Friday, December 03, 2010

The End of Ideology

Back in 1960, the sociologist Daniel Bell wrote a fascinating book called, The End of Ideology. The book's premise was that all of the ideological forces-from both the left and the right-had waned and we were thankfully entering an era of pragmatic decision making where passion would be replaced by cool rationality. As it turned out, however, it was really only Bell's own beliefs that had waned, and soon after the book been written, American politics erupted-with the rise of the New Left putting its stamp on the decade.

Bell's heirs, however, are alive and well-with a group calling itself the, "No Labels Party," trying to find traction in the political center-as an antidote, in the view of its founding members, to the shrill ideological forces that have made our politics too emotionally confrontational: "An alliance of centrist Republicans and Democrats is seeking to organize a grassroots movement targeting the middle of American politics, a political sphere depopulated by the midterm elections and a vital tool for any potential third-party presidential candidate, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday."

But, while the group coyly brands itself as a non brand, we have no such pretension-this is a band of masqueraders whose main goal is to front for a possible third party presidential bid by billionaire Mike Bloomberg: "The group, called "No Labels," has drawn support from supporters and advisers of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the country's most powerful independent politician, raising questions about his national political ambitions. Bloomberg has been invited to attend the group's Dec. 13 launch."

It should be pointed out, however, that it wasn't so long ago that candidate Obama positioned himself as a post-partisan moderate. How did that work out? So, we should always be careful of the posturing non-ideologues-folks who generally turn out to be real life partisans with defined policy positions that devolve from strong, even if unacknowledged, ideological presuppositions. Invariably, the call for so-called moderation and nonpartisanship is in reality a push back against the strong ideological thrusts coming from folks that these moderates are at odds with (Can any one say Tea Party?)

Adam Brodsky tackles this issue head on in today's NY Post-and sees the no labels brand as simply devoid of ideas: "The group calls itself "No Labels," but "No Purpose" might be better-- because, other than as a platform for Mike, it offers no reason whatsoever to exist. Scour and just try to spot a rationale. You can't."

No labels, then, is masquerading a sheer opportunism-as we noted above: "Yes, the group has a strong view of what it calls "hyperpartisanship," which is "destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern." We're supposed to buy No Labels as a response to "extremism" on the left and right -- presumably, the Tea Party movement and groups like MoveOn. No Labels vows to "restore the political center." But is the center moribund -- or just further to the right than where the No Labelers would like?"

Which gets us back to our earlier observations about the projections of Daniel Bell-a lapsed socialist groping for some new solid political ground that he found in technocratic elitism. All politics, in our view, has-and should have-ideological underpinnings that provide a world view and the passions that derive from it. Those that eschew ideology, are generally those elites uncomfortable with the passions of the masses, and the way that those passions create an environment where the folks are encouraged to shun being told what to do by their bettors.

The call for the end of ideology, then, is a call to rein in the masses and to return to the civility of elite governance. At the same time, however, these new off brand politicos are hiding there own ideological brand-much as the president did in 2008. Brodsky makes the point-and points his finger at the mayor: "Of course, this "third way" nonsense is mere packaging. Be honest, Mike: Like every other pol, you've got an ideology. A life-long Democrat until 2001, Bloomberg is a clear liberal. He says the public "always wants more government services." He's kept city taxes high. He wants to force folks to live as he sees fit, avoiding salt, fat, sugar, tobacco, alcohol, guns -- and cars. He insists global-warming science "has been settled" and that America must go green. He backs abortion rights, gay marriage and the Ground Zero mosque. Bloomberg, beyond politics? Please."

This kind of a mind set, of course, is contrapuntal to the actual mood of the voters-which is why the masquerade for civility is thoroughly a dishonest piece of political misdirection. The voters in this election cycle appeared to have some very clear ideas about what was wrong with the current policy directions of our national government-and this new movement, along with centrist Bloomberg, is uncomfortable with its small government conservatism: "No Labels vows to "restore the political center." But is the center moribund -- or just further to the right than where the No Labelers would like? Americans this year didn't oust moderates in favor of an equal number of far right-wingers and far left-wingers; they booted Democrats, and some moderate Republicans -- and welcomed conservatives. Independents, notably, broke 56 percent to 37 percent for the GOP, ABCNews reports."

Underneath it all-as is par for the course when, in the two levels of politics analysis, symbolic pretensions mask naked self interest-are people like John Avlon and Mark McKinnon angling for political power and a big Bloomberg pay day: "No Labels is testing its message across the country, most recently in New Hampshire last week. In a living room full of politically active citizens in Portsmouth, No Labels' organizer John Avlon, an expert on independent parties, called it, "a rebellious idea for the politically homeless."

Or, political homelessness as a racket-with the mayor spending beaucoup bucks in another vanity foray that will end up going nowhere. The country is inhospitable to the world view of the Bloomberg cohort, and as we have said before, it is moving away from any comfort level with the elite control that Bloomberg embodies. But in the meantime, NYC is being run by someone who is distracted and bored-and more and more the third term rationale is unmasked as fraudulent.

The 2010 electoral tsunami was representative of a profound discontent with the size of government; and the effort of the Obami to increase its control over our lives. In failing to address this factor, the no labels hypocrites are trying to replicate what the president did in '08. It worked then to our detriment but, as we use to say on the street, "Once burnt, twice learnt."