The opening paragraphs of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest piece in the Weekly Standard point to a problem that the next Democratic President will have (the bulk of the piece, O’Rourke’s discusion of Senator Sununu’s political philosoph is also worth reading):
American political methodology is an ontological construct. No, I don’t know what I’m talking about, but it’s true anyway. Political "science"--like that puppy from the same litter, the dismal science of economics--is not science; it’s a branch of moral philosophy. Yet try talking moral philosophy with a politician. Politicians will talk strategy and tactics and policies and programs until they’re blue in the face, or you strangle them and they turn blue.
The problem on the left is, now that Karl Marx has forsaken them, they have no philosophy. Thank goodness. Think what evil creeps liberals would be if their plans to enfeeble the individual, exhaust the economy, impede the rule of law, and cripple national defense were guided by a coherent ideology instead of smug ignorance.
Now that no one (or very few) admit to being socialists, now that few, if any, believe that social science can manage society, and now that the vast majority of people on the Left (at least those who are likely to get into office) admit that the world, by its nature, can never become the world of universal peace, plenty, and brotherhood, what is it that drives the Left?
My own understanding is that the Left still believes that a good society is one that delivers on the promise of socialism. That’s what makes the Left the Left. At the same time, they don’t believe in the project as much as they used to. Once they are back in power, might they be forced to see the contradiction? Is that why Brown looks like he’s about to lose in Britain, and why Sarkozy, Merkel are on top in France and Germany, and why Burlusconi, however great his flaws, is, once again, in power in Italy?
If Senator Obama becomes president, and if the Democratic party has control of both houses of the legislature in 2009, as seems quite likely, governing might be a rude awakening. The benefit of being in opposition is that one needn’t be specific. The trouble with governing is that one must be so.
If part of the reason why President Bush has had such a rough time of things is that Americans are tried of the modern administrative/ bureaucratic state (even as they don’t want their own benefits cut, or many regulations eliminated), and if Democrats think that the reason why Bush is unpopular is that he’s been governing as a conservative, they could be in for a rude awakening.