These days Democrats are not sounding very liberal. Classic
liberals, after all, would support free markets, internationalism and
the universal desire for constitutional government, while downplaying
racial affinity. But the following examples highlight how far from
these ideals today's liberals are.
Campaigning earlier this
year in recession-prone Ohio, both Democratic candidates trashed the
North American Free Trade Agreement. Sen. Barack Obama advocated
renegotiation of the treaty. And Sen. Hillary Clinton assured voters
she had always opposed NAFTA, an agreement concluded under her
Then a funny thing happened. A top
Obama economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, reportedly made back-channel
assurances to Canadian officials that such protectionist talk was mere
Then an even funnier thing transpired.
Mrs. Clinton's chief campaign strategist (who has since been
"reassigned"), Mark Penn, reportedly advised Colombian officials of how
to court votes in Congress to assure passage of a new free-trade
agreement — just the opposite of Mrs. Clinton's position.
such illiberal pandering, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama know a
traditional liberal position would be to defend free trade that lowers
prices and increases choices for poorer American consumers — while
helping foreign economies catch up with the United States.
trade isn't the only example in which liberal Democrats advocate
positions that sound parochial and blinkered. Let's take an
environmental issue. It may seem environmentally correct for liberals
to oppose oil drilling in a small part of Alaska. But how is this
prohibition in any way liberal?
Unless Americans are willing
to accept a drastic reduction in their standard of living or can
discover novel methods of conserving or creating energy, in the
short-term transportation fuel will have to come from somewhere. And
given our present prohibitions, that somewhere apparently means foreign
In an interconnected global petroleum market, our energy
appetites mean that drilling goes on at a breakneck pace throughout
South America, Africa, the Middle East and Russia. Yet do we really
think the Russians can protect their Arctic tundra better than we could
in Alaska, or that there will be less pollution from oil platforms off
the Nigerian coast than off California or Florida?
Homegrown, clean-burning biofuels sound great as a partial
replacement for polluting foreign petroleum. But at present, to supply
grain-based ethanol, we are diverting a large percentage of American
farm acreage away from food production. The result — apart from the net
energy loss needed to grow and refine ethanol — is that the price of
basic food staples is soaring.
It is politically incorrect to
say so, but an oil well in Alaska might cause less damage to the world
environment, less strain on our own food supply and more savings to
poorer American consumers than most of the present alternatives.
also is the real liberal position on Iraq? Not long ago Mrs. Clinton
and Mr. Obama slugged it out, trying to establish who was more antiwar
— and who would bring the troops home most rapidly. But then one of Mr.
Obama's chief campaign advisers, the now-dismissed Samantha Power,
suggested that an Obama administration would assess withdrawal on the
basis of conditions on the ground in Iraq, not according to
Miss Power is no conservative. But
it sounds like she grasps that the humane — indeed liberal — position
now on Iraq is to continue to support the democratically elected
government of Nouri al-Maliki.
"No blood for oil" and
"American imperialism" may be catchy slogans, but no serious observer
believes the United States is stealing Iraq's oil or trying to colonize
the country. The Iraqis themselves are selling oil on their own terms,
and they are no longer so eager for Americans to pack up and leave
their fragile democracy before it is stabilized.
what is the liberal position on race? It is not to offer relative
contexts and mitigating circumstances for hate speech, as did Sen.
Obama regarding the words of his former pastor. Nor, in contrast, is it
Bill and Hillary Clinton's racial polarizing and scapegoating to defend
— and then restore — a poorly run campaign. And it is surely not a
Democratic race that has devolved into the candidates counting on their
constituents to vote along racial lines.
In short, with all
this demagoguing, backtracking and firing of aides, we don't always
know exactly what the Democratic position is on trade, energy, Iraq or
race — only that it is seems to be far from what we once thought was