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July 04, 2005

The Battle of Ideas

Even the neoconservative New Republic agrees that the Democrats have won the battle of ideas!

Ezra Klein quotes from the excellent Jonathan Chait:

Ezra Klein: Ideas: In a piece full of very good parts, this has to be my favorite of Jon Chait's many perfect paragraphs knifing the "Democrats lack ideas" meme:

A related assumption is that new ideas are better than old ones. This meme has gained particular currency during the Social Security debate. For instance, conservative privatization advocate Peter Ferrara dismissed liberal foe Robert Ball as a "well-meaning gentleman who hasn't had a new idea in 40 years." The accusation resonates with many liberals. The Democrats' economic policy, as labor leader Andrew Stern told Matt Bai of The New York Times Magazine, "is basically being opposed to Republicans and protecting the New Deal. It makes me realize how vibrant the Republicans are in creating twenty-first-century ideas, and how sad it is that we're defending 60-year-old ideas."

The elevation of new over old is one of those beliefs that can only survive as a background assumption, without any critical scrutiny. Nobody tries to explain why new is inherently better, because the notion is obviously ridiculous. Take Social Security, for instance. Whatever you think of the general virtues of privatization, the program has actually grown more, not less, suited to the character of the U.S. economy over the last several decades. Social Security is designed to safeguard individuals from various risks. As the economy has grown significantly riskier, the need for a program that offers people a risk-free financial bedrock has grown stronger, and the case for subjecting the program itself to more market risk has grown more dubious.

And goes on to say:

I can't tell you the enjoyment I get from watching professed followers of Edmund Burke demand that Democrats stop protecting old ideas and realize the many virtues of newness. That no policy or idea can last more than 70 years without requiring radical overhaul is such a violent attack on the philosophical foundations of conservatism, not to mention the dictionary's definition of the word, that it's beyond belief, particularly in a party where so many sniff about their deep immersion in conservative intellectual traditions. But as Chait says elsewhere in the piece, the conservative superiority in "ideas" often reflects nothing more than a greater capacity for hypocrisy. Seems the same would go for their advantage in philosophy...

Posted by DeLong at July 4, 2005 03:20 PM