Daniel Larison once took me to task (check the comments) for saying that Mickey Kaus is a faux-liberal; it’s been my opinion that Kaus’s “I’m a liberal, just a reformer!” shtick is just that, shtick, a way for him to create a nitch for himself. It’s not just his stance on things like unions, education and welfare reform, it’s the absolute and total prioritization of every conservative piece of his “neoliberal” agenda over the few sad shreds of genuine liberalism. It’s always unions. It’s always those good-for-nothing teachers. It’s always snarking about Obama. And that isn’t just the case now; it was the case during the entire Bush era, the period of the most damaging and destructive conservative failure in recent history. A man who lives through the Bush years and continues to act and talk like the greatest threats to American abundance and happiness are unions and welfare mothers is a liar or an utter fool.
I wonder, for example, if Kaus’s most vocal defenders could look at his reactions to this stimulus bill and continue to claim that the man has any desire to support liberalism or the Democratic party. In a massive stimulus bill, confronting the largest economic crisis in Kaus’s lifetime, which very well might determine the economic futures of millions of Americans for years to come, Kaus’s focus has been on… welfare reform. Yes, and not even a large welfare reform, but what is genuinely a minor change that amounts to a tiny part of a huge and vitally important bill. Because that’s what a liberal is worrying about, on the edge of an economic precipice and in the face of a slowdown that threatens poor Americans everywhere– those welfare-receiving fatcats. Don’t believe me that this is a tiny, tiny part of the stimulus bill? Just ask Mickey Kaus!
No, the stimulus bill doesn’t fully unravel welfare reform–after 1996, welfare is no longer an individual “entitlement,” for one thing (a term or art that triggered a whole slew of court-enforced rights). The time limits and work requirements are still at least formally in place. States can still do what they want, in theory, within much broader limits than under the old AFDC program. Many states, with little money to spare, may still refuse to try to expand their caseloads (even if they now have an 80% federal subsidy to do it). A debate on the issue might, in fact, help ensure that states don’t go crazy and recreate the bloated and socially disastrous welfare caseloads of the three decades before 1996.
Wow, what a damning case! A small change that probably can’t result in the results Kaus fears in the first place! It gets better.
More important, the debate would stop the Money Liberals in the Washington “antipoverty community”–e.g., Peter Edelman and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities crowd– before they can complete the rest of their agenda, which does involve unraveling welfare reform (eliminating work requirements, for example).
Because lord knows that scare quoting “antipoverty community” is the sort of thing someone who really cares about the liberal cause would do. Look, just load up Kausfiles and read the first ten, twenty items. What percentage of his posts contain anything at all that you would call sympathetic to the liberal cause? That bother to demonstrate an attitude of anything other than contempt and derision for the party and the ideology he claims to be a part of? Yes, people should broadly be permitted to define their own political identity. But if Kaus wants me to call him a liberal, I can say that he is an incredible ineffective, counterproductive and useless one.
Oh, and as a bonus, near the top of his blog today Kaus has one of his “Me? A liberal?” moments where he seems to let go of his pretentions to progressivism entirely, saying ” get an “Even … liberal blogger” cite. Hahaha. Take that, Even the Liberal New Republic.” See? It’s funny because Mickey Kaus isn’t a liberal! Whoops! Cat’s out of the bag!
Update: You should read Daniel. I have to say, I think that there simply is no way to read his regular “they called me a liberal! me!” sayings (and you can check the record) other than his disputing the idea that he’s a liberal. I’m open to arguments otherwise but I have never heard them.
Update II: Alright, alright. As a matter of principle, and not pragmatics, Larison is right. It is still true that, as a liberal, Kaus has certainly done far, far more than to hurt his cause than to help it.