Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Power Line's John Hinderaker has decided that we live in "the era of symbolic liberalism":
I am old enough to remember when liberals actually thought liberalism was a good idea. Long ago, liberals like Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey fought for programs that they thought would improve the lives of Americans. True, many of their ideas turned out to be bad -- I would argue that most were -- but at least they had ideas, and they made an impact.

Those days are gone. Today, being a liberal is almost entirely a symbolic project.
Really, John? Tell us more.
The current flap over the Confederate flag in South Carolina is a good example. But at least the flag has some arguable importance as a symbol. Here in Minneapolis, a campaign is under way to effect a symbolic change that has no conceivable importance: liberals want to change the name of Lake Calhoun, one of the city’s several urban lakes.
So place names have no symbolic value? Good. Then I assume that, as a dyed-in-the-wool anti-communist, you'd have no objection if the names of the Twin Cities were changed to Castroville and Guevaratown. Right?
It turns out that Lake Calhoun is named for John C. Calhoun, who was Secretary of War under President Monroe, during whose administration Fort Snelling was founded at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. No one has ever accused Minnesota of harboring Confederate sympathies, and until now hardly anyone knew where the name came from, so what’s the point?
Yeah, Calhoun was a passionate advocate of slavery. But people don't actually know that he was, so it's totally cool.
An activist explains:
[Mike Spangenberg of Minneapolis] said the petition represents confronting the nation’s past and addressing systemic racism.
“Systemic” in this context meaning “not actually existing.”
Yes, that's right -- according to Hinderaker, racism is "not actually existing" in America. That large, bloody bolus of racism that was coughed up in Charleston last week was a figment of your imagination, hippie.
There is one slight problem: the proposed name change would be illegal:
In 2011, the [Park Board] was advised by its legal counsel that it lacked the unilateral power to change the name.

Asked about that, [Park Board President Liz Wielinski] responded, “That doesn’t mean in today’s climate that wouldn’t happen.”
The Park Board lacks the unilateral power to change the name -- but that doesn't mean it can't be changed. As we're told in the story Hinderaker quotes, the Park Board can't make the change on its own, and the state legislature is under constitutional restrictions:
The Minnesota constitution bars the Legislature at Article 12, Section 1 from passing a special or local law that changes the name of "persons, places lakes or rivers."
And yes, the Minnesota constitution does say, "The legislature shall pass no local or special law ... changing the names of persons, places, lakes or rivers." But the same section of the constitution also says:
The inhibitions of local or special laws in this section shall not prevent the passage of general laws on any of the subjects enumerated.
So the legislature could change this name -- a fact that Hinderaker (a lawyer) could have determined by looking at the state's constitution online, just the way I (a non-lawyer) did. But no -- he'd rather rant and rave about liberal fascism:
By “today’s climate,” I take it she means the climate of lawlessness fostered by the Obama administration. This illustrates another striking feature of contemporary liberalism: as the ends become more trivial, the means become more extreme and intolerant.
Yes, that's right: An unashamed white racist shot nine black people to death in a church last week, and Hinderaker thinks looking for a way to change the name of a freaking lake is "extreme and intolerant."

But Hinderaker has a larger point to make:
One could expand on the theme of symbolic liberalism indefinitely. What else are liberals fired up about these days? Making sure everyone calls Caitlyn Jenner -- one of a tiny number of transgendered Americans -- by her chosen name. And, of course, gay marriage, another purely symbolic issue, especially since all material and legal advantages of marriage are available through civil unions. And the most trivial issue of all, forcing bakers and florists to participate in gay weddings whether they like it or not, even though no one has ever suggested that gays suffer from a lack of cakes or flowers.
I'm sure Hinderaker doesn't think that signing a waiver to avoid direct contact with birth-control cooties under Obamacare is a "symbolic" gesture for Jesus-y businesses. And if "all material and legal advantages of marriage are available through civil unions," then I don't know why conservatives are fighting so hard to restrict marriage to straight people.

But the point Hinderaker seems to be making is that liberals are deemphasizing economics, crime, and foreign policy these days. I would say that that only seems to be the case -- and only because practically everything in those areas that liberals want to accomplish is being blocked by conservatives.

We're not allowed to take serious steps to curb climate change. We're not allowed to tighten access to guns. We're not allowed to reform America's immigration policy. We're not allowed to close a prison at Guantanamo that's a major recruiting tool for jihadists. We're not allowed to raise the national minimum wage. We're not allowed to close outrageous tax loopholes benefiting the super-rich. We're not allowed to undertake a major effort to build and repair infrastructure. (Hinderaker makes the laughable arguments that liberals oppose infrastructure.) A universal health-care law was passed, but every available conservative resource has been devoted to eviscerating that law, because conservatives are hell-bent on establishing that we're not allowed to make affordable, effective health coverage available to everyone.

So if liberalism seems to be directing its focus elsewhere, maybe that's why, John.


Victor said...

As far as conservatives and "projection" are concerned, ASSraker is one of the best!

He sucks at everything else.

Danp said...

I must admit, I am frustrated with the conversation over the Confederate flag. I know, tiny steps and all that. But why are we not talking about the fear mongering and pandering to bigots? It is time to drop the term "lone wolf" entirely. These people like Roof are better described as recruits.

Feud Turgidson said...

It's not like Hinderaker is actually any damn good at the legal game.

Unsalted Sinner said...

Republicans don't care about symbolism. That's why they've never bothered to suggest that something should be named after Ronald Reagan. It also explains why they are completely indifferent on the issue of the Confederate Battle Flag.

Susan said...

Sheesh. A guy from Minneapolis who claims that systemic racism doesn't exist? Minnesota has the worst racial gap in homeownership in the county, and one of the worst educational achievement racial gaps. I love my adopted state, but we've got a lot of work to do here.
Thanks for posting this, Steve.

Philo Vaihinger said...

You raise an interesting issue. I and most contemporaries, I think, agree commemorating the Confederacy and its heroes is like Germans commemorating Nazis, and not to be countenanced. The reason is that celebrating the Confederacy is celebrating a massive crime, like celebrating Hitler's war against the Jews. And the South honors the heroes of the Confederacy precisely for their efforts on behalf of slavery and a slave empire. It will be good to see this stopped.

On the other hand, American history - anyone's history - is full of people with clay feet who are celebrated, not for their flaws, but for the good they have done.

Remember the Heidegger problem?

Or Sartre, for that matter.

Same sort of issue.

Roger said...

I will never call Assrocket by any other name, chosen or not.