A “New Tone,” the Same Message

by on January 25th, 2007

In an editorial characterized by a transparent sense of quiet desperation, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek tries to elevate Senator Jim Webb’s rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union speech to Churchillian oratory.

Mr. Webb, he argues, is a moderate, perhaps conservative Democrat with unassailable military credentials, who masterfully set a “new tone” that has the power to resuscitate the party from its well-earned reputation for cowardice. He’s half right in that his military credentials are rock solid, but that’s where the argument disintegrates.

Although Mr. Alter didn’t address it, we could add to his argument Mr. Webb’s predictable portrayal of the working class wage earner as permanently barred from participation in our highly successful economy. It may be a new tone but the message is tiresomely similar to the one liberals have been replaying for decades because Webb even states that corporate America isn’t “sharing the wealth.” Enter the redistributionists.

Webb’s assertions are predicated on a cynical mischaracterization of our economy as freezing people in hopeless jobs with bleak futures, kept under the boot of an indifferent and callous CEO who is garnering a proverbially “obscene” salary.

With respect to our national security, Mr. Alter argues that Webb’s speech

…represented a return to the tough-minded liberalism of Scoop Jackson and Hubert Humphrey…

There is simply no evidence that the party is returning to the flinty and uncompromising likes of Jackson on foreign policy because nothing Mr. Webb said, nor any utterance from any other Democrat, has diverged from the party line, which is some version of retreat in Iraq.

Combined with their reticence or outright rejection of warrantless wiretaps for communications in which one party is a suspected terrorist, Alter and his ilk have no verifiable evidence of a sea change concerning their absolute lack of conviction.

Mr. Webb abused President Theodore Roosevelt in a deft comparison of the “robber barons” and contemporary corporate America which, in his view, exploits vulnerable workers for profit. Webb and his Democratic brethren should be careful not to vilify the 62 percent of Americans who now own stock mutual funds because, as an apt bumper sticker states, “If you want to criticize farmers, don’t talk with your mouth full.”

The facts in the matter are that this economy is stronger than that of the much vaunted 1990s, boasting effective full employment at 4.4 percent, inflation in a straight jacket, productivity at nearly 3 percent, tax receipts up due to President Bush’s cuts, and the deficit halved three years early.

Wages are also rising and, most critically, Mr. Webb’s craven critique of the average American worker, which features a downtrodden and economically abject individual, belies the reality that opportunity for those with a strong work ethic and training is at an unprecedented high. But, to further confirm that a changed tone in no manner reflects a change in substance, the Democrats only win when they convince the electorate that they are beholden to them for their economic future.

Mr. Alter finishes by conceding that “Democrats have no real remedies for the effects of globalization on the middle class.” True to their political form, they look for “remedies” for economic problems, when the answer is simply to better prepare for this new age. The government and our elected officials can assist by reducing–eliminating would be a pipe dream–regulatory obstacles, keep capital inexpensive, and taxes low.

The reality is that if corporate America can find a way to achieve economies of scale or greater efficiencies it will do so and shareholders will be the beneficiaries.

The left’s reflexive recourse, which is to lobby for protectionist measures, regulate, tax, or use the judiciary to redress their alleged woes only exacerbates the ultimate outcome because our free market system has highly sophisticated mechanisms for correcting untoward interference.

In the end, we’ll judge the presumably “new” Democrats on their actions, but, Mr. Alter’s crafty argument notwithstanding, whether it’s the war in Iraq, the broader war against the Islamic extremists, or finding ways to “assist” American workers, there is simply nothing new under the Democratic sun.

Mella is Founder and Editor of ClearCommentary.com.

Philip Mella