state is in economic crisis (led by Texas and California), but that seems irrelevant to those trapped by inside-the-beltway groupthink.

The answer demanded by rightists and blue dog Democrats, is to cut, slash and burn the social safety net, while remaining silent on the vast societal and economic consequences certain to follow; consequences that will further destroy Main Street and devastate the already devastated middle class and poor in our land.

While this is taking place Wall Street profits and executive pay continue to soar and the wealth divide alarmingly erodes further America's stability -- and few are those within the political calling for higher taxes, so traumatized has the left become by ultra-right zealotry, Tea Party fundamentalism, and government hating disciples of Any Rand (whose principal acolyte, was Fed chairman Alan Greenspan).

As the drama unfolds, no one is more emblematic of liberalism's decline and its uncertain fate, of the sorry state of a once vital and powerful political force, of its retreat from the moral high ground of equality, than Jerry Brown.

If you thought Governor Brown was "liberal", think again.

When he ran against Meg Whitman he foolishly promised no tax increase without voters' approval. He could have promised the opposite and still won, because Ms. Whitman was not going to be elected governor of California, even if she had spent $300 million of her own money, rather the $150 million she stupidly wasted on consultants and pollsters; the lady was not electable.

You do not give the power to raise or lower taxes to "The People." You give them one power -- the right to vote people into office or out, but that's it. If Mr. Brown loses on the tax increase he's effectively finished as governor; he might as well return to Mumbai where he went after his first time around as California's governor and resume his charitable work with Mother Theresa's nuns, because he will do more good there than here.

If that happens, if the governor's loses, California will thus remain what it has become - a state with a magnificent past but uncertain future.

I appreciate Ms. Marcus' sympathy for those who will be gravely hurt by what's coming, America's own economic Armageddon (do not be mislead by a slight uptick in the economy and jobs, much heralded by political professionals and Wall Street worshippers).

We can't escape this deficit's black hole until someone in political leadership tells the truth, that without a substantial tax increase and tax code reform, which, among other egregious examples, gives corporate America indefensible exemptions costing the treasury billions, this nation will have seen its best days -- because what's coming will not resemble the America we were privileged to grow up in.

And out of the moral cowardice that marks today's liberalism we will have imperiled the future of our children and grandchildren.

Too bad we forgot Miguel Cervantes Saavedra's truth: When life itself sees lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Too much sanity may be madness, and maddest of all is to see life as it is and not as it should be.

George Mitrovich is a San Diego civic leader.