Thursday, December 17, 2009

(Don't Talk About the) Left-Right Convergence

Ed Kilgore's got a good analysis of an important split between Democrats, especially in regard to education:

But the other potential fault line is ideological, and is sometimes hard to discern because it extends across a variety of issues. To put it simply, and perhaps over-simply, on a variety of fronts (most notably financial restructuring and health care reform, but arguably on climate change as well), the Obama administration has chosen the strategy of deploying regulated and subsidized private sector entities to achieve progressive policy results. This approach was a hallmark of the so-called Clintonian, "New Democrat" movement, and the broader international movement sometimes referred to as "the Third Way," which often defended the use of private means for public ends...

To be clear, this is not the same as the conservative "privatization" strategy, which simply devolves public responsibilities to private entities without much in the way of regulation. In education policy, to cite one example, New Democrats (and the Obama administration) have championed charter public schools, which are highly regulated but privately operated schools that receive public funds in exchange for successful performance of publicly-defined tasks. Conservatives have typically called for private-school vouchers, which simply shift public funds to private schools more or less unconditionally, on the theory that they know best how to educate children.

Although the situation in education is even more tangled insofar as it is driven by business-model philanthropy more than actual businesses, in part because schools, unlike say, prisons or mercenary outfits, aren't really profitable to run (except via indirect methods, like real estate scams).

Also, when you consider that, say, Key L.A. Unified staff positions are funded privately, it reinforces Matt Yglesias's argument that in practice there is less of a difference than there appears:

At the end of the day, no matter what people think they think, nobody remotely sensible actually holds a pure strain of either of these views. Robust disagreement exists about whether public education should be provided exclusively through government-managed public schools or also through government-funded and government-regulated privately-managed charter schools, but nobody thinks it’s objectionable for public schools to buy desks from private desk-makers.

Nonetheless, Kilgore's point is an important one.

I'm also interested in the meta-commentary to Kilgore's post, which is similar to some of the responses I got for my little schematic of US school reform directions:

UPDATE: In discussing this post with several friends, I recognize I should be very clear about my motives here. I am not trying to promote an ideological fight within the Democratic Party or the progressive coalition, and don't want to exaggerate ideological differences, either. But ideology, however muddled, is part of what makes most politically active people tick. And if we don't talk about it--and about differences in strategic thinking as well, which will be the subject of future discussions here--then all we are left with to explain our differences on this issue or that is questions of character. And anyone paying attention must recognize there's far too much of that going on. "Progressive pragmatists"--the camp with which I most often personally identify, as it happens--often treat "the Left" condescendingly as immature and impractical people who don't understand how things get done. Meanwhile, people on "the Left" often treat "pragmatists" as either politically gutless or personally corrupt. This is what happens when you don't take seriously other people's ideological and strategic underpinnings; whatever you gain in ignoring or minimizing differences in perspective or point of view is lost in mutual respect. Sure, the character attacks on both sides are sometimes accurate, but nobody should assume that in any particular case without further examination of each others' ideological and strategic views. That examination is what we are trying to promote here.

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