Friday, March 28, 2008

Eric Alterman at Stacey's

Wednesday, March 26th

I spent part of my lunch hour at Stacey's Books & heard Eric Alterman talk about his new book Why We’re Liberals. Mr. Alterman is very much the New York intellectual. He started out by digressing wildly about Finland, a country he recently visited & found "very cool". There is no private education there. It's not possible to buy an education that's better than anyone else's. & if Bill Gates got pulled over for a traffic violation, he might have to pay $80,000, since fines are not a set amount but instead based on a percentage of income. Good idea, eh?

The book seems to be a critique of how liberalism has failed in the popular culture. I didn't realize that "liberal" had become such a dirty word. Politicians reject the label, as do voters, even though issue by issue most people in fact agree with the liberal stance. The preferred label nowadays is "progressive".

By Mr. Alterman's definition, liberals "embrace the legacy of the Enlightenment". Plus they hold the belief that government should step in where the market does not allocate resources well. Conservatives say, "You're on your own."

Conservatives have successfully gotten the liberal label associated in a negative way with issues that they don't want to address, such as universal health care, unions & the role of religion in stem cell research. Mr. Alterman partly blames liberals themselves for not defending their beliefs better.

Other problems he calls "God's fault". For instance, conservatives spread themselves out, while liberals are concentrated in cities. So states with small populations have disproportionate influence. A vote in Wyoming or Alaska counts more than one from California.

In Mr. Alterman's view, Bush won in 2004 because people didn't trust liberals on security. Even though more people thought that the war was having a negative impact on the nation, they also thought that Bush would do a better job at security than a liberal.

It was nice to drop in on such a smart discussion. The crowd was definitely larger than usual & asked well-informed questions.

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