What Will We Say About Now?

My friend Peter Levine, in an article that examines ways to look at the question of “whether President Obama is trying to do too much too fast,” mentions an analogy Bill Galston makes to Jimmy Carter’s early days in office.

In Peter’s view, those days are not at all comparable to where we are now. In making his case, Peter encapsulates the overal shift rightward that was occurring as the 70’s ended as well as I have seen anyone:

[T]he Zeitgeist was against poor old Jimmy Carter, as we can tell now that the Owl of Minerva has taken flight. Most of the industrialized countries moved substantially right after 1970. Liberals had already enacted the popular parts of the welfare state. They had consolidated prosperity for a majority of their populations, who were decreasingly generous toward the remaining poor. Keynsian policy couldn’t seem to handle stagflation. Liberal coalitions had shattered on the shoals of controversial social issues. Conservatives offered law-and-order and lower taxes, and that was a winning package. The only reason Carter was elected was that Richard Nixon had administered a deadly wound to his own party that took eight years to heal. It was hardly time for an ambitious liberal agenda.

What interests me is Peter’s perspective on that pivotal time, and the language he uses, spoken with the benefit of hindsight.

It seems evident that we are now in a similar shift, only moving the other way. When we look back, fifteen years and more later, what kind of language will we use? What tectonic factors will be relevant, and which will be just static?

That, of course, is a thought experiment and unanswerable. But it is worth thinking about, if only to gain perspective on the now.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

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