The Cause Briefly

The Cause Eric AltermanI have a very bad habit of reading a great book but having so many things to say about it that I put it aside for a while. And then, despite the fact that the text is now full of my comments, I have next to no idea what it was I wanted to say. Such is the case with Eric Alterman’s The Cause. It is basically a history of liberalism from the Great Depression to last year. But the real meat of it is in the end of the book when he looks at the resurgence of the Democratic Party. Just as I do, he finds the “New Democratic” movement wanting.

A good example of this is a contrast between Mario Cuomo and his son Andrew. Mario was a good old school Democrat who stood up against unpopular issues like the death penalty. His son (a prototypical New Democrat) took a similarly unpopular stand… Against the millionaire’s tax. Alterman writes:

Cuomo scuttled the tax and then went on to compare his lone wolf position with that of his father’s unstinting opposition to the death penalty. “The fact that everybody wants it, that doesn’t mean all that much,” he explained, apparently without noticing that his father’s lonely stand had been taken on behalf of prisoners on death row, rather than multimillionaires on Wall Street.

One reason that I find Alterman so compelling is that he seems to be (like me) primarily an economic liberal. That isn’t to say that we don’t support social liberal causes. But it is the economic cause that has lately been abandoned by the liberal movement. As he writes:

Cultural liberalism, while not without political risk, did not cost the wealthy anything or restrict their ability to become even wealthier. As such, it proved a far easier sell in a political system like that in the United States in the twenty-first century, dominated, as it was, by the power of money.

If you want to know where liberalism has been in recent history, the questionable place it currently is, and where it is going, you really should read The Cause. It is largely inspiring, even if many parts will make you crazy.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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