No, I’m not a liberal.
In Canada, there is a political party by that name. Currently, it is led by Jean Chretien, who is Prime Minister. For most of the twenteeth century the Liberal Party has formed the government--leading some to call it the Natural Governing Party. I don’t share that opinion.
But it does give rise to the question--How do they succeed so often?
The answer is another saying--they campaign like New Democrats and govern like Tories. Or, more generically, they campaign on the Left, and govern on the Right.
But to understand this, a little Canadian political geography is necessary.
As political theory goes, since most people inhabit the political center, the party that occupies the center will win elections. There are some kinks in that, of course. Most money is not available in the center--it tends to come mostly from the Right--where wealthy individuals and corporations live.
In Canada, the right of the political spectrum hosts the Reform Party, now called the Canadian Alliance, the Progressive Conservatives, or conservatives, or
Tories for short. (Never mind the political oxymoron of a progressive conservative.) There is also the right-wing of the Liberal Party, which, with some of its
members, is quite extreme.
More or less in the center of things, is the bulk of the Liberal Party--especially as elections approach. One can often tell that an election is near when the Liberals start
backtracking on some of the policies they had espoused when an election was not near. After crippling medicare through enormous budget cuts, they are beginning to spend again. (And Chretien has just today mused about a federal election within 13 months.)
On the Left is the New Democratic Party, and some members of the separatist Bloc Quebecois, though some of its members used to be Progressive Conservatives--Don’t ask!
That about does it. I realize that Americans will have some difficulty understanding this--I only understand because I’ve lived here most of my life, and have participated in the system as a New Democrat--never, unfortunately, has my candidate ever won--ever!
American political parties are bigger ideological homes than Canadian ones. In a sense, they have most in common with the Liberal Party: they are large electorial machines
geared to winning at any cost. And in recent years, especially since Bill Clinton’s triangulations, there is less and less policy difference between them. Though if I had to choose, I’d still be a Democrat--obviously.
Triangulation, by other names, has hit all parties of the left. There is Tony Blair’s New Labor in England--with its policies of, so-called, Blatcherism. There is Jean Chretien’s acceptance of most of the contentious policies of the Brian Mulroney Tories--including Free Trade with the U.S., the GST, or Goods and Services Tax,
and the downsizing of government. There was Bob Rae, the NDP premier of Ontario in the first half of the nineties, and his volte-face in his second year of power,
away from progressive policies, and towards more business-friendly, less people-friendly ones--but to no avail politically; all it did was to lose activists, such as myself, as members.
It no longer matters what political beliefs they espouse before elections--they all become Tories. Liberals, New Democrats, Labor, Democrat--all go Right after election.
And parties already on the Right--like Mike Harris’s Tories go further Right; they become reactionary.
For an American, Liberal now seems to mean anyone left of right of center--thanks to a dramatically successful public relations campaign over several decades by right-wing foundations, and their funding of think-tanks, publications, media, and nurturing of pundits, the whole political geography has shifted to the right. No political term means what it once did. As political economy is no longer an academic discipline, so too are its analytical terms no longer understood. Newspeak has long since become our language.
As an undergraduate, my colleagues and I accepted the term left-liberal, probably in hopes of marrying acceptance and some factual correctness. I would not object to the term progressive, nor would I rankle at the term socialist.
Ultimately, I do not see a desirable future in the direction things are going. A future controlled by ever-larger private entities--corporations, giant global corporations, AOL-TimeWarner-EMI and its media ilk, Corrections Corporation of America, private, even public mega databases--does not sit easily with me.