I'd like to ask a few questions about how it arose that there is what can be called the center-wing of the Democratic Party.
How did previously (normalized) New Deal premised liberal think tanks become bastions of neoliberalism? How did Brookings become what it has become, a clearinghouse of Third Way policy?
How did the consensus of economists --even academics, largely insulated from market pressures-- change to that which fundamentally presumes neoclassical descriptions of reality?
How was the national Democratic Party apparatus stolen from New Deal liberals by New Democrats?
How did the national "liberal issue" activist organizations become silo-ed and ideologically divorced from the New Deal political-economic framework that brought about middle-class affluence, widespread higher education and other conditions for social progress in the first place?
How did the bureaucracies of organized labor become the neutered, narrow-interested swamps that the designers of Taft-Hartley obviously intended for that law to produce?
How did the political identity of so many rank and file liberal Democrats become wrapped up in weird, tribal conflict over whose partisan team was the bigger hypocrites, and stylized around morality-play symbolism hucksters working guilt-driven media-consumer benevolence?
How did centrist media bias become the orthodoxy of pro journalism?
And how exactly were "liberals" so catastrophically insulated from ordinary people that, as some say, they didn't see that inch by inch the public was turning against them?
How exactly could it be that these "liberals" had no mechanism for understanding what ordinary Americans were thinking and experiencing?
Who were these "liberals"? How could they become so different from the folks who lived in the rest of America? Could it be that these "liberals" are the very same elites that became the neoconservative and neoliberal consensus-makers in the establishments of both major parties? When one refers to these "liberals," is one really talking about people like Joe Klein and Bob Kerrey?
Liberal values have to do with widely distributed economic and political power, and a rights-oriented civic culture of freedom.
Liberal values are premised on the hard-won knowledge that democracy and capitalism work and are sustainable only when the entities that threaten the power of ordinary people are structurally set against each other. Liberal values posit the proper relationship between the state and monopolistic finance and industry is adversarial, so that powerful public and private interests check and balance each other to the people's benefit. It's not that liberalism is about cheer-leading an all-powerful federal state (that invades and occupies Vietnam/Iraq, spies on MLK/Occupy and hides the Pentagon Papers/suppresses Bradley Manning's downloads). Liberalism is about a federal government that's just big and powerful enough maintain economic and political structures that are independent from rent-seekers, so that "the old enemies of peace" can't hold the population's savings hostage when they lose at the high-finance gambling tables, or threaten people's incomes en masse when labor's not cheap enough for their liking.
Liberalism is about the knowledge that the state isn't the only actor in a market economy whose power we need fear, and the recognition that the only way to keep bureaucracies from their tendencies toward encroachment on the freedoms of ordinary citizens is to empower the government with only that which its agencies require to counter the threat of aristocratic and corporate powers. When the government and the cable company sue each other in public, the people win. When the government and the cable company partner with each other in secret, the people lose. When the press and state officials report on each other, the people win. When the press and state officials marry each other, the people lose. When the banks fail and the FDIC breaks them up, the people win. When the banks fail, and there's no Social Security, the people lose.
Ordinary folks know these things. We still know these things. People hate powerful, unaccountable government. People hate powerful, unaccountable monopolists. People want power over that which confronts our daily lives, whether it's the TSA or the mortgage servicer. Liberalism was the default American political persuasion for a reason, and I'm not sure that these latter-day "liberals" ever knew what that reason was.
Maybe these "liberals" stopped watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Meet John Doe" every year at Christmas with the rest of us, at some point.
I guess what I'm getting at is an answer to how "liberals" somehow became different from "the public."
How did all of this happen?